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On minimalism, the resurrection, and more: Response to Dr. Craig's podcast

Yesterday a podcast came out in which Dr. William Lane Craig answers some of my comments elsewhere (most recently here) about various of his views.

I think this is a very useful discussion, and I think that in responding to Dr. Craig, I can continue and encourage some very fruitful discussion.

The most important thing that I want to say at the outset is that I appreciate greatly Dr. Craig's and Kevin Harris's statements at the beginning of his podcast to the effect that it's possible to disagree and be friends. This is what academics do, and Christian academics in particular should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. That is incredibly important, and I want to maintain that spirit here. This is also one of the many reasons why I respect Dr. Craig so much as a Christian apologist and as a scholar.

I'm responding here chiefly because I think this is a fruitful thing to do. I want to emphasize that in no way, shape, or form am I challenging or pressing Dr. Craig to a never-ending back-and-forth, as it has been implied that I do with those I disagree with. On the contrary, it seems to me that perhaps the most useful thing that could happen here would be for people to read this response and the material in links that I provide from it to other places (that's important), listen to Dr. Craig's podcast, and ponder various issues and spin-off thoughts, perhaps having a discussion in the comments thread here.

My response will not be terribly smooth or organized. I think it's most useful for it to be to-the-point and timely rather than smoothly written. Very roughly, my responses here will follow the order of Dr. Craig's presentation itself.

--The first thing I want to respond to is Dr. Craig's impression that I have made a mistake about whether or not to call his approach a minimal facts approach because I have not read his written work and have listened only to his debates. On the contrary, I actually don't enjoy very much watching debate videos (that's just a glitch in my psychological makeup) and made this terminological error concerning the way that he characterizes his position by way of reading his written material, specifically the introduction to the 3rd edition of Reasonable Faith, his recommendation in Chapter 8 of that book that we abandon what he calls Paley's method of arguing for the resurrection and use a different method instead, and statements made elsewhere in written work that I consider to advocate what I would call "minimalism," which he also advocates in this most recent podcast. Also, I had not previously run across a place (which was subsequently called to my attention by a correspondent on April 21 of this year) where he states that he prefers not to have his argument for the resurrection considered a "minimal facts argument," in part because he includes the empty tomb as a core fact, whereas in Dr. Habermas's minimal facts argument, the empty tomb is not included.

I'm quite happy to change my terminology and not to refer to Dr. Craig's approach as a "minimal facts argument for the resurrection." On the other hand, I do consider his approach to be one of minimalism, and hence a minimalist argument, because of what he reiterates in this very podcast--namely, that in his view it isn't important to the argument for mere Christianity to be able to support the strong reliability of the Gospels. That's a crucial point of disagreement between us, and it is what he has affirmed in multiple places in his writing and transcribed podcasts. I was, in fact, a little bit surprised that he thought that I was merely responding to his debates, because in both of the places where I have disagreed with him concerning minimalism, here and here, I've referred to material other than debates.

Here are some of those statements by Dr. Craig:

So I almost never argue with an unbeliever about biblical inerrancy. I’ll concede for the sake of argument virtually all the errors and inconsistencies in the Old and New Testaments that he wants to bring up, while insisting that the documents collected into what was later called the New Testament are fundamentally reliable when it comes to the central facts undergirding the claims and fate of Jesus of Nazareth.

From "Scriptural Inerrancy and the Apologetic Task" here. I discuss this at length here.

The Christian apologist seeking to establish, for example, the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb need not and should not be saddled with the task of first showing that the Gospels are, in general, historically reliable documents. You may be wondering how it can be shown that the Gospel accounts of the discovery of Jesus empty tomb can be shown to be, in their core, historically reliable without first showing that the Gospels are, in general, historically trustworthy. Read chapter 8 to find out. Reasonable Faith, Preface to the Third Edition, pp. 11-12.

I think Dr. Craig's comments today are quite consistent with these statements, and that does highlight a disagreement that we have: Dr. Craig believes that we should not (strategically) and need not (epistemologically) defend the strong, literal, reliability of the Gospels nor harmonize the resurrection accounts in order to have a strong argument for the resurrection and Christianity when addressing a skeptic. In fact, he thinks that it is making it too hard for the skeptic to believe if we do so, and he thinks that the case is quite robust even if we concede to the skeptic (for the sake of the argument) virtually all the alleged contradictions he brings up. I will return to these points below.

--Dr. Craig mentions in the podcast that he does argue for the physicality of the resurrection using, inter alia, two arguments from the Gospel narratives. I own a copy of Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus and believe that I may have located the portion to which he's referring. If it is the segment I think that it is (pp. 236ff and particularly pp. 247-248), his emphasis is upon the unanimity of the gospel narratives in representing a physical resurrection of Jesus. (I don't think that it can be his lengthy section on harmonizing the resurrection appearances, since he expressly states that he doesn't think that is necessary in arguing with a skeptic.) I have two points to make in response to that.

First, if Dr. Craig agrees that it is important, as a premise of our argument for the resurrection, to defend the historicity and authenticity of the physical nature of the narratives, I think it would be useful if he would change his manner of speaking concerning those who strongly doubt the authenticity of the resurrection narratives (Gerd Lüdemann and Wolfhart Pannenberg come to mind as examples here), so as not to state that they acknowledge the appearances, as Dr. Craig has said in the past. Why? Because if one says that these people acknowledge the "core fact" of the appearances to the disciples, when it can be shown that they deny or are very skeptical about the physical details of those appearance accounts, then it looks like the sense in which the apologist himself (Dr. Craig in this case) is using the term "appearances" in the premise of his argument is some more boiled-down sense that does not include apparently physical details such as what are found in the Gospel narratives. This can create confusion concerning how robust of a case the apologist is building, using those premises.

Second, I think it is going to be quite difficult epistemologically to defend the robust physicality of the resurrection to a high degree of probability if one does not defend the reliability of the Gospels. If one does not do so, then one's interlocutor can theorize (as indeed Dale Allison does repeatedly) that such details are later "apologetic additions" and that the accounts themselves are so dubious in their provenance (that is to say, we don't have good reason to believe that they came from eyewitnesses) that we can't rely on them to argue that the disciples claimed these highly physical experiences. One needs an answer to that as part of the apologetic task, as part of the evangelistic task, not just later on. And I believe that that answer needs, in no small measure, to take the form of arguing for the eyewitness nature of the Gospels in general and their provenance in disciples and/or those acquainted with the disciples who were truthful and literal reporters.

In the book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, Dr. Craig actually does harmonize the resurrection accounts, but he has stated in this podcast that he doesn't think doing so is an important or necessary part of creating a robust argument for the resurrection. The mere fact that an argument occurs in that older book therefore does not in itself mean (by Dr. Craig's own account) that Dr. Craig considers it an important, much less an epistemically crucial, part of the argument to be made to a skeptic. So it's unclear precisely what part of that book he does think is important for that purpose. Would it, perhaps, be the argument from the Pauline concept of the physical resurrection? This is fine, but indirect and not as strong as using the gospel narratives, especially since Paul himself wasn't a putative witness while Jesus was on earth after the resurrection. And perhaps also the argument from the unanimity of the gospels in asserting the bodily resurrection? But if that unanimity is a result of a variety of fictional accounts or dubious accounts (as Allison seems to think plausible, for example), rather than reflecting what the disciples actually claimed, then once again it has become difficult for us to get back to their original evidence. We cannot then find out, "What did you see? What was it like?" If all we are saying is that they are unanimous in holding that Jesus' resurrection was physical, and that this presumably means that the disciples believed that his resurrection was physical, but that the actual narratives themselves might (for all we are arguing to the contrary) be made-up rather than giving us the disciples' real testimony about what happened, we are unable to evaluate their evidence to decide whether or not they were rational in believing that Jesus was physically raised.

I would note here that in Tim's and my argument for the resurrection in the Blackwell volume edited by Dr. Craig (from ten years ago), when we took the evidence to be the testimony of the disciples, we took it to be testimony to the experiences found in the Gospels. And this was no small part of what accounted for the strength of the Bayes factors (representing the power of the evidence for the case) we estimated for the resurrection from the evidence of the disciples' testimony. E.g., we argued from what we took the disciples to be testifying, in its detail, that it was very unlikely that they were hallucinating or having a vision.

--I was interested and in a sense pleasantly surprised that Dr. Craig got into discussing the Temple cleansing and the resurrection appearances in Luke 24, and I'd like to respond to that. I want to say right now that, thus far, these are the only two fictionalizing literary devices (a phrase I will stick to) that I've seen Dr. Craig accept. I don't think anyone should assume that Dr. Craig's acceptance of these two incidents indicates an acceptance of all or even most of the ideas (especially the more eyebrow-raising ideas) promulgated in, say, Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? That would need to be discovered on a case-by-case basis. I could give specifics from that book that I suspect (though I'm just guessing) are places where Dr. Craig would not accept the claim of a fictionalizing literary device or would not think that a fictionalization theory is as plausible a possibility as Licona treats it as being. Indeed, I'm not actually sure whether Dr. Craig even knows about all of these theories that Licona has put forward. But it would take me afield to engage in such speculation, and in the end it would only be speculation, either way.

A couple of preliminary points. At one point Dr. Craig objects to the term "fictionalization" because, he says, changing the year or day when things happened, or deliberately writing as if they happened over a much shorter time than they really took, was accepted in the ancient world. But that is not the point of the term by itself. "Fictionalization" is a descriptive term. We have fictionalizations that are accepted in our own culture--writing an historical novel, for example. So to say that something would be (if it occurred) a fictionalization is not to deny that it was accepted in a culture. One then goes on to discuss whether there is an argument that such a fictionalization was widely accepted in the culture and was engaged in by the evangelists. I have argued that there is no such good evidence. But that's a separate matter from merely describing what we're talking about. We need a term for describing what we're talking about, and it merely confuses matters when every term one comes up with is said to be off-limits because "This was accepted at the time." I can understand if every time I referred to such devices I insisted that we call them "lying." Then their advocates would rightly consider such an insistence invidious. But I don't do that. "Fictionalization" is just meant to describe what these devices allegedly involved. Then we discuss separately if this was a problem epistemically or morally and whether or not there's reason to think it was accepted at the time.

Fictionalization, as a descriptive term, involves
--knowingly altering or fabricating a fact or facts in one's narrative
--doing so in a way that deliberately makes it look, in the narrative, like things happened differently from the way that they really happened
--doing so in a seamless way that does not provide a "tag" in the text that indicates that a fictional segment is about to come up or that a given item is non-factual.

By this definition, the two incidents concerning the Temple cleansing and Luke 24, which Dr. Craig discusses, are fictionalizing literary devices if John and Luke did carry them out.

Another preliminary is that Dr. Craig seems to think that I've accused him of the "Bad Habit of New Testament Scholars" of failing to make crucial distinctions. He then discusses my distinction between narrating achronologically and narrating dyschronologically. To be clear, not everyone with whom I disagree on a given passage about such a thing is ipso facto failing to make crucial distinctions. The person may (as in Dr. Craig's case) make the distinction, state his own position clearly, and say that the Gospel authors deliberately narrated dyschronologically (as Dr. Craig does do). This isn't committing that bad habit, because the scholar is being clear. A writer or speaker commits that bad habit when he is unclear as to which of these he is talking about, as I have seen happen repeatedly (very frustratingly), or when he leaps (and encourages his readers to leap) from a statement like, "The ancients didn't always narrate chronologically" (which is ambiguous and could simply refer to narrating without a chronology) to "The ancients thought it was fine to change chronology." Making the crucial distinction shows that such an inference is a non sequitur. But Dr. Craig doesn't do either of those things here. He just asserts that these authors are, in these cases, narrating dyschronologically and that he believes that this was accepted at the time.

Concerning the Temple cleansing: I very much agree with Dr. Craig that John does indicate a chronology and does place the Temple cleansing that he narrates early in Jesus' ministry. I have actually known some to suggest that perhaps John is narrating achronologically here, or at least bring up that hypothesis for consideration--that John doesn't mean to indicate in John 2 when this Temple cleansing took place at all, not even within his narrative. My recollection is that Vern Poythress brings up that possibility, though he doesn't ultimately opt for it. But I agree with Dr. Craig that that is not what John is doing.

However, I just think Dr. Craig is wrong when he has said that he thinks it is artificial to say that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice. If readers want to ask me more about this in comments, go right ahead. Trying to be brief, I will just say here that to my mind this isn't even all that difficult a matter and has been made difficult by a kind of sociological phenomenon in which scholars talk as if there is a problem with two cleansings. The money changers and dove sellers probably would have gone back to business as usual after Jesus' initial disturbance in the Temple. There was no "screening point" where people had to come through a security checkpoint and show ID to get into the Temple. The synoptic Gospels themselves show that Jesus came back to teach the very next day after cleansing the Temple, so even just reading the synoptics shows that it is false to say that they wouldn't have let Jesus back into the Temple if he had created such a disturbance three years earlier. Jesus' Temple cleansing was an act of protest. Even in our own day people engage in symbolic protests, even rather dramatic ones, in the same location on more than one occasion. Though I'm not a dramatic protester, I've certainly held the same sign outside of the same abortion clinic on more than one occasion, and I seem to recall that I've even had the same insults yelled at me by people driving past. Generally similar events do happen in real life all the time. There is no reason at all to think that Jesus would not have "bracketed" his ministry with two such protests. John gives a consistent and believable picture in which there is lots of tension between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem from that point on (the early cleansing), but in which Jesus is not killed until several years later. There is no reason to think that this is ahistorical, and it combines various explanatory elements such as Jesus' going away repeatedly to other geographical locations and then returning briefly to Jerusalem, Jesus' popularity with the crowds (also emphasized in the synoptics), and Jesus' powerful personality, causing the Temple guards (in John 7) not to arrest him. I do not see any reason to consider this picture of tension mingled with Jesus' immunity from death and freedom of movement until his hour has come to be unbelievable, and it is therefore quite consistent with his cleansing the Temple a second time during Passion Week.

--Concerning Luke 24. Dr. Craig says quite definitely that the narrative is written in such a way that it is not a-chronological and that it really does look as if Jesus gave the command to stay in the city on Easter evening and even looks as if the ascension takes place at night.

I think that Dr. Craig is right concerning several of the specific places where he says that Luke indicates chronology in this passage (what day it was when Jesus was talking to the men on the road to Emmaus, what day it was when he appeared to the disciples in the upper room, etc.), but I think he is wrong to draw the conclusion that therefore the ascension is made to look like it takes place at night. After all, that's very implausible in itself. How would they have seen Jesus going up into heaven? Therefore, why would Luke have thought that it would appear to his readers that he was writing as if that was happening?

The very indicators that Dr. Craig points to are part of the solution to the apparent problem, since they show right in the text that there isn't time for everything to be taking place on the same evening. Craig points, for example, to the fact that it is already evening by the time that Jesus is with the two disciples at their home at Emmaus. He points to the fact that they then had to return to Jerusalem, a walk of about six miles. Yes, exactly! So time is getting on. He then points to the fact that Jesus appears to them that very evening, while they are discussing matters with the disciples back in Jerusalem. Yep, no problem.

Given all of these temporal indicators, there then is not time for a long sermon and the ascension to be taking place thereafter on the same day. Where things become more vague in Luke is just after that point. I discuss all of this at more length in this post, under the heading, "Does Luke put all of the events after Jesus' resurrection on one day?" Please read that section for more detail. Here is some of what I say there concerning Luke 24:44ff, which is where the narrative becomes much less clearly chronological.

Interestingly, various translations begin vs. 44, about further things Jesus said to the disciples, with different English words. The ESV begins with "then," but in fact there is no such temporal indicator. The NASB begins the verse with "now," which is also unfortunate. The connective, in fact, is "de," which is quite indefinite as to time. It is sometimes translated "and," sometimes "moreover," as well as in other words. But the Greek gives no reason to insist that this conversation occurred on the same occasion as the appearance recorded just before that.

In fact, verses 44 to the end of the book are quite rushed. The connective at vs. 50, "And he led them out" is also the non-committal "de." Wenham's comment on the language of the passage is apt:

These 'thens' [in the RSV at verses 44 and 50] give a much sharper suggestion of chronological continuity than the Greek justifies. The paragraphs are linked by a weak connective non-temporal particle (de) which would be better left untranslated. Easter Enigma, p. 107

Luke's narrative in these verses (44ff) is notably brief, and in that minimal sense compressed. Far more than indicating that everything occurred on Easter day, this reads like a summary of events beginning on Easter and for some unspecified time thereafter. Indeed, if the day was already far spent when the disciples sat down to eat with Jesus at Emmaus, followed by a walk back to Jerusalem, followed by the first appearance of Jesus there, one has to think it would have been getting rather dark for a walk back out to Bethany or for the disciples even to see Jesus received up into heaven! And presumably Luke realized that. This, therefore, is not even a case where Luke, taken by himself, sounds quite naturally like he is "placing" all of the events on the same day. Rather, an attentive reader might well wonder what the cause was of Luke's rush and his unclarity from vs. 44 onward about the time frame.

We also should not assume that Luke knew everything when he wrote his Gospel that he knew when he wrote the book of Acts. Acts is the later book. In fact, Acts 1 could very well indicate Luke's desire to clarify what he had (for whatever reason) had to rush past in Luke 24, at a time when he may simply not have known precisely how long Jesus was on earth after his resurrection. Again, I'm not saying that Luke thought when he wrote the Gospel that Jesus was on earth only for one day. But he may have not known it was a full forty days or exactly how long it was, he may have (given his lack of precise information) become vague from 24:44 onward (when he could have been getting short on scroll or had some other cause for haste), and then made sure, scrupulously, to be much clearer in Acts 1. This is a real-world explanation, consonant with our experience of the way things happen in life, that doesn't require us to postulate that Luke engaged in a fictionalizing attempt to write as if all of these events occurred on one day.

Indeed, when one stops to think about it, it's almost impossible to come up with a motive for Luke to try to make it look like that. Why would he have even wanted to do such a thing? The motive of writing briefly simply isn't the same in and of itself as the motive of deliberately writing as if things all occurred on one day. It is possible to do one (writing briefly and without detail), as Luke has done in 24:44ff, without doing the other (deliberately making it look like things all occurred on one day and like the Ascension happened at night).

What is very surprising to me, looking at Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, is that at that time Dr. Craig apparently agreed with me that vs. 44ff are not meant to appear chronologically connected to the previous verses--that is, that they are not putting all of these events, including Jesus' teaching and the ascension, on Easter Sunday.

It is very often asserted that Luke envisions in his gospel that the ascension of Jesus occurred on Easter, a viewpoint which he later changed in Acts. But this seems to be a very wooden reading of the gospel. Luke obviously presents in vs. 44-53 a foreshortened or telescoped account of the post-resurrection events, for by the time Jesus led the disciples out to Bethany it would be the middle of the night, and Luke certainly does not imagine an ascension by moonlight. Rather he summarizes the teaching given by Jesus during the 40 day period of Acts 1:3, ending with the ascension. The continuity and unity of Luke's doubled-work seems to preclude that he has radically altered his chronology in Acts. (pp. 197-198)

He seems to be giving there very much the harmonization that I have just given, postulating (as I would read him) an entirely benign and achronological "telescoping" (mere summarizing or narrating briefly) in vss. 44ff and the unity of the chronology in Luke and in Acts. Though he is not there writing against a "literary device" theory but rather against the theory that Luke changed his mind, the reply to both is the same--namely, that Luke is not making his narrative's chronology different from that of reality (writing dyschronologically) in chapter 24 but rather merely writing achronologically (here in the sense of briefly and without detail) from vs. 44 onward. This is simply puzzling; I don't know quite what to make of it. It appears that Dr. Craig has changed his mind in the meantime, since now he asserts quite robustly that Luke's gospel is not achronological in chapter 24 concerning whether the events all took place on one day.

--Dr. Craig asserts several times that it was accepted in the time of the Gospel authors, and accepted by them, to narrate in a dyschronological fashion--actually to change when things happened, even by several years (as in the case of the Temple cleansing) or to "put" events on one day when they really took six weeks (as he believes Luke did in chapter 24). But he doesn't here give his reasons for thinking so.

As far as I know, the most sustained attempt to argue for such accepted fictionalizing devices concerning time (and many, many other matters) is Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? As readers of this blog know, I've spent a great deal of time meticulously going through that entire book and discussing and rebutting its arguments.

