Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 4

By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006
The information in 1 Corinthians 15 is important to Christian history and the spread of the Church. What does Paul tells us about Jesus, his death, and his resurrection?

How Did Jesus Convince His Followers that He Had Raised from the Dead?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, what about five controversial new books about Jesus that have been featured in specials on NBC, ABC, and the National Geographic Channel?

You know about The Da Vinci Code movie and book. We will include that in our discussion. But what about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, and The Gospel of Judas? Is there new information about Judas that we didn’t know? Is Michael Baigent correct in asserting Jesus didn’t die on the cross; that it was the greatest cover up in history? What evidence does he present? Finally, what about the claims made in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman?

To answer these questions and expose the historical errors in these books my guests are: Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Dr. Evans was selected as a member of the National Geographic dream team of scholars and asked to examine The Gospel of Judas. He appeared in the two-hour National Geographic special, and also appeared in the NBC special regarding The Jesus Papers. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars in the world on the resurrection. We invite you to join us today to find out the truth about these new controversial books.


Dr. John Ankerberg: Alright. We’re talking about some of the most controversial books that are out and TV specials that are being made about them, and then The Da Vinci Code movie that’s coming up. And there’s some common themes that seem to be running through them about Jesus. Jesus is at the top of these topics, alright? Here you have Jesus didn’t die on the cross. And here He did die on the cross, but His dynasty lives on through James. And then of course you’ve got The Da Vinci Code.
And I want to follow up, guys, on something that pertains to these books, but that we left the folks with last time. And that is that you were talking about Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15, about what happened at the beginning of Christianity, why Christianity spread. It had to do with the resurrection and it had to do with who he was in agreement with, who the eyewitnesses were. And then we need to talk about the kind of appearances that Jesus made to these men.
So, rehash that for the people that weren’t with us. We’re talking about Jesus comes to the end of His life, He dies, put into a grave, then, stuff happens, okay? Paul recounts that. And why is it important, what he says in 1 Corinthians 15?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, it’s our earliest extended account, for one thing. And the point I made was it’s a mere 25 years after the cross, from about 30 AD to about 55 AD.
Ankerberg: His book is written, Corinthians is written?
Habermas: 1 Corinthians. About 55 AD.
Ankerberg: Right.
Habermas: Mid-50s. But Paul first gave this to them orally, he says in the first two verses, so we got about a 20-21 year gap here. But the key is that in 15:3, Paul said, “I delivered unto you of first importance that which I also received.” And the critical scholars who answer this question put Paul’s reception of this back at Jerusalem. Now some put it in Damascus, which, by the way, moves it back a couple of years. But the most common answer is that he received this in Jerusalem from Peter and James at about plus 5: Paul’s conversion, plus 3 years later, up to this trip. And in the context, both before and after, he’s discussing the gospel and the first visit. By the way, the Greek term there, historesai, is often said to be a term of investigating data, sort of the investigative reporter.
Ankerberg: Galatians 1 is where he recounts his little trip up there and this is where you find this word.
Habermas: Right. Galatians 1:18. And so he’s playing sort of the investigative reporter, according to several word studies. And he’s interviewing, as it were, Peter and James, I assume asking, “Is your experience like my experience?” because Paul was solid on his.
Then a few verses later, Galatians 2:2, he goes back up there to make sure that the gospel he was preaching was true. And in Galatians 2:6 he said these persons – and now John is there: John, Peter, James the brother of Jesus – he said they “added nothing to me.” And then the same three, John, Peter, James, in Galatians 2:9-10, give the men, Paul and Barnabas, the right hand of fellowship. So this is an agreement.
So I’m just drawing the conclusion even critical scholars will say that’s when he received the creed. It predates him because these men had it before Paul had it. And the Jesus Seminar says it predates Paul’s conversion. Gerd Ludemann dates it at maximum of three years after the cross. James D. G. Dunn puts it at 30 AD. Gerald O. Collins, by the way, also moves a number of these back to 20 AD, he says. So it’s early.
Ankerberg: The background of the characters that we’re talking about: Why did Paul become a Christian, because he was persecuting Christians to start with? What converted James? Why did he convert to Christianity when he was against his own brother all of the time when Jesus lived, okay? You’ve got a stubborn brother, okay. And you’ve got Peter that denied Christ, and he’s depressed after the crucifixion. Okay, these guys all say something happened to them, and it’s recorded in this creedal passage here. Keep going.
