Response to William Lane Craig – Part 14

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:

In order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.

Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:

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

Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.

In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims.

In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.

Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.

In this post, we shall see that the Gospel of Mark is viewed as an unreliable source of information about Jesus, and that the Passion Narrative in Mark is even more dubious and more unreliable than the rest of the Gospel of Mark, based on Robert Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel.  Therefore, the canonical Gospels fail to provide solid evidence for the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

The Gospel of Mark has many of the same basic problems as the other Gospels, according to Funk in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ):

  • It was not written by one of the original disciples of Jesus  (HTJ, p.116)
  • It was not written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus (HTJ, p.50)
  • It was written between 70CE and 80CE, forty to fifty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.38)
  • Most of the sayings and teachings ascribed to Jesus in Mark are not from the historical Jesus (HTJ, p.41)

Funk and the Jesus Seminar examined all of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and many of these sayings were judged to be probably unhistorical.  I looked at the Jesus Seminar evaluations of these sayings from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Mark and they judged 34 verses to be black or gray, and 16 verses to be pink, and 0 verses to be red (see The Five Gospels, pages 54-67).  The colors can be interpreted as follows (The Five Gospels, p.36):

red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.

pink: Jesus probably said something like this.

gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.

black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.

Thus out of a total of 50 verses from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Mark, only 16 of those verses were judged to be such that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  The remaining 34 verses were judged to be either probably or definitely NOT something that was said by the historical Jesus.  This means that the Jesus Seminar judged that only 32% or about one out of three verses in these chapters of Mark were probably historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as pink), and that about two out of three verses (in these chapters) were probably NOT historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as gray or black).  In other words, the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings that it ascribes to Jesus.

Given the specific skeptical beliefs of Funk about the Gospel of Mark, and given the view that the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Gospel of Mark is probably also very unreliable in terms of the actions attributed to Jesus and the events related to the life and death of Jesus.

The Jesus Seminar has also investigated the specific actions and events portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, and evaluated the historicity of those actions and events.  It should come as no surprise that the Jesus Seminar determined that the Gospel of Mark was also very unreliable concerning claims about the actions of Jesus and the events related to his life and ministry.

I looked over the evaluation of the “acts of Jesus” by the Jesus Seminar in the first 13 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, prior to the Passion Narrative (see “Inventory of Events” in The Acts of Jesus, pages 558-561) .

The Jesus Seminar evaluated 64 different acts or events from those chapters and judged that 20 of them were either red or pink.  The remaining 44 acts or events were judged to be either gray or black.  Here are the meanings of those color categories (The Acts of Jesus, p. 36-37):

red: The historical reliability of this information is virtually certain.  It is supported by a preponderance of evidence.

pink: This information is probably reliable.  It fits well with other evidence that is verifiable.

gray: This information is possible but unreliable.  It lacks supporting evidence.

black: This information is improbable.  It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.

Thus, according to the evaluations of the Jesus Seminar, only about 31% of the events in Chapters 1 to 13 of the Gospel of Mark are probably true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either red or pink) and that about 69% of the alleged events in those chapters of Mark are probably not true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either gray or black).  This confirms the previous reasonable inference that the Gospel of Mark is also very unreliable concerning the actions of Jesus and the events in his life.

Given all of the above skeptical assumptions and conclusions about the unreliability of the Gospel of Mark, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Passion Narrative (hereafter: PN) found in this Gospel was also very unreliable.  Thus, it should be no surprise that Robert Funk has a very skeptical view of the PN in Mark.  In fact, Funk appears to believe that the PN in Mark is even LESS reliable than the rest of this Gospel:

The use of tales that circulated in oral form prior to Mark ceases with the beginning of Mark’s account of the passion, which reaches its climax, of course, with the arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Most of these elements are products of Mark’s narrative imagination, although he may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  (HTJ, p.131)

Since Funk believes that the PN in Matthew and Luke is based primarily on the PN in Mark, his skeptical comments about the PNs apply to the PN in Mark:

The story of Jesus’ arrest, trials, and execution is largely fictional; it was based on a few historical reminiscences augmented by scenes and details suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms. (HTJ, p.127)

So, Funk believes that “most of these elements” in Mark’s PN are “products of Mark’s narrative imagination” and that scenes and details in Mark’s PN were “suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms.”

Funk throws a bone to believers in saying that the author of Mark “may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances”; he does not say that the author of Mark is certainly drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances; he also does not say that the author of Mark is probably drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  This implies that the author of Mark MIGHT NOT “be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances” and that the entire PN in Mark might well be purely a product of the author’s “narrative imagination”.

Not only was the author of Mark not an eyewitness to the events of the PN, but most of Jesus’ disciples fled after his arrest and thus were not present for the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:

Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed the narrative reflects any eyewitness observation at all. (HTJ, p.220)

Notice that there are two layers of doubt expressed here:  (1) there might have been no followers of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and (2) even if there were a few followers of Jesus who were alleged eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, the PN in Mark might not reflect any observations or testimony from those eyewitnesses.