The claim that such strange "devices" were simply accepted in a given time and that the evangelists actually used them bears quite a heavy burden of proof. I have argued in great detail that Licona has not met that burden of proof even for the secular author Plutarch, much less for the Gospel authors, and he is the person who has made the biggest effort to satisfy that burden of proof. See here, here, and many other posts in my 2017 series. I have also discussed Craig Evans's attempt to make a similar argument from the use of the term chreia by Papias. Once again, the argument just cannot sustain the strong conclusion.

Of course I don't know precisely why Dr. Craig is so confident that John the evangelist considered it acceptable to move the Temple cleansing to an entirely different time and to place it in a setting in Jesus' ministry where it did not occur, or that Luke thought it was some sort of common, accepted thing to "make" events take one day in his narrative when they took forty days in the real world. But I'm guessing that he thinks that other scholars have established such accepted literary devices and the evangelists' access to them and probable use of them.

I would therefore strongly urge Dr. Craig to have another look at the basis for such claims, since they simply have not been supported well when one looks into the arguments in detail.

--Dr. Craig talks several times about his heart for evangelism and his desire to make it easy for people to conclude that Christianity is true. I applaud that desire, acknowledge it, and strongly share it.

Where we differ is concerning both strategy and epistemology. I think that the best way to make it easy for people to accept Christianity is to make a truly strong case for it, a case that has a lot of force. And I think that the only way to do that is not to set aside the question of whether the Gospels are reliable and not to strip down one's argument so that it does not rely on the reliability of the Gospels even implicitly.

I explained all of this at more length in this webinar. Please note that many of my points there apply to Dr. Craig's minimalist position even if it is not considered or spoken of as a "minimal facts" argument for the resurrection.

The Gospels and Acts (where the disciples are quoted concerning what they are attesting) contain our eyewitness evidence for the resurrection. It is therefore very important to know if they are unreliable. If they are unreliable in terms of literal, factual accuracy in their narration of events and teachings, as many biblical scholars claim, then it becomes extremely difficult to know what the disciples actually attested to. What, in that case, is the witness testimony? And if the disciples didn't actually attest, under conditions of danger, to detailed, physical, polymodal experiences with the risen Jesus, on repeated occasions, involving conversation, and so forth, as represented in the resurrection narratives, then the case is greatly weakened for the resurrection.

Moreover, the case for doctrine, even so-called "mere Christianity," is greatly weakened if the Gospels (yes, including John) are unreliable (in terms of literal, factual accuracy) as records of what Jesus taught while he was here on earth. That point is obviously important when it comes to deciding what the resurrection of Jesus attests. If we say that the resurrection supports his teachings, and some at least of these teachings are very important even for "mere Christianity," then we want to know what he taught, even in some detail.

It is interesting here that Dr. Craig (in the podcast) uses the analogy of a lawyer in court who has both witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. If I'm understanding his analogy correctly, he's comparing the witness testimony to what he thinks of as "core facts" (without arguing for gospel reliability) and comparing the argument for the reliability of the Gospels to extra circumstantial evidence.

This doesn't, I believe, work well as an analogy, since the very thing that is in question is a) what sort of core facts are needed (e.g., do we need robust information about the details of what the disciples claimed to have experienced?) and b) whether we have witness testimony to the crucial facts. If the Gospels are unreliable, then they probably don't represent witness testimony. How can we say that the most important facts are supported by witness testimony, or constitute or are comparable to witness testimony, if the documents that record them are irreconcilably contradictory at multiple points and chock-full of non-factual elaborations? Nor does it matter at that point if those non-factual elaborations were "accepted at the time." The impact upon the epistemic situation is the same regardless. See this post on what it would mean if the Gospels were bio-pics.

Dr. Craig responds that it's making things too hard for the unbeliever if he has to believe that every single harmonization works, that Jesus did cleanse the Temple twice, etc., in order to be justified in becoming a Christian. But that seems to me to be a faulty objection.

Consider the lawyer/witness analogy. Suppose that as a lawyer I want to put a key witness on the stand. Now suppose that the opposing lawyer brings a whole slew of objections to this witness's credibility, including claims that he has changed the facts on the following fifty occasions. Does the jury have to be convinced that the witness has never made a good-faith error on a single one of those fifty occasions in order to be justified in believing the witness? No. But that doesn't mean that I can just "concede for the sake of the argument" to the opposing lawyer that the witness has, in fact, changed the facts in virtually all of those instances! Obviously, that is going to weaken the jury's justified confidence in what the witness says, both because those would be deliberate fact-changing (as opposed to good-faith error) and because there would be so many of them. This is all the more relevant if the opposing lawyer claims to be finding many of these changes of facts right in the very area where the witness is testifying to the very event on which I need his testimony in the trial! Then we've really got a problem if I just waive the entire debate or declare it irrelevant or concede, for the sake of the argument, virtually everything the opposing attorney says against my witness.

It isn't possible to give a highly precise point that falls between, "The gospels don't contain a single error" and "The gospels, especially the resurrection accounts, are irreconcilably contradictory all over the place" and to say that it is just there that they become too unreliable to be good enough for purposes of the argument for the resurrection. But there certainly is such a point, and the allegation of deliberate factual change will make that point come up much, much sooner.

As I have often pointed out, suppose you do have a witness on the stand. If he is shown to have made a minor, good-faith error about whether an event took place on Saturday or on Wednesday, the jury may still quite justifiably consider him a reliable witness to the events he testifies about. But if he tells us that he has engaged in a "device" or a joke and has deliberately switched the event from a Saturday to a Wednesday in order to make a smoother story, we will justifiedly have a lot more doubt about the factuality of the rest of his narrative. Again, see this post on the epistemic effect of treating the gospels as bio-pics.

If we think of reliability and unreliability in these contexts, as we should, in terms of literal facts rather than in terms of higher or theological truths, the point becomes clear. If John deliberately and invisibly "made" Jesus cleanse the Temple in his narrative early in his ministry despite the fact that, in reality, Jesus didn't cleanse the Temple then, then John's gospel has been made deliberately unreliable concerning that factual question: When did Jesus cleanse the Temple? Saying that this was "accepted at the time" simply doesn't change that point, just as it would not for a bio-pic. (Oddly, Dr. Craig repeatedly asserts that such changes wouldn't make the gospels unreliable, and says it as though this is somehow related to their being acceptable at the time.) Indeed, if making such changes were so acceptable, then there could well be many of them. This is why it is important to investigate whether or not such things really were accepted by the gospel authors; this is also why it is good for the reliability of the Gospels that, as it turns out, the evidence does not support that conclusion. Again, see my Licona series for more on this.

Let me give one example here of the way in which harmonizing the Gospel resurrection narratives is particularly important for the evidence. Mike Licona has said in a recent debate with Bart Ehrman that he believes that the first appearance of Jesus to his male disciples really took place in Galilee and that Luke moved this appearance geographically along with "making" all of the resurrection appearances occur on Easter Day. I'm not attributing this position about the geographical movement to Dr. Craig. I have no reason to think he believes that the first appearance to the male disciples actually occurred in Galilee, and it certainly wouldn't follow from what he does think about Luke's "making" all of the resurrection appearances occur on Easter Day. But Dr. Licona advocates this view for other reasons which I've discussed here--namely, that he believes that the first appearance in Luke and the first appearance recorded in Matthew (which occurred in Galilee) must be the same appearance.

As I mention in my podcast with Brian Chilton, if you think that the resurrection narratives can't be harmonized, and in particular you think that both Luke and John just "make" the first appearance occur in Jerusalem, even though it really occurred in Galilee, what then becomes of the whole Doubting Thomas sequence? John locates this firmly in Jerusalem, and that is not an incidental matter; it's extremely difficult to imagine Thomas, while still in his doubting state, trekking seventy miles north to Galilee to meet Jesus based on the words of the women alone! According to Luke, even the other male disciples didn't believe the women at first. So the abandonment of harmonization in this case in the way that Licona does indirectly casts doubt upon an apologetically very important sequence.

This point shows how harmonization actually plays an important apologetic and evangelistic role, before one has convinced a person of the basic facts of Christianity and as part of convincing him. Harmonizing in such a way as to retain the Doubting Thomas sequence, without casting doubt on its provenance in the original witnesses, allows us to assert with confidence that the disciples claimed that Jesus invited them to touch him, that he appeared to a particular, skeptical disciple (Thomas), and that he showed them his wounds.

Returning to the question of whether one has to convince the skeptic of every single harmonization, consider another analogy: Suppose I'm trying to convince someone that the campus of my alma mater is beautiful. Do I have to convince him that the student center, specifically, is beautiful? Maybe not. Maybe he can believe that the student center is kind of boring or even ugly but still be justified in thinking that the campus as a whole is beautiful. But if nearly every building is ugly, or if the most prominent, most notable building on campus is hideous, then the campus is not beautiful. And if I think that the student center is, in fact, a marvel of architecture, it's completely relevant for me to point out the beauties of the student center as part of my cumulative argument for the beauty of the campus. The argument doesn't stand or fall with the student center alone, but that's still relevant to the overall question of the beauty of the campus.

So do I have to convince a skeptic specifically that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice before he's justified in becoming a Christian? Of course not. But do I need to be prepared to give him good reason to think that the Gospels are reliable records of what Jesus said and did and that the resurrection narratives are authentic indicators of what the original putative witnesses attested? Yes, I do. If he the skeptic believes to the contrary and receives no answer to his skepticism on these points, is he strongly epistemically justified in changing his mind and becoming a Christian? Absent some powerful, unusual evidence available to him, no. And is the question of whether John moved the Temple cleansing one part of that larger epistemic picture concerning the reliability of the Gospels? Yes, it is.

Aside from harmonization to answer objections, there are many, many positive arguments such as I discuss in my webinar on maximal data (see about minute 54 onward), including the argument from undesigned coincidences, the argument from unnecessary details, the argument from the unity of the character of Jesus throughout the Gospels, and so forth. In fact, it may well be that (as I do in my book Hidden in Plain View) a good approach to arguing for the literal, historical reliability of the Gospels is to make a strong positive case for their reliability first and to discuss harmonizations of alleged contradictions at some other time. But however one orders one's presentation, it just isn't true that the question of whether or not the Gospels are full of irreconcilable contradictions on matters great and small is epistemically irrelevant to the case for the resurrection.

I want to emphasize something here about the matter of time and presentation. Although at one point in the podcast Dr. Craig does mention the matter of time, he is not really merely making a point about what we take time to do in giving a presentation. He is making stronger points about what would make it "too hard" for the skeptic to believe. If it really would make it too hard in the evangelistic context for a non-Christian to believe if we were to depend on the reliability of the Gospels, then presumably we shouldn't do that even if we had lots of time. Moreover, his point is epistemic: The case is allegedly quite strong enough even if, as he said in the 2015 podcast, we "concede for the sake of the argument" that the gospel accounts are full of many contradictions.

I, on the other hand, am not saying that we need to present the case for the reliability of the gospels as part of a brief debate. In terms of sheer, practical time constraints, what I call the "maximal data" case for the resurrection can be presented just as briefly as a case that relies only on a smaller set of facts (whether we think of it as Habermas's "minimal facts" case or Dr. Craig's "core facts" case). I have given examples of how such a brief, positive presentation might look in my webinar on "Minimal Facts vs. Maximal Data" beginning at about minute 41. The brief statements that I recommend assume that the Gospels give us a reliable account of what the disciples claimed. One then needs to be prepared to defend that if it is alleged that the Gospel narratives of the resurrection are hopelessly contradictory and do not come from eyewitnesses.

The same would apply, mutatis mutandis, if one were attempting to convince using "maximal data" a potential convert or group of some given doctrine that is part of "mere Christianity," such as the deity of Jesus. One would not have to give in a brief presentation the entire case for the reliability of the Gospels as records of what Jesus taught, though one could certainly allude to the availability of such a case. But one would rely on the gospels, including verses in the Gospel of John, and one would be prepared to answer if it were alleged that the Gospels give an historically enhanced record of Jesus' teachings, putting into Jesus' mouth things he never said that arise from the reflections of later Christians. For the purpose of answering such skepticism, one prepares oneself to defend the reliability and provenance of the Gospels more globally. One does not and should not attempt to strip down the case so that it does not rely, even tacitly, upon the gospels' reliability.

All of these matters are very important, and I'm extremely glad that this sort of fruitful exchange can take place. I encourage readers to mull all of these matters for themselves, and I heartily thank Dr. Craig and Kevin Harris for their gracious engagement.

P.S. Kevin Harris says that he hopes he'll be invited to dinner if he's ever nearby. Kevin, you're cordially invited to dinner at the McGrew house if you come through southwestern Michigan. I make a mean lasagna.

Comments (100)

I must say, Bill's story about Pannenberg's comment regarding the guard at the tomb leaves me annoyed and amused in about equal parts. Bitte, Herr Doktor Pannenberg, ist das wirklich ihr Argument?

Yes, it's a real window into the argument-free pressure that is put upon graduate students in biblical studies. That Pannenberg would have thought nothing of sneering in that way and that this would not have been considered frankly unprofessional speaks volumes. This in combination with his equally contentless sneer about "fundamentalism" and the fact that Bill harmonized the Gospel narratives and did not cast serious doubt upon their historicity. Pannenberg's comment there almost suggests that one has a quota of dehistoricizations that one must carry out as a kind of rite of passage into the ranks of real, "non-fundamentalist" biblical scholars.

Excellent as always.

And thank you for pointing out the translation error related to the intentionally ambiguous Greek participle de. After listening to the podcast, I noticed that issue, also, when reviewing Luke 24. Sadly, quite a few translations repeat this error.

In the past, I have taught through the book of Acts twice, and there are a couple of places where I have had to point out Luke's way of compressing things achronologically. There is at least one place in Acts where Luke places events seamlessly one after another that take place over a course of years. (And I think he does it more than once, but it has been several years since I taught it the last time, so I would have to chase down the details.) When Luke indicates chronology, he is very clear about it and you can count on its accuracy. But when he does not indicate chronology, one should be careful not to read a chronology into his work simply based on subsequent placement of the text in the narrative.

As for the comments of Pannenberg, I had many similar experiences as an evangelical in a liberal seminary. I was laughed at, called a fundamentalist many times, and was specifically criticized for not finding that Mark took theological liberties in his retelling of one of the parables--and all without any substantive argument against my positions. So this is not at all surprising to me.

I often find it interesting in these discussions to see how a knowledge of the Greek helps one to see that a passage is historical. I'm not saying it's essential, but it can help. For example, in a debate with someone about a supposed Bible difficulty, he attempted to claim that Jesus had already said that a prophet is without honor in his own home town prior to his first entering Galilee for ministry in John 4. I won't bore you with what this was apropos of. I recalled that the pluperfect ("Jesus himself had testified that a prophet is without honor") given in some translations can be used to translate a simple aorist. Flipped open Greek text analysis on Bible hub, and sure enough--it was just a simple past tense. The pluperfect translation was the translator's decision. Sometimes that's legit. (Translating a simple past as pluperfect.) But in this case it was questionable. John was probably just remembering Jesus' saying about a prophet being without honor when Jesus was about to enter the Galilee region and begin his ministry there. He wasn't saying that Jesus *had* said it prior to that point in time.

I do not *read* Greek, and I would never claim to be able to do so, but I know enough both to follow and to make on my own points of this kind--namely, the kind of points that are relevant for these arguments.

Hi Lydia,

Thanks for your helpful interactions with W.L. Craig! I'm curious in light of the fact that you reject inerrancy if you've written about your views on inspiration elsewhere? I'd love to hear more if you have. Thanks!

I haven't written on my views on inspiration elsewhere. My view of inspiration is pretty undeveloped, I would admit. However, I can say this much: I think it actually adds to the apologetic value of the gospels for there to be *apparent* contradictions (on the face of it--perhaps resolvable) at some minor points between them. This shows them to be honest testimony and adds to the case for their independence. What one then does with those appearances and whether one regards them as resolvable is a different question. But I'm glad that the Holy Spirit left them in there, whatever the process of inspiration was like.

I should add, too, that my views are *extremely* inerrancy-friendly. Some weird thing is apparently going on right now in which the literary device advocates are apparently running about making a big deal about the fact that I'm not an inerrantist (a fact I've more or less trumpeted from the hilltops). I even saw one person just last night say that "denying" inerrancy is part of my "model," whatever that means.

It could give the impression that anyone who agrees with me in rejecting fictionalizing literary devices is obligated to think there are errors in the Gospels. That is completely false!! My "model" should be distinguished from my overall belief set. Someone who shares my "model" of the kinds of books the gospels are can easily be an inerrantist of the old school (not the redefined, literary device kind), and indeed that type of inerrantist and I have much more in common than either of us has with neo-inerrantists who think that the gospel authors thought nothing of literally changing facts in the story because that was "allowed by the standards of the time."

Lydia,

Thank you for this post. Above you say: "I think it is going to be quite difficult epistemologically to defend the robust physicality of the resurrection to a high degree of probability if one does not defend the reliability of the gospels." But doesn't Craig defend the reliability of the gospels with respect to the central facts undergirding the bodily resurrection hypothesis? If those facts are well established from the gospels—as even Bart Ehrman conceded up until recently—and the probability of the naturalistic explanations is sufficiently low, then why wouldn't we have a very high degree of probability for the hypothesis that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead?


But doesn't Craig defend the reliability of the gospels with respect to the central facts undergirding the bodily resurrection hypothesis?

Here we have an ambiguity on the term "reliability." It's important not to take "reliability" to mean "these documents are true about some items, even if they get a bunch of other items wrong." That isn't reliability of the document. That's deciding that some facts are true even if they come from documents that, as a whole, are unreliable. Perhaps a better term or phrase, then, for what is being claimed is "accuracy concerning these particular facts."

Here I'm afraid that Dr. Craig and I are likely to disagree. Suppose that the Gospels were actually unreliable. Suppose, too, that this unreliability extended to the resurrection narratives, so that what is *actually* found there were in many respects invented or inaccurate. Why, then, should we think that they are accurate with respect to the empty tomb? Or put it differently: Consider the claim that Jesus' resurrection was physical. As I pointed out in the main post, if the *actual stories* showing the physicality of Jesus' resurrection were made up--e.g., that he ate fish with his disciples--of what value is it anymore to say that the gospels all agree that his resurrection was physical? We have, at that point, no access to the evidence that lay behind the disciples' own conclusion that he was physically risen. Suppose that the stories in both John and Luke of his eating with his disciples and inviting them to touch him were *invented* to express the fact that the early church *believed* his resurrection to be physical. At that point their evidential value is hugely reduced. That original belief might have been quite unjustified, and the mere fact that the Gospels *agree* in "portraying" his resurrection as physical is not helpful.

What needs to be done is robustly to *deny* that these accounts were made up or "apologetically elaborated," to argue that they *were not* made up, and to argue that they actually represent *what the disciples claimed that they experienced.*

Now, I do not see how this can be done without being prepared to get into more nitty-gritty than Dr. Craig seems to believe we need to get into in order to make a strong case. For example: We can't get that conclusion (that these accounts were not made up) *merely* by noting that they all agree in portraying the resurrection as physical. We can't get that conclusion merely by noting that they all agree that there was at least one occasion on which the group of Jesus' main eleven disciples had an experience in which they believed that they saw him.

Dr. Craig's approach in arguing with an unbeliever (as opposed to an elaborated approach that he expressly considers epistemically *unnecessary* for making a strong case) appears to be instead to appeal to more generalized facts and to use multiple attestation to support those more generalized facts. Notice that he *repeatedly* emphasizes in his presentations of an argument he clearly considers sufficient that the majority of scholars (and he emphasizes not just "conservative" scholars) agree on the "appearance" fact. He wants to call this a "core fact" not a "minimal fact." So be it. But the fact remains that the majority of scholars *do not* agree that the gospel resurrection narratives are not made up and that the disciples really had an experience as of Jesus eating with them! If something that a large majority of NT scholars agree upon is what Dr. Craig *means* by his "core fact" of the appearances in the premises of his argument, then we do not have a robust case for the resurrection from those premises alone.

Why? Because at that point the concept of "appearance" has been watered down (in order to be able to claim scholarly consensus and in order to avoid arguing for the general reliability of the gospels and in order to avoid arguing that *these accounts* represent *what the disciples claimed they experienced*) that the "appearances" might have been something more vague that could potentially be accounted for in some other way, such as by a vision or a paranormal experience. This, presumably, is why Dale Allison is so iffy on the physical resurrection. Because he thinks the gospel resurrection narratives are all quite dubious, and nobody has ever hit that point hard and convinced him otherwise.

