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

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 actually die? Was He Buried in a Tomb? Did He Rise Again?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. We’re talking about Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus, and I have two of the leading New Testament scholars in the world who are critiquing it. Bill O’Reilly himself recommends their books to us to read. Today we’re going to talk about one of the key topics in his book: Why did people in Jerusalem and across the Roman Empire believe in Jesus after He was shamefully crucified, died and He was buried? Okay, a very interesting question.
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 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 co-authored, authored or edited more than 60 books. Guys, we’re glad that you’re here.
And, Gary, let me start with you on this one. He’s talking about the events that take place from the time Jesus is crucified and what happened afterwards. And we’re to the big question of, what happened to Jesus’ body? Because if he says the tomb was found empty on the third day, okay, and so now we get into, you’ve got to answer the question, if Jesus was actually shamefully crucified, dead and buried, it didn’t matter what He said; if that’s all that happened to Him, then why are we talking about Him? Why are two billion people in the world following Him?
And so he’s going to take us through these events. And I want to look at what he says through the eyes of critical scholars like yourself, and I want you to comment on it. Are we building the case or are we destroying the case? Are we answering the question, finally, what happened to Jesus’ body, alright?
He starts off on page 253, “As soldiers now go about the hard physical labor of uncrucifying a man, a Sadducee named Joseph of Arimathea steps forward.” So what he’s saying is Jesus is crucified, now they’ve got to take Him down from the cross, so they’re uncrucifying Him. They’ve got to get the nails out, and all this kind of stuff. So they’re uncrucifying Him. And two guys are going to stand there, Joseph of Arimathea, and then you’ve got Nicodemus, the Pharisee; both members of the Sanhedrin, alright. Now, what is the significance, first of all, of Jesus dying, and then of these fellows starting to show up in the story?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, the death of Jesus, the significance hits us at a bunch of different levels. For example, we’ve talked several times about nobody expected that death in the first place. Secondly, if they had—I’m not sure why they would have, because they were so shocked by Jesus’ comment—but if they had, they’ve got this horrible problem that Paul refers to later, that Deuteronomy says, “Cursed is the man who hangs on a tree.” So if you were to allow it, then you’ve got the argument that He’s cursed. So if He’s cursed, how can He ever be God’s Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man that we’ve been talking about? So maybe that’s one reason why they’re so, you know, slow about accepting this.
Then you’ve got medical questions too, alright. So what’s this crucifixion? What do they do to Him? Well, how bad a shape was in He before they crucified Him? How do we know He died? We have to make sure He was dead, that they put Him in the grave. And then you start going to the next subject which is, how do they bury Him? So,…
Ankerberg: Yeah, and I think one of the reasons why I just wanted to bring up in passing the point that He actually died,…
Habermas: Right.
Ankerberg: …is there’s been so many books that have speculated, oh, He didn’t really die. Yeah, He was crucified, but He really didn’t die. He resuscitated somehow in the tomb, got out, showed Himself to the disciples. That’s why they thought He resurrected.
Habermas: Right.
Ankerberg: What do you say about that?
Habermas: Well, my comment is, virtually every book;… show me a book that says Jesus didn’t die on the cross. There are a few exceptions, but very, very, very few. Before you even turn it over and say, “Who’s the author and what are their credentials,” you know the person is not a specialist in the field. You know they either are not scholars, or if they are they work in other areas. And one thing about critical literature, the real critical literature, the “what if Jesus [never] existed” literature that people like Bart Ehrman go after and just say you guys aren’t even prepared, you’re not equipped to answer these questions. One thing is, they will take almost any specialization, you know. It’s an American diplomat, it’s a person who’s got only a bachelor’s degree. But all of a sudden they’re an authority if they’re saying what I want to say. So we’re back to the worldview things. That’s the sorts of folks, to be honest, that write the kind of books; or Muslims, that’s a growing group. Those are the two kinds of groups that try to say Jesus didn’t die on the cross.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and O’Reilly comes up, [page] 254, you can see where this influence come in, “They wrapped the body tightly in linen, making sure to keep it loose around Jesus’ face in case He’s not really dead.”
Habermas: Yeah, and I don’t have any idea where that came from. And as soon as I saw it I went, “Whoa!” and I put two question marks out in the margin. Maybe, I mean, just a hint: You know, in the book of Mark we’ve got Pilate. The old King James is kind of cool; “He marveled that He was so soon dead,” and he called a centurion in all the way from the field to say, “You sure this guy’s dead? You’re sure? Alright, you guys can have Him.”
