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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Faith Under Fire: Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig Debate the Resurrection of Jesus

Just got finished watching the "debate" between Richard Carrier and William L. Craig about Jesus' resurrection. The debate was in the Faith Under Fire show, on the PAX Network, moderated by Lee Strobel. Here are my thoughts.

I suspect that Lee Strobel, author of the popular apologetics book The Case for Christ, surprised a lot of people by how unbiased he came across. Indeed, at one point he actually accused Craig of not answering Carrier's charge (and an unfounded accusation at that). Strobel also seemed more than fair in an earlier segment with an author who actually comes dangerously close to calling for the use of coercion to stamp out the evil that is religious faith.

Craig opened up with his obviously well-practiced points about the resurrection; the good ole' "most New Testaments scholars believe . . . " 1) Jesus died by crucifixion under Roman authority, 2) his body was laid in a tomb, 3) the tomb of Jesus was found empty by some of Jesus' women followers, 4) various people experienced resurrection appearances of a risen Jesus, and 5) the disciples of Jesus made a quick turn around from frightened hiding followers of a failed messiah into bold missionaries for a new faith. Well done.

Carrier begins by referring to how much evidence we'd need to believe that an alien space ship crashed in Roswell. Not very informative about just what that standard would be and an obvious appeal to the lowest common denominator of skeptics. Speaking of which, I found it interesting that Carrier never mentioned that he actually takes the idea that Jesus never even existed very seriously. Indeed, he appears to think it's the best historical explanation. Isn't this the best argument against the resurrection? I mean, if the guy may not have even existed, how can we prove he was resurrected? This failure was pretty disingenuous.

Carrier then made his appeal to doubts about authorship of the gospels and their sources -- a fair point but one that the small amount of time prevented any serious discussion about. Craig simply had no time to rebut such questions or explain the worth of the gospels despite questions about their authorship. Carrier was more specific in claiming that a better explanation was that the earlier Christians experienced visions of Jesus. He also made the argument that God would not have revealed himself in this fashion. The last was unfortunate because it is hardly a historical question and routed much of the rest of the discussion onto that tangent.

Strobel asked Craig to respond to the visions issue and the "how would God reveal himself" issues. Craig began by quite correctly trashing Carrier's interpretation of 1 Cor. 15. This point seemed beyond Strobel as he accused Craig of not answering the question. But of course that is exactly what he was doing because the only scrap of historical evidence Carrier thinks he has for this explanation is 1 Cor. 15's discussion about Jesus' resurrected body. Carrier claims that it speaks only of a spirit and that therefore Jesus' followers only saw visions, not a resurrected body. But as I have shown quite clearly, Carrier is completely wrong about this issue. And Craig was showing just that when Strobel made his comment. You can read a fuller exposition of Craig's argument here.

Carrier then ironically took the position that Acts is historically accurate in its description of Paul's conversion and that description tells us that Paul had a revelatory experience. Craig slams him on this, noting that Carrier is confusing revelatory with visionary. Paul in Galatians says he saw the resurrected Jesus, using the same words that Mary Magdalene does. Certainly the appearance of a physically resurrected (and transformed) Jesus would also be a revelatory experience. He also notes Carrier's hypocrisy in accepting (though misunderstanding) the author of Acts as a valuable historical source when he thinks it serves his purposes but disregarding him as unreliable with unknown provence when he thinks it does not (as with the Gospel of Luke's resurrection narrative). Carrier was trying to turn this on Craig, claiming he only accepted the Gospel of Luke but not the Acts of the Apostles. But this argument only works if Craig accepts Carrier's understanding of Acts' account of Paul's conversion. Obviously, he does not.

Overall it was interesting to see Carrier. He did fine, though actually did little arguing about the historical evidence. He did manage to (mis)use the phrase "ad hominem." I had good money that he would, given his association with the Secular Web. Craig did fine as well, focusing a bit more on the historical evidence. They both got distracted, in my opinion, on the philosophical and probably unanswerable question of why God would choose to reveal himself this way. Perhaps that's just my heightened interest in matters historical over matters theological talking.

One thing is for sure, one of three segments of a one hour show is hardly sufficient time to do the topic justice.

6 comments:

'. Craig slams him on this, noting that Carrier is confusing revelatory with visionary. Paul in Galatians says he saw the resurrected Jesus, using the same words that Mary Magdalene does.'