I discuss this more in my webinar on minimal facts vs. maximal data. Again, please note that the epistemic points that I'm making there really do apply even if Dr. Craig's approach is called "minimalist" rather than "minimal facts."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUt3r3dXBr4

Lydia - Thank you for this thoughtful response. This helps clarify where exactly you're coming from. From your perspective, the central claims of fact undergirding the resurrection hypothesis are likely inaccurate if the gospels as a whole are unreliable. Thanks for the YouTube lecture. I will check it out.

Final question—Are you suggesting that multiple attestation is *not* a good criterion of historical reliability? If so, on what basis? As I mentioned, Ehrman himself (on the basis of this criterion) was willing to admit until recently that Jesus was in fact buried by Joseph of Arimathea, and that the tomb was found empty three days later:

"[T]here are a couple of things that we can say for certain about Jesus after his death. We can say with relative certainty, for example, that he was buried. . . [and] the accounts are fairly unanimous in saying (the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying) that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that that’s what happened."

"We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum. As so I think we can say that after Jesus’ death, with some (probably with some) certainty, that he was buried, possibly by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and that three days later he appeared not to have been in his tomb."

Bart Erhman, as quoted by William Lane Craig (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus/). “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity,” Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” [The Teaching Company, 2003]).'

Well, this matter of multiple attestation is a matter of my probabilistic specialty. I don't usually make those kinds of credentialist comments, but in this case it's necessary. As you may be aware, there is an odd idea out there that a specialty in NT studies (or maybe classics), cum credential, is the only thing that matters here, but actually I often think NT scholars need to talk to a probability theorist, and one with a pretty narrow, specific specialty as well.

To try to put this as non-technically as possible: In order for independent attestation to be of value, the independence needs to be understood *if the thesis of interest is false*. This is called "independence given the negation of H." Now, copying is *one* way that two reports could be dependent given the negation of H. Suppose that the Cardinals did not win the ballgame and one person tells you that they did, and another person just got the report from the first person. Then they could both be wrong just because one copied from the other. But copying is only *one* way that two reports can be dependent given the negation of H. Another way is for both to be dependent upon the same (wrong) common source. So, suppose that the Cardinals lost, person A got confused and reported than they won, and B and C both got their information from A. If you happen to know that B and C both got their information from A, even if you don't know whether the Cardinals lost, you don't really have two different independent sources, because B and C are both copying from A, so it all comes down to the reliability of A.

And there are many other possible scenarios.

Now, one way that we try to tell if sources are independent *in the relevant sense* is by noting differences between them. Variation. And New Testament scholars tend to rely on that in a very loose sort of way: Oh, look, we have three (or whatever) different sources, and they are very varied at this point, but they all agree in saying H. Voila! H is multiply, independently attested.

Not so fast.

If a theory that is on the table, in play, treated as having high probability, is that these different sources are all *heavily fictionalized*, then those variations may not be very valuable at all. In fact, they may be completely worthless.

Let me give you a real example from NT scholarship: One scholar has raised as a "speculation" the following theory: Not much was known about the birth of Jesus by the time the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written. Only what we find *explicitly stated* in the *overlap* of Matthew and Luke. This was floating around in the traditions that "were known" about Jesus' birth. That he was born in Bethlehem, his mother's name, that his mother was a virgin, her husband's name, etc. So Matthew and Luke (this is the speculation) took that little that was known and *made up all the rest*, all the non-overlapping portions. (This would then be star, manger, Wise men, shepherds, slaughter of the innocent, flight to Egypt, etc. Those are all non-overlapping.)

But, says this scholar, if that were the case, then the overlapping portion would be "multiply, independently attested."

No way, Jose.

Because in that case, even if the overlap were *completely false*, we would just have two different highly imaginative authors copying from the same tradition that held the overlap, those stories floating around in the Christian community yielding the overlap, and all their differences would be the result of their fertile imaginations.

*Those* are not the kinds of differences that yield the right kind of independence. That's phony independence. "Independence" of mere made-up imagination, elaborating on a common basis of belief, is the *wrong kind of independence*.

Now, suppose we apply that to, say, the claim that Jesus appeared to a group of his male disciples--that a group of his male disciples had some sort of "appearance experience."

And suppose that the idea is that there was this story of an appearance experience by a group of the male disciples, and that Matthew, Luke, and John all elaborated this story in their different, fictional ways.

Then that's the wrong kind of independence, just as in the case of the infancy narratives. It's just different people embellishing a common tradition, and it all comes back to the common story that was the "core" of it, which might or might not have been true. It all comes back to the reliability of whoever started that story, and we have no access to what the story looked like originally, once we have conceded that the accounts we *actually* possess are a bunch of fictionalized elaborations.

This, by the way, is what Bart Ehrman should say, if he wants to be clever, about the empty tomb. That would force the defenders of the resurrection to roll up their sleeves more and not count on "multiple attestation" to save them.

In the case of burial by Joseph of Arimathea, it would be easier, because the accounts of the burial vary very little. They really look like accounts of the same event with just minor variations such as you might get in normal testimony to the same event. And I doubt that Ehrman or anybody else has much stock in claiming that the burial story all by itself was invented or elaborated. It isn't even a miracle, so it's not like Ehrman has an especially low prior probability for it.

But the empty tomb narratives and the appearance narratives, pretty much *all* of the liberal scholars are trying to claim that these are partly or largely made up. They partly do that because we really do have multiple different stories--allegedly Jesus appearing to different people, different people finding the tomb empty, and so forth.

This is great, in reality. Isn't it great that Jesus appeared to so many people? But it's only great if you are prepared to start getting down and getting your hands dirty and not just speaking vaguely about "multiple attestation." Because really, the account of the appearance in Galilee of Jesus to his male disciples and the account of the appearances in Jerusalem aren't really multiply attesting the same event, and they have been challenged as just being invented.

And if they *were* just invented embellishments upon some vague, unrecoverable account that Jesus "appeared to the twelve," then that wouldn't be multiple attestation at all. It would be multiple embellishment upon a single, possible false, source tradition.

So the apologists and the NT scholars and everybody on all sides needs to stop throwing around the phrase "multiple attestation" in such a sloppy way. It's got a lot of force if you use it right, but they don't know how to use it right, and unfortunately some apologists who don't want to argue that the gospels have any amount of individual reliability and who don't want to argue that the individual accounts in a given case are non-invented are wanting multiple attestation to come in and make everything all right.

Craig seems (to me) to have accidentally constructed what amounts to a straw man in order to critique what Lydia has been saying. He says that his primary interest is in evangelization, and you don't have to dot every i and cross every t on the issues of gospel reliability in order to evangelize non-Christians so that they come to believe in Christ.

That's true. The Apostles, on Pentecost, didn't even HAVE the gospels to dot the i's on, and yet they converted thousands.

Of course, they had other forms of substantiation: they were themselves eyewitnesses, and had many others around them; and they had miracles galore going to bat for them. So we can fairly say that different evangelization situations call for different tools. God has ceased to provide quite so many miracles, and has permitted the immediate eyewitnesses to depart this mortal coil, so we have to send in other soldiers to the battle. Such as the gospels.

It is STILL true, though, that one need not dot every i and cross every t on the issue of gospel reliability* to use the gospels with some non-Christians. Indeed, most non-Christians don't know the contents of the gospels well enough to recognize where the i's even need their dots - don't know where the apparent discrepancies are. It is not necessary, in evangelizing someone who is open to the possibility of Christ, to both RAISE the apparent problems, and then SOLVE them, with such persons. (I leave to Lydia the discussion of whether - even for this sort of non-believer who is entirely non-propagandized against Christ - one needs a more robust argument for the reliability of the gospels in general than Craig offers.)

But that is not the only target Lydia's arguments are pointed at. Her arguments are also (and perhaps primarily) directed to the well-read, well-heeled biblical skeptic, who has read (some of) the gospels and has also taken counsel from true enemies of Christ in their claims that the gospels are junk evidence. This may be just a subset of non-believers, but they weigh heavily in the ranks of non-believers because they are very vocal and they are (in a sense) the storm-troopers of non-belief: their refusal to accept the gospels is taken, by the casual pagan today, as support for his refusal to bother doing the research and the work to investigate and make up his own mind fairly on the basis of the actual evidence. "I don't need to spend any effort on claims of gospel reliability because scholars like Ehrman have blown holes in that stuff" is the attitude.

So I fear that Craig is simply registering his objection about the wrong target. The person he is evangelizing (open to the possibility of Christ, without pre-existing baggage to resist Him) with just a few reasons to accept the account of Jesus' burial and resurrection is not the same person as either the vocal Bart Ehrmans of the world of scholars, nor (a third group) the college-educated readers of books by Ehrman and his cohort, who have concluded that the gospels are largely bunk, fiction with a thin patina of reality, nor (fourth group) those who haven't read such books themselves but know that "the scholarly world" has accepted those books as validating the claim that the gospels are bunk. Craig is NOT going to successfully evangelize anyone in the third or fourth groups with his approach. He is not going to even begin to convince them with his very, very modest claims of "what we can be confident of" from the gospels. That tack is entirely pointless with the latter groups. They need a much stronger argument, one that runs more or less straight through the position that the gospels are, both in general and in detail, very reliable, and that we have adequate rational basis for saying so. Lydia's thesis.

(It is also the track needed to bolster the confidence of the already-believer who is besieged on all sides by a culture that wags its fingers at them and says "your faith is against reason". For this person, it is not adequate to say, with Bill Craig, that we are confident that Christ was buried, that Jewish women came to the tomb and found it empty, and that a number of Christ's male apostles had an appearance from Him in Galilee, and we need not discuss the details. Not sufficient to THIS need, no.)

Craig also creates a bit of a straw man in posing the picture as either (a) "we are confident of the Jewish women finding the tomb empty," a few modest facts, and (b) we must take on and address every single apparent discrepancy and drill down until we have beaten it to death. As if there were no possible middle ground in dealing with non-believers, as if it were (a) or (b) and no other options available. I am sure that Craig was mainly just being hyperbolic in his rhetorical approach when he did this, so I am not "calling him out" for it as if it were an unfair ploy, but I am draining the rhetorical twist of its force: we can dispense with his argument there.

*By "reliable" I mean, of course, exactly what an ordinary person would mean, not what the delusional silly-clevers have cooked up to replace true reliability with mock-reliability. The ordinary person (quite reasonably) accepts no practical difference between "Christ did not actually rise from the dead and Christianity is bunk" and "the early Christian believers were so struck by the power of grace moving them to love God that they 'witnessed' to this grace by making up stories of Jesus rising from the dead to explain it, and so their stories are reliable evidence of a 'Larger Truth', i.e. the grace moving them". Ultimately, a fictional story fictionalizing why the Larger Truth is true gets in the way of convincing.

Thanks for this response, Lydia. I went back and took a look at Craig's 'Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics', and he does attempt to establish multiple, *independent* attestation for all of the central claims of fact undergirding the resurrection hypothesis and even provides a brief harmonization of the resurrection appearances. As for Ehrman, I think it's unlikely he's unaware of the scenarios you mention above, and *independent* attestation is probably understood in his lecture remarks.


Assuming Craig is correct (on the multiple, independent attestation), the probability of the resurrection would come down to a matter of how much counter-weight one may justifiably put on concerns over the supposed contradictory elements and later apologetic/theological motifs that are arguably peripheral to the core of what is at stake. It's not clear to me that Craig comes out on the short end of the stick here, but perhaps I just have more reading/thinking/listening to do.

Best to you,
Calvin


Calvin, a couple of points:

1) I can't quite tell if you've noticed, because your comments keep passing it by, but the *meaning* of the *term* "appearances" in Dr. Craig's core fact of the appearances (as a premise) is problematic, in my view. Hence even if it were established that there were in this sense "appearances," I believe that we would not have a strong argument. Please see my webinar for more on this, but the short version is that Craig states (as Habermas and Licona do in their minimal facts argument) that a large majority of scholars accept or acknowledge "the appearances" as used in the premise of the arguments they are making. But a large majority of scholars *do not* acknowledge "the appearances" in any detailed sense, and vaguer appearances would not make a strong case. Hence, Craig isn't (in my view) arguing for a strong enough premise to make a strong case. I haven't noticed that you've quite taken in this point of disagreement.

2) Yes, certainly, Dr. Craig and others will say that they are arguing for multiple, independent attestation. Are you under the impression that scholars never make mistakes about such a statement and in particular about the extremely delicate matter of independence? I'm here to tell you that they do, and that I've seen them do so. Take, for example, the empty tomb. Dr. Craig states that Paul's "creed" in I Corinthians 15 is an "independent" attestation to the empty tomb. Very plausibly, it isn't, and Dr. Craig seems to be substituting literary independence (Paul didn't just copy some other document) for causal and the consequent probabilistic independence. Paul does not say, for example, that he personally saw the empty tomb. No doubt he believed it was empty (though the "creed" doesn't actually mention it), but it is highly plausible that his own knowledge of the finding of the empty tomb came from the women or the disciples, either directly or indirectly. Hence his knowledge of it was *not* independent and his allusion to it in 1 Corinthians 15 (by saying that Jesus rose again) should not be deemed an independent testimony to the empty tomb.

I trust that even just this one example will show you that one *cannot* simply assume that because an author or scholar *says* that he's showing that some attestation is "independent" that he is correct about that. I'm telling you that NT scholars make serious *errors* on that point.

3) You say,

Assuming Craig is correct (on the multiple, independent attestation), the probability of the resurrection would come down to a matter of how much counter-weight one may justifiably put on concerns over the supposed contradictory elements and later apologetic/theological motifs that are arguably peripheral to the core of what is at stake.

I've attempted to explain how, if one does not *dispute* and *reject* the idea that these stories were corrupted by later invention, this *undermines the claims of independence*. I explained that in my earlier comment, so I'll just encourage you to re-read it. But again, if you are inclined to take someone else's word for it that these just "are" independent, perhaps you should consider taking the word of a person who has studied witness testimonial independence and its probabilistic modeling in depth that it isn't as simple as the NT scholars often think it is and that this matter of "later apologetic/theological motifs" in the resurrection accounts, especially when that concerns *facts*, is hardly peripheral to the matter of whether these are independent accounts, because it isn't peripheral to whether they were invented.

4) I should add, as well: What is said to be "later apologetic addition" is not peripheral to the evidential import of the *individual* accounts, because it includes elements like Jesus' tangibility and his eating. These are apologetically important. I would strongly, earnestly urge you not to consider these details of the resurrection narratives to be peripheral to some sort of core and to be, hence, dispensable as an apologetic matter. They certainly would not be in any other case where a resurrection was claimed. If someone said his grandfather was risen from the dead and that he saw him, I might think the person just had a vivid dream. If he and five of his friends said that they had a long conversation, jointly, with the grandfather and ate a meal with him, I'd know that they weren't just mistaken, anyway, and that it wasn't a case of a dream. (Though of course they might be pulling my leg.) Such additional detail narrows the options considerably.

This is important.

Tony, interesting points about varied audiences. When I was drafting the long main post, I got up on the morning when I was going to post it and found an e-mail in my in-box from a correspondent who had listened to Dr. Craig's podcast. My correspondent was under the impression that perhaps Dr. Craig was merely saying that there is not always *time* to argue for a matter such as the reliability of the gospels, that a given rhetorical or presentation context constrains what one includes. In that case there might by no actual epistemological disagreement.

I assured him that I'm not insensitive to varied presentational or interpersonal contexts and that Dr. Craig is claiming more than just that there isn't always time to present all the additional material.

But that e-mail exchange moved me to add some to my post on that issue, alluding to what I said in my webinar. Namely, that we should present a case with robust premises as a first, brief presentation, and then that these more robust premises will be depending *tacitly* upon more meaty underpinnings including the reliability of the gospels.

Dr. Craig is quite consistent, and quite careful: His premises themselves, as he would present them evangelistically, are not even *tacitly* based upon the assumption that, e.g., the resurrection narratives, in detail, are what the disciples claimed. This is why he emphasizes scholarly consensus so much in such presentations.

I think that this is a problem, as stated in the above comment and in my webinar. But I'm not suggesting as an alternative that one *raise* for everyone the problems of reliability and so forth.

As Tony rightly points out, some people won't even be questioning that. I give in my webinar on Minimal facts vs. Maximal Data a couple of sample arguments, and neither of them gratuitously raises that issue. As I say in that presentation, one puts forward the positive argument and then one discovers where the sticking point is for a given audience. But the premises of my suggested argument are *tacitly* based upon the assumption that the gospel narratives represent what the disciples claimed. Hence, as I word it in my main post here, one must be *prepared* to argue for that deeper premise that one is assuming.

By the way, it seems Dale Allison (notwithstanding his skepticism) affirms the facts of Jesus’ burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/question-answer/P20/dale-allison-on-the-resurrection-of-jesus).

Calvin Marshall, Dale Allison expressly states that he just barely affirms the empty tomb. He thinks it's barely more probable than not, but he doesn't think the arguments for it are all that strong.

On the "post-mortem appearances," I have to admit that I'm getting just a little bit frustrated with the repeated ignoring of my careful, emphatic statements about this.

Dale Allison *absolutely does not* affirm any sort of *detailed* post-mortem appearances. He goes through *every single one* of the appearance narratives in the gospels and casts doubt upon its provenance and in particular its physical details. I mentioned this in the main post. And in my subsequent comments, including my most recent one, I have emphasized the epistemic importance of this matter.

This is what makes it fairly easy for Dale Allison to question the *physical* resurrection, to be agnostic about it, and to lean toward something like an objective vision cum grief hallucination. He thinks that all that stuff about Jesus eating with the disciples (which would be inconvenient otherwise) was added later.

I keep repeating this, and I'm just getting in reply a link to statements that he "affirms the facts." How many times do I have to emphasize that "appearances" is ambiguous and that watered-down "appearances" yield a watered-down conclusion.

It's no wonder that Allison thinks apologetics arguments for the resurrection are so weak. That's because of his skepticism about the resurrection accounts. He has to be answered on that.

We need to get past this kind of box-checking: Here, let's make a very broad claim about Jesus' "appearances" and then see if a particular person checks that box. Matters are *not* that simple, not by a long shot.

Lydia,

1) It's not clear to me why the acknowledgement of appearances in some detailed sense has a bearing on the argument. At any rate, you would still would have that fact (appearances) to explain along with the other ones (assuming they can be established). But I do intend to listen to your webinar for more.

2) My point is not that a scholar says a fact is independently attested, therefore the scholar is right. Rather, I'm addressing your comment above characterizing apologists as "throwing around the phrase 'multiple attestation' in such a sloppy way". Whether or not a given scholar is right or wrong on this point, this objection of sloppiness with respect to multiple attestation does not seem justified with respect to Craig.

3) I agree that if we could establish Jesus' eating and so forth, so much the better. But if at the end of the day, that can't be established, I don't see that that takes away significantly from the strength of the argument. You still have those four facts that Allison himself concedes—which demand an adequate explanation—and the person listening to Craig certainly seems justified in thinking a bodily resurrection makes the best sense of those facts.

My point is not that a scholar says a fact is independently attested, therefore the scholar is right. Rather, I'm addressing your comment above characterizing apologists as "throwing around the phrase 'multiple attestation' in such a sloppy way". Whether or not a given scholar is right or wrong on this point, this objection of sloppiness with respect to multiple attestation does not seem justified with respect to Craig.

As a probability theorist and epistemologist, I have a higher standard for "non-sloppiness" than, "Makes an argument." Please understand that the matter of independence is *difficult*. New Testament scholarship has *never* had a clear understanding of this matter, and New Testament scholars *repeatedly* make mistakes in this area. Please see the example I gave above concerning the infancy narratives. (That wasn't Dr. Craig, by the way.) An utterly *egregious* error concerning "independence." They need to have this sharpened up. Meanwhile, they will make arguments, but they will tend to be merely arguments against literary independence of one document on another, which just isn't enough.


It's not clear to me why the acknowledgement of appearances in some detailed sense has a bearing on the argument.

Wow, yes, that's a biggie. Please give this more thought, and please watch the webinar. A resurrection is a big thing to argue for. We need a *strong* argument for it. If we really do not know *what the experiences were like* of those claiming the resurrection, then the argument is *much* weaker. Again, I'm telling you this as an epistemologist, but I think frankly that if the minimal facts argument (and Dr. Craig's "core facts" version of minimalism) had not become so popular, people wouldn't have much trouble seeing it. If someone tells you that his uncle rose from the dead but all you can find out is that in some sense he had an "appearance" of his uncle, this is pretty weak stuff as far as your concluding that his uncle literally, physically rose from the dead.

