A Response to Bill O’Reilly’s Book “Killing Jesus” – Part 1 – Program 1

By: Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2013
Why did the Romans crucify Jesus? Of what did Pilate judge him to be guilty? Why do historians believe the facts show Jesus really claimed to be the Son of God?

Strengths and Weaknesses

FOX News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Jesus, is out. What facts about Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection does Bill O’Reilly present? Today you will find out. My guests are Dr. Darrell Bock, one of the leading historical Jesus scholars in the United States, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gospel of Luke. He is Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the books that Bill O’Reilly recommends that we all read, and relied on in his writing, is Dr. Bock’s book Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, the Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He holds a PhD from Michigan State University, and has authored, coauthored or edited more than 60 books, including one of the key articles in Jesus Under Fire, another book Mr. O’Reilly used and recommends we read. I will ask these two scholars to tell us what they think about Mr. O’Reilly’s latest book about Jesus on this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. We’re going to be critiquing Bill O’Reilly’s new book Killing Jesus. And we’re going to be doing so with two of the leading New Testament scholars in the world. Bill O’Reilly himself recommended that we read their books. And today we’re going to start with the main question of Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Why was Jesus crucified,” alright. What did Jesus say that the religious leaders accused Him of blaspheme and deserving of death? And secondly, what crimes did the Romans accuse Jesus of doing that led Pilate to crucify Him? Two different scenes; it’s going to take us back into the story, “What did Jesus say and do?”
And my guests are Dr. Darrell Bock, one of the leading historical Jesus scholars in our country and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gospel of Luke. He’s the Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. And Dr. Gary Habermas, the Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, who has authored, coauthored or edited more than 60 books. Guys, I am glad that you’re here.
I want to start, Darrell, with first impressions. When you read his book, Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus, did you pick it up as positive, negative? What strengths and weaknesses did you see in his book?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, the book is basically a popularization of the gospel story of Jesus, in which he runs through some issues of background, as well as some of the core things that Jesus did and said. And it really reads as a paraphrase of Scripture. It runs through the story in sequence. Every now and then there’s an interjection of a key Roman figure who has an important role to play, and so he’s juxtaposing those two things. It’s reasonably well done. It’s not very skeptical. But there is a level of foundation underneath—which you don’t often expect in a popularization—that isn’t there. And so the rational for why he’s making the argument that he makes in certain spots is not entirely clear.
Ankerberg: Yeah, Dr. Habermas.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, I picked the book up and I thought, alright, I’m ready for the shoe to drop, you know. And so I opened it and I’d read and I thought, well, okay. Put a question mark or two, but I kept reading. I thought, this isn’t bad; I mean, this is pretty fair, so I kept reading. And then I went to the end of the story, ‘cause that’s where I do most of my research. So I flipped to the end, and I thought this is even better than the early stuff. And, I mean, there were little things here and there, but overall I was really pleasantly surprised. Then when I got to that last sources chapter where he lists many of the folks and found many of us and our friends listed there, I thought, wow. I thought, no wonder it was good.
Ankerberg: Yeah, now the criticism, I think, is going to come in the weeks ahead from other critical scholars. And we want to, in a sense, strengthen O’Reilly’s case here, and we want to point out, when you guys are looking at the sources and so on, how the game is played. And, Darrell, he pointed to your book specifically about the sources. And, you know, for all these years, over 30 years, you have been examining all the different sources, and you’ve written huge books. You have had an international group of scholars for 10 years looking at just 12 key facts of Jesus’ life. You wrote an 800-page book about those sources. I’m saying, come on. So what I want to know is, explain to my audience—they’re not all scholars out here; some of them are—but tell them briefly, what are the rules to the road? If you say, okay, we’ve got the New Testament; and you’re not a Christian that just says, “I believe this is from God; it’s inspired and inerrant,” if you’re skeptical, you’ve got sources. How do you grade those sources? How do you know where you’re going?
Bock: Well, it’s really important to understand why we have the rules. We have the rules because some people say you can’t trust the sources; you can’t just simply open the Bible and believe what’s there. So how do you make a case for believing what’s there? It’s the old journalist’s rule of I don’t print a story unless I have two witnesses. And so one of the criteria, one of the rules, it’s all about corroboration. One of the rules is the idea of multiple attestation. How many different source levels that feed into the Gospels contribute to this theme or story? And the wider the spread, the more multiple the attestation, then the larger the case for the credibility that this actually did happen.
And so the sources as they work, are Mark and “Q” are the two most important ones. Mark is generally regarded as being the first Gospel written. And “Q” is the combination of Matthew and Luke, about 200 verses in Matthew and Luke are shared that aren’t in Mark, and that deal primarily with Jesus’ teaching.
Ankerberg: Okay when you talk about the sources, you know, most people that are Christians look at Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and then you’ve got Paul’s letters. So those are one, two, three, four, five, six sources, alright.
Bock: Right.
Ankerberg: Now, you’re saying that beyond that when you read, say, for example, Luke chapter 1,…
Bock: Right.
Ankerberg: Luke says right in the preface before he got there many others had written bits and pieces about Jesus’ life, and he gathered that up. Those were sources. We don’t have them at hand right now, but apparently he did. And some of them, he checked them out and found out these were eyewitness sources, and they were good stuff. And you’re saying there’s something like that with this “Q”.
Bock: “Q” is either an oral or a written tradition—that gets discussed. It’s the material that Matthew and Luke share. It comprises about 200 verses of each of those Gospels. Matthew and Luke are said not to have used one another. The moment you do that, you’ve got to deal with where this came from. And so “Q” stands for the German word quelle, which means source. And remember that the Gospels originally, you know, there weren’t written gospels; they were telling stories about Jesus. These were being passed on orally because we’re in an oral culture. And so this source base is one of the things that the Gospel writers drew upon. It was the church source base about the stories of Jesus. And that’s what “Q” is.
So Mark is one of the source; “Q” is one of the sources; and then traditionally the unique material in Luke is a source; the unique material in Matthew is seen as a source; and the unique material in John is seen as a source. And then there are others that can be spread beyond that, but those are the core ones. So that’s multiple attestations.
A variation of that is called “attestational forms.” That’s the different literary genres that something can appear in. That’s like a cross-check, if you will. So that’s the second standard.
The third one is called “dissimilarity.” If it’s not like Judaism, and it’s not like the early church, it must be Jesus. Now, that one is a tough sieve to get through, because a lot of what Jesus does does connect either to the past or leads into the future. And some people have done a variation on it called “double dissimilarity”—not quite like Judaism, and not quite like the early church—and if you can show that it’s in the movement between those two, then that can count too. That’s another standard.
The fourth rule is embarrassment. The early church wouldn’t write something like this. They wouldn’t castigate one of their leaders and put them in this frame, and show them in this way, unless it really happened that way.
And then the last one is the criteria of rejection. We have to be able to know how the event leads to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.
So those are five of the rules. They’re not all of them, but those are five of the rules that we play the game by, all designed to corroborate or verify the claim that this particular theme or event or saying happened.
Ankerberg: Gary, how many of the sources do you have to have for it to be considered good evidence. One source, two sources, three sources, four? Where do you as scholars say, “I think we’ve got something here that we can rely on”?
Habermas: Well, just like in a court of law there’s no rule on how many you have to have, because I think you want…. Darrell mentioned different kinds of attestation. You have to kind of weigh the kind of attestation. You’ve got the rules; you’ve also got the specific, you know, subcategories within each one. What kind of attestation? Are the two kinds of attestation you have both late, or are they both early? Do you have, you know, if you have Mark and “Q,” you know, now you’re,… or if you have a secular source for something, you know, those count with folks. So you have to kind of pull those apart and look at them. But the Jesus Seminar says that if you have two sources, independent sources, for a saying of Jesus, that increases the likelihood. Well, if two might do the job, what do you do with a Bart Ehrman, who’s probably the best known skeptic of this county, what do you do when he says he’s got about a dozen sources for the crucifixion of Jesus? I think if two’s pretty good, we know a dozen is overkill. And that’s why the crucifixion of Jesus is so well accepted.
Bock: And you’ve got to appreciate the fact here that these criteria are discussed and debated. This isn’t a science where everything lands, you know, and it’s clear. This is why it gets discussed is because you’re weighing evidence. And that’s what a historian always does.
Ankerberg: And our position here is if you weigh this evidence we can support what is said in the New Testament Gospels.
Bock: That’s right; that the core credibility can be defended. And it can be defended on a basis that says more than simply, “Well, it’s true because it’s in the Bible.” Here’s why it’s true. Here’s why anyone looking at this should take it seriously that these things happened.”
Ankerberg: Talk about your brother.
Bock: Yeah, the book that I did, Who Is Jesus?, was written in part because my brother, who was trained in the Ivy League as a lawyer, was skeptical about religion. And so we engaged in a discussion on Jesus. And I couldn’t just cite the Bible to cite the Bible. As a lawyer, you know, he would sit there and he would say, “Well, let’s put you in the docket and take a look at this.” And he would bring good questions. And so we engaged in this conversation over a long period of time; discussing the evidence, using these kinds of rules, as a way of drawing him in to think about what was in the Scripture. And this, along with just the credible testimony of people’s lives, etc., eventually opened him up to being responsive to the gospel.
Ankerberg: Alright, folks we’re going to take a break. We’re going to take a break and we’re going to talk about, okay, how is this evidence applied to the question, “Why was Jesus crucified?” How did O’Reilly handle it? How would you guys advise him to strengthen his case? We’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. And we’re asking a question, “Why was Jesus crucified?” It’s the main topic of Bill O’Reilly’s book. And we’re talking with Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Gary Habermas. And, Darrell, O’Reilly says on page 232 that Jesus is standing there and the high priest, Caiaphas, fumes at Him, “I charge You under oath, by the living God, tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Tell us how that is answered in Mark 14.
Bock: Well, basically Jesus claims that God is going to vindicate Him and take Him to the right hand of God. And so what that means is that He’s basically saying, “You can do with Me whatever you want. You can deliver Me over to the Romans. You can have Me crucified, but this story’s not done. One day that tomb is going to be empty. And when that tomb is empty you can know that I am seated in heaven with the only God.” That raises a question: who can sit with God in heaven? It’s a good question. Not just be present with Him, but actually sit with Him, share His rule, share His authority. That’s what Jesus is claiming.
So in effect, what He’s saying is, “You can crucify Me, you can kill Me. But if you do that, when that tomb goes empty you can find My address and it’s www.righthandofGod.com. And in the midst of doing that, this indicates who I am.” So He’s not only making a statement about who He is, He’s making a prediction about what God’s going to do. And it’s a claim of vindication that really supports everything about His life and ministry. That’s the blaspheme charge.
But from blaspheme He can’t go to Pilate. The Jews can’t take Jesus to Pilate and say He’s committed blaspheme. Pilate would go, “I don’t care.” They’ve got to translate that charge. That charge gets translated into claiming to be a king, claiming to be a king that Rome didn’t appoint. Now the Romans believed in law and order—you believe our law or we’ll put you in order—and the one thing they don’t like is someone claiming to be a king who they didn’t appoint. They have a means of disposing with such people. It’s called crucifixion. You crucify someone for sedition. So Jesus was crucified for sedition, which was the translation of the religious charge before the Jews that He blasphemed.
Ankerberg: Gary, those words, a lot of people don’t catch the impact of those words: “Are You the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Out of respect the Jews wouldn’t put God’s name there, so, “Are You the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God?” And Jesus says, “I am,” and then He says, “You will see the Son of Man coming.”
Habermas: Right.
Ankerberg: What are those three titles all about?
Habermas: Well, it’s amazing, because they ask Him a Messiah, Son of God, question, to which He answers affirmatively that He translates, if we call it translation, to a Son of Man comment. And we lose so much between the New Testament sense and the English sense. You might think, alright, the most blasphemous thing there must be Son of God and Jesus says yes. But Son of God doesn’t have to mean divine; Messiah does not have to mean divine, and in the Talmud is not a blasphemy charge. So you wonder what He’s doing.
Then He says, “Son of Man.” Now, what if someone said, what if the high priest had said, “Look, You’re the Son of Man. I’m the son of man. We’re all sons of man. Can we get back to the Son of God thing?” No, when He says the Son of Man and then the details about it—coming on the clouds and sitting at the right hand of God—He gets the formal charge of blaspheme. So something there, or a combination, sets off the high priest. And it seem, I mean, there is a combination. Yes, the Son, yes, the Messiah, coming on the clouds, which was only a prerogative of God in the Old Testament, coming in the clouds and coming of judgment in the Old Testament. All of that. But it seems like “seated on the right hand of God” is what really pulled the string.
So the emphasis is something a little different than we have in the church today where we think it’s probably Son of God, baby Messiah. No, it’s the right hand of God. Because now you’re claiming to have God’s prerogatives and being able to rule with Him. And that precipitates the formal charge, not the, “No, You didn’t answer my question.” No, He answered it. He answered it a few times over here. So it’s a very insightful scene.
