A Response to Bill O’Reilly’s Book “Killing Jesus” – Part 2 – Program 1

By: Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2013
My guests explain why historians believe the facts show Jesus really performed supernatural miracles. How they know Jesus really claimed to be the Messiah? Most importantly, why did belief in Jesus spread across the Roman empire even though Jesus was shamefully crucified, dead and buried? Why should people believe and worship Jesus today?

Did Jesus Perform Miracles

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 get right? What did he get wrong? 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. Have you read Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, Killing Jesus? You’ve probably heard people talking about it. Well, we have two of the world’s leading New Testament scholars that are here critiquing Bill O’Reilly’s book, and it’s interesting that he cites them in the end of his book as scholars that we should read their books. And today our topic is going to be about, did Jesus, and do historical Jesus scholars, actually believe that while He walked this earth that He was performing supernatural miracle, alright?
In parts of his book you’ll notice that Bill O’Reilly does not talk about the miracles that are recorded in the four Gospels; concerning Nicodemus would be one example: We know that you are sent from God because nobody could do these miracles except a man who is sent by God. He leaves out that “nobody can do these miracles except one sent by God.” Why did he leave it out? Or they are touched on lightly; or sometimes they’re even referred to as legend. So when he talks about Lazarus rising from the dead, or being brought back from the dead by Jesus, that’s a legend. Or sometimes he seems surprised that they actually happened; that the Pharisees actually saw a man with a withered hand healed. He has to do something with that.
Now, he talks about this at the end of his book, what he and his co-writer faced. He says, “Both Martin Dugard and I learned a tremendous amount while researching and writing this book. But one intriguing question: First, why did thousands of common people seek out Jesus of Nazareth? Most couldn’t even hear Him preach because the crowds were so vast. So why did they come? What was Jesus doing that prompted so many people to set aside their daily labor to be near Him? Christians attribute Jesus’ popularity to His message of love, hope and truth, but also to His miraculous healings.” Now he says Christians attribute this: “But even nonbelievers must admit that something extraordinary was happening in Galilee.”
So, to me he’s walking the fence here, and I can kind of understand it in some ways, why he’s doing this. But let’s talk about you; as critical scholars here, looking at this, how do you marshal evidence, and how does scholarship as a whole marshal evidence to say, yes, supernatural miracles actually did take place, or they didn’t? How do you get to answer that question?
Dr. Darrell Bock: There really are two steps. The first is that the textual evidence is loaded with the fact that these claims are associated with Jesus. They’re in every strand of the tradition. So you don’t miss it. There’s no missing this. It’s everywhere in the Gospel tradition. We’re talking about Mark, “Q,” “M,” “L,” John, all the source levels. At the biblical level they’re alluded to in the context of the rest of the New Testament. And then, besides that, we have sources outside the Bible coming from enemies who also make the case. So we know Jesus and the miraculous were associated with one another. Now, that’s level one; the level of the data is, it’s there
The second level is, how do you assess that? That’s where worldview comes in. It all depends with the glasses you put on and read the material. If you think this is something that God is capable of doing, and doing, you’re going to take this seriously. But if you have trouble with the idea of miracles—conceptually, philosophically, emotionally, whatever—then you’re going to work to explain it in some way. It’s there, so you’ve got to explain it; how you’re going to explain it? And that’s where you watch everybody kind of fall out in different places. So I suspect that the reason you’re getting care here is that O’Reilly realizes that if you buy in on the miracles, you’ve bought into the deal. If miracles happened, the resurrection becomes possible; there’s no reason not to believe some of the things that draw people to Jesus, that show who He is. It’s a core part of the deal. And so if you buy in, you’ve signed on. And…
Ankerberg: Let me talk to Gary. You’re the philosopher here, okay. In terms of putting what Darrell said, these glasses on, the worldview, what should head a person one way or another? We’re talking about probability here, what are some of the things outside that should influence a person’s worldview to either open the door or shut the door?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, extremely important; in fact, I think we’re conflating things here all into a nice package, and it’s really at least two major questions. For an example, in John 12 the people standing around Jesus hear a voice from heaven. And we see some of them say, “I think I just heard some thunder. Shall we be looking for cover?” And someone else says, “I think an angel spoke to him.” And someone else says, “Maybe it was God.” Now, that’s a great passage as far as worldview differences. People maybe didn’t hear the same thing, but at the same time they thought different things from this.