If a person considering Christianity has a low prior probability for the resurrection (and actually, the resurrection *does* have a fairly low prior probability) an argument from vague appearances probably *shouldn't* justify the conclusion that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. If such a person (like Allison) thinks that there are paranormal experiences that are happening all the time (I think he's probably wrong about that, but he believes it) that involve "seeing" the dead but no bodily resurrection, then a person in that position could pretty readily attribute a vague appearance event to such a paranormal occurrence. The empty tomb helps somewhat, but again, it depends in part on *how* justified one thinks that is. It's not enough just to say, "Allison accepts the empty tomb, so he needs to explain it." He barely accepts it at all!

We need to stop handicapping ourselves. We need to give an unequivocally strong argument. Minimalism is not a good idea, either epistemically or strategically.

Lydia,

What Allison says is that the empty tomb is 'historically likely'. It's probably worth inquiring as to where Allison's objections begin (with the historical or the philosophical?). "Probability is in the eye of the beholder. It depends upon one's worldview, into which the resurrection fits, or alternatively, does not fit" (p. 340).

As I understand it, the fact about appearances (in terms of the argument) is not to establish the nature of those appearances (are they physical or not?); rather that is left to what hypothesis best explains that fact as well as the other ones. I take your point though about how Allison is reasoning and will think about this.

Lydia,

The resurrection argument is not based simply on "vague appearances" but depends on those central facts that are historically probable on Allison's view. Are you really saying that an outside observer can't look at those four facts and be justified in believing Jesus bodily rose from the dead?

I'm not saying we don't need a strong argument, rather if the argument is built such that nature of the appearances is left to the best explanation, I'm not sure to what extent it makes sense to fault the argument for weakness on this point.

If nothing could be established about Jesus' self-understanding, what he taught, and how he lived his life, then I think the "uncle" scenario would be analogous. The "uncle" we're talking about is another normal person, and obviously we'd be justified in our skepticism with respect to his resurrection. But of course, this just takes us back to your contention about whether or not the life and teachings of Jesus can be established once we concede contradictions and embellishments. Here's Michael Grant's take on that point:

"...the impression [of Jesus in the gospels] remains plausible not only because the personality that emerges is so forceful and individual and satisfying but because it conflicts in a number of ways with what one might have expected to appear in the productions of the church after Jesus' death. As C.F.D. Moule observes:

It is difficult enough for anyone, even a consumate master of imaginative writings, to create a picture of a deeply pure, good person moving about in an impure environment, without making him a prig or a prude or a sort of plaster saint.

How comes it that, through all the Gospel traditions without exception, there comes a remarkably firmly-drawn portrait of an attractive young man moving freely about among women of all sorts, including the decidedly disreputable, without a trace of sentimentality, unnaturalness, or prudery, and yet, at every point, maintaining a simple integrity of character?

Is this because the environment in which the traditions were preserved and through which they were transmitted were peculiarly favourable to such a portrait? On the contrary, it seems that they were rather hostile to it.

The consistency, therefore, of the tradition in their pages suggests that the picture they present is largely authentic."

[Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (Macmillan Pub Co), pp. 203, 204]

The resurrection argument is not based simply on "vague appearances" but depends on those central facts that are historically probable on Allison's view.

Yes, the appearances do have to be left vague to get scholarly consensus, because there is no scholarly consensus on anything more than a vague concept of appearances. This is hugely weakening to the argument.

Let me put this in probabilistic terms: It may be that the combo of some sort of appearances or other, we know not what in any detail (aka vague appearances), some evidence for empty tomb (though not firm confidence in it), belief of the disciples that Jesus was risen, and (say) conversion of Paul is *slightly* better explained by Jesus bodily resurrection than by its negation, but that is what we call a weak Bayes factor. In other words a weak argument. In other words, an argument that doesn't do much to overcome a low prior probability.

There are lots of things that have weak, top-heavy Bayes factor. I can think of arguments for, say, reincarnation that have weak, top-heavy Bayes factors. But rationally, I don't believe in reincarnation.

Are you really saying that an outside observer can't look at those four facts and be justified in believing Jesus bodily rose from the dead?

When we understand a) just how weakly the "appearance" fact has to be understood in the premise of the argument and b) just how weak the evidence for the empty tomb really is once one refuses to defend the integrity and provenance of the accounts, hence, perhaps barely more justified than not, then, yes, absolutely. I am really saying that.

The resurrection of Jesus isn't antecedently probable for *anyone* living today (that is, anyone who wasn't personally acquainted with Jesus, witnessed his miracles, etc.), and therefore it requires a stronger argument than what this type of minimalist argument amounts to when one digs into it and sees what it does and doesn't amount to.

The Moule quote is great as support for the truth of the gospels' portrait of Jesus, by the way. Including the Gospel of John--the whipping boy of mainstream scholarship .But if one is preemptively granting for the sake of the argument that they may be heavily fictionalized, then that argument is much more difficult to go anywhere with.

The same is true of the liar, lunatic, or Lord argument, which depends for its force on our actually knowing what Jesus claimed about himself.

The refusal to defend the gospels as reliable records has ramified effects, and very serious ones. These have an impact both upon arguments for a higher prior probability of Jesus' resurrection (such as those from Jesus' character and personal claims) and arguments directly for the resurrection (such as the stories of the resurrection appearances).

If I can summarize where we've landed:

1. You made the claim that the central facts undergirding the resurrection hypothesis can't be determined as accurate without first establishing the reliability of the gospels as a whole.

2. You appeal to Dale Allison as an example of what happens when reliability is not established, although it appears he accepts all four central facts as historically probable (even if weakly so).

3. You reject the argument as formulated by Craig in part because the appearances as accepted by most liberal scholars are vague (i.e., they're non-physical).

4. Given # 3 and the barely probably fact of the empty tomb, you reason the probability of the resurrection is low (in fact the doctrine of reincarnation is roughly as probable).

5. Given # 4, belief in the bodily resurrection is not—contrary to Craig—justified.

I do appreciate all of your comments and will give some thought to this (along with your webinar).

in fact the doctrine of reincarnation is roughly as probable

I didn't say anything quite that strong. I was talking about arguments that are weakly helpful to a conclusion. I used the concept of a weakly top-heavy Bayes factor. I realize this is technical terminology, so let me spell that out a little more. The Bayes factor is the ratio of the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis over the probability of the evidence given its negation. One can say that H is a "better explanation" than ~H just in the sense that the evidence is to some slight degree more probable if H is true than if H is false. But that doesn't do very much for H. If H has a low prior probability, a weakly top-heavy Bayes factor will not overcome that low prior probability.

The analogy to reincarnation was simply a way of illustrating this point. There are arguments for reincarnation that make one go, "Huh. That's odd." E.g. Little children in the far East who (supposedly) have rather specific apparent memories that are strikingly similar to the life experiences and deaths of children who died shortly before these children were born. But because reincarnation has a low prior probability, merely thinking that some fact is odd and weakly supports it does not do enough to overcome the low prior probability.

I'm not saying that the resurrection of Jesus has as low a prior probability as reincarnation, and in any event, such a question is incomplete. Prior probability for whom? For a devout Jew? For a person who has no evidence for theism? For a person who thinks the Gospels' account of Jesus' teachings is unreliable? Etc. So that question can't be answered unequivocally. Perhaps for an atheist skeptic who rejects the reliability of the gospels, the resurrection has as low a prior probability as reincarnation has for me.

Second, I'm not definitely saying that the argument from the minimalist facts (hopefully this is better than "minimal facts") is no stronger than those arguments are for reincarnation, though there I think the comparison may be better than the comparison between the priors.

In general, though, I was using reincarnation to illustrate the ambiguity of the phrase "best explanation" and to illustrate the need for powerful arguments rather than merely arguments in which the premises are *somewhat* better explained by H than by its negation.


You made the claim that the central facts undergirding the resurrection hypothesis can't be determined as accurate without first establishing the reliability of the gospels as a whole.

I wouldn't use the temporal language of "first" here. As I've explained several times, I think sufficiently robust premises for a strong argument will *tacitly* depend upon an assumption of reliability, and particularly an assumption that the resurrection narratives are not fictionalized and represent what the witnesses claimed. As I have emphasized, it doesn't follow that one must in a *presentation* give the evidence for this *first*. But I think a robust argument does presuppose the reliability of the Gospels, and hence one must be *prepared* to argue for that if it is questioned.

The really sad thing about minimalism, and about the way that the evangelical apologetic community hangs onto minimalism, is that it is so unnecessary. As a purely pragmatic matter, one can present a more robust case just as quickly. As an epistemic matter, the authenticity of the resurrection narratives as *what the disciples claimed* and the reliability of the documents can be overwhelmingly strongly established. We should regard ourselves privileged rather than burdened to be able to put forward a briefly-stated but robust argument that rests upon so secure a foundation.

All we have to do is to give up our unhealthy commitment to talking about the "consensus of scholars," as though we cannot do without it. I say "unhealthy" both because we have become too dependent upon it, unwilling to do without it, and because a dependence upon it fails to confront head-on the pathologies within biblical studies and to reject them with confidence. This leaves us seriously vulnerable at multiple points.

At first I was convinced that the "minimal facts" or "minimalist" approach was a good one. Now, not so much. I'm also taking a more critical look at the "honor shame culture" argument, and any others that try to say that ancient people were so radically different from modern humans.

All we have to do is to give up our unhealthy commitment to talking about the "consensus of scholars," as though we cannot do without it.

Right. I note that Craig explicitly gives way to it. One problem is that "scholarship" in this area is deeply infected with modernism, including the modern bias against all religious claims, but especially those of Christianity. The bias is very strong, leading to unjustified skepticism about how well its evidence supports it. The rational bases for the credibility and reliability of the gospels are really quite strong, and Christians need not shrink from that fight.

I am not sure, in evangelizing, how it is that the "accepted body of NT scholarship" is a category that we should even want to cater to, much less design our evangelization around. Unless the person with whom we are evangelizing is one of those scholars, he himself has to have a reason to go with "the accepted scholarly opinion" If he doesn't, then we don't need to consider that at all. If he does, we should find out why and to what extent, because it may only be partial, to a degree, or only on some matters. If it's on Mark and Matthew but not on John, we don't need to reflect the accepted scholarly opinion in dealing with John at all, in arguing for Christ with that person. If he buys the entire body of NT modernist scholarship altogether - well, that's quite a different picture than most people, and constitutes a kind of a special case for evangelizing - and for sure, a person who has delved THAT deeply into the gospels and still isn't a Christian is not going to buy into Craig's modest 4 points as substantiating the case for Christianity anyway.

The point is, if you are evangelizing ONE person, you are not doing it wholesale, and you tailor what you say to that person's needs. If you are doing it wholesale, as in speaking to a wide group, you cast your net widely because people in that group will be all over the place, some not even knowing what modernist NT scholarship says, some knowing but not caring, some caring but cautious about it, and some more accepting of it. Giving everyone present only the arguments that would be acceptable to the majority of NT scholars is to give away too much.

That's all on the assumption that you can make a solid case for Christianity on what the majority of scholars allow. That is not a very good position to make the argument from, as Lydia has been showing us. Certainly not the ideal position. It's like choosing to fight the battle from low ground, rather than high ground. Why give that much away, when there is no need? The full body of evidence that supports the truth of the gospels all hangs together better than bits and pieces of it do individually; the case for a probable conclusion made by a large accumulated body of evidence is far more probable than small slices of the large body.

Craig seems to be "making a virtue of a necessity" in accepting the limitation of working mainly with what modernist NT scholarship generally allows. I don't think he needs to treat it that way: it is not a necessity, and letting the skepticism of modernism dictate the terms of the debate is accepting dhimmitude of a sort. I am not sure exactly what Craig had in mind when he recounted the comments by his German professor, but to me what it seems to show is that Craig has been forced to operate under a besieged mentality for his entire professional career, as if thinking the gospels are, simply, TRUE, is such a ridiculous position that no professional would think like that, that he has forgotten what it is even like NOT to grant the skeptical modernist professionals their biased and unreasonable assumptions.

Hi Lyda,

A follow-up point with respect to your concern that the "appearances" in the resurrection argument are "vague". On pp. 382-3 of 'Reasonable Faith', Craig does in fact defend the claim that "The resurrection appearances were physical, bodily appearances". He goes on to explain—among other things—why he thinks the physical nature of the resurrection appearances in the gospels can't be explained by an anti-Docetic apologetic.

I've started listening to your webinar yesterday and am looking forward to finishing and discussing further with our local apologetics group.

I know think the strict minimal facts approach of Licona and Habermas is next to useless. It's taken a about a year or so, but I now reject it.

Quick question, I suppose the prior probability makes a distinction between probable and plausible? So if we take the probability of God to be, say, 0.75. Let's also argue for other instances of God intervening. It could be irreducible complexity, or arguments for the soul, or an appeal to the kind of work Craig Keener on modern miracle reports. Let's also take into account the claims of Jesus and his reports as a miracle worker and an exorcist.

Now, these arguments won't make the resurrection of Jesus more probable than not. But surely they make it plausible?

Calvin he doesn't just appeal to multiple attestation does he?

The two points Craig makes that make his case stronger than Habermas and Licona's in my opinion are multiple group appearances and a distinction between appearances of Jesus and visions.

Greetings Lydia,

I think your mostly off-base here. One angle of criticism you have against the sort of argument Craig likes to make is that it's not competent to address the concerns of someone like Allison, who has speculated in Resurrecting Jesus (and possibly elsewhere) that literature on the paranormal might provide just as good a model for understanding any post-crucifixion appearances as the traditional resurrection hypothesis. Your point seems to be that we need to draw more heavily from the concrete experiences narrated in the Gospels in order to rule out this sort of competing explanation. But a scholar like Craig can always respond to the effect that he argues for appearances of Jesus to both individuals and groups of individuals at various times and places and that the sort of paranormal experiences discussed by Allison lack this important characteristic, hence have less explanatory power than the resurrection hypothesis. I admit that this response may not be available to someone like Habermas, who requires that any fact concerning the post-crucifixion appearances must enjoy near-unanimous support among scholars; as you point out in the first part of your webinar, it's unlikely that such a broad consensus even exists for the notion that there were group appearances. But I am pretty sure that it's available to Craig, who likes to argue for a minimal set of facts by appealing to various criteria of authenticity (i.e. multiple attestation, embarrassment, etc.) and not by counting scholarly heads a la Habermas.

I have more to say on this subject, but I think that's enough for now.

Calvin, I don't think that one can *actually* defend the nature of the appearances as physical and bodily on the basis of the consensus of the documents (they all agree in portraying it as bodily) and/or on the basis of Paul's probably physical concept of the resurrection. My recollection is that this is how Craig does it in that portion of Reasonable Faith, *rather than* defending the provenance of the resurrection narratives as coming from the witnesses. I can look that up later to confirm.

On any occasion where Craig actually harmonizes (as in his older book, which was a version of his dissertation) or defends the provenance of the narratives as non-made-up and coming from the original witnesses, *he himself has said* (in this very podcast) that such defenses are *unnecessary*. So merely pointing to his *in fact doing so* is not to the point of our disagreement. But when he defends what he himself thinks is necessary, he does so in a "minimalist" fashion, which I believe is insufficient for the strength of the conclusion.

It's like a dilemma: Either he thinks it's unnecessary but does it anyway (in which case bringing it up is not to the point), or he thinks it's both necessary and sufficient, but I think it's insufficient.

Take your pick. But I do get a little tired of people's saying, "But Dr. Craig *does* do x" and not making the distinction between what he does and what he thinks one *needs* to do in order to defend the resurrection.

Let's also take into account the claims of Jesus and his reports as a miracle worker and an exorcist.

Now, these arguments won't make the resurrection of Jesus more probable than not. But surely they make it plausible?

Callum, I don't think a pure *reputation* as a miracle worker and exorcist does very much. The world has always been full of charlatans with big reputations. Jesus' personal claims do contribute to the liar, lunatic, or Lord argument, which is relevant to the prior probability of the resurrection.

But to get that, I think one already needs to challenge the consensus of scholarship in order to get a strong version of Jesus' personal claims. Because if the documents are elaborating, say, Jesus' claims to be the "I am," then the liar, lunatic, or Lord argument is much weaker.

Boreas, Dr. Craig emphasizes the consensus of scholars in his presentations all the time in his presentations, and not only his debates. It's a huge rhetorical thing for him. He says that that isn't how he came up with his "core facts" in the first place, and the empty tomb doesn't enjoy quite enough consensus to make the "cut" for Habermas, but Craig emphasizes that the majority of scholars concede it nonetheless! By just reading *this very thread*, you can see how Calvin Marshall (for example) thinks it's a big deal that Allison himself (!) concedes these core facts and has trouble understanding why we can't defeat Allison himself with these "core facts."

Can Craig let go of the "scholarly consensus" for making a case to someone like Allison? Yes, and he'll have to. But frankly, I don't see why someone other than Allison can't avail himself of the possibility of the paranormal.

Moreover, once we water down the appearances enough, then even more "mainstream" explanations like "group hallucination" become more plausible. Again, much more ends up depending upon the prior probability in that case. After all, we have ghost *stories* in the history of mankind in which groups claim to have seen a fleeting vision of a dead person. Maybe that's what happened to the disciples, even if it has some purely psychological explanation.

Do I think that's plausible? No, but it would be a lot less irrational to believe if the appearances could have been just fleeting.

Indeed, as I argue in my webinar (please do watch it), if they did just see a fleeting, non-talking vision of Jesus, then the best explanation is *not* a bodily resurrection but *rather* something else. Most people don't realize that some kinds of "appearances" are actually evidence *against* the bodily resurrection!

Yup, just looked up those pages in Reasonable Faith, and sure enough, it's the fact that all of the gospel accounts *portray* Jesus' resurrection as physical that he relies on (plus Paul's view). But note that this is different from defending the idea that these actual accounts, individually, came from the disciples. The idea instead is that if they all agree on the interpretive point that the appearances were physical, then probably the appearances had physical aspects to them. But this is very roundabout. If the actual accounts themselves might have been *invented*, then this is much weaker. They could have been invented on the basis of a *belief* that Jesus was physically raised, where we do not know why that belief came into being in the first place.

Craig argues that such a belief would have been unlikely to arise in a vacuum in either a Jewish or Gentile context. That point is not without some force, but again, it is a far weaker, more roundabout way of making the argument because one is unwilling to confront head-on the mainstream scholarly disdain for the origin of the resurrection accounts themselves, based partly on claims of irreconcilable contradiction and a general notion that the gospels are "beefed up" factually.

It is much less roundabout and much stronger to argue that the Gospel accounts actually give us *what the disciples claimed* and that this is (obviously) why they and others came to believe that Jesus was physically raised in the first place.

Again, if you had a claim of a physical resurrection in ordinary life, you would rationally want to know what actual *experiences* this was based on. It would be quite weird for someone to argue that probably those making the claim had *some kind* of physical experiences because they wouldn't have come to believe in a physical resurrection otherwise. That just leaps over the question of what they actually experienced. And if one is going to try to evade the question of whether the accounts we have of what they experienced are heavily changed, added-to, etc., or whether they are the accounts *of original witnesses*, one is trying to evade a pretty central question.

Boreas, in his book 'Jesus' resurrection and apparitions: a Bayesian analysis', Jake O'Connol quotes 4 different testimonies go apparitions that appeared to groups. He also has a paper listing some of the better attested group hallucinations in history. I don't think the bare fact of group hallucinations are strong enough

This is fascinating stuff and thank you for sharing. On the other fact, it is a rather depressing stuff when it comes to lay people. Because this seems that proving that Christianity is true to a well-meaning skeptic is a daunting task. You should be ready to know the arguments for and against every alleged inconsistency, not to mention Bayes statistics.

I have a brother-in-law who is my best friend and the kind of skeptic who is open about being shown that Christianity is true. After some years of teaching him apologetics, he accepts that God exists (I have used normal apologetics and the irreducible complexity argument, which was very effective because he is a doctor). To make it harder, he doesn't know English and I have to tell him all the information by myself (in other languages, there is a great scarcity of apologetics books and information).

Now we are starting about the "Christianity is true" thing and I don't know how to address the issue. The minimal facts approach seemed the right way to me, although I was never sure. But I am convinced about what you say: it is better to ground things in the reliability of the NT documents.

But, if it is so, how can this be done? Because it seems a very hard task to do. If the existence of God took about three years, this could take decades. I know that you are an specialist and must go to the smallest detail. But have you any resource that is easy for the layman so I could use to give arguments to my brother-in-law?

Boreas, Dr. Craig emphasizes the consensus of scholars in his presentations all the time in his presentations, and not only his debates. It's a huge rhetorical thing for him.

Agreed.

Can Craig let go of the "scholarly consensus" for making a case to someone like Allison? Yes, and he'll have to. But frankly, I don't see why someone other than Allison can't avail himself of the possibility of the paranormal.

As I pointed out earlier, the sorts of well-documented paranormal experiences that Allison mentions do not provide a good model for explaining the minimal facts that Craig defends.

Moreover, once we water down the appearances enough, then even more "mainstream" explanations like "group hallucination" become more plausible.

According to Habermas, the possibility of a group of people collectively sharing a common hallucinatory experience is not represented in the psychological literature. Indeed, he claimed that there are practically no well-documented accounts of such experiences. I don't know for certain if he's right, but it does seem plausible since it's hard to see how such an event could even occur in the first place seeing as how hallucinations are characteristically private experiences.

Indeed, as I argue in my webinar (please do watch it), if they did just see a fleeting, non-talking vision of Jesus, then the best explanation is *not* a bodily resurrection but *rather* something else.

If you were to postulate some idiosyncratic paranormal experience that did an equally good job of explaining all the facts that Craig defends (as opposed to the sort of well-documented paranormal experience that Allison mentions), I would imagine that he would reject it on the grounds that such a scenario would almost certainly be ad hoc insofar as it's constructed to fit the facts. And that we shouldn't take this sort of thing seriously anymore than other such constructed scenarios -- such as the one in which Jesus had (unknown to the disciples) an identical twin brother who appeared to the disciples shortly after the crucifixion of their master only to disappear a few weeks later.

INOO, I'm glad you asked.

You *definitely* don't have to know anything about Bayesian statistics. :-)

As far as your brother-in-law, I suggest giving him books like Wallace's Cold Case Christianity and my book Hidden in Plain View (on undesigned coincidences in the Gospels and Acts). And I really suggest you get hold of a copy of both of these for yourself, as well.

Having a "maximal data" case does not require specialist abilities.

Also, please see my lecture on Maximal Data with the listing at the end of my presentation of kinds of arguments at the end that are available and some resources. This doesn't mean that you have to "know them all." It's actually encouraging, because it shows all the things that *are* available.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUt3r3dXBr4

Hello again Callum,

Boreas, in his book 'Jesus' resurrection and apparitions: a Bayesian analysis', Jake O'Connol quotes 4 different testimonies go apparitions that appeared to groups.

For obvious reasons, I wouldn't assign much epistemic to a handful of ghost stories. In any case, such accounts almost never exhibit the sort of diversity that exists in the appearance tradition.

He also has a paper listing some of the better attested group hallucinations in history. I don't think the bare fact of group hallucinations are strong enough

According to Habermas, group hallucinations don't actually happen. Of course, there are all sorts of examples in which people can be collectively mistaken in some way on account of simple ignorance or the pressures of group conformity, but that's different. The fact that someone might have written a paper on "group hallucinations in history" means nothing to me without more details.

Boreas,

According to Habermas, the possibility of a group of people collectively sharing a common hallucinatory experience is not represented in the psychological literature. Indeed, he claimed that there are practically no well-documented accounts of such experiences. I don't know for certain if he's right, but it does seem plausible since it's hard to see how such an event could even occur in the first place seeing as how hallucinations are characteristically private experiences.

I'm assuming you are talking about Habermas' paper on psychological explanations for Easter? It's a good paper but he seems to use 'group hallucination' in a different sense than others. For example, Licona uses the example of asking his wife to join him in his dream on vacation. Of course, this sort of shared hallucination is practically impossible. However, multiple people each experiencing a hallucination simultaneously that is similar enough for the participants to conclude they were seeing the same thing is different. Habermas actually accepts this difference in said paper, quoting O'Connol. He makes the distinction that this would not be, properly speaking, a group hallucination but similar individual and simultaneous hallucinations.

Now, Habermas then agrees with O'Connol who argues in his paper that certain elements differ a group hallucination for a real, physical appearance. In group hallucinations people must be; expecting the event before hand, many should be in a state of excitement or stress (as these are circumstances which predispose people to hallucinate), not all present experience a hallucination, those who do have a hallucination see the vision differently (in Marian apparitions different portrayals of Mary are reported) and the hallucination does not speak.

Here's the problem. If all you have is Licona's 'there was an appearance to a group of people' this hardly rules out hallucination. Did everyone see it? was Jesus seen differently? Did he speak? The data on the table simply doesn't favour the resurrection hypothesis over the hallucination one. You need more.

In group hallucinations people must be; expecting the event before hand, many should be in a state of excitement or stress (as these are circumstances which predispose people to hallucinate), not all present experience a hallucination, those who do have a hallucination see the vision differently (in Marian apparitions different portrayals of Mary are reported) and the hallucination does not speak.

I'm prepared to admit that groups of people can be collectively deluded in various ways, but I am not sure that "hallucination" is the right word for much of this except in an informal sense. For example, in the Solomon-Asch conformity experiments it was demonstrated that even the basic facts of visual perception can be distorted by group influences, but such distortions are not what we typically mean in talking about hallucinatory experiences.

Here's the problem. If all you have is Licona's 'there was an appearance to a group of people' this hardly rules out hallucination.

I'm not so sure. Licona could say that the proposal lacks plausibility since the conditions needed for a shared hallucinatory experience were not present at the time Jesus appeared to the disciples.

Thank you very much, Lydia. I will check the three resources. I will start with the Youtube video and then, go to the books. My brother-in-law does not read English but I plan to learn all of these arguments to give them to him.

I'm prepared to admit that groups of people can be collectively deluded in various ways, but I am not sure that "hallucination" is the right word for much of this except in an informal sense.

To be honest, i'm not sure that option is open to you. Take a look at O'Connol's paper; http://www.tyndalehouse.com/Bulletin/60=2009/5%20O'Connell.pdf. How many of the specific cases be explained away as delusion when so many report visual elements?

For example, in the Solomon-Asch conformity experiments it was demonstrated that even the basic facts of visual perception can be distorted by group influences, but such distortions are not what we typically mean in talking about hallucinatory experiences.

Could you explain this experiment in more detail? What do they mean by 'basic facts'? Would this be a case of delusion through suggestion?

I'm not so sure. Licona could say that the proposal lacks plausibility since the conditions needed for a shared hallucinatory experience were not present at the time Jesus appeared to the disciples.

Here's the salient issue. The datum Licona wants to explain is as bare as could be. We have no idea on this datum what the experiences were like. What conditions were the disciples in? There is no direct evidence on the minimal facts approach. Are we going to appeal to speculation? Can Licona even confidently claim that all 12 experienced the appearance, rather than some having their "basic facts of visual perception . . distorted by group influences"? The bottom line is, all we have on the minimal facts approach is an appearance to "the 12" which was a group name. it needn't mean all 12 saw a vision. Just how confident can we be all 12 experienced a hallucination if we throw out the gospels?

Take a look at O'Connol's paper

Okay, but just scanning the paper it looks like O'Connell is considering a smattering of secondhand anecdotes (some of which took place more than a century ago). I am afraid that a lot more work needs to be done in order to show that shared hallucinatory experiences are a genuine psychological phenomena that occur under certain conditions.

Could you explain this experiment in more detail? What do they mean by 'basic facts'? Would this be a case of delusion through suggestion?

Here's a short YouTube clip of some older footage on these sorts of experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYIh4MkcfJA

The main finding here is that the social pressures of group conformity are capable of distorting our judgment even at the most basic level of visual perception.

The datum Licona wants to explain is as bare as could be. We have no idea on this datum what the experiences were like. What conditions were the disciples in? There is no direct evidence on the minimal facts approach.

I've read enough of Licona's big book on the resurrection to know that he is quite capable of providing a bit more detail than "there was a group appearance."

Lydia,

I do wonder how high (or more specifically how 'respectable') a prior probability can legitimately be argued for. I'm just going to pull numbers out of a hat for the sake of an exercise, but let's say the probability of God existing is 0.75, of God having intervened in the world before as 0.7 and of Jesus being claimed to have perform miracles and exorcisms a 0.8. Again, i'm just pulling numbers randomly there. We could just grant 0.75 a nice easy first approximation.

This seems important, because practically every Christian apologist doesn't simply offer the historical evidence for the resurrection. Much ink is spilt arguing for God and specific arguments (like for the soul, or irreducible complexity or contemporary miracle reports) are interactions from God with the world.

Though you mention that the prior probability must be low for modern people as we haven't met Jesus, weren't eyewitnesses of his miracles etc I still wonder just how improbable it is antecedently when we take these arguments into account?

Callum,

Stepping back for a moment: lazily throwing out the hypothesis of a "group hallucination" without first establishing that such a thing even exists, or that the disciples might have plausibly been susceptible to such a thing shortly after witnessing the crucifixion of their teacher, is (in my opinion) exactly the sort of "bad habit" that New Testament scholars frequently indulge in. Just because someone with a credential is willing to endorse a speculative word salad doesn't mean it should be taken seriously. I'll take Licona at his most timid any day over that.

it looks like O'Connell is considering a smattering of secondhand anecdotes (some of which took place more than a century ago).

Out of interest, how would you describe the creed in Cor. 15? The first is an eyewitness (he didn't experience a hallucination but was there on multiple occasions when others did. I actually think Fraud is a likely hypothesis on this one but it cant be dismissed as simply an secondhand anecdote. Also, consider the fourth case we eyewitness testimony from the bishop writing the report and recorded testimony from his colleagues is included. Is this dismissed as secondhand anecdote?

I am afraid that a lot more work needs to be done in order to show that shared hallucinatory experiences are a genuine psychological phenomena that occur under certain conditions.

Not shared. Simultaneous, individual hallucinations that are similar enough to be mistaken as the same thing. I suspect you feel that modern psychology has ruled this out as improbable. I don't think that's a justified position. First, how many are falsely equating an identical, shared group hallucination with simultaneous, individual ones? When we make that distinction we see some like Zusne and Jones provide plausible theories. Second, how confident can we be that the lack of experimental evidence is down to the rarity of the events rather than a difficulty to reproduce under test conditions?


've read enough of Licona's big book on the resurrection to know that he is quite capable of providing a bit more detail than "there was a group appearance."

Could you give an example? Licona was clear in his book that going beyond one appearance to the 12 is going beyond the evidence as a historian. So he seems to hang his hat on one appearance to the 12. What other details does he have? That Paul taught the resurrected body was physical? anything else?

lazily throwing out the hypothesis of a "group hallucination" without first establishing that such a thing even exists

Ok. We can argue that a resurrection happened based on testimony yes? historical testimony to boot. We haven't established resurrections happen beforehand. Why can "group hallucinations" (I'll go along with that. Again, I agree with Habermas but he doesn't address simultaneous but similar hallucinations) being similarly argued for with historical testimony? Also, is it really lazy if the trouble is taken to *argue* for "group hallucinations" with specific group hallucinations?

or that the disciples might have plausibly been susceptible to such a thing shortly after witnessing the crucifixion of their teacher

But, Boreas, surely this depends on what evidence we accept! Did Jesus predict his resurrection beforehand? Can we trust the accounts in the gospels that they did not understand this *before* the resurrection? Was the empty tomb found with Peter experiencing a private hallucination? Did the disciples hear of this (perhaps from Peter himself?) before the appearance to the 12? It depends on the details. I see no reason why the disciples were not in a state expecting to see Jesus if Peter had already had one and the tomb was empty. Notice how this actually *explains* the evidence from Cor.15. It uses the evidence from the creed to furnish a plausible scenario for expectation (maybe some excitement?) as circumstances in which the appearance to the 12 happened. More importantly the minimal facts proponent has no direct evidence this was false.

Why don't we focus on what possible response Licona could give?

Out of interest, how would you describe the creed in Cor. 15?

The creed in 1 Cor 15 provides us with a condensed summary of a very early formulation of the gospel message (possibly the earliest such formulation). It is not a secondhand anecdote about something odd that happened more than a century ago.

Not shared. Simultaneous, individual hallucinations that are similar enough to be mistaken as the same thing. I suspect you feel that modern psychology has ruled this out as improbable.

My suspicion is that modern psychology doesn't know of such a thing, not that it doesn't exist. At least with the paranormal phenomena that Allison mentions in Resurrecting Jesus there is an extensive case history that exhibits certain patterns, in the case of group hallucinations I doubt we even have that.

What other details does he have? That Paul taught the resurrected body was physical? anything else?

I read Licona's book too long ago to have such details in mind right now. But if Licona thought it was necessary, he could say a bit more about the circumstances the disciples were in after Jesus died, having one's movement end in the crucifixion of its leader was not exactly an unprecedented event back then.

I've read enough of Licona's big book on the resurrection to know that he is quite capable of providing a bit more detail than "there was a group appearance."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop just a minute there, Boreas. Licona is *very explicit* that he is *restricting* his "historical bedrock" to "there was a group appearance." In fact he's *emphatic* about it. And I *didn't* read the book only a "long time ago." I've been studying this very point very recently.

What may we conclude about the appearances to the disciples? A similarity exists with the miracles of Jesus. Bracketing the issue of the nature of the event itself--that is, was it a divine act, magic, psychological delusion or trickery--a paucity of evidence should deter us from affirming the historicity of particular miracles of Jesus. Historians may conclude that Jesus performed acts that he and others interpreted as miracles and exorcisms and that these acts caused many onlookers to drop their jaws in amazement. However, it is difficult to award historicity with a great deal of certainty to any particular miracle or exorcism reported in the Gospels. In a similar manner, historians may conclude that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, a number of his followers had experiences in individual and group settings that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them. We may affirm with great confidence that Peter had such an experience in an individual setting, and we will see that the same may be said of an adversary of the church named Paul. We may likewise affirm that there was at least one occasion when a group of Jesus’ followers including “the Twelve” had such an experience. Did other experiences reported by the Gospels occur as well, such as the appearances to the women, Thomas, the Emmaus disciples, and the multiple group appearances reported by the tradition in I Corinthians 15:3-7 and John? Where did these experiences occur? Historians may be going beyond what the data warrants in assigning a verdict with much confidence to these questions. I reiterate that historians may conclude that subsequent to Jesus’ execution, a number of his followers had experiences, in individual and group settings, that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them in some manner. This conclusion is granted by a nearly unanimous consensus of modern scholars and may therefore be added to our “historical bedrock.” (pp. 372-373, emphasis added)
Licona could say that the proposal lacks plausibility since the conditions needed for a shared hallucinatory experience were not present at the time Jesus appeared to the disciples.

Actually, if we diss the reliability of the resurrection narratives, we don't even know that much.

Let's move on to the tools Licona has to evaluate the hallucination hypothesis. For what it's worth I don't think you are being consistent with your treatment of the evidence, but that be because you haven't look at it in more detail than a cursory glance.

if Licona thought it was necessary, he could say a bit more about the circumstances the disciples were in after Jesus died, having one's movement end in the crucifixion of its leader was not exactly an unprecedented event back then.

I really think you should read his book again to see how bare his position is. The problem for the minimal facts proponent is that he has no direct evidence to use. Its plausible, historical reconstruction pretty much built from the antecedent probability of what circumstance people would be in after the death of a teacher. Nor would the fact that Jesus' movement continued after his death. How many other movements experienced appearances of their teacher after his death (even visionary)? How analogous are we going to take other movements? Why couldn't this be one weird anomaly? After all, we have a number of examples throughout history where groups were faced with overwhelmingly strong evidence that the movement had failed and yet figured out a way to continue nonetheless. If you couple vague appearances with a movement that carried on after the death of its leader, that doesn't seem to be strong enough evidence. We can give a decent shot at explaining that without resurrection in my view.

Boreas, I would suggest that you consider my point earlier in this thread about a slightly top-heavy Bayes factor and the way that that intersects with a low prior probability.

Depending on what one includes in one's minimal set (e.g., does one include the empty tomb or not?), the minimal facts probably should make the skeptic say, "Huh. That's odd." I'm not saying that, e.g., a group hallucination or a paranormal experience is a *good* explanation. But I'm saying it's much, much closer to being a good explanation if we vague-ify the appearance experiences and diss the reliability and provenance of the narratives themselves.

It is just tragically pointless to give the skeptic nothing better than a somewhat indicative argument, a puzzling argument, an argument that might rationally make him say, "Huh. That's odd" when, by relying on the details of the actual narratives, we could give him an argument that is *much* more difficult for him rationally to dismiss.

I think we should do that.

There are various reasons why various people don't want to do that. But a biggie is a kind of addiction--partly pragmatic and partly epistemic--to alluding to the "consensus of scholarship" and then just _leaning_ on that. Not having to go farther than that. And assuming (as I'm afraid Dr. Craig does and sometimes Habermas and Licona write like) that it would somehow be illegitimate, asking too much, etc., to rely on anything stronger that isn't granted by the "consensus of scholarship." When we are talking about a dysfunctional, inbred, irrational, hyperskeptical field of scholarship such as biblical studies is, this is a crippling and illegitimate limitation of our argument.

Licona himself even seems to go so far (in the quotation I just gave) as to say that it is *objectively* beyond the purview of the arguments that an historian *can make* qua historian to conclude that Jesus had the specific appearances reported in the Gospels in detail! This comes dangerously close to, if it isn't over the line of, a kind of Averroistic "two-truth" doctrine. The historian, seen as objective, as sticking to "bedrock," literally *can* only conclude something more vague in the final analysis. Why do we believe, in the end, that Jesus spoke to Thomas, then? Faith beyond rational historical reasons?

This is not a good direction to be going, at all, at all.

It is just tragically pointless to give the skeptic nothing better than a somewhat indicative argument, a puzzling argument, an argument that might rationally make him say, "Huh. That's odd"

I thought it was interesting that Boreas gave this kind of response to some proposed examples of group hallucinations. Not because they aren't odd (they are positively weird some of them) but because I see no principled reason why someone cannot give the same response to the minimal facts argument for the resurrection.

or that the disciples might have plausibly been susceptible to such a thing shortly after witnessing the crucifixion of their teacher
But, Boreas, surely this depends on what evidence we accept!

My point is that in order to give this proposal real teeth you would also have to show that the relevant psychological conditions were in place for something like a group hallucination to plausibly occur (assuming the existence of such hallucinations could be established), otherwise it's just another implausible speculation like so many others. Throwing words together is easy: maybe someone spiked the disciples' drink in the upper room with a substance that had similar psychotropic effects as DMT; they thought they saw Jesus eat some broiled fish, but in truth they were tripping out of their minds!

Well, Boreas, Dale Allison has pointed out that if Jesus *did* foretell his resurrection that might have put them in a more expectant frame of mind.

Now, the texts say that they didn't understand, and the texts also say that they were in fear on the day of the resurrection.

But at this point the problem is that, if you take the documents to be very shaky and unreliable, it's hard to know which parts are true and which are false as far as what Jesus predicted, what state of mind they were in, etc.

Remember that, to reject the resurrection, the *disjunction* of the various alternatives is all that has to be true. The skeptic doesn't have to come up with a highly *specific* disjunction unless we present him with tough enough evidence to press him in a specific direction.

You talk about an implausible speculation like others, but what is plausible or implausible depends on the evidence it's supposed to explain. So does *degree* of implausibility. As I've pointed out, people don't always seem to realize (I'm not sure that you realize) that there are *some* types of appearance experiences that would actually be evidence *against* the bodily resurrection, at least as an explanation of that experience: E.g. If what they experienced was a floating, non-speaking Jesus for five minutes, who never showed up again.

Once you really cognize the true vagueness of what would be compatible with the watered-down appearance claims, I think you'll see the point of the objection more. What we get is a weakly top-heavy Bayes factor--evidence that is *somewhat* better explained by a real resurrection than by its negation. (And that for approximately the reasons you give.) But that isn't really all that helpful. Especially not given the fact that a real resurrection is a miracle.

I can think of lots of pieces of evidence that have top-heavy Bayes factors for lots of things that I still, rationally, don't believe.

In contrast, when we bring in the actual details of the narratives and boldly affirm that this is what the disciples *claimed*, and that they testified to it under conditions of extreme duress and danger, then the options are drastically narrowed down, and the Bayes factor becomes strongly top-heavy, especially with multiple witnesses.

Ahh. Here's the thing, on a Bayesian analysis (if I'm correct and I couldn't be at a better place to be corrected) when we compare a hypothesis and it's negation to see how well the evidence supports a hypothesis (which is the the better explanation) we measure the ratio of hypothesis with its negation. Now, how well does the evidence fit the resurrection assuming the resurrection happened and how well does the evidence fit assuming it didn't?

