Did Jesus Die on the Cross? Part 2: Finishing Off Geisler’s Case

It is springtime! The sky is blue, and the sun is shining again here in the great and green Northwest.

Every year Easter brings life back into me.  I feel born again, inspired and energized to once again attack the beast (i.e. Christianity/religion/superstition).  I might be tilting at a windmill, but I’m delighted to be back in the saddle, fighting the good fight, crusading against Christianity.

(Although he probably despises me right now, I’m feeling a bit like the energetic and aggressive atheist, Mr. John Loftus.  Happy Easter John!)

The Christian claim I’m currently examining is this:

(JDC) Jesus died on the cross on the day he was crucified.

I have finished reviewing the rest of Geisler’s case for (JDC) in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA), and I’m going to (***SPOILER ALERT***) give you my conclusion right up front:

Geisler’s case for (JDC) is a complete failure.

Recently after working my way through most of Geisler’s case for the existence of God in the same book (WSA), I concluded that his case for God was a complete failure.  So, in WSA Geisler has presented us with at least two key cases in support of Christianity, both of which are of the same unbelievably poor intellectual quality.

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

To Dr. Geisler:

If you are reading this post, why not try building a real case for (JDC)?

I’ve tried to get Dr. Craig to do this, but he refuses to budge.  Since Craig has no interest in building an intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus, you have an opportunity to step up to the plate and do the job.

Please consider my challenge to you.  I’m sick of reading the sort of intellectually shoddy apologetic cases that you wrote in When Skeptics Ask (and that William Craig wrote in The Son Rises), and I would love to read an intellectually serious case for the resurrection, to sink my teeth into.   Just Do It!

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

The section of WSA that I’m looking at starts on page 120, and has this title:

JESUS ACTUALLY DIED ON THE CROSS

Geisler makes eight points in this section:

  1. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged.
  2. The heavy loss of blood makes Jesus’ death highly probable.
  3. When Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out.
  4. The professional Roman executioners declared Jesus dead without breaking his legs.
  5. Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages.
  6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead.
  7. Jesus’ appearance [on Sunday] would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Saviour.
  8. A JAMA article concludes that “interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with medical knowledge.”

Three of these points (1, 5, and 7) are objections to specific versions of the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter: ADT).  At best, those objections cast doubt on some specific versions of ADT, so they do NOT rule out ADT in general.  The only way to rule out ADT in general is to PROVE that (JDC) is true. (At least, that is the only way a Christian apologist can rule out ADT.  A skeptic could rule out ADT by proving that Jesus never existed, or by proving that Jesus was never crucified, or by proving that a Jesus look-alike was crucified and mistaken for Jesus.) We can thus set aside points 1, 5, and 7 as irrelevant to the task of proving (JDC) to be true.

Let’s also set aside point 8, because that is a dubious appeal to authority.  Geisler quoting from that JAMA article is very similar to Donald Trump quoting Fox News commentators to “prove” that Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wire-tapped.  The “authorities” who wrote that JAMA article have about as much intellectual credibility as the Fox News commentators.  The authors of the JAMA article are clearly biased and are incompetent for the task of careful and objective analysis of historical evidence.  Anyway, a serious intellectual case for (JDC) should focus on ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVIDENCE and should not rest on dubious arguments from authority.

Now we are left with the real heart of Geisler’s case for (JDC): points 2, 3, 4, and 6.

In Part 1 of this series, I showed that point 2 was a complete failure, so we now only need to examine the three remaining points (3, 4, and 6).

3. When Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out.

Here is a fuller quote from Geisler on this third point:

When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death.  The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around his heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids.  Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. …The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).  (WSA, p.121)

In that paragraph, Geisler makes ten relevant claims:

(3a) Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear (while he was hanging on the cross).

(3b) Water and blood flowed out of the wound in Jesus’ side (from the spear).

(3c) The thrust (of the spear into Jesus’ side) given by a Roman soldier (was intended) to insure death.

(3d) The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced Jesus’ right lung.

(3e) The spear pierced the sack around Jesus’ heart.

(3f) The spear pierced Jesus’ heart itself.

(3g) The spearing of Jesus’ side resulted in releasing both blood and pleural fluids.

(3h) Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross.

(3i)  Jesus was probably dead before the spear wound was inflicted.