Now, what we conflate is, we frequently think in the West that here’s how you get a miracle: You get a lot of evidence; and if you really want to be sure it’s a miracle you get more evidence. And if you want more, if you get really,… you know, you’re asking good questions, let’s give more evidence. Really there’s two questions. One is, do we have data? Do we have evidence? That’s what we’ve done most of our talking about here. But the second question is this: a miracle by definition requires God to have performed something. If there’s no supernatural intervention, or if there’s no supernatural action, there’s no miracle, no matter how odd or no matter how good the evidence. So philosophers look for what they sometimes call a divine action pattern. It’s not just events; it’s things surrounding the event that cohere that say this is more than a weird set of circumstances.
Now, if you get the data, you have a weird set of circumstances. Without the data you only have weird circumstances. But if you do, now you say, what’s the whole package here? You think, wait a minute; Jesus brought a lot more to the table here than just these events. How did people call these miracles? Well, they may not have thought through it philosophically, but they’re hearing this person say some incredible things about themselves. We’ve talked about Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man. He can forgive sins. He, you know, He refers to God in personal terms. We have all these checks and balances.
But also who’s this person Jesus? We don’t have any other founder of a major belief system whose miracles are reported very early. You know, we have all this in Jesus. But with Jesus we also have, from what we can tell, a sinless life. I mean, He’s without guile. He’s not, you know, He’s, some people said—Bill O’Reilly says—fulfilling all these Old Testament things. So if you have a guy who lives a good life, who looks like He’s the Messiah of the Old Testament, who’s doing miracles, you know, and saying these things about Himself, that’s a whole package. That’s a divine action pattern.
So I think what equals miracle is event plus action pattern equals God’s hand must be on Him. And so you could say,… I think the Jewish leaders made the right move. They went, yeah, divine action pattern; it’s called Satan. And so now all you have to solve is the difference between God’s hand and Satan’s hand. But they knew what they were doing: that you have a person, a message and events here. We better stop this train, because it’s going down the track. And He’s got more than just events here.
Ankerberg: Let me take a book like The Zealot and throw that into the mix here, because The Zealot says you had miracle workers that were a dime a dozen. And a lot of critical scholars said, hey, the place was flooded with people that were so-called miracle workers. We’ve got Jewish; we’ve got Greek; we’ve got all of these things that influenced people to write stories about Jesus that showed that He was like those guys; He was supernatural, okay. You’re saying, not necessarily true.
Bock: Yes, we do have examples of other claimants of miracles, but usually they’re pretty, the résumé’s pretty sparse. Vespasian is associated with a couple of miracles that supposedly undergirds the fact that he deserves to be emperor, that kind of a thing. You do get more comprehensive résumés from Jewish people like Honi the Circle-Drawer, Hanina ben Dosa, or Apollonius of Tyana, a Greco-Roman figure. But these operate differently. They mediate what they do. It’s actually the god who does the healing; they don’t. They pray for it or they use a formula. And the case of Apollonius is the closest example. He has a wide résumé, but the work that’s written about him is written almost two centuries after the time of the events, and it’s commissioned by someone who’s an anti-Christian. And so all that goes together to undercut what’s going on there. What makes Jesus unique is He is what’s called a bearer of numinous power. He makes His claims directly. That’s unlike what you see in the Jewish parallels. And it’s unlike most of what you see in the Greco-Roman parallels.
Ankerberg: Yeah, he doesn’t have to draw a circle around himself then pray for something to happen, or say an incantation, or do something else.
Bock: Exactly right.
Ankerberg: He just does it.
Bock: He does it directly. And so, this is a very different kind of approach. A technical work by Eric Eve called The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles makes this point and emphasizes it. So there’s something going on there. So Jesus, yes, there are other miracle workers, other miracle worker claimants, but the quality of the miracles, the scope of the miracles, and the way in which they are done are very different.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to follow up and we’re going to get down to, what are some of the accounts that are in the documents, in the sources, the New Testament documents here, that actually show to critical scholars something did happen? So that O’Reilly is saying even non-believers have to admit something was happening here, okay. How far can we push some of these stories? We’re going to take four stories, so stick with us. We’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with two of the leading historical Jesus scholars in the world, and we’re talking about Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Jesus. And we’re asking the interesting question: is there real evidence that Jesus, while He was living, performed supernatural miracles? What do critical scholars lean on to answer that question? This may be helping Bill O’Reilly’s case coming up here in the future. How do you guys go after this? Let’s take some of the actual accounts that you think are very credible and push people in the direction of saying Jesus, yeah, He really did something supernatural here.