There is no such passage in Galatians.

The word used by Mary Magdalene is a totally anonymous word and can be used of seeing invisible things.

3 John 1:11

'Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not *seen* God.'

The actual word does not distinguish between naked-eye observations and visions, so if two people use it, we cannot assume they meant the same thing by it.

Astonishing that Craig tried to bluster his way out of Paul saying he had a 'revelation' in Galatians by saying things about Galatians which were not true. Such an erudite man must have known that, and Layman could have thought to check his authorities before saying that they 'slammed' people.

"There is no such passage in Galatians."

Yup. My mistake in reporting what the exchange was about. I need to recheck the video, which I hope to do this weekend. Craig was either pointing out that Acts uses the same term to say Paul had "seen" Jesus that is used for Mary in the Gospel of John or pointing out that 1 Cor. 15 uses the same term for "appeared" as all the gospels do for Jesus' appearances (Luke 24:34; Mark 16:14; Matt. 27:53), as well as Acts uses to describe Jesus' appearance to Paul (Acts 9:17).

"The word used by Mary Magdalene is a totally anonymous word and can be used of seeing invisible things."

What do you mean by totally anonymous?

"3 John 1:11

'Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not *seen* God.'"

So when Mary says she had "seen" the Lord in John 20:18, she meant Jesus was invisible?

"The actual word does not distinguish between naked-eye observations and visions, so if two people use it, we cannot assume they meant the same thing by it."

But if two people use it to describe seeing the same thing--a risen Christ, then we should favor the idea that they meant the same thing. If the context is the same and there is not qualifiying "a vision of..." the only reason to assume a different interpretation appears to be discomfort with the conclusion.

"Astonishing that Craig tried to bluster his way out of Paul saying he had a 'revelation' in Galatians by saying things about Galatians which were not true."

He did not.

"Such an erudite man must have known that, and Layman could have thought to check his authorities before saying that they 'slammed' people."

Just as you thought to check the program before trying to slam Craig for something he did not do?

Ah.

1 Corinthians 15 certainly does not use the word for appeared that the Gospels use.

It uses 'ophthe' , which is almost exclusivley used for visions.

Matthew 17:3 . Moses and Elijah 'appeared' to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration. Were Moses and Elijah bodily resurrected when they 'appeared' to Peter? If they were, what happened to their bodies? Did they die again? If they were not bodily resurrected when they 'appeared' to Peter, why is it beyond all doubt that Jesus was bodily resurrected when he 'appeared' to Peter?

Acts 2:3. Tongues of fire 'appeared' to Peter and rested on each one of them. Did real , physical fire come down from Heaven and rest on Peter, when it 'appeared' on Peter? Were the apostles heads physically on fire? If not why did Jesus physically appear to Peter when he 'appeared' to Peter?

Acts 6:2. The God of glory 'appeared' to our father Abraham. It seems that God was in the habit of making bodily appearances. Either that or 'appeared' in 1 Cor. 15 does not mean a bodily appearance.

Acts 16:9. And a vision 'appeared' to Paul in the night. This says straight out that Paul and 'ophthe' mean a vision. Did the man from Macedonia physically travel to Paul when he 'appeared' to Paul?

Revelation 11:19 The Ark of the Covenant 'appeared' within his Temple. The whole of Revelation is a vision, and we have another use of 'ophthe' to mean vision.

Revelation 12:1. A great portent 'appeared' in heaven. Still more visions.

Revelation 12:3. And another portent 'appeared' in heaven. Still more visions.

One thing the New Testament insists upon is that Peter and Paul were precisely the sort of people to have dreams and visions and to act upon those dreams and visions as though they were real. (Acts 10, Acts 16 etc.)

"1 Corinthians 15 certainly does not use the word for appeared that the Gospels use.

It uses 'ophthe' , which is almost exclusively used for visions."

No?

Luke 24:33-32: "And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, "The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon."

Risen = horao

Same as in 1 Cor. 15.

You are right, though, that others terms are also used by the Gospels to refer to Jesus' resurrection appearances.

"Matthew 17:3 . Moses and Elijah 'appeared' to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration. Were Moses and Elijah bodily resurrected when they 'appeared' to Peter? If they were, what happened to their bodies? Did they die again? If they were not bodily resurrected when they 'appeared' to Peter, why is it beyond all doubt that Jesus was bodily resurrected when he 'appeared' to Peter?"