Now, I have several questions there. Was he that concerned and so he gives the body away? Secondly, is the centurion the best we have? I mean, we don’t have a guy out there bringing an EEG and an EKG out in the mountain. How do we know He was dead? Now, we have to go through that same question. But maybe because Pilate raises the question, Bill O’Reilly thought,… I don’t know. I don’t know why he has that phrase. But notice, like a sentence later, he says,…
Ankerberg: I’ll read it for you. “All this is merely adherence to ritual, for Jesus is clearly dead. The spear rupturing the pericardial sac around His heart left no doubt.”
Habermas: Correct. Because he puts, Bill O’Reilly puts two theories together, both kind of prominent. One is the plural effusion, which is the fluid buildup around the lungs that can eventually cause asphyxiation. And the other one is, around the heart is a sac called the pericardium. It’s a very thin sac with a watery liquid inside. And it’s virtually impossible to stab, with a spear now, to stab the pericardium and not go through the heart because of how thin it is. But inside the pericardium is a watery substance. So we have to answer this water question. And I’ll just add in passing, outside the New Testament we do have several references to death blows to the people on crosses to make sure they don’t get down alive. And piercing the body is mentioned in at least two different sources, one non-Christian, one Christian. So we do have secular sources for doing things to people crucified, including stabbing them, to make sure they don’t get down.
Ankerberg: Darrell, he goes on; O’Reilly says on page 257, “Caiaphas tells Pilate directly, ‘That deceiver said “After three days I’ll arise again,” so give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.’” Now, I don’t think that O’Reilly’s aware that most scholars don’t believe that there was a guard there. Is that correct?
Dr. Darrell Bock: That’s right. Because, again, it’s a singly-attested piece of material from Matthew, so you don’t get corroboration. Now, I need to say that one of the things about the criteria that makes it tricky is, because something doesn’t meet the criteria doesn’t mean something doesn’t happen; it simply means you can’t show that it’s happened.
Ankerberg: Or that it’s not true.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: We believe that they actually were there,…
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: …it’s just you’re saying that, if you’re taking it from a critical point of view, you don’t have substantiating documentation.
Bock: Yeah. Imagine you’re in a court of law and you want to bring forward a witness to make the case to the court that “X” happened. If you don’t have witnesses, you can’t establish that “X” happened. That’s what you’re dealing with. So when we say something doesn’t have corroboration by the criteria, we say we can’t verify the fact that it takes place. We either have to trust the source that it happened, or we dismiss it.
Ankerberg: Yeah, it’s interesting that Joseph of Arimathea, coming back to those two guys, and Nicodemus, are both named. And the tomb where Jesus is buried is named. So they all knew that. What’s the significance of that?
Habermas: Well, it’s significant for a number of reasons again. These are not very well-known people. It’s not like you want to brag about them and say, “Well, the guy who owned this tomb is,” and, you know, name some very prominent person. They’re not very well-known. That’s kind of obscure. That argues in its favor. But it’s also important that we know where the body was laid. If we’re going to claim later that the tomb was empty, you have to know that there is a tomb, and so you’ve got to know, you know, what it is we’re looking for. And how do you know people knew where it was? John Dominic Crossan has a very well-known line. Of course, he believes Jesus was buried in just a common grave, but he says, “The people who knew didn’t care, and the people who cared didn’t know.” That catchy little line. So for us the question would be, how do you know the people that needed to know were the ones that know? Did they know where the location of the tomb was? And I think we’re covered on all these things.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and when we come back we’re going to talk about what O’Reilly says on page 261. He says, “What comes next is the very root of the Christian faith.” We’re going to find out what he thinks that is and if you guys agree. We’ll talk about it when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking about Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Jesus, with two of the leading historical Jesus scholars in the world. We’ve got Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Gary Habermas. And we’re talking about this whole thing of why would Jesus’ message have spread across the entire Roman Empire within 300-400 years? And why is it that two million people today believe Him, if the end of the story was Jesus was crucified, dead and buried? Alright, what do you think here?
Bock: Well, you know, people who doubt the resurrection argue that it’s the early church making up the resurrection rather than it having been a real event. But just think about it. I like to tell my students, imagine you’re the PR firm hired to resurrect the Jesus Movement that’s now dead and buried. And you have your pre-meeting. And you say, the way we’re going to do this is we’re going to make up a story. We’re going to sell a difficult idea—resurrection; not everyone believes in it. And the way we’re going to start off that story is our first witnesses are going to be women, and that’s going to be convincing.