Bock: Well, I think the important place to start is to again remind people that we have testimony all over the place that Jesus is doing unusual stuff; that we don’t have on the table “didn’t happen.” That actually is a product of our modern very confined Western worldview. I need to mention this; that Craig Keener’s written two volumes of work called Miracles, two very large books, in which he documents the evidence for miracles that exists around the world today. And the point that he’s trying to make is that the reaction against miracles is actually a Western post-enlightenment worldview point of view that has shut out the possibility of accepting miracles. But most of the world doesn’t accept it even today. So I think that’s an important point to make as we’re thinking about what kind of glasses are we going to put on, what kind of lenses are we going to have.
Ankerberg: Yeah, we just got done with series where we had fellows talking about how Jesus is showing up and appearing to Muslim people in different countries across the world. So like one out of three folks that are coming out of Islam are as a result of Jesus actually coming and appearing to them, so…,
Bock: Yeah, and that’s not the Internet.
Ankerberg: No!
Bock: So something’s going on there.
Ankerberg: No!
Bock: So that’s the first place to start. Well, in light of that, then you look at the kind of résumé or CV [curriculum vitae] that Jesus puts forward in the Gospels by the activity He does. And probably no passage capsulates that or summarizes it more succinctly than a series of four miracles that take place in Mark and in Luke. They’re in Mark 5, I believe, and Luke 8. And what you get are four miracles in a row. You get the calming of the storm. We’ve already talked about it. Who can command the wind and the waves and they obey Him? That’s miracle number one. That deals with the dominion. Then you’ve got demons. You get the Gerasene demoniac and Jesus cleanses the man of the multitude of demons. That’s the second one. Then you’ve got the healing of the flow of blood of the woman who touches the edge of Jesus’ garment while He’s walking to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and He stops and engages her and heals her of the flow of blood. And then last you’ve got the raising of Jairus’ daughter. So you get dominion or creation; you get demons; you get disease; you get death. You come in from the outside in, creation from the outside; demons attacking the inside, disease that reaches up from the inside, finally death that gets us. Jesus conquers it all. And so it’s an A to Z look at Jesus’ miracles and His power. It obviously made a deep impression on the Gospel writers, and they present it as kind of a summation of what Jesus is about. And it’s one of those things that draws the disciples to figure out, “We aren’t just hanging out with another guy; this is something special that’s going on here.”
Ankerberg: Gary?
Habermas: Well, you know, I like the Craig Keener jumping off point too. Craig tries to tell us we have to not be victims of our own prejudice, our own worldview. Craig Keener calls the part of the world that accepts miracles, he calls it the majority worldview. We’re the minority worldview.
Bock: It’s a two-thirds world technically, if you want to think of it that way.
Ankerberg: Yeah.
Habermas: And if you think, well, that’s just because they all live in caves, and,… No! You’re talking about a large part of the technical world that doesn’t share our view. And minority doesn’t mean right or wrong; but we pride ourselves; we think everybody agrees with us, when actually nobody does. And if you know the right place to look in the West, if all you had were Western miracle accounts, you’d have plenty to establish it just in our view alone. Because we usually tend to sweep things under the [rug], you know. We know these cases too; we just kind of look the other way. So I think we do need to challenge our worldview. And that’s that issue I was bringing up earlier. With miracle you have a lot of good evidence; you need evidence, but you need a worldview change. You need something in between. And with Jesus you get the whole ball of wax. You get everything.
Ankerberg: What’s the one story that really stands out to you, the miracle story that stands out to you?
Habermas: Probably the miracle story; we’ve already talked about it, but probably the miracle story, besides the resurrection, of course, which really brings it all together,…
Ankerberg: Which we’re going to get to coming up, yeah.