Bock: What’s really important about Gary’s answer is that we tend to think that what makes Jesus important are the titles that He used. But actually it’s what He portrays Himself as doing that’s more important. So whether I’ve got Son of Man or Christ or Messiah, what really does it is being seated at the right hand of God. The idea that I can park next to the eternal God and work with Him in His program. No one shares that throne. It’s God’s unique glory that we’re talking about.
So the flip side of it is if that’s who He is and that’s what He’s doing. Who is able to sit with the unique God and share His glory? What must that mean about the person who sits with Him? And it’s that action that does it. And the audience, Jesus’ audience, Caiaphas, gets it. Caiaphas is a good theologian. And so he rips his clothes, not because he doesn’t get what Jesus is saying, because he gets it. He doesn’t believe it; and if Jesus is not who He claims to be, that’s blasphemy.
Ankerberg: This title, “Son of Man,” people don’t realize Jesus used that 82 times in the four Gospels. And He’s basically the only One that uses it. And He defines the term. How does He use that term? What does the Son of Man do?
Bock: Well, it’s an ambiguous term because the core term simply means “son of a human being.” So it’s like “David’s son,” “Charlie’s son,” whatever. But in the certain context of Daniel it’s “the” Son of Man, one like a Son of Man, who becomes to the Ancient of Days. And He rides clouds. Now, as Gary mentioned, this is something only transcendants do. In the Old Testament it’s either God or the gods who ride the clouds. So I’ve got a human being doing divine kind of stuff. And He comes to the Ancient of Days to receive authority. That’s what Jesus is alluding to is that imagery. That imagery existed in Judaism; 1 Enoch, the Similitudes, talked about a glorified Son of Man sitting next to God, so much so that Judaism talked about two powers in heaven. So He’s working in familiar territory. And He is claiming, making an incredible claim, by the actions that He is describing. And Caiaphas gets it.
Ankerberg: Gary, in terms of the mission of Jesus, let’s talk about that briefly here. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save those which were lost. The Son of Man, Jesus said, has come to give His life as a ransom for many. The Son of Man, He said, like in judgment, is going to come with the holy angels and He’s going to gather all the nations before Him, and He’s going to separate them like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. This Son of Man, according to Jesus, is a pretty powerful person. But this fact that He came to give His life a ransom for many.
Habermas: Yeah, and that didn’t fit with the eschatology or the theology of most of the Jews at that time. Even if you were a Messiah-type figure, generally speaking it’s not thought you were going to die. And so when Jesus starts talking death, that’s one thing; when He mentions resurrection, that’s another one. He was just, to them, I think He was very complicated. He said a lot of things the disciples messed up on. But I think, overall I think “Son of Man” is a real key figure, because it can mean, like Darrell said, it can mean, it’s used in the Old Testament of a regular man. It’s used of a prophet almost 100 times in the book of Ezekiel, “Prophesy, O son of man.” But Jesus, we know what He means, because twice He paraphrases the words of Daniel. And in Daniel 7, we get that sense of this preexistent divine figure who comes from the Ancient of Days. And that’s pretty lofty.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Last thoughts about how O’Reilly handles the scene of Jesus before Pilate, or Jesus before the high priest.
Bock: He just describes it. He describes it simply as the Bible presents it, and we’re left with that. The background point is that a skeptic would come and say, “How do we even know what was said at the trial? There was no one there but Jesus,” of course they don’t think Jesus was raised, “so how does that leak out?” And the key point to realize here is there are a lot of potential witnesses. Nicodemus would have known what was going on. Paul, who knew what was going on. The upper echelons of Judaism knew what was going on. There are lots of ways for this information to leak out.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and didn’t even some of the secular scholars and Jewish scholars in their writing say that the Jewish leaders brought Him and they would have kept track of what was going on and even had their own records about it, wouldn’t they?
Habermas: Well, we do have some records. In the Talmud we have a reference to Jesus being convicted of sorcery. And in the context we think of sorcery as someone who plays around with the occult or something. But sorcery also means a teacher that leads people astray. And so Jesus was definitely, just like the Gospels say, they went after Him for being a false teacher of sorts.
Ankerberg: Alright, next week we’re going to turn the corner on this, and we’re going to look at another one of the key questions in Bill O’Reilly’s book. And that is, did Jesus, while He was living, did He actually claim to be the unique Son of God, in the fullest sense that we think about that, alright? And we’re going to talk about that next week and I hope that you’ll join us.


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