Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 2: Use of Biblical Texts

Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 2: Use of Biblical Texts June 7, 2019

WHERE WE ARE AT

In Part 1 of this series of posts, I argued that Peter Kreeft’s definition of “the swoon theory” should be rejected, because if we accept his definition, then his case for the resurrection of Jesus immediately FAILS.

Kreeft’s definition of “the swoon theory”asserts a specific explanation for the behavior of the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus:

(JAD) Jesus had swooned (or was unconscious) and he appeared to be dead, so the Roman soldiers mistakenly believed that he was already dead, and for that reason they allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross, even though Jesus was actually still alive.

But there are MANY different possible explanations for WHY the Roman soldiers might have allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross, even though he was still alive.  So, if “the swoon theory” is defined as asserting (JAD), then it follows logically that there are MANY alternative skeptical theories which Kreeft has failed to take into account in his case for the resurrection of Jesus.

So, to help Kreeft escape from his own logically inept self-destruction, we must provide a BROADER definition of “the swoon theory”.  I propose that we understand this theory to assert the following three claims, and NOT to assert or imply (JAD):

(JWC)  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem around 30 CE.

(JAR) Jesus of Nazareth was still alive when he was removed from the cross, and he survived for at least a few days or a few weeks after he was removed from the cross.

(SJA) Most of the twelve apostles became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead because at least some of the twelve apostles actually saw Jesus of Nazareth alive at some point after he was crucified and removed from the cross.

Because this BROADER definition makes no reference to Jesus swooning, nor to him being unconscious, nor to Jesus appearing to be dead, it is MISLEADING to call this theory “the swoon theory” or “the apparent death theory”.  A more accurate name for this skeptical theory would be: the survival theory (hereafter: TST).

The “swoon theory” (understood in the narrow sense that Kreeft specifies) is merely one of MANY particular versions of the survival theory (TST), where the survival theory is modified by the additional assertion of  a specific explanation of the behavior of the Roman soldiers, namely: (JAD).  But whenever Kreeft refers to “the swoon theory”, I will very generously take this to be a reference to the survival theory (TST), so that his case for the resurrection of Jesus does not immediately FAIL.

 

MOST OF KREEFT’S OBJECTIONS ARE BASED ON BIBLICAL TEXTS

It is important to note that MOST of Kreeft’s objections against the survival theory (TST) are based on the assumption that one or more biblical texts assert TRUE historical claims:

  • Objection #2 assumes that John 19:31-33 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #3 assumes that John 19:34-35 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #4 assumes that John 19:36-42 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #5 assumes that John 20:19-29 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #6 assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about some Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (such passages are found only in the Gospel of Matthew).
  • Objection #7 assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about a stone sealing off the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims, and it also assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about some Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (passages about soldiers at the tomb are found only in the Gospel of Matthew).
  • Objection #9 assumes that some unspecified New Testament text(s) describing what “the disciples” (i.e. the twelve apostles) preached about Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (about their preaching).

The only objections presented by Kreeft against TST that do not assume that a biblical text asserts TRUE historical claims, are Objection #1, and Objection #8.  So, seven out of nine (78%) of his objections against TST are based on assuming the historical reliability and accuracy of one or more biblical passages, mostly passages from the Gospels, especially the historically dubious Gospel of John.

This appears to violate one of Kreeft’s own self-imposed groundrules for his attempt to PROVE the resurrection of Jesus:

To prove this [that God raised Jesus from the dead], we do not need to presuppose anything controversial (e.g., that miracles happen).  But the skeptic must also not presuppose anything (e.g., that they do not).  We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired, or even true.  We do not need to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.  We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies: the existence of the New Testament texts as we have them, and the existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today.  (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.181-182)

Kreeft has clearly violated his own groundrule to NOT “presuppose anything controversial”, because the Gospel of John is widely viewed by NT scholars as being historically unreliable, and because the passages that he uses from the Gospel of John are themselves viewed as being historically dubious by many NT scholars.

