Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, 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, I’m convinced that 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 Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus. In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In this post I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Specifically, I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Luke must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Luke was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50).
Second, the Gospel of Luke was written about 80-90 CE according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Luke’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Luke used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Luke (HTJ, p.38). Thus, when Luke agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon Luke’s use of Mark as a source.
In general, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Luke’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in Luke for chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Luke (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 278-299), and only one in four verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus). So, according to the Jesus Seminar the Gospel of Luke is correct only about 25% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Luke). Thus, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Luke was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Luke to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus. Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Luke to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and events in the Gospel of Luke that are unique to Luke, that go beyond what Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Luke as being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or events it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First, the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Luke adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42). According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Luke is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33). So, the Gospel of Luke begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, but there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples. Again, the Gospel of Luke adds new stories to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark. Luke has the risen Jesus appear to his disciples in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday. But according to Funk, Jesus’ disciples had already left town and were headed back to Galilee (HTJ, p.40). So, on Funk’s vew, the additional stories added by the author of Luke to the Markan narrative framework are fictional.
The Gospel of Luke thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and fictional appearance stories to the back-end of Mark’s account. This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the unique narrative elements in Luke that occur after Jesus’ birth and before the resurrection appearances are also, according to Funk, largely fictional or non-historical:
The so-called “L” narrative segments in Luke are listed in Table 7. … All of them appear to have been created by Luke or his community, with perhaps a few exceptions. (HTJ, p.133)
According to Funk, when the author of Luke adds new stories or events that don’t derive from Mark, the stories or events are usually fiction.
Fourth, the Passion Narrative in Luke follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The incident of the two swords: Luke 22:35-38, and the Hearing before Herod: Luke 23:6-16). According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.351 & 359).
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Luke adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional stories or events are usually fictional or non-historical. Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what the author of Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke 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 since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and as being too unreliable to provide any additional information about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.