You seem to be confusing the issue. Or trying to get off on one of your infamous tangents. The question is whether Peter saw Moses and Elijah. Obviously they did. There is no indication that this was a personal vision that no one else would have noticed had they walked by. Just the opposite in fact.

"Acts 2:3. Tongues of fire 'appeared' to Peter and rested on each one of them. Did real , physical fire come down from Heaven and rest on Peter, when it 'appeared' on Peter? Were the apostles heads physically on fire? If not why did Jesus physically appear to Peter when he 'appeared' to Peter?"

Another tangent. Was what they saw visible to others present? Yes. Of course it was. Was it a personal vision that no one else could see? I doubt that is what the author meant to imply.

"Acts 6:2. The God of glory 'appeared' to our father Abraham. It seems that God was in the habit of making bodily appearances. Either that or 'appeared' in 1 Cor. 15 does not mean a bodily appearance."

Same as above.

"Acts 16:9. And a vision 'appeared' to Paul in the night. This says straight out that Paul and 'ophthe' mean a vision. Did the man from Macedonia physically travel to Paul when he 'appeared' to Paul?"

No the man did not. The passage specifies that what appeared was a vision. An "horama." Acts is usually quite specific about identifying visions as "horama."

Which is exactly what Acts does when talking about Simon and Paul.

Acts 9:10: "Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord.""

Note that Acts clearly modifies the Lord speaking to Ananias in a vision.

Similarly,

Acts 9:12: "and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight."

Paul "horao" a man in a "horamao." Again what is seen is specifically identified as a vision.

How about Jesus' appearance to Paul? Are they specifically identified as visions?

Nope. No modification. Just the same unmodified use of "horao" as the author used to say Jesus appeared to Peter:

Acts 9:17 "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Appeared = horao.

"One thing the New Testament insists upon is that Peter and Paul were precisely the sort of people to have dreams and visions and to act upon those dreams and visions as though they were real. (Acts 10, Acts 16 etc.)"

Yes, and it also is clear that these were visions. In Acts 10 Peter and the author of Acts know quite well it is a vision and specifically identify it as such. So too with Paul in Acts 16. The appearance is specifically identified as a vision and specifically identified as such.

Finally, I know it was a tangent, but you seemed to be arguing that "horao" means that Jesus' resurrection could not be physical. Not hardly. As we have seen, the Gospel of Luke -- undoubtedly emphasizing a physical resurrection -- uses "horao" to refer to Jesus' appearance to Peter. Also, in Acts 7:26, a quite human Moses "horao" to two other Israelites.

In my last post I said that "risen" = "horao." That of course was a mistake. I meant that "appeared", in both 1 Cor. 15 and Luke 24:34, = "horao."

Regarding the debate between Craig & Carrier, why does one not read a lot more about an intermediate position that takes into account both the data and the theological tendencies? That position is that the man survived the crucifixion, and later showed himself on more than one occasion to his disciples, who saw him as looking totally human, with wounds apparently healing. But only a certain few (not the Twelve) who were in on helping him recover in the tomb, during those three days and nights, really knew what happened. The Twelve could scarcely believe that he had not died, since he had seemed to be essentially dead when taken down early from the cross under the direction of Joseph of Arimathea. So, with this position, one doesn't know if some of the disciples could later have been talked into believing that he had been in a resurrected form or not during his appearances.

Even if the disciples believed what would seem to be the more obvious -- survival -- this would itself seem so miraculous to have charged them with the zeal to go spread the word as much as resurrection would have.

This solution allows that Saul could have experienced the voice of the living "Jesus" on the Road to Damascus, speaking out to him at night from behind a rock outcropping, since according to Acts 9:7 the men with Saul also heard the voice but did not see him. The two later accounts of this in Acts could be apologia designed to make the event seem less physical and more spiritual. Their emphasis that the event occurred at noon or midday would have been "spin" designed to indicate that it must have been a spiritual event, otherwise they would have seen the man.

This solution is consistent with the large amount of evidence preserved both by Muslim historians and others that after the crucifixion "Jesus" traveled first around some in Anatolia and then east finally to the Kashmir area.

Why is logic like this usually ignored? Probably because it is theologically uncomfortable, expresses the worst fears of Paul in 1 Cor 15:12-19, and because survival of the crucifixion, even with (secret) medical help, was rare.

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