The problem for Licona is that he was especially vague evidence. How much does the evidence support a group hallucination? We have no idea (on licona's thesis) on the surrounding circumstances. That's not inconsistent but it's not directly supported. There is no *direct* evidence for or against the plausibility of these types of hallucinations. It's pretty much a punch at the antecedent probability of a group of followers being in the condition to hallucinate. How does this compare to the resurrection hypothesis? It suffers from the same bare evidence! Again, we have no idea in the surrounding circumstances. There is no direct evidence that for or against the plausibility of a bodily resurrection (could some see it, while others couldn't?).

Both hypothesis are equally weakly supported by the evidence because of how vague and general it is. There's little justification in giving the resurrection a too heavy ratio with the hallucination hypothesis.

Dammit I didn't see your post Lydia!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop just a minute there, Boreas. Licona is *very explicit* that he is *restricting* his "historical bedrock" to "there was a group appearance." In fact he's *emphatic* about it. And I *didn't* read the book only a "long time ago." I've been studying this very point very recently.

I get it that Licona is unwilling to commit himself to any details about the appearance itself, but I imagine he would be willing to say a bit more about the historical context of the disciples if he thought it would helpful to his argument.

It is just tragically pointless to give the skeptic nothing better than a somewhat indicative argument, a puzzling argument, an argument that might rationally make him say, "Huh. That's odd" when, by relying on the details of the actual narratives, we could give him an argument that is *much* more difficult for him rationally to dismiss.

Just to be clear I am more a fan of the sort of minimalist argument that Craig makes than the ones that Habermas and Licona make. I think the argument Craig defends is about as good as it gets right now in providing an array of detailed arguments for his facts without getting too hung up on whether there's consensus. I've already sketched for you how he might respond to alternative proposals given by Allison and yourself, so I remain unconvinced that there's a genuine problem here.

I thought it was interesting that Boreas gave this kind of response to some proposed examples of group hallucinations. Not because they aren't odd (they are positively weird some of them) but because I see no principled reason why someone cannot give the same response to the minimal facts argument for the resurrection.

There's a world of difference between the amount of scholarship supporting a minimal facts arguments for the resurrection and the simple act of relaying a smattering of peculiar secondhand anecdotes.

Well, Boreas, Dale Allison has pointed out that if Jesus *did* foretell his resurrection that might have put them in a more expectant frame of mind.

Okay, but that doesn't explain the appearances or the empty tomb, both of which Craig argues for in detail.

E.g. If what they experienced was a floating, non-speaking Jesus for five minutes, who never showed up again.

Again, Craig defends with various arguments of his own a much stronger statement than Licona to the effect that appearances occurred to multiple individuals at various times and places. So it wouldn't be hard for him to reject this bizarre idea of a ghostly Jesus who appears once for five minutes and never shows up again.

Again, Craig defends with various arguments of his own a much stronger statement than Licona to the effect that appearances occurred to multiple individuals at various times and places. So it wouldn't be hard for him to reject this bizarre idea of a ghostly Jesus who appears once for five minutes and never shows up again.

Now does Craig here mean different individuals had appearances which occurred on different times or that a group of people experienced an appearance more than once? The 12 experiencing more than one group hallucination is good evidence against the hallucination hypothesis. That is, if Craig means the latter and not the former.

Now does Craig here mean different individuals had appearances which occurred on different times or that a group of people experienced an appearance more than once? The 12 experiencing more than one group hallucination is good evidence against the hallucination hypothesis. That is, if Craig means the latter and not the former.

As I remember it, Craig defends the notion of multiple appearances to different groups. But don't take my word for it, here's a link to Craig's book-length treatment on the resurrection: https://www.amazon.com/Son-Rises-Historical-Evidence-Resurrection/dp/1579104649/

Okay, but that doesn't explain the appearances or the empty tomb, both of which Craig argues for in detail.

He doesn't actually argue for it *in detail*. I don't usually suggest to people that they read entire threads, but I imagine you're a pretty quick reader, and you can see what I've said to Calvin Marshall, above.

Please especially see my comment here about the way that he does the argument for the physicality of the resurrection appearances.

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/05/response_to_dr_craigs_podcast.html#comment-444522

As for "arguing in detail" for the empty tomb, there again he tries to use multiple attestation. But please see my discussions above of the trouble with concepts of independence in the use of multiple attestation by NT scholars. There are very serious problems. For example, Craig tries to say that the "creed" in I Corinthians 15 is independent attestation to the empty tomb! Well, I mean, *no*, it just isn't. In all probability, those who told Paul that the tomb was found empty, who told him about finding the empty tomb, were the apostles or people who had talked to the apostles or to the women. It's not like, causally, Paul is saying that he *saw* the empty tomb himself, and I think we can say with great confidence that he didn't see the empty tomb shortly after Jesus' death. So his implicit (and it is implicit) assumption in I Cor. 15 that the tomb was empty is really far from being an independent "attestation" of the empty tomb.

Moreover, if the gospel narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the finding of the empty tomb are riddled with contradictions and fictional elaborations, then a serious question arises concerning the type of independence there as well. For example, why should we not think that there was *one* story that floated around (we don't know quite what it was) that constituted a "finding the empty tomb" tradition and that these four gospel authors riffed on that "finding the empty tomb tradition" using their imaginations?

Obviously, I think that's completely false. But the problem is that Craig is unwilling to "get down" and say that this isn't the kind of narratives that the resurrection narratives *are*. He's quite emphatic that one doesn't need to argue about what kind of narratives they are. He thinks one can gesture in the direction of "multiple attestation" and fix all of that. Well, no. Not if the differences in the narratives are the result of imagination riffing on a common core source! Then that's not independence given the negation of H. That's not the valuable kind of multiple attestation anymore.

We need to be using the differences in the narratives to argue that these authors are independently relating *true things that happen*, that they have independent access *to the truth*, and that the differences are a result of *that*, a result of the kinds of variations one gets in truthful testimony.

But that isn't the direction that Craig wants to go, because that would require one to be prepared to harmonize, etc., and he is quite definite, here in this most recent podcast as well, that harmonizing the resurrection narratives is no part of a good case for the resurrection. And again, he doesn't just mean that it isn't a part of some sort of brief, initial statement, but that it isn't epistemically necessary to be basing one's argument on the authenticity of these narratives as coming from witnesses.

And, once again (again) there just isn't all that much to explain in vague references to *some kind* of appearances. Again (again), Craig emphasizes that the "appearances" in his premise are acknowledged by a large majority of scholars, including Ludemann and Pannenberg, both of whom *deny* the authenticity of the resurrection narratives. So what sort of "appearances" can he even be talking about that have that wide of a consensus?

It's a major, major weakening of the argument to define down your premise that much and then to claim consensus on such a minimal claim.

I first want to say thank you for all that you and your husband do for the cause of the gospel. There are probably more people than you know who are very appreciative of your work.

I think that most of us can agree that if the gospels are shown to be substantially reliable and trustworthy (particularly in the details of the resurrection narratives in the canonical gospels) then the case for Christ’s resurrection is extremely strong. Strong enough that to deny it would be foolish. And I agree with you that such a case can be made.

But I think that you may be underestimating the strength of an argument that merely defends a more minimal amount of strongly evidenced data. It is one thing to say that such arguments are not nearly as strong as the approach you propose, but it is something else to say that these types of arguments could not make the conclusion that Christ rose bodily more likely than not (and I’m not sure that you are saying that). I’m not so sure that they couldn’t meet that more modest threshold.

I have heard Dr. Habermas state in interviews and lectures that he defines a minimal fact as meeting two criteria. First, it must be strongly evidenced, and second, that it be accepted by the majority of scholars who have written or commented on it. But he also says that it is the first criteria that is what ultimately matters (that the fact is strongly evidenced). He has said that the majority scholarly consensus could change but it would not change his argument. He would still use the same facts and defend those facts using the same evidence. He will often include the three group appearances within the creed in 1 Cor. 15. He does also include the empty tomb as a fact that is strongly evidenced and could be used in a minimal facts argument for the resurrection but he will usually add the caveat that by his count of scholarly opinion of the last few decades, the empty tomb is accepted only by somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of the scholars who have written on it. But like I said, even if the scholarly opinion were to radically change, he could still use the empty tomb and he would just defend it based upon the evidence in its favor.

“If such a person (like Allison) thinks that there are paranormal experiences that are happening all the time (I think he's probably wrong about that, but he believes it) that involve "seeing" the dead but no bodily resurrection, then a person in that position could pretty readily attribute a vague appearance event to such a paranormal occurrence.”

But if one is defending a minimal facts approach, Allison has a lot more than just one appearance to deal with. In fact, my understanding is that there is no single case in the paranormal/bereavement literature of an apparition appearing to both groups and individuals as frequently as Jesus is said to have done even if we limit ourselves merely to the appearances listed in the creed in 1 Cor. 15. And apparitional appearances to enemies (like Paul) are quite rare. And these experiences normally don’t result in people then thinking that the deceased person is now alive. So I don’t think that it would be so easy for someone like Allison to just say they were merely bereavement visions.

I think that Allison simply underestimates the strength of the arguments in favor of an empty tomb. The fact that someone as skeptical of the gospels as Allison reluctantly concedes the empty tomb is a testament to the strength of the evidence in its favor. Craig and others have given detailed arguments for the empty tomb and these arguments must stand or fall on their own apart from a scholarly majority consensus. I think those arguments are a lot stronger than Allison does. I don’t think it is 51%-49% or something like that. They appear to be much stronger. So that would be another problem for Allison’s theory. I know that Allison thinks that maybe Jesus’ predictions created an expectation of a resurrection which could be the impetus for visions/hallucinations. But the evidence for the empty tomb is stronger than the evidence for Jesus’ predictions. So if he accepts the predictions of Jesus, to be consistent, he would probably need to concede the empty tomb. And an empty tomb is a big problem for his paranormal/bereavement vision hypothesis. Jesus’ tomb should still be occupied.

If it can be shown that Paul taught that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily event (and Licona’s treatment of this in ROJ p. 400-437 seems persuasive) then given his close contact and constant interaction with the Jerusalem leadership and his lengthy time spent with Peter, James and John, it seems very likely that they too taught a bodily resurrection and that that was part of the earliest apostolic proclamation. At that point it is fair to ask, what kind of experiences must these have been to convince the disciples that Jesus had been raised bodily? I don’t think that a ghostly, floating Jesus would have produced in them the conviction that Jesus was raised bodily. Especially not a strong enough conviction to be willing to suffer and even die as in a few of their cases. In fact, we have 1st century evidence for the martyrdoms of three of those four men mentioned in Galatians 2.

Also, the appearance to and conversion of James is also strongly evidenced and could be used as a minimal fact. And we know from Josephus that he was likely martyred so we know he must have been utterly convinced of Christ’s resurrection. We don’t have a record of this appearance in the gospels but given how early the creedal material in 1 Cor. 15 is and James’ leadership position in the church, his conversion seems hard to deny. And it was likely that he wasn’t a believer in Jesus prior to Christ’s appearance to him. And would an ethereal, floating Jesus have caused James to be willing to risk his life? Maybe. But probably not.

That now includes two unbelievers who were converted based an appearance of some sort and this would also need an explanation.

Anyway, while I think that your approach is stronger in many ways, I think that there still may be some merit to an argument that merely appeals to a handful of well evidenced facts and sees how well it holds up. It seems like no single naturalistic theory can account for these well evidenced facts (it may even require more than two). And combining unlikely naturalistic theories may make a natural explanation even more difficult (maybe Paul had heat stroke, stolen body explains the empty tomb, numerous group hallucinations, etc.).

Maybe both approaches could be used together. I’ve often thought that if a minimal facts proponent could also argue for and establish that the apostle John wrote his gospel and was present for many of the events described (including the details of the resurrection appearances where he was present) this would be an extremely difficult argument to dismiss.

DJ, thanks for your comments. I may just get started replying to them before I have to go out. In that case, more later.

But I think that you may be underestimating the strength of an argument that merely defends a more minimal amount of strongly evidenced data. It is one thing to say that such arguments are not nearly as strong as the approach you propose, but it is something else to say that these types of arguments could not make the conclusion that Christ rose bodily more likely than not (and I’m not sure that you are saying that). I’m not so sure that they couldn’t meet that more modest threshold.

It depends on the prior probability in that case. If you read my comments in this thread you'll see that point. Such a minimalist argument is quite a bit weaker, and in my opinion cannot overcome a significantly low prior probability for Jesus' resurrection. Moreover, some of the same concessions that cause people to stick to a minimal facts argument would also lower the prior probability. As I said above, Liar, Lunatic, or Lord (which is part of arguing for the prior) is out the window if one isn't willing to stand up for the reliability of the gospels as accounts of what Jesus taught about himself.


He does also include the empty tomb as a fact that is strongly evidenced and could be used in a minimal facts argument for the resurrection but he will usually add the caveat that by his count of scholarly opinion of the last few decades, the empty tomb is accepted only by somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of the scholars who have written on it. But like I said, even if the scholarly opinion were to radically change, he could still use the empty tomb and he would just defend it based upon the evidence in its favor.

Actually, Habermas is quite emphatic that he does not use the empty tomb as a minimal fact. Neither does Licona. Licona calls it a "second-order fact," and Habermas emphasizes that he agrees with him in not treating it as a minimal fact.

William Lane Craig does treat it as a "core fact" and considers it important.

The fact that someone as skeptical of the gospels as Allison reluctantly concedes the empty tomb is a testament to the strength of the evidence in its favor.

I disagree there. In fact, I'd go farther. *Given* Allison's extreme skepticism about the gospel narratives, illustrated again and again in his book, I think he should consistently be even *more* skeptical of the empty tomb. He might even agree that there he's being influenced more by his "worldview." Allison is very into talking about things that we believe because of our worldview.


Craig and others have given detailed arguments for the empty tomb and these arguments must stand or fall on their own apart from a scholarly majority consensus.

Please read the comments thread above to see my comments on this and on the shaky reliance on a falsely conceived "multiple attestation." Again--especially so if one is not prepared to argue that the gospel narratives of the empty tomb were not invented.

If it can be shown that Paul taught that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily event (and Licona’s treatment of this in ROJ p. 400-437 seems persuasive) then given his close contact and constant interaction with the Jerusalem leadership and his lengthy time spent with Peter, James and John, it seems very likely that they too taught a bodily resurrection and that that was part of the earliest apostolic proclamation. At that point it is fair to ask, what kind of experiences must these have been to convince the disciples that Jesus had been raised bodily? I don’t think that a ghostly, floating Jesus would have produced in them the conviction that Jesus was raised bodily. Especially not a strong enough conviction to be willing to suffer and even die as in a few of their cases.

First, this is unnecessarily roundabout. Way, way too unnecessarily roundabout. Why are we trying constantly to "go through Paul"? I'll tell you why: Because we don't want to use the gospels! We have to get over that. It's really important. This is a miracle we're arguing for. We have to stop going around with one and a half hands tied behind our backs!

Also, the appearance to and conversion of James is also strongly evidenced and could be used as a minimal fact.

Habermas goes back and forth on whether to treat it as a minimal fact, and Licona expressly will not, because not enough scholars address it.

Let me make another point here: (I hope people will read this.) To know that the disciples were willing to die for this, it is extremely helpful to have the book of Acts. Acts is also needed to date the conversion of Paul, which is used to support the importance of the I Cor. 15 "creed."

But if the book of Acts is reliable enough for those purposes (and the second is actually rather detailed), then why must the resurrection narrative in Luke, written by the same author, be treated as untouchable, something we don't want to defend as an authentic account of the claims of the witnesses?


DJ, thanks so much for your kind comments. I would like to encourage you to watch my webinar on a maximal data approach. I believe that it illustrates how this can be done in an efficient way.

I’m not good with the formatting so bear with me.

“It depends on the prior probability in that case. If you read my comments in this thread you'll see that point. Such a minimalist argument is quite a bit weaker, and in my opinion cannot overcome a significantly low prior probability for Jesus' resurrection.”

I suppose that depends on exactly how low their prior is and if they can justify that low of a prior. But what if their prior is not all that low?

Even assuming that it is sufficiently low, I suppose we could make arguments that should cause them to raise it. For example, what about the theistic proofs of someone like an Edward Feser, or well evidenced near death experiences, or Intelligent Design arguments or Origin of Life arguments? It seems that if any or any combination of these arguments are strong it is unreasonable for them to have an extremely low prior.

I know that you have done work on fulfilled messianic prophecy. Given the success of arguments of natural theology (Swinburne, Feser, etc.) and Jesus’ apparent fulfillment of prophecies like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, etc. should their prior really be extremely low? I know that this gets into the whole debate between Classical and Evidential apologetics which is a whole other discussion.

“Actually, Habermas is quite emphatic that he does not use the empty tomb as a minimal fact. Neither does Licona. Licona calls it a "second-order fact," and Habermas emphasizes that he agrees with him in not treating it as a minimal fact.”

I’m getting this from his book “The Risen Jesus and Future Hope” published in 2003. (Probably his best book on the resurrection. I know he has another one coming out soon though.)

“I present below a list of some facts that are accepted as historical by virtually all scholars who research this area, regardless of the many differences in their thought…

“…4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty soon after his internment.” (34)

Footnote 34 reads,
“The empty tomb is not as widely accepted as the other facts on this list. But it is still accepted by the majority of scholars. This is one of my conclusions from my study of resurrection sources published since 1975 written in French, German and English, as detailed in the introduction.” (p. 35).

Later in the chapter he narrows his list of twelve facts down to six minimal facts which do not include the empty tomb. But he does appeal to the empty tomb, gives several reasons for accepting it, and appeals to it as a fact that a skeptic would need to explain (p. 23-24).

I did just now see the article on his website from 2012 where he says that he does not consider it a “minimal fact.”

“Habermas goes back and forth on whether to treat it as a minimal fact, and Licona expressly will not, because not enough scholars address it.”

In Habermas and Licona’s 2004 book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, the appearance to James is listed as a minimal act (p. 67). I know that he later relegated it to a “second order” fact in ROJ, but his criteria seems to me to be too restrictive. I know that in that book he was interested in establishing “historical bedrock”, but I agree with you, that if the evidence for it is strong we should use it and not worry about that.

“I disagree there. In fact, I'd go farther. *Given* Allison's extreme skepticism about the gospel narratives, illustrated again and again in his book, I think he should consistently be even *more* skeptical of the empty tomb.”

I see what you are saying. But he lists his two reasons for slightly affirming the empty tomb. (I’m getting this from Licona’s ROJ. I don’t have Allison’s book where he addresses it so I haven’t seen exactly how critical he is of the gospels.) He says that if the empty tomb accounts were complete fiction, they would not have included the tomb being discovered by women given their low status. And second, he thinks that Jesus’ resurrection appearances alone would not have led them to conclude that Jesus had risen bodily. For them to conclude that Jesus was raised bodily, they must have had the belief that his tomb was empty. He thinks that there are two weighty arguments against the empty tomb but that they are not quite as strong as the two in favor of it. I can at least see his line of reasoning, even if he is overly skeptical about gospel reliability. I don’t think that he would have to affirm that the gospels are generally reliable in order to conclude that these two considerations are weighty. I could be wrong here, but I don’t think one must hold to a high reliability of the gospels in order to logically use the line of argument he used. I think that he is wrong in his skepticism, but I don’t think that he is being inconsistent in seeing the strength of the two factors that caused him to slightly favor the empty tomb.

“As I said above, Liar, Lunatic, or Lord (which is part of arguing for the prior) is out the window if one isn't willing to stand up for the reliability of the gospels as accounts of what Jesus taught about himself.”

I’m not sure that it’s out the window. Of course, Jesus’ explicit statements in John are crystal clear and I know that you and others have defended traditional authorship and John’s consistent reliability very effectively. But there are evangelical authors who have tried to use the liberals’ own critical criteria to establish that Jesus had a divine self-understanding and expressed it implicitly in His words and His actions.

“First, this is unnecessarily roundabout. Way, way too unnecessarily roundabout. Why are we trying constantly to "go through Paul"? I'll tell you why: Because we don't want to use the gospels! We have to get over that. It's really important. This is a miracle we're arguing for. We have to stop going around with one and a half hands tied behind our backs!”