(3j)  The spear wound to Jesus’ side would have been fatal in itself.

Each of these ten claims is an historical claim, so each of these claims needs to be established on the basis of historical evidence.  But Norman Geisler has no clue about how to make a case for an historical claim:

  • Dr.Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3c)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3d)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3e)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3f)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3g)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3h)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3i)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3j)

Although Geisler comes close to providing ZERO historical evidence in relation to his third point, he narrowly avoids making this point completely free of any historical evidence by dropping a tiny little morsel at the end of the paragraph:

(v.34)

You would think that an Evangelical professor of theology would know how to give a proper reference to a passage in one of the Gospels, but Dr. Geisler cannot be bothered to strain himself to the extent of writing out the name of the Gospel, and the relevant chatper.  So, I will have to fill in the missing information for him:  John 19:34.  This is the entire extent of Dr. Geisler’s historical evidence in support of claims (3a) and (3b), the only claims out of his ten claims (in this third point) that he supports with historical evidence.

There are so many problems and weaknesses with this bit of historical evidence that it is hard to know where to begin.  Because Dr. Geisler makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to interpret, explain, or defend this small scrap historical evidence, I’m not going to put much effort in here to debunk this weak and questionable bit of evidence.

I will quickly point out some of the problems, and then move on to point 4.  If Dr. Geisler decides someday to make a serious attempt at proving (JDC), then I will respond in kind and make a more serious effort to refute or cast doubt on his historical claims.

Here are some of the many points that I would make (and support with arguments and evidence) if Dr. Geisler ever puts forward an intellectually serious case that makes use of claims (3a) or (3b):

  • The Fourth Gospel was NOT written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four canonical gospels.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the spearing of Jesus in his side.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the blood and water coming from Jesus’ side.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the doubting Thomas story (where Thomas is invited to touch the wound in Jesus’ side, see John 20:24-29).
  • The flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side is very rich in terms of theological symbolism, suggesting that this detail was invented for theological reasons.
  • The author of the Fourth Gospel believed that there was an Old Testament prophecy that the messiah would be stabbed with a spear (John 19:37), so this detail may well have been based on the OT prophecy rather than on testimony about the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • There are several conflicts between the Synoptic gospels accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and crucifixion and death and the accounts of those events found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel.
  • There are conflicts between the doubting Thomas story in the Fourth Gospel and events described in other gospels.
  • Most of the events and details found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel are historically dubious, and probably fictional.

I conclude that point 3 is as much a complete intellectual failure as was point 2.

Now we will move on to point 4 of Dr. Geisler’s case for (JDC):

4. The professional Roman executioners declared Jesus dead without breaking his legs.

Here is a fuller quote of the paragraph on this point:

The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs so that he could not lift himself to exhale.  The victim would then be asphyxiated as his lungs filled with carbon dioxide.  Be clear on this: they broke everyone’s legs.  Yet the professional Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking his legs (v.33).  There was no doubt in their minds.  (WSA, p.122)

In that paragraph on point 4 Geisler makes nine historical claims:

(4a) It was standard procedure for crucifixion (by Romans in the first century) to break the victim’s legs (while the victims were hanging from the cross).

(4b) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) the intention of this action was to prevent the victim from lifting himself to exhale.

(4c) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) this IN FACT prevented the victim from lifting himself to exhale.

(4d) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) the victim would then be asphyxiated as his lungs filled with carbon dioxide.

(4e) When Roman soldiers crucified people (in the first century), they broke the legs of every victim (while the victims hung on their crosses).

(4f) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus were professional executioners.

(4g) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus declared Jesus to be dead (before removing him from the cross).

(4h) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus did NOT break Jesus’ legs (before removing him from the cross).

(4i) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus had no doubt in their minds that Jesus was dead (before removing him from the cross).

Each of these nine claims is an historical claim, so each of these claims needs to be established on the basis of historical evidence.  But Norman Geisler is oblivious to this simple and basic intellectual requirement:

  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4a)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4b)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4c)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4d)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4e)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4f)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4g)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4i)

Once again, Geisler provides only one small scrap of evidence for only one of the nine historical claims in point 4:

(4h) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus did NOT break Jesus’ legs (before removing him from the cross).

Once again, Geisler doesn’t even provide a proper biblical reference to the relevant gospel passage; instead what we get is this:

(v.33)

Once again, I will have to provide the missing information for Dr. Geisler:  John 19:33.