The same is true of his apparent use of passages from the Gospel of Matthew about Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus.  Those passages are widely viewed by NT scholars as being historically dubious.  Kreeft has made use of several Gospel texts that are clearly controversial, in terms of the assumption that those texts assert TRUE historical claims.

It is also clear that Kreeft has violated his own groundrule to NOT “presuppose that the New Testament is…true”, because he is clearly assuming that various NT texts, especially from the Gospel of John and from the Gospel of Matthew, assert TRUE historical claims.

Kreeft also appears “to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.”, thus violating another of his self-imposed groundrules.  For example, Objection #5 asserts this:

The postresurrection appearances convinced the disciples, even “doubting Thomas,” that Jesus was gloriously alive (Jn 20:19-29). (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.183)

How can we take this point seriously unless we assume that “there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.”?

 

KREEFT DEFENDS HIS USE OF BIBLICAL TEXTS

Kreeft recognizes that his use of biblical texts to disprove TST appears to violate his own self-imposed groundrules, so he attempts to defend his use of biblical texts:

It may seem that these nine arguments have violated our initial principle about not presupposing the truth of the Gospel texts, since we have argued from data in the texts.  But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data; it uses them and explains them (by swoon rather than by resurrection).  Thus we use them too.  We argue from our opponent’s own premises. (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 184)

Kreeft’s first point is IRRELEVANT:

But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data…

First of all, the fact that TST does not CONTRADICT “the truths in the texts”  which Kreeft uses against TST does NOT make it reasonable for Kreeft to make use of controversial or dubious NT texts in his arguments against TST.

Historical theories do not specify what sort of evidence is acceptable and reasonable and what sort of evidence is NOT acceptable or reasonable.  That is for historians  to determine (and for non-historians who have an interest in a particular historical issue to determine), based on principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation.  Theories don’t usually spell out the criteria for evaluation of theories, with the possible exception of epistemological theories (theories about what constitutes knowledge).

Kreeft, it seems to me, is violating principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation by simply ASSUMING (without any analysis or justification) that various biblical texts, which are viewed as dubious or as historically unreliable by many NT scholars, assert TRUE historical claims.  The fact that TST does not spell out rational criteria that prohibit this use of biblical texts is IRRELEVANT.  The principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation exist independently of TST, and should be followed, no matter what TST asserts.

TST does not specifically rule out the existence of UNICORNS, but it does not follow from the silence of TST on UNICORNS, that it would be reasonable for Kreeft to present an objection against TST that is based on the assumption that UNICORNS exist.   The existence of UNICORNS is controversial and highly questionable, so it is unreasonable to simply ASSUME that UNICORNS exist, and to use this assumption in an argument against TST, or in an argument against anything else.  This is unreasonable even though there is nothing in the content of TST that asserts or implies that UNICORNS do not exist.  In short, the constraints on what one can reasonably use as a premise in an argument have a basis that exists outside of, and beyond, the contents of any specific claim or theory.

Second, if Kreeft means that the people who ADVOCATE TST “do not challenge the truths in the texts” which Kreeft uses against TST, then that too does NOT make it reasonable for Kreeft to make use of controversial or dubious NT texts in his argument against TST.

The people who ADVOCATE TST might just happen to be ignorant about some principles of critical thinking or of historical investigation, and thus they might FAIL to notice that Kreeft’s arguments violate one or more of those principles.  The ignorance of a group of people about principles of critical thinking or historical investigation is NO EXCUSE for Kreeft violating those principles.  In order to be a good and rational thinker, one must follow the principles of critical thinking and the principles of relevant disciplines no matter what, even if one’s opponents in a debate or argument happen to be ignorant about those principles.

Suppose that the people who ADVOCATE TST do not deny the existence of UNICORNS.  Would it then be reasonable for Kreeft to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST and use this in an objection against TST?  No!  The fact that people who ADVOCATE TST don’t bother to challenge belief in UNICORNS, does not make it reasonable for Kreeft or anyone else to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST, or to use that assumption in an argument.