I can see why you would say that. It is not as strong. It is not as direct. But what if our skeptical interlocutor just won’t budge on the reliability of the gospels? What if he just stubbornly refuses to engage our general reliability argument? Or if he just can’t see it for some reason? Is there another route? Someone on this thread asked how we know what these “appearances” even consisted of? Well, this is a roundabout way to get at that. Whatever these “appearances” consisted of, it seems that they convinced the disciples that Jesus was raised bodily. I’m not saying we should replace the more direct way with this. I’m not even saying that this should be our primary strategy. But I think that we can still probably get there. Two weapons are better than one. The more arguments that the skeptic has to answer the better.

I did watch your webinar and I thought it was great. I hope you do more of them.

And second, he thinks that Jesus’ resurrection appearances alone would not have led them to conclude that Jesus had risen bodily. For them to conclude that Jesus was raised bodily, they must have had the belief that his tomb was empty.

In that case, though, the empty tomb is not a *separate* argument for the physical resurrection, because it is depending in no small measure *upon* the claim that the disciples believed Jesus was raised bodily. Do you see the problem there? The only actually independent reason, then, for the empty tomb is the criterion of embarrassment concerning the women's finding the tomb empty in the story. That's not utterly worthless, but for an empty tomb (kind of a big deal), I'm not sure it's sufficient, either, *if* one is keeping open the plausibility, or not challenging it, that the accounts are invented in large measure.

I’m not sure that it’s out the window. Of course, Jesus’ explicit statements in John are crystal clear and I know that you and others have defended traditional authorship and John’s consistent reliability very effectively. But there are evangelical authors who have tried to use the liberals’ own critical criteria to establish that Jesus had a divine self-understanding and expressed it implicitly in His words and His actions.

Yeah, I have to be honest here: I think "divine self-understanding" is vague and weak. If I want to say, as C.S. Lewis does, that Jesus would have to be crazy on the level of someone who thinks he is a postage stamp, or a totally blasphemous liar, I want something stronger than a vague divine self-understanding. The claim to forgive sins in Mark is a good argument here, but a lot of the others from Mark alone seem to me quite weak. Indeed, almost desperate at times. E.g. That Jesus said that he was stronger than Satan because he was able to cast out demons. Hello? The disciples themselves were able to cast out demons, and they weren't God incarnate. One would expect a prophet to be able to cast out demons through the power of God. He could just have been referring to himself as God's agent. The Son of Man argument also doesn't impress me all that much. It's just not clear to me that the "Danielic Son of Man" in the Jewish conception was God incarnate. Indeed, the whole notion of *anyone's* being God incarnate was something they clearly took to be blasphemous. So of all the synoptic arguments, I'm only really impressed by the one about being able to forgive sins. But would I want to base "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" on that one passage alone? I'd consider it much, much stronger with the Johannine claims.

But what if our skeptical interlocutor just won’t budge on the reliability of the gospels? What if he just stubbornly refuses to engage our general reliability argument? Or if he just can’t see it for some reason? Is there another route? Someone on this thread asked how we know what these “appearances” even consisted of? Well, this is a roundabout way to get at that. Whatever these “appearances” consisted of, it seems that they convinced the disciples that Jesus was raised bodily.

That's where I think he should probably go, "Huh. That's odd." It's not utterly worthless. But we're asking him to do something very radical. We want him to commit his whole life to Jesus, to believe that he's God, to worship him, to be prepared to die for him. I think in order to make him really rational in doing that, if he's already imbibed concerns about the idea that the Gospels are unreliable, we need to make available to him the evidence that they aren't. At that point, what he does with that evidence is between him and God.

Quick comment to Imnobody00: If he believes in God, then you can use miracles as support / evidence for reasonable beliefs in things attested to by miracles.

He is a doctor. I have never heard of a doctor who has not come across one or two (or more) cases of bona fide miracles. Or, at the very minimum, cases where he as to say "huh, that's REALLY difficult to explain." But once you get God in the picture, "really difficult to explain" all of a sudden has a new possible explanation that is not contrary to principle: God did it directly.

That can be a lead-in to the miracles in the gospels. But I would preface that with a different basis of grounding / support: there is really good physical, anthropological, and historical evidence that the gospels were written by people who were there, who were in touch with the realities of living in Palestine in year 30 AD, who were familiar with Jews, who got many of the political facts straight on correct, etc. In other words, the kind of people who COULD have been reporting the square facts that actually happened around 30 AD if those events actually took place, not people from many decades later (after Jerusalem had been destroyed), or many hundreds of miles away, who had no direct contact with the actual events.

Then tie in the fact that the people of the early Church who either (a) wrote the gospels, or (b) told the stories that the gospels were based on (as Peter teaching Mark), were such as to have left clear evidence of both personal holiness and personal suffering, persecution, and death, without any evidence of riches, worldly honors, immense harems, or any other this-world rationale for their stories, other than JUST BEING TRUE. This is support for the thesis that their claims were not those of liars and frauds. The accounts in the gospels, Acts, and epistles are not "made up", not fictions and inventions and myths, they were what those very people believed in themselves in literal fashion.

THEN you go on to their miracles, which are reasonable attestations of God's favor of not just their persons, but their words and message. (Obviously, so-called miracles could be claimed by people who are out to bilk the listeners of their money, but the prior point shows that such an accusation cannot be laid at the feet of the apostles.) Importantly, while a few of the miracles get the apostles and early believers out of a jam (St. Peter released from prison by an angel), none of them miraculously make any of the apostles rich: the miracles are almost always for someone else, not for themselves, and they don't uniformly prevent the believers from suffering tortuous deaths. That is to say, the message of giving up this world's goods for the next, and their way of living matched up line by line.

One of the most telling is the example of forgiving one's enemies, following Christ's explicit injunction to us. A very benevolent, kindly, serene human being might, with difficulty, forgive someone who had maliciously and gravely injured him in the past. Some time in the past, after time to get over the immediacy of the injury and the malice of it. It is beyond human strength, beyond human spiritual capacity (unaided), to forgive a torturer even while he is torturing you to death, for love of Christ, to receive that torture with peace of spirit. This is, like the miracles, evidence of the solid match-up between the CLAIMS of the gospels, and the way of living of the apostles and the early Christians who heard them. Like miracles, this sort of thing is not possible to _natural_ human capacity. So, not only did the apostles and disciples believe the claims of the gospels, they had adequate reason to believe them.

That's one way to present the case - the view from 30,000 feet, as it were. As Lydia has pointed out repeatedly, making this case well and thoroughly also requires detailed support for the reliability of the gospels and Acts, not a vague and generalized "something or other like that may have happened". It does not, (contrary to Bill Craig's hyperbolic comment) require proving the reliability of every single piece of the gospels. It is enough to show that, like the other histories of the time, we can show close correspondence with the accounts and many independently verifiable facts, and the internal consistency of them, and the clear, unbroken attestation from the earliest times that everyone in the Christian communities took the gospels as, well, gospel truth. This cannot be done without at least some detailed analysis, but the fact that an enormous body of background support is available does not mean we have to use all of the body of support for each person with whom we are discussing the gospels. For most people, a few of each kind of evidence is enough to make each element of the outline plausible enough to go on with. But there is no saying WHICH few examples will work with any one person, in advance.

So I almost never argue with an unbeliever about biblical inerrancy. I’ll concede for the sake of argument virtually all the errors and inconsistencies in the Old and New Testaments that he wants to bring up, while insisting that the documents collected into what was later called the New Testament are fundamentally reliable when it comes to the central facts undergirding the claims and fate of Jesus of Nazareth.

This would be a much more convincing stance, if only "the central facts undergirding the claims" were a specific body of facts that all scholars agreed upon, and that they agreed were reliably set forth in the NT. But as far as I can see, there isn't such a body of central facts that answers to the expression, that scholars agree are reliably set forth. For example, the empty tomb doesn't qualify if some scholars treat the empty tomb as the NT equivalent of Paul Bunyan being responsible for the Painted Desert's colors by holding crayons to the walls of the canyons while walking past in his seven league boots, and others treat the account as literal fact, and a third group says "well, something happened at the tomb, but we can't say for sure, it might have been that the women were overcome with grief and stress and left with an impression that they decided later meant 'it was empty' - which is why the Apostles were hesitant to believe them, too." And the same, for all of the "central facts" anyone cares to name. You can't make bricks with that kind of "consensus" of opinion. Once you start unraveling the accounts as being peppered with mistaken impressions, outright errors, fictions, mythologizing, revising the earlier details to "fit" with the later events, etc, NO PART of the accounts stand out as "accepted" by the consensus of the scholars as simply reporting it as it was. And if no part is simple reporting and embraced as such, then no "core facts" can be broadly convincing in the way a person can be convinced that any historical account is accurate, they can only be "convincing" to a person who is already prepared to leap past normal evidence to faith. But then it is faith doing all the work, not the evidence. (Which wouldn't be so bad (faith, after all, is good), if only it was faith grounded in ACTUAL Christianity, rather than the hodge-podge of New-Age modernism prettied up with Christian lipstick one finds all over the landscape. A person won't be a believer in the real, actual Christ, God that became a specific man, unless he is acquainted with Him through the actual events of His life and death and resurrection.)

I am not sure if I am thread-jacking this post. A question really bothers me. It is often argued that the multitudes of Jesus friends and family witnessing the crucifixion scene is an hoax because Josephus recorded that it was the Roman custom to forbid friends and relatives from witnessing the crucifixion scene. I mean, where did Josephus say that it was a Roman custom for all crucifixion events? Is it not an over-reading?
Secondly, is it true that the vinegar offered to Jesus was meant to resuscitate Him? And that Jesus giving up the ghost is absurd after being given a vinegar?
Lydia McGrew and co., you guys are doing a great job of rebuking the NT scholars. I live in Nigeria and I am greatly distressed at the way the supposed NT scholars and others handle the Gospel. Their worldview is limited and they often assume that real life follows some sort of formula. Is it as a result of watching too much of detective story movies that makes critics often think that some plot is being hatched in the background and that the NT should not be trusted?
I must add, I belong to the Aladura section of the Pentecostal Church in Nigeria and the history of my church (CAC) is somehow related to the history of the NT church. Applying the dead and lame methodologies of these "brilliant" scholars to the history of the CAC church in Nigeria produce nonsensical results and rubbish. Please keep rebuking these guys harshly, we can no longer tolerate these bad habits. Enough is enough!

Oyebola, I don't have any information on Josephus, but the concept that the Romans would "forbid friends and relatives from witnessing the crucifixion scene" seems highly implausible on its face, for (at least) 2 reasons. First, because a large part of the point of crucifixion is to impress upon possible future criminals the awful result, and this applies as much to family and friends as to anyone else - if not MORE so. Second, the mechanics of trying to forbid this is pretty much silly, if you think about it: the crucifixion takes place in a very public place. You can see the victim from far away, from many angles of view, from many positions. The Romans can't make family and friends all take up residence 4 miles away and stay there for the duration. Nor do the Romans know who all the family and friends are: they are foreign occupiers. They are not locals. They don't speak the local language. There are a few hundred soldiers in Jerusalem, a few thousand in the province. How are they going to sort it out: ask for identification papers? Or ask each person point blank: "are you family or friends, and if you say yes I am going to beat you and maybe put you on a cross too"? How likely is THAT to enable them to figure it out? The Romans, as an occupying force of soldiers, were more used to wielding force in large amounts than in operating as investigative police.

The only plausible scenario I can imagine is that the soldiers might have kept everyone away from the immediate vicinity of the crosses, say perhaps nobody within 50 or 100 feet, so that there was no attempt to either get a criminal down, or to give him food or water.

Secondly, is it true that the vinegar offered to Jesus was meant to resuscitate Him? And that Jesus giving up the ghost is absurd after being given a vinegar?

The people who say that the gospels have Christ giving up the ghost just after (and because of) receiving vinegar (and mocking the idea) have it all backwards. Unlike the usual crucifixion victim, Christ had sweat blood the night before (a recorded phenomenon, in rare situations of a person under great stress). Then he had been whipped (and, since we know that Christ did not cry out in pain, we can reasonably suspect that the floggers went after him with unusual vigor and persistence, trying to get a response). And that he was crowned with thorns on the head - head wounds bleed abundantly because of high numbers of blood vessels in the scalp. Christ was suffering greatly from blood loss, which could have killed him all on its own. In addition, from blood loss and lack of fluids, he would have had severe cramping of muscles, making it very difficult indeed to push up on his feet (as nailed to the cross), which is the only way he could get a breath, because the normal cause of death is asphyxiation, with the lungs unable to exhale and inhale with all of the weight hanging from the arms - when the person no longer has the strength to relieve the pressure on the arms by pushing up from the feet.

There is ample tradition from the early Church that the ONLY reason Christ survived as long as he did was because, as God, he miraculously kept himself alive through what would have killed an ordinary person. Ultimately, when he had performed all of the acts that he had deemed right, he then STOPPED the miraculous survival, and died. This fits also with his own statement, earlier, that

The reason the Father loves Me is that I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.

Christ is clearly claiming to be in complete control of the moment of his death. So the vinegar has nothing to do with the timing of death, it is entirely beside the point of when death occurred.

Oyebola, neither I nor (more importantly) Tim, whom I asked, knows where this idea is coming from that Josephus records that the Romans forbade friends and family from being present. If you have an alleged reference in Josephus, I can look it up. Josephus does talk about appealing to Titus for the life of three friends whom he saw being crucified.

I also know of no evidence that Jesus would not have died right after drinking vinegar/sour wine, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. He was dying on the cross, was severely dehydrated (as Tony notes). Drinking vinegar just doesn't revive a man dying of crucifixion. That sounds like some kind of strange urban legend on the Internet.

Thanks for your encouragement!

Lydia and Tony,
Thank you very much for the replies. My Muslim friend was deriving his arguments from the best-selling book "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail".
Nevertheless, I will read Josephus writings though it is boring to me. I will also ask him to provide the reference in Josephus writings.

It's funny you should say that. Someone I asked said that the thing about the vinegar sounded like a "Muslim urban legend." So there y'go.

I think the vinegar thing is a somewhat common argument by Muslims who support the "Swoon Hypothesis" which is that Jesus didn't die on the cross, but merely appeared to do so. I'm going to try and go back through some of the stuff I've read in the past to see if they mention it. I'm pretty sure I remember something like it from a while back when I was studying Islam, and as many of the earliest sources I could find, as well as more modern sources for and against it.

See, I think this is a perfect example of why it is important to discuss the reliability of the gospels at least to a considerable level of detail: If the gospels are at all accurate, Christ was pierced through the heart with a spear, but he was already dead. The soldiers didn't have any reason to overlook Jesus still being alive (hence their "making sure" with the spear). And they presumably had enough knowledge of death to tell the difference for when someone has fallen unconscious and when they are dead, but even if their determination that Christ was already dead was mistaken, still they stabbed him to make sure. A person who has been whipped and lacerated like that, and then crucified and hung for hours, doesn't survive a stab to the heart. Sorry, it doesn't happen, the heart doesn't just heal itself of wounds like that. And even if it did, the guy isn't up and walking around 55 hours later as if nothing happened. (Nor, for that matter, 30 or 40 days later, given the state of medicine in those times.) So you have to throw out the soldiers and the spear.

If, however, you throw out the testimony of the soldiers finding him dead but making sure with the spear, then what? Why not throw out the nails, and the cross, and the scourging? Why not say that Jesus was slipped out of town between the high priest's place and Pilate's? Why not say that the high priest TRIED to get Jesus crucified, but Pilate did not go along (he almost didn't)? Why not say that it was an insane impostor calling himself Christ, claiming all the miracles Jesus had been credited with? Why not cast out ALL of the stuff that is hard to explain? Why bother with a clumsy, implausible "Swoon Hypothesis" at all, when there are plenty of easier ways to make a living at doubting Christ? Oh, right, it's because the gospels say he died, and they are reliable, THAT's why. The Swoon Hypothesis only makes sense at all if you start picking and choosing bits and pieces of the gospels, driven just in order to make that hypothesis feasible. It amounts to "let's reject the Resurrection, and then see how we can back-fill to make it work."

Hi Lydia,

I had a question about the level of reliability that one would need to establish in order to move forward with an argument for the resurrection. In your article in the Blackwell Companion you wrote,

“For the purposes of our argument, we make no assumption of inspiration, much less inerrancy, for these documents, and we accept that there are small textual variations and minor signs of editing, though we do not in any place rely on any passage where the textual evidence leaves serious doubt about the original meaning. Indeed, much of our argument could be made without even the general claim of reliability, since as we shall point out many of the salient facts are agreed upon by scholars across the spectrum.”

Did you mean by that sentence that even if the gospels could only meet some lower level of reliability (let’s say, not nearly as reliable as you take them to be but reliable enough--certainly better than a document riddled with errors and contradictions) that you could establish a particular set of facts similar to the ones you used to erect much the same argument?

Ahhh, thanks for the reminder. That sentence may explain why (I've been told by the grapevine) Dr. Habermas was under the impression that our argument was a minimal facts argument. I had forgotten the sentence and have been baffled by that rumor for a while, knowing as I did that the facts actually conditionalized on were much stronger than those in the minimal facts argument. I'm guessing (the original drafting would have occurred more than ten years ago, by my recollection) that we didn't realize at that time just how little was actually acknowledged by scholars across the spectrum. One could quibble about the phrase "most of our argument," given that we do have the conversion of Paul as one of the facts. But I think at the time we instinctively constructed a much stronger argument--e.g., conditionalizing on the *testimony* of the women and the *testimony* of the disciples, in its details, rather than on the empty tomb and "the appearances"--than minimal facts while not fully cognizing how far we were departing from any scholarly consensus. I suppose if one has to err, it's better to err in that direction, as the argument then comes out actually strong, even if one is forced later to backtrack on the claim about scholarly consensus.

Or decide to treat the current state of NT scholarship as effectively a small scholarly bubble, adrift on a sea of centuries of more sane scholarship that treats the NT documents in a more wholesome manner.

Yes, though if I wrote the article today I certainly wouldn't refer in that place, in that way, to any scholarly consensus *at all*. It's a funny tribute to the widespread influence of the minimal facts argument the way that its way of speaking had become second nature even to those who would ultimately decide that it wasn't enough and who, in the immediate context, were not really using it!

I can certainly attest to a variety of conversations in the past, say, four or five years in which we talked about figuring out that the actual testimony of the disciples was not, in fact, acknowledged by a consensus of scholars "across the spectrum" and realizing that this was a problem. During that time of discovery, our realization that our own strongest statement of the argument for the resurrection was based in no small part upon the details of the disciples' testimony was part of what motivated us to conclude that minimal facts are not enough.

“Ahhh, thanks for the reminder. That sentence may explain why (I've been told by the grapevine) Dr. Habermas was under the impression that our argument was a minimal facts argument. I had forgotten the sentence and have been baffled by that rumor for a while, knowing as I did that the facts actually conditionalized on were much stronger than those in the minimal facts argument. I'm guessing (the original drafting would have occurred more than ten years ago, by my recollection) that we didn't realize at that time just how little was actually acknowledged by scholars across the spectrum. One could quibble about the phrase "most of our argument," given that we do have the conversion of Paul as one of the facts. But I think at the time we instinctively constructed a much stronger argument--e.g., conditionalizing on the *testimony* of the women and the *testimony* of the disciples, in its details, rather than on the empty tomb and "the appearances"--than minimal facts while not fully cognizing how far we were departing from any scholarly consensus. I suppose if one has to err, it's better to err in that direction, as the argument then comes out actually strong, even if one is forced later to backtrack on the claim about scholarly consensus.”

Ok. That makes sense now.

Let me ask you this: Suppose Craig used his standard arguments for the resurrection that he gives but instead of conceding for the sake of the argument all manner of errors and inconsistencies, he instead answered the charge of gospel contradictions with the harmonizations that you and many others have provided? What if he prevented the skeptic from showing that these discrepancies are really irresolvable? At that point could he legitimately appeal to the criteria of multiple independent attestation as evidence for the burial or the empty tomb, etc.? In other words, is it his concessions that he is making up front about the gospels at the beginning that is undermining his appeal to multiple independent attestation? Couldn’t passing the criteria of multiple independent attestation itself (at least somewhat) increase the odds that we are dealing with reliable tradition or can they not serve that function at all until a robust defense of the gospels as a whole is already in place? I’ve always thought that passing that criteria could itself be used (all else being equal) to strengthen the argument for reliability (so long as, of course, we aren’t conceding at the outset that these are unreliable documents as a whole). Would you agree with that?


In other words, is it his concessions that he is making up front about the gospels at the beginning that is undermining his appeal to multiple independent attestation?