Well, of course, women in the culture don’t count as witnesses like men do. The tradition in Judaism is that women can testify in certain court situations, usually involving sexual abuse and things like that, but they don’t generally count as witnesses. So your first witnesses are going to be women. Well, you strike off and say, you wouldn’t have done the story that way.
Or another one is some people, some critics, say, well, Jesus really didn’t present Himself as Messiah; He presented Himself as a prophet. So now you’re going to use a difficult idea to sell the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. And there’s no precedent in Judaism for a Messiah being crucified and resurrected; so you’re building it around a premise then, a precedent, that doesn’t even exist, so you’re not going to do it that way.
Or the third claim is, well, the reason you get resurrection stories built around prominent people is because the people who are prominent, who are at the center of the story, helped to bring credibility to the event.
But here’s what we don’t have; we don’t have a single event that focuses around the resurrection appearance to James, even though we know it happened. We don’t have a single event built around the resurrection appearance to Peter alone, even though we know that happened. Well, if you were going to present the key witnesses to Jesus, and you can fabricate it however you want, why don’t we get those stories?
So if you take the alternative hypothesis, there’s no way to get there. So something must have happened that was the resurrection; that caused the church to proclaim and believe in resurrection.
Ankerberg: Yeah, or another way of saying it, Gary, is that the reason they put the women in there is because that’s the way it happened.
Habermas: Right, exactly. Because you’ve got four Gospels. And we often think these were four guys up and down the street, you know; they knew each other; they went to church together. These guys are in different parts of the Roman Empire, you know and all four them are going to start their story with women? Well, you go, they copied off each other. Scholars agree that they’re kind of on their own here. Now, there’s a difference of opinion about how many different sources there are. But out of the four Gospels they are kind of writing,… rather writing independently here. And how do you make all four of them say it was the women?
Ankerberg: Yeah, some people turn that around and use it against you and say, therefore it isn’t credible because we have different numbers of people being reported to come to the tomb.
Habermas: Well, yeah, except that’s an example where I say to them, you know, the first rule of literary criticism is don’t criticize an author for not doing something they clearly told you they didn’t intend to do, right? In three of the four Gospels we’re told that they were not trying to give an exhaustive list of the number of women who come. For example, in Luke you say, “Well, right here, here’s the number of women. It’s Mary, Mary and Joanna in Luke.” Really? Where do you get that? “Well, it’s right here that they went to the empty tomb.” There’s no names there. “Oh, no.”
You’ve got to go all the way down to verse 10. And in verse 10 it says, “Mary, Mary, Joanna and the other women with them.” What does that mean? That means there were some others, and I’m not going to give you their names. Now Mark has a similar comment, and John only has Mary Magdalene, but in John 20:2 it says “we,” implying some others know what she’s talking about at least. So their point is not to be exhaustive. And then if we try to say, well, you know, she’s mentioned, Joanna. And Joanna’s not mentioned anywhere else. Well, what does “other women” mean? So I just think that’s, if that’s the best you can do, that’s a pretty weak argument.
Ankerberg: O’Reilly says this: “What comes next is the very root of the Christian faith. The Gospels record that Jesus’ body was not stolen. Indeed, Scripture puts forth that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. After His body was found missing the Gospels state that Jesus appeared 12 times on earth over a 40-day period of time. These apparitions range from a single individual to groups of more than 500 on a mountain in Galilee. Some people say this is where they really made up the story, all these people that said they saw Jesus.” What do you say to that?
Habermas: Well, I think what you’re going to have to do right away is our earliest list of appearances is Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. Now, I won’t be able to give the whole argument here, but you can get that sequence. Where did Paul receive this? First Corinthians 15:3 he said, “I gave you what I was given.” Critics, in fact, Richard Bauckham of Cambridge list this as now as the consensus New Testament position; that is, that Paul received this material about 35 AD, which is plus five [years] after the cross; and he had to get it from others, so that shortens the date. Bart Erhman, of all people, says that this date goes back to one to two years after the cross. And not just 1 Corinthians 15, several sermon summaries in the book of Acts he dates one to two years after the cross. So that’s pretty early.
And in that list you have three groups of individuals; that counts Paul’s appending his own name to the end; so three individuals. Three group: you’ve got a group called “the Twelve;” a group called “all the apostles;” a group called “the 500 at one time.” So from the earliest, which goes back basically to the cross, we have a list of group appearances. So if you want to do away with this, you’re going to have to deal with the text. And that’s where we’re at our best.
Ankerberg: So we’re saying, Darrell, that you basically have eyewitnesses, and you’ve got evidence for these eyewitnesses, whether you know how to deal with it or not.
Bock: Yeah, and what’s significant here is that it’s not just individual appearances. It’s group appearances; appearing to people at the same time. A kind of corporate appearance if you will.
Ankerberg: Yeah, because you don’t have group hallucinations.
Bock: That’s exactly right. Because what some people want to say is, well, they had individual visions or some sense that Jesus was alive on an individual level, something like that. But these group appearances prevent you from going there.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I mean, you’ve got a great illustration that if you and your wife are dreaming, you’re not dreaming the same dream.
Habermas: That’s correct. In fact, I just read an account recently of a guy who tries to argue for group hallucinations. And what he argues for is a bunch of people standing at one place all have separate hallucinations. You know, every time you do that you decrease the odds, or you increase the odds against; because that’s not even likely to have two hallucinations in the same group; they’re fairly rare. To have everybody have one simultaneously is, you know,… But they’re different hallucinations. That’s just extraordinary. Like I said, two people say, “It was a great dream we had last night;” we don’t share those things.
Ankerberg: Yeah, alright, so let’s get down to the crunch here of this, is that O’Reilly is saying the root of the Christian faith is that something happened here. The Christian faith says Jesus rose from the dead. What I’m asking you, what is the strongest evidence to say that happened?
Habermas: The strongest evidence to say that Jesus appeared, I think, is to take the group appearances that can go back to the cross; that go all the way back with eyewitnesses. And I think the key to the eyewitnesses; he and I may disagree on this, but I’m saying the best way to go after the eyewitnesses is not to try to prove that the Gospels are written by eyewitnesses, necessarily, but to argue that Paul was in the right place at the right time, knew the eyewitnesses. Paul goes to Jerusalem at about plus five; goes back before 50 AD. He’s there twice. In both cases he’s interviewing the eyewitnesses as to the nature of the gospel. The nature of the gospel necessitates the resurrection.
So I think Paul’s best evidence that he gives in this case is not just his testimony, but I think the best thing Paul does is to repeat the testimony of Peter and James in Galatians 1, and Peter, James and John, the big four—nobody’s more influential than Paul, Peter, James, John—he gives the testimony of all of them in Galatians 2. And he says, “I set before them the gospel I was preaching and” in English, five words, “they added nothing to me.” Just like he says in 1 Corinthians 15, he says “Whether it’s I or they, so we preach, and so you believe.” So he says, “We’re all on the same page. I don’t care who you ask. Go to Peter if you want. Go to James. Go to John. Or I’ll tell you. We’re all preaching the same message.”
I think that right there, the earliest time with the people who were there, who died as martyrs, those four, we have first century reports of the martyrdom of three of the four, and a second century report of the last one, John. I think that’s the strongest single argument. It’s got several orbs, but I think it’s the strongest single argument for the resurrection appearances.
Ankerberg: Darrell, with about 30 seconds left, why should anybody believe this message today?
Bock: Because if Jesus is alive, He’s alive. If God raised Him from the dead, He’s been brought alive from the dead then, and He’s still alive now. And that’s the point. The vindication claim that He made is that “God would raise Me and place Me at His right hand. And you can still be in touch with the living God through what it is that I’ve provided. And I can provide it, because I’m right here at His side.” So the picture is that there is a message, an eternal message from an eternal God through an eternal deliverance that comes from an eternal figure so that you can experience eternity.
Ankerberg: Folks, this is great stuff, just great stuff. I hope that you’re absorbing this and get the tapes of these programs, but we’ve got one more program left. And we’re going to come back to this thing: what happened to the body? And Gary’s got a very interesting way of attacking this, and that is that there are, if you take all the critical scholars, there are 12 historical facts that they’ll all give you. Whether they’re Christian or non-Christian, they’ll say these basically happened. And he’s going to pare those down to five or six, and he’s going to say you can just take these and make a convincing case to a skeptic of why Jesus is alive; He rose from the dead. Alright, I hope that you’ll join us next week.


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