Funk has serious doubts about the historical reliability of the story of the Last Supper, which is reported in Mark 14:12-26:

The words spoken by Jesus at the last supper…do not fit with the Passover celebration. …The breaking of the bread and the common cup were elements introduced into the meal by Christian interpreters who took it as a memorial to the death of Jesus rather than as a reminder of the exodus. …The counterpart in Mark 14:22-25, in which Jesus speaks of his own body and blood as a sacrifice, is thus not a part of the original passion story.  (HTJ, p.226)

Funk doubts that there was a Jewish trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (14:53-65):

It is entirely probable that the trial before Jewish authorities was a fiction.  (HTJ, p.220-221)

Funk doubts that there was a Roman trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (15:1-15):

It is not likely that a Roman trial was held.  (HTJ, p.221)

 

As previously noted, Funk believes that many of the details in the PNs were derived not from memories or stories from eyewitnesses, but from the Old Testament and other sacred texts:

Many details of the passion story were suggested by the Psalms, particularly Psalms 2, 22, and 69.  Other sources include prophetic texts such as Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9-14, together with stories of David (2 Samuel 15-17) or the suffering righteous martyr (Wisdom of Solomon 2 and 5).  Christian scribes searched the Greek scriptures diligently for proof that Jesus had died in accordance with God’s will. (HTJ, p.232)

Examples of this are given by Funk (HTJ, p.232-233) :

Casting of lots for the clothing of Jesus [see Mark 15:24] was inspired by Psalm 22:18…

Crucifixion between two theives [see Mark 15:27] was based on Isaiah 53:12…in conjunction with Psalm 22:16…

Striking, insulting, and spitting on Jesus [see Mark 14:65 & 15:16-20 & 15:29-32] were prompted by Isaiah 50:6….

Disrobing and rerobing in mock coronation [see Mark 15:16-20] were prompted by Zechariah 3:1-5.

Funk approvingly references John Crossan’s very skeptical views about how the PNs were thoroughly shaped by Jewish scriptures:

In his brilliant study, John Dominic Crossan has shown that virtually every detail connected with the passion was based on some scripture.  That prompted him to conclude: We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.  The stories of the arrest in the gospels are themselves fictions; we only infer that he was arrested because we know he was executed.  About the trial, or trials, we have no historically reliable information at at all. (HTJ, p.233)

Funk appears to agree with Crossan that “We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.”

Thus, Funk has serious doubts about the stories and details in the PN of the Gospel of Mark concerning the Last Supper, Jesus’ arrest, the Jewish trial, the Roman trial,  and many of the details related to Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.

In addition to fictional events and details generated on the basis of the O.T. and other sacred writings, Funk points to other events and details in Mark’s PN that are fictional:

In addition to events and details suggested by scripture, the passion story contains a number of pure fictions. Judas Iscariot the betrayer [see Mark 14:17-21 & 43-46] is in all probabilty a gospel fiction. (HTJ, p.234)

Joseph of Arimathea [see Mark 15:42-47]is probably a Markan creation. (HTJ, p.234)

Barabbas (son of “Abba,” the Father, or “son of God”) in Mark 15:7 is certainly a fiction, as is Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus in Mark 15:21. (HTJ, p.235)

It is clear that not only does Funk believe that the Gospel of Mark is in general very unreliable, but that Funk believes that the PN in the Gospel of Mark is even more unreliable than the rest of this gospel.  The PN in Mark is filled with fictional characters, fictional events, and fictional details, according to Funk.

Therefore, because the Gospel of Mark was the ONLY canonical gospel that could possibly provide solid evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus and for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, given Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel, and particularly about the extreme unreliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark, one cannot rationally conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross, and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, at least not on the basis of the canonical gospels.

Given Funk’s skeptical beliefs and views concerning the unreliability of the canonical gospels, great confidence in the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is rationally unjustified.

===================

UPDATE  (3/3/16):

I took a look at the Jesus Seminar evaluation of the historical reliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark.  The Jesus Seminar divides the PN in Mark into 18 events.  It categorized 3 of these events as gray, and 15 of them as black.  It categorized 0 of these events as red, and 0 of these events as pink.   Thus, according to the Jesus Seminar 0% or 0 out of 18 events in Mark’s PN provide information that “is probably reliable”, and 100% or 18 out of 18 of the events in Mark’s PN provide information that is either unreliable or  improbable.  Clearly, the Jesus Seminar judged the content of Mark’s PN to be  extremely unreliable, and to be significantly LESS reliable than the contents of Chapters 1 through 13 of the Gospel of Mark, in terms of the events described in those chapters.

However, the Jesus Seminar also evaluated a few “Core Events” in the PN of the Gospel of Mark more favorably (as pink or red), including the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of Jesus.  So, I plan to examine  (in a future post) those judgements of the Jesus Seminar about “Core Events” in Mark’s PN.

 

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