Habermas: I’d say Mark 2 with the forgiveness of sins, and especially Jesus’ words after He pronounces the man’s sins are forgiven. He says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, I say, take up your bed,” you know, “arise. Take up your bed and walk.” “So that you may know….” And look at everything that’s rolled in there to one. He does a miracle, calls Himself the Son of Man, and forgives the man’s sins, and says, “so that you may know that I have the authority to do this.” Darrell talked about a string of four miracles; here is one miracle—a different kind of look—one miracle, but with little different parts. Like Mark 14, which isn’t a miracle, but different kinds of claims. Here’s the whole thing rolled into one. And Jesus says, “So that you may know, I’m doing this.” Or John; “so that you may have your questions answered, John the Baptist, look at all the things I’m doing.” And so I think those accounts are most moving to me.
Ankerberg: Let me speak of one here. Bill O’Reilly, in his book talks about a very interesting situation where he leaves out the miraculous, and he kind of just highlights the fact Jesus is drawing all people to Himself by saying He comes to this village and a Roman centurion comes to Him and proclaims his faith in Jesus. But Bill O’Reilly forgets the whole account of why it seems he did that. You want to tell us about that?
Bock: Well, what’s interesting about that account is that the centurion doesn’t seem to have any sense of entitlement about the healing. He comes and he says, “I’m not worthy for You to come into my house.” And Jesus, when He responds, when He hears this, says, “I haven’t found faith like this in Israel.” And the request is, “I’m not worthy to have You come under my house. I know what it is to give a command. You say the word and it’ll be done.” He understands Jesus can do it from a distance. He understands he’s not entitled. He understands all Jesus has got to do is say the word and it’s done. It’s a done deal. He has a deep impression of the extent of Jesus’ authority.
You know, there’s another miracle besides that one that I think that’s important. It’s the healing of the blind man in John 9, because no blind person gets healed in the Old Testament. And the other thing that’s important is, in the midst of the dispute, this point comes up: God doesn’t work with sinners, so if this blind man gets healed, how is it that this person can be healed? He’s performing an act on the Sabbath. He’s not supposed to be laboring on the Sabbath, so He’s theoretically violating the Sabbath in the view of some. He’s healing a blind man in the view of others. And God doesn’t work with sinners, and yet here’s this guy who’s been blind from birth, now he can see. So it’s kind of, you make the call: What just happened? And so we get these events that push people to see that the signs are authentications, not just of Jesus’ act to heal and His ability to heal, but authentications of His claims, authentications of His person, just like the resurrection will be.
Ankerberg: Darrell, all three of us have listened to this kind of evidence, and you’re just drawn to Jesus. And the question is: would Jesus do any kind of business with me? Would He have a relationship with me? Because, of all of the sins of my life—people that may be listening right now and say, I’ve got all these sins, and would Jesus have anything to do with me? Is it possible for me to have a relationship with Him? Would He want that? What was His mission?
Bock: Well, the answer is He cleanses, He allows people to see, He allows the deaf to hear, He changes life.
Ankerberg: He came to seek and to save those which are lost.
Bock: To save the lost. He changes lives. He changes the direction of lives. The woman with the flow of blood can’t operate in society. The leper can’t operate in society. The paralytic can’t do anything. As a result of His actions He brings them back into life and into the world. All those are pictures. They’re metaphors. They’re real events, but they picture something more important. They’re power points that show that Jesus came to bring us back into real life and a real connection with the living God so that we can live life the way God designed it to be lived originally.
Habermas: By the way, using the same principle of embarrassment, Jesus also did it with the most despised members of society. So nobody could say in Jesus’ day, “Well, He won’t talk to me because I’m really far outside of this group.” Jesus went to the ones who were the furthest outside, the most outcast, whether it was the tax collectors, or the wealthy, or the Jewish leaders. But He also went to the lepers and people who you couldn’t have contact with. Nothing was too hard for Him, and nobody was too far outside of His circle.
Ankerberg: Yeah. All of this is just solid evidence of why we believe in Jesus. And it also helps Bill O’Reilly’s case that he’s making in his book that Jesus was a miracle worker, that He did perform supernatural miracles. Now, we’re going to get to the big one in the next two weeks. Why did people in Jerusalem and across the Roman Empire believe in Jesus after He was shamefully crucified, dead and buried? Why do you want to believe in that kind of a person? That is a key question; one that Bill O’Reilly says is the core coming up here of the Christian faith. And we want to look at the evidence for that, and I hope that you’ll join us then.


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