Furthermore, even if the people who ADVOCATE TST all firmly believe that UNICORNS EXIST, this would still not make it reasonable for Kreeft to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST or to use that assumption in an argument against TST, or in an argument against anything.  The fact that some group of people believe that UNICORNS EXIST does NOT make it TRUE that UNICORNS EXIST, and does NOT make it reasonable to use that belief as the premise of an argument.

Third, it is doubtful that most people who ADVOCATE TST are ignorant about the relevant principles of critical thinking or historical investigation, and it is almost certainly false that ALL of the people who ADVOCATE TST are ignorant of the relevant principles of critical thinking and historical investigation.  I, for example, am aware of relevant principles of critical thinking and historical investigation that Kreeft appears to be violating in many of his objections against TST, and I am an ADVOCATE of TST, since I am arguing that Kreeft’s objections against TST are weak and/or mistaken.

Kreeft’s second point seems to be more relevant to justifying his use of biblical texts in objections to TST:

…it [the swoon theory] uses them [“the truths in the texts which we refer to as data”] and explains them (by swoon rather than by resurrection).  Thus we use them too.  We argue from our opponent’s own premises.

Kreeft is unclear as to whether he is talking about the CONTENT of TST itself (“it uses them”) or about the evidence used in ARGUMENTS for TST (“our opponent’s own premises”).  So, we need to disambiguate Kreeft’s statement above, and consider two different claims:

(1) TST is a THEORY that assumes or implies the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

(2) Some of the ARGUMENTS for TST assume or imply the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

Claim (1) is FALSE.  Just consider the three statements that TST asserts (see the opening section of this post).  Those statements make NO MENTION of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus, for example.  The statements that constitute the CONTENT of TST do NOT “assume or imply the historical claims” that Kreeft makes about Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus in his objections against TST.  Claim (1) is CLEARLY FALSE.

CLAIM (2) appears to be FALSE, and it is INSIGNIFICANT even if true.  I am not aware of any ARGUMENT for TST that assumes or implies that there were Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb.  So, claim (2) appears to be FALSE.

However, let’s assume that there is such an ARGUMENT somewhere made by some advocate of TST.  There is no reason to believe that this ARGUMENT is essential to the case for TST.  There are other arguments that could be used to support TST.  So, the fact that somebody somewhere at sometime used an ARGUMENT for TST that assumed or implied there were Roman soldiers at the tomb of Jesus does NOT mean that Kreeft is free to use that historical claim in his objections against TST.  He is only free (to a degree) to use that historical claim when he is arguing with an advocate of TST who uses an argument for TST that makes that assumption (i.e. that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus).

Suppose that EVERY advocate of TST made use of an argument for TST that assumed or implied that there were Romans soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus.  Furthermore, suppose that this was the ONLY argument that had ever been used by advocates of TST.  Does that make it the case that Kreeft can DISPROVE TST by objections that make use of this historical claim?  NO!

Kreeft could make the objection that the argument being used by advocates of TST was a self-defeating argument, because it made use of an assumption that could also be used against TST.  But showing that the advocates of TST use a BAD ARGUMENT to support TST does NOT amount to DISPROVING TST.  All that would show is that TST remains UNPROVEN.   It would NOT show that TST is FALSE.

The use of the assumption that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus in an ARGUMENT for TST does NOT show that this assumption is in fact TRUE.  It is possible that an ARGUMENT used to support TST makes use of a FALSE assumption.  But in order to DISPROVE TST, Kreeft’s objections need to be based on TRUE historical claims.

Thus, claim (2) not only appears to be FALSE, but it is INSIGNIFICANT even if TRUE.

Neither interpretation of Kreeft’s second point works as a defense of his use of biblical texts.  So, his second point FAILS, just like his first point FAILED.

Both of Kreeft’s two points in defense of his use of biblical texts FAIL, so his defense of his use of biblical texts FAILS.

 

To Be Continued…

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