It varies. This wouldn't change the problem (mentioned above) with regarding the creed in I Cor. 15 as independent of the gospels as attestation to the empty tomb. It's extremely unlikely that Paul's knowledge of the empty tomb (which in any event is reflected only in an indirect way in I Cor. 15) was independent of any of the people who lay behind the gospel accounts. Regarding the creed in I Cor. 15 as an independent attestation to the empty tomb just appears to be a flat-out error, arising from the fact that NT scholars are too often considering only literary dependence as a possibility. Sure, I Cor. may have been written before any gospel was written, and in that sense may not be literarily dependent, but if Paul's knowledge is dependent on the same *people* giving us the accounts in the gospels, then there is a common source, and what he says is not an independent attestation, since it comes back to the reliability of those people, such as the apostles, who plausibly relayed to Paul the fact that the tomb was found empty and who also wrote or lay behind some of the gospels.

What you suggest would help with other things. For example, it would help with regarding the accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb in the gospels as independent of each other, since then the variations (such as the different women's names, the differences in the words of the angels) could be the result of honest variation of memory among the witnesses who lay behind the different accounts. For example, Joanna might have talked to Luke, Mary Magdalene talked to John, and "the other Mary" talked to Matthew. (This is over-simplifying. I'm not saying that the gospel authors each had to be basing their accounts on just one person. But it's illustrative.) And they might have remembered different things about what happened that morning when they found the tomb empty.

So by no means am I suggesting that multiple attestation is valueless but rather that it has to be handled carefully, and it isn't enough just to say that two sources are not *literarily* independent. It also (as you are suggesting) saps multiple attestation of its value if one is conceding up front or even granting ex hypothesi that the differences might be the result of pure invention. See my discussion above about the birth of Jesus.

Let me give you another example: Mike Licona will talk at some length about the idea that John "adapted the tradition" that lay behind the synoptics. He is pretty definite that John was not *literarily* dependent on the synoptics, relying there on a (partial) recent consensus among scholars to that effect. But when he feels so moved (as in the case of the "I am" statements or the words on the cross) he will suggest/conjecture/speculate without batting an eyelash that John had access to the traditions that lay behind the synoptic gospels and that he just imaginatively made stuff up as an "adaptation" of those traditions. Hence, he and Dan Wallace will suggest that "I thirst" might be an "adaptation of the tradition" that Jesus said, "My God, why have you forsaken me." Which is, of course, just making up the "I thirst" saying. Or he'll talk about the idea from "some scholars" that Jesus' unique Johannine claims to deity, such as "I and the Father are one" might be an "adaptation" of the "tradition" that Jesus "presented himself" as God in the ways found in Mark.

But on other occasions, such as when he wants to talk about Jesus' claims to be the Son of Man, Mike will suddenly start talking about John's alleged "independence" of the synoptics and will say that the places in John where Jesus refers to himself as "Son of Man" that don't sound like the same incidents in the synoptics are "independent attestation" of Jesus' claims to be the Son of Man!

But of course if there were these "traditions" floating around about what Jesus said, which "lay behind" both John and the synoptics, and if John felt free to "adapt" these traditions, aka make up whole incidents and sayings, then John's stories about Jesus claiming to be the Son of Man should not be regarded as independent attestation to these actual claims by Jesus. If John can't be regarded as having independent access to *actual incidents* in which Jesus claimed to be God, and if John can't be regarded as having *individual credibility* for those scenes, because he's taken to be "adapting the tradition," then he can't consistently be regarded as individual, independent attestation for unique scenes in which Jesus claims to be the Son of Man! Indeed, if John thought it was just fine to make up scenes in order to present Jesus' statements as recounted in a "tradition" that is like what we find in the synoptics, it's even *more* plausible that he would make up incidents where Jesus says things that sound *even more like* what we find in the synoptics.

It's pretty clear that Licona wants to have his cake and eat it, too, and in a pretty weird way. When "John's Jesus" says things that sound "too different" from the synoptics, but both can be seen as tending to affirm his deity, this is regarded quite seriously as the result of *dependence* on a common tradition, which John adapted in a wildly "creative" way! When "John's Jesus" says things that sound a lot *like* what we find in the synoptics, but in different scenes, then suddenly he wants to whip out "independent, multiple attestation" and regard John as independently attesting to the fact that Jesus made those claims for himself! But the portrait of John's access to the events is inconsistent. Because Licona isn't a probability theorist but knows that it's considered okay by scholars across a wider ideological spectrum to say that Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man, but that the unique, *stronger* Johannine claims are treated with suspicion, he boxes himself into these corners without realizing it.

“Take, for example, the empty tomb. Dr. Craig states that Paul's "creed" in I Corinthians 15 is an "independent" attestation to the empty tomb. Very plausibly, it isn't,…”

But couldn’t the creed 1 Cor. 15 count as indirect confirmation that at least Peter, James and John *believed* that the tomb was empty? It’s hard to imagine that the topic of the vacancy of Jesus’ tomb never came up in their meetings (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9). So if Paul taught a physical view of the resurrection body (which would require an empty grave) and he wrote that these three men gave him the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9), couldn’t this count as an additional source for at least what these original witnesses were *claiming* about Jesus’ tomb? As an additional source that tells us that they believed that the tomb was empty? Peter, James and John were certainly in a position to know if it was empty.

I’m not saying that it is as direct as the apostle John telling us that there was an empty tomb and he saw it. Or with the Apostle Matthew telling us directly in his gospel. But it could provide indirect testimony that Peter, James and John believed that the tomb was empty. And they were in a position to know. Then of course we would need to look at how this belief in an empty tomb came about. And as you’ve pointed out, these guys were willing to suffer and even die for this message which included an empty tomb. And at least Peter and James did. So instead as counting as multiple independent attestation of the empty tomb, could it count as a reliable source of the beliefs of Peter, James and John and in that sense supplemental to the gospels?


“Yup, just looked up those pages in Reasonable Faith, and sure enough, it's the fact that all of the gospel accounts *portray* Jesus' resurrection as physical that he relies on (plus Paul's view). But note that this is different from defending the idea that these actual accounts, individually, came from the disciples. The idea instead is that if they all agree on the interpretive point that the appearances were physical, then probably the appearances had physical aspects to them. But this is very roundabout. If the actual accounts themselves might have been *invented*, then this is much weaker. They could have been invented on the basis of a *belief* that Jesus was physically raised, where we do not know why that belief came into being in the first place.

Craig argues that such a belief would have been unlikely to arise in a vacuum in either a Jewish or Gentile context. That point is not without some force, but again, it is a far weaker, more roundabout way of making the argument because one is unwilling to confront head-on the mainstream scholarly disdain for the origin of the resurrection accounts themselves, based partly on claims of irreconcilable contradiction and a general notion that the gospels are "beefed up" factually.”

I’m not sure if this will shed some light on this or not. I was reading through an older essay by Craig titled “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in a 1995 book “Jesus Under Fire” edited by Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. It was primarily a response to the Jesus Seminar I think.
Under his defense of the ‘The Postmortem Appearances’ he writes,

“2. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances are fundamentally reliable historically…

…Indeed, the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels in general is strong enough that we may affirm the appearance traditions that they contain, far from being basically legendary are substantially credible from a historical standpoint” (pp. 153-154).


He then goes on to argue about the controlling presence of eyewitnesses and the authoritative control that the apostles would have had to keep legend from creeping into the narrative. He writes,

“Since the apostles were the guardians of the Jesus tradition and directed the Christian community, it would have been difficult for fictitious appearance stories incompatible with the apostles’ own experience to arise and flourish so long as they were alive” (p. 155).

He then even briefly addresses an appearance in John 21 and writes,

“Moreover, the witness of the Beloved Disciple also stands behind this appearance and vouches for the traditions contained within” (p. 155).


So far as I can tell, none of this material made it into the 3rd edition of Reasonable Faith (but I might be missing it). I think that he alludes to one of these points only briefly. It could be that this is part of what Craig was referring to when he said that he has defended the historicity of the resurrection narratives in his written work. But I think that given the concerns that you have raised, this information should have been included in the 3rd addition of Reasonable Faith because more people will end up reading that book than his great essay in “Jesus Under Fire” from 1995.



So far as I can tell, none of this material made it into the 3rd edition of Reasonable Faith (but I might be missing it).

In a preface to the 3rd edition, he expressly says (I'm not going to drag out the quote right now, but this is a fair summary, I believe) that he's glad the editors allowed him to cut a contribution by Blomberg (I believe it was) on the reliability of the Gospels! He says that it was "a fine piece of work in itself" but that he was glad to eliminate any appearance that this has to be argued for as part of the defense of the resurrection.

See?

This is part of what I mean by saying that I definitely am basing my concerns on "written work."

But couldn’t the creed 1 Cor. 15 count as indirect confirmation that at least Peter, James and John *believed* that the tomb was empty?

Not separately from counting as indirect confirmation that those three believed that Jesus was physically risen. The one is known by way of the other. We infer that Paul believed that the apostles believed that the tomb was empty by noticing that Paul believed that the apostles believed that Jesus was risen. You can't double-count when the one fact (e.g., the empty tomb) is inferred by way of inferring another fact (that the disciples believed that Jesus was physically risen, which is also inferred from the creed).

But couldn’t the creed 1 Cor. 15 count as indirect confirmation that at least Peter, James and John *believed* that the tomb was empty? It’s hard to imagine that the topic of the vacancy of Jesus’ tomb never came up in their meetings (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9). So if Paul taught a physical view of the resurrection body (which would require an empty grave) and he wrote that these three men gave him the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9), couldn’t this count as an additional source for at least what these original witnesses were *claiming* about Jesus’ tomb? As an additional source that tells us that they believed that the tomb was empty? Peter, James and John were certainly in a position to know if it was empty.

The problem is that if we are going to rely on Paul relying on the Apostles' belief that the tomb was empty, we need to have a reason for being satisfied that the Apostles own belief rested on something belief-worthy. What kind of evidence could that have been? And, much more to the point, if the Apostles found that evidence credible, would they not have wanted to use it in convincing others? Of course they would. So did they? Of course they did: they talked INCESSANTLY about (a) actually seeing the empty tomb; and (b) actually seeing Christ risen. And conversing with Him at length. And eating with Him. And touching Him. And putting a finger into the holes in his hands. These different actions, then, count as "multiple independent attestations", to the Apostles, that they were REALLY seeing Christ in the flesh: they had confirmation from sight, sound, and touch, by multiple witnesses, along with the revelation of the meanings of Scripture that they could not have come to on their own. If their talking about (a) is at all reliable, so is (b). And if the accounts we have of (a) are "indirectly" supported by Paul's creed, then SO are the accounts of (b)

There is no reason to stand back from affirming confidently and positively that the accounts of seeing Christ risen are reliable.

Oyebola Feranmi,

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is pseudo-historical nonsense. Most of the "facts" the authors cite are made up from thin air. You may safely ignore it.

I'll just add my voice to Callum and DJ. Pick a random person: the prior probability of that person having been resurrected is low, even given theism. But we have prior knowledge about Jesus that distinguishes him from any random person, so that a reasonable prior for Jesus' resurrection is not low at all. Not only can we have certain knowledge that God exists, we can also know something about the nature of God and of man by natural light, and we can investigate the OT scriptures: this, done reasonably, will yield a high confidence in the truth of ancient Hebrew religion. The Jewish prophets prophesied that the whole earth would come to worship their God, the God of Israel specifically, not just some unspecified monotheistic deity. Consider how improbable that prophesy was if Hebrew religion is false. This is not the sort of thing that was as likely as not to happen anyway. Yet through Christianity exactly that has been happening. This both lends further support to the truth of Hebrew religion and it does so in a way that also supports Christianity particularly. Jesus has a very strong claim to be the promised Messiah. And since we already know a God who CAN do such a miracle exists, and that Jesus is very likely to be the sort of person for whom He WOULD do such a miracle. Our prior probability that He HAS done so, before looking at the data of the Gospels and the other texts, should not be low at all.

Hello again Lydia,

My apologies for the delay in this response.

Okay, but that doesn't explain the appearances or the empty tomb, both of which Craig argues for in detail.
He doesn't actually argue for it *in detail*.

Just going from memory: Craig (1) applies the criterion of embarrassment to the fact that a member of the Sanhedrin is credited with burying Jesus to establish the fact that the location of Jesus burial was public knowledge, and then argues that the apostles couldn't have credibly proclaimed the resurrection of their teacher in Jerusalem if the tomb wasn't empty; (2) he also applies the criterion of embarrassment to the fact that a group of women followers are said to be the ones who first discovered the empty tomb; (3) he observes that the empty tomb is multiply and independently attested in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15; (4) he argues that Matthew's account of the guard at the tomb (whether invented or real) suggests that Jewish authorities did in fact claim that the disciples secretly removed Jesus's body from the tomb, which (of course) doesn't make sense as an accusation against the disciples unless the tomb was empty. So Craig has a number of arguments that he thinks can be used to establish a cumulative case for the empty tomb.

There are very serious problems. For example, Craig tries to say that the "creed" in I Corinthians 15 is independent attestation to the empty tomb! Well, I mean, *no*, it just isn't. In all probability, those who told Paul that the tomb was found empty, who told him about finding the empty tomb, were the apostles or people who had talked to the apostles or to the women. It's not like, causally, Paul is saying that he *saw* the empty tomb himself, and I think we can say with great confidence that he didn't see the empty tomb shortly after Jesus' death. So his implicit (and it is implicit) assumption in I Cor. 15 that the tomb was empty is really far from being an independent "attestation" of the empty tomb.

If Craig is right in saying that the creed Paul recites in 1 Corinthians 15 presupposes an empty tomb, then he is also correct in saying that it does so independently of the Gospel accounts, since these texts were almost certainly produced independently of each other. You complain that such agreement is probably due to these texts ultimately sharing a common source earlier than both, but the whole point of independent attestation is to argue for just that sort of thing.

Moreover, if the gospel narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the finding of the empty tomb are riddled with contradictions and fictional elaborations, then a serious question arises concerning the type of independence there as well. For example, why should we not think that there was *one* story that floated around (we don't know quite what it was) that constituted a "finding the empty tomb" tradition and that these four gospel authors riffed on that "finding the empty tomb tradition" using their imaginations?

The idea behind the criterion of multiple attestation is that it is unlikely for independently produced sources to fabricate the same version of events, not that it is impossible.

We need to be using the differences in the narratives to argue that these authors are independently relating *true things that happen*, that they have independent access *to the truth*, and that the differences are a result of *that*, a result of the kinds of variations one gets in truthful testimony.

But that isn't the direction that Craig wants to go, because that would require one to be prepared to harmonize, etc., and he is quite definite, here in this most recent podcast as well, that harmonizing the resurrection narratives is no part of a good case for the resurrection. And again, he doesn't just mean that it isn't a part of some sort of brief, initial statement, but that it isn't epistemically necessary to be basing one's argument on the authenticity of these narratives as coming from witnesses.

Obviously, Craig doesn't use the differences between the resurrection accounts to setup an undesigned coincidences argument for the empty tomb (or whatever); however, I would imagine that he would have no qualms about incorporating such an argument to his own case.

The idea behind the criterion of multiple attestation is that it is unlikely for independently produced sources to fabricate the same version of events, not that it is impossible.

Boreas, it obviously matters what you mean by "independently". Let me give an example.

Suppose you came across 3 written accounts of what Mt. Rushmore looks like. All three mention faces on the mountain, each of them describes the faces and the descriptions are relatively consistent. Each of the three are written by writers who have visited the mountain (variously) in 1960, 1990, and 2018. Each of them hails from different parts of the country, are not related, and give no hint of being in contact with each other. That would be pretty strong independent attestation of there being faces on the mountain.

Now take 3 written stories purportedly of a solar eclipse that took place at Denver in 2015. Two of the three lived near each other in Denver in 2015, but all three lived in Denver in 2016 and 2017, and to have had close association with each other (their own accounts say so). Their accounts match up to a significant degree about the eclipse, describing some of the same details - winter, partially sunny day - and each has a few details the others don't have. A couple of the latter details are, while not impossible to fit together into the same account, nor are they simple and easy to fit together into a single event actually witnessed together. However, it is known that the third person did not live in a place that had a solar eclipse in 2015.

It is possible that the third person traveled to Denver to witness the eclipse in 2015, but it is not necessary to assume so in order to account for the three written stories, for the third can be writing simply what he heard from the other two. The differences of the 3 stories could be due to each remembering different elements with varying perspectives. The third person's distinctive details can be simply reporting parts that he heard from the other two that THEY don't feel it necessary to mention, as those don't write down in their accounts everything that they told the third person. If so, it cannot be said that the third story counts as "independent" in the very same sense that the 3 accounts of Mt. Rushmore stand as independent. And, of course, it could be that the 2 persons who live in Denver told the third a made-up story, and got him to believe it.

A reader of all 6 accounts, inclined to think "a mountain that looks like the faces of 4 people" is about as unlikely, or even more unlikely, than an eclipse, ends up with better reason to believe in the mountain than in the eclipse. The stories of the eclipse could all have come from an agreement of the three to simply make up a story, and tell it for whatever reason suits their fancy. Given their known association with each other, the story produced would not then be "independent" in the relevant sense to be full-on "multiple independent attestation". Not simply, anyway. Whether the 3 accounts are written days apart or years apart, their telling it could easily borrow from what each heard from the other two, at least to some extent, and not only from his own viewing. But more importantly, the third person's account very likely rests almost wholly on what he heard from the other two, thus his story is dependent.

Let's remember that Paul knew the disciples. That Luke knew Paul and that Luke and likely Matthew used Mark.

If Craig is right in saying that the creed Paul recites in 1 Corinthians 15 presupposes an empty tomb, then he is also correct in saying that it does so independently of the Gospel accounts, since these texts were almost certainly produced independently of each other. You complain that such agreement is probably due to these texts ultimately sharing a common source earlier than both, but the whole point of independent attestation is to argue for just that sort of thing.

So, Boreas, you just don't get it about independence, even though I've repeated the point again and again. I have other posts to work on right now. Rather than replying to everything in your comment, I'll just give *one more try* in response to the bit I've just quoted. Again, I hate emphasizing my special expertise in this area, but since there are too many out there saying I don't know what I'm talking about, let me emphasize yet again that this is my area of specialty in probability theory and that I have multiple publications on this topic of independence and testimony.

No: The whole point of independent attestation is not (repeat, not) to argue for "just that sort of thing." If all that multiple accounts attest to is a single earlier *source*, rather than multiple access that ultimately goes back separately to *reality*, then we have only one source--namely, the common source from which our current accounts drew.

You are literally making again the same mistake I've been talking about over and over again in this thread--mistaking literary independence for probabilistic/epistemic independence. Indeed, claiming that they are the same thing! I've addressed this, and your above comment is basically just saying, "Yes, they are too independent." No, not in the relevant sense. If A and B current accounts that we possess come from a common source that is not identical to reality itself, then the reliability of the common source is what it all comes down to. Which is one source, not two.

I'm sorry if you don't understand this, but it's important. And it's an important point that biblical scholars evidently are widely confusing each other about. So they need an outside perspective. Especially since it is causally making them careless about "dissing" the *individual* reliability of the documents in question, thinking that multiple attestation will take up the slack.

They need to stop it. If you don't get it still after I've repeated it now for perhaps the fourth time in this thread, I still have to move on to the other things I'm working on. But it seems to me that it shouldn't be that difficult a point to get, so it will be unfortunate if others prove equally intransigent.

The majority of Bible scholars do not believe that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. The only people who still believe that they were are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants. If the Gospels are not eyewitness testimony, then the stories within them are nothing but hearsay. Is that really sufficient evidence to believe that a first century brain-dead corpse came back to life, exited its sealed tomb, and later flew off into the clouds?

https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/majority-of-scholars-agree-the-gospels-were-not-written-by-eyewitnesses/

gary, considering that this whole thread has been about the advantages of direct evaluation of all the evidence, as opposed to assuming the consensus of Bible scholars is correct, your citations of what any given Bible scholars believe is going to fall flat here.

"Most Scholars Agree" is the approved modernist version of the appeal to authority, which is interesting because that's a form of appeal that modernists in general otherwise reject.

Of course there are quite a few examples from history where "Most Scholars" were wrong. It's funny that we moderns tend to discount examples of consensus that have stood the test of time while granting credence to scholarship that basically sprang up yesterday, provided enough "experts" espouse it.

gary definitely qualifies for "Don't feed the trolls" treatment.

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