Some of the problems with John 19:34 that I mentioned above apply to John 19:33 as well:

  • The Fourth Gospel was NOT written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four canonical gospels.
  • There are several conflicts between the Synoptic gospels accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and crucifixion and death and the accounts of those events found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel.
  • Most of the events and details found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel are historically dubious, and probably fictional.

As with the spear wound to Jesus’ side, the Fourth Gospel is alone in mentioning the breaking of the legs of the crucifixion victims:

  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the breaking of the legs of the (other) victims of crucifixion.

One other specific reason to doubt the historicity of John 19:33 is that the alleged failure of the soldiers to break Jesus’ legs was believed by the author of the Fourth Gospel to be a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy:

These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  (John 19:36)

The Old Testament reference is to Psalm 34:20.  Most NT scholars believe that many of the details in the Passion Narratives were derived from OT passages that the authors of the gospels believed to be prophecies about the promised messiah.

The ONE small scrap of evidence that Dr. Geisler provides in support of just ONE of his nine claims, is a very weak and dubious bit of evidence.

I conclude that point 4 is a complete intellectual failureand thus we have seen, so far, that at least three out of the four main points in Dr. Geisler’s case for (JDC) are complete intellectual failures.  That is sufficient to justify the conclusion that his case for (JDC) is a a complete intellectual failure.

Statistics:  

For points 2, 3, and 4, Geisler makes 28 historical claims:

  • For 0 of those historical claims (0%),  he provides strong historical evidence.
  • For 4 of those historical claims (14%), he provides only weak and dubious historical evidence.
  • For 24 of those historical claims (86%), he provides no historical evidence.

 

Point 6 of Geisler’s Case for (JDC)

Point 6, it should be no surprise, also turns out to be a complete intellectual failure:

6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead.

Here is the full quote from Geisler on this point:

Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead before releasing the body for burial. (WSA, p.122)

That is the sum total that Dr. Geisler wrote on this point.  Notice that he provides no historical evidence to support his claim.

If a professor of an undergraduate course in Christian apologetics asked his/her students to write a short essay defending (JDC), and if one of the students in that course turned in the assignment having written just one single sentence on a single piece of paper, namely the sentence above, then that student ought to receive an “F” for that assignment.

If the professor was feeling particulaly kind and generous, the wayward student might be given the opportunity to have the grade bumped up to a “D” by providing at least a reference to some Gospel passage that supports this claim.  But I’m not feeling particularly generous towards Dr. Geisler, because he already has three stikes, based on the fact that each of his previous three points was a complete intellectual failure (not to mention that he has a doctoral degree and is a professor of Christian apologetics and philosophy, so ought to be held to a much higher standard than undergraduate students).  So, Dr. Geisler gets and “F” for point 6.

But suppose that Geisler had provided some historical evidence to support this historical claim by citing an appropriate Gospel passage, such as Mark 15:42-45?   That would have at least shown a modicum of respect for the basic requirement to provide historical evidence in support of historical claims.

But there are many serious problems with the historicity of Chapter 15 of Mark, and there are specific reasons to doubt the historicity of the specific passage related to point 6, so this is, once again, weak and dubious historical evidence, in addition to the fact that Geisler did not bother to provide any reference to any Gospel passage.

I am tempted to walk through the dozen or more historical problems with Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark, but since Dr. Geisler has provided such a thoroughly lousy defense of (JDC), I don’t feel any obligation to provide a thorough refutation of point 6.

If you want more information about why we should be skeptical about Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark and about the specific passage that relates to point 6, then read the commentary on Chapter 15 of Mark in The Acts of Jesus (by Robert Funk and The Jesus Seminar), pages 149-161.

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

P.S.

The idea that a solid case could be made for (JDC) in just two or three pages is ridiculous.

Yet William Craig, Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, and Michael Licona have all embraced this absurd assumption, which is a large part of the reason why each of their cases for (JDC) are complete intellectual failures.

"Thank you for your contributions on this topic. Your objection could be formulated as a ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"I have met Peter Kreeft, and he certainly does not appear to be a stupid ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"Kreeft's argument also appears to be based on the idea that all god beliefs are ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."
"Re: "7. The the capacity for reverence of God and worship of God can be ..."

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment