Response to William Lane Craig – Part 13

Response to William Lane Craig – Part 13 February 19, 2016

In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.

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

In Part 12, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke imply that 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 that any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are very unreliable.  

So, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as being 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.

In this and future posts, 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, in this post I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Matthew must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).

First, the author of the Gospel of Matthew 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), according to Funk.

Second, the Gospel of Matthew 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 Matthew’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Matthew used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Matthew (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Matthew agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon the use of Mark as a source by the author of the Gospel of Matthew.

Fourth, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Matthew’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 have checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Matthew (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 133-152), and only three in ten 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 Matthew is correct only about 30% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Matthew).   Thus, the Gospel of Matthew 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 Matthew was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Matthew 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 Matthew 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 details that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew, that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Matthew as usually being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or details 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 Matthew 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 Matthew is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Matthew 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, and there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Matthew adds new events and details to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  In Mattew 27:51-54, an earthquake is added to the account of the opening of the tomb from the Gospel of Mark.  This is a “mythical element” added by the author of Matthew, according to Funk (HTJ, p.26).

The Gospel of Matthew also adds the story of the bribing of the guards (who had previously been guarding the tomb of Jesus) by the priests and elders (Matthew 28:11-15).  Funk believes that the guarding of the tomb, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew but not in Mark or Luke, is “a Christian fiction designed to ward off the criticism that Jesus’ disciples stole his body.”  (HTJ, p.236).  Thus, Funk must also believe that the story of the bribing of those fictional guards is also a fictional story.

The Gospel of Matthew also adds two  stories about appearances of the risen Jesus, thus going beyond the narrative framework provided by Mark.  Matthew 28:9-10 reports that Jesus appeared to three women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning and who left after finding the tomb empty.  Funk rejects the historicity of the empty tomb story: “…the empty tomb does not reflect the historical memory of an actual event.” (HTJ, p.259).  Thus, Funk must also reject the historicity of an appearance of the risen Jesus to three women as they were walking away from the empty tomb.  The Jesus Seminar comments on this passage that “Since the empty tomb tale is probably Mark’s invention, the appearance to Mary at the tomb also has a dubious basis.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.475).  The Jesus Seminar marks this passage as black, meaning “This information is improbable. It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.37).

Matthew 28:16-20 reports an appearance of the risen Jesus to his gathered disciples in Galilee.  Funk does not explicitly reject the historicity of this appearance, but he does explicitly reject the historicity of the words attributed to Jesus in that story: “The great commission, as it has been termed, was of course composed by Matthew.  It does not stem from Jesus.”  (HTJ, p.261).  If the author of Matthew invented the words of Jesus for this event, then it is reasonable to suspect that other aspects of this passage are also fictional.  Did all eleven disciples really experience an appearance of Jesus at the same time? Probably not, according to the Jesus Seminar (The Acts of Jesus, p. 484).  Did some of Jesus’ disciples experience an appearance of the risen Jesus on a mountain top in Galilee?  Funk makes comments that suggest this location was likely invented by the author of Matthew (HTJ, p.261. See also The Acts of Jesus, p.484). The Jesus Seminar also evaluated this  entire passage, not just the words of Jesus, as black, and comments that “In any case, Matt 28:16-20 is a composition created by Matthew; it probably does not rest on historical reminiscence…” (The Acts of Jesus, p.485).

On Funk’s vew, the additional details and events added by the author of Matthew to the end of the Markan narrative framework are fictional.  The Gospel of Matthew thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and various fictional details and stories to the back-end of Mark’s account, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Matthew 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 Passion Narrative in Matthew follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The death of Judas: Matthew 27:3-10, and the guard at the tomb: Matthew 27:62-66).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226 & 236. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.257 & 265).

Fourth, the author of the Gospel of Matthew also, most unfortunately, added some details to the story of the trial before Pilate that was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, details which were intended to shift blame for the death of Jesus away from Pilate and the Romans and onto the Jewish people:

  • Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns Pilate against condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:19)
  • Pilate washes his hands at the trial and proclaims “Don’t blame me for this fellow’s blood, Now it’s your business.”  (Matthew 27:24)
  • The Jewish crowd then proclaims its own guilt for the killing of Jesus: “So, smear his blood on us and on our children.”  (Matthew 27:25)

The Jesus Seminar judged all of these added details to be fictional, marking the passage as black:

At this point Matthew makes another fateful addition to the Markan story: He has Pilate wash his hands as a way of declaring his own innocence in the death of Jesus…. Thus Matthew has further aggravated the tragic fiction…by having Judeans embrace collective guilt for themselves and their children, although many of them had been followers of Jesus and many others probably knew little or nothing about him.  The blame that was supposed to last only for two generations has been extended by Christians for two millennia.  Matthew has blatantly exonerated Pilate, the truly guilty party…  (The Acts of Jesus, p.260)

Thus the author of Matthew not only invented fictional details to exonerate Pilate and the Romans from the death of Jesus, but also invented fictional details to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on his fellow Jews, which helped to bring about two thousand years of Christian anti-semitism, and the slaughter of millions of Jews by German Christians.

So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Matthew adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional events or details are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrows from the Gospel of Mark.

Since the author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in 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 since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Matthew aside as being 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 Matthew, 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 and the Gospel of Matthew as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and one must set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being too unreliable to provide additional information (going beyond the accounts in the the Gospel of Mark) about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.

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