Habermas: Yes, of the big four there in Galatians 2, only John does not have egg on his face. The other big three, critics freely admit that James was a non-believer before he meets the risen Jesus, at least at some point early in Jesus’ ministry; you have Peter who denies Him; Paul who goes after Christians. And they’re all on board because of the resurrection.
So, at the core, on the gospel, that’s what Paul lays before them both in Galatians 1 and in Galatians 2. There’s agreement, so there’s not two strands in the early church. I mean, I’m sure there’s periphery things on which they disagree. Second half of Galatians 2 there’s an argument. Barnabas and Paul, there’s an argument. But in the central proclamation – deity, death, resurrection of Jesus – the earliest strand of Christianity agrees. People would like to say there’s another strand there, but it’s not our fault if everybody in the earliest strands agrees!
Ankerberg: Alright. Craig, let me pick it up with you here. The fact is that it’s not just the fact of the resurrection, but Jesus actually appeared to these guys. Okay? Now, what that word “appear” means, and the word “vision” means, and “sightings of Jesus,” these books all have different interpretations of what that means. From the scholar’s point of view, tell me what it means to you.
Dr. Craig Evans: Well, the word “appear” can mean a lot of things, but what I find compelling is that the various people who saw Jesus, whether they believed in Him or were indifferent toward Him, or in fact, like Saul of Tarsus, opposed Him, they interpreted the appearance in terms of resurrection. And I think that’s very important, and in my view that rules out the idea of a ghostly apparition or some kind of a dream vision. And of course, it rules out what I think is a nonsensical idea: a staggering, wounded Jesus wandering around looking for His friends, and looking for medical help.
Ankerberg: Alright, Gary, how many resurrection appearances were there? You read these guys and it’s “they’re one,” or “a couple,” you know, you get the idea it’s very slim pickings here. But there’s a lot more resurrection appearances than these guys are giving credit to.
Habermas: Yes. New Testament scholars today don’t try to count, don’t try to come up with a specific number. But of the ones we’re told, there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 12. Interestingly enough, the earliest account, Tabor tries to make a deal of the fact that the earliest gospel didn’t have any appearances. Now, critical scholars are agreed that Mark knows the appearances. That’s clear for a number of reasons we could state, if you like. But what I like to say here is, they will note progression of legend, and they’ll say, “Look at Mark: no appearances. Look at John: two full chapters.” I want to say, “What about Paul?” The longest list of resurrection appearances comes from the pre-Pauline creed in 1 Corinthians.
Ankerberg: Give them to us.
Habermas: The list from Paul?
Ankerberg: Right.
Habermas: Well, in the list of Paul, you have three groups and you have three individuals. He appears to Peter. He appears to James. Last of all, Paul says (he adds to the creed or creeds) he says, “Last of all He appeared to me.”
The groups, you have the Twelve, all the apostles, and 500 at once, of whom the greater amount remain alive. And most commentators think Paul’s point there is to say, “Go on down to Galilee and interview them if you want to. Go on down there.”
So Paul’s got that list of six, and now you’ve got to put that before Mark. So the fact that Mark knows of appearances but doesn’t list them, he says, Tabor says, something like this: they go to the tomb, they see an angel. And the angel says, breaking off in verse 8, “they find it open. And the women walk away astonished, talked to nobody.” And he says, “Period.” He says that’s all you’ve got in Mark.
Ankerberg: Yes, so he’s saying that Mark had no resurrection appearances, didn’t know about any.
Habermas: Well, see, much of New Testament scholarship will end Mark at 16:8, probably even a majority view. Craig can address that. But I think what New Testament scholars say is Mark, by nature, shortest gospel, likes to leave hints, the messianic secret and so on, likes you to unpack things. There are three indications that Mark knows of resurrection appearances.
Ankerberg: What are they?
Habermas: Well, first of all, he has Jesus predict His dying and rising (Mark 8, Mark 9, Mark 10, Mark 14), going to Galilee. So he predicts it. Would Mark put an appearance there, or predictions by the Lord, and then say, “Golly, He died and remained in the tomb”? That’s a prediction of appearance because he knows of appearances.
Secondly, Tabor, interestingly, does not mention this, the angel says, “He is not here. He was dead, He’s alive. Go to Galilee and you will see Him.” [Mark 16:6-7] Can’t miss that point. Proclamation of resurrection.
This third one’s a little more hinty, but critical scholars find in the reference “go tell the disciples and Peter, that He is raised,” [Mark 16:7] that might be the Petrine priority tradition that we see in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff and Luke 24:34. Luke 24:34 is a very important little creedal, one of those embedded creedal, statements, “He is raised indeed and has appeared to Peter.” They see that that’s for sure in Luke 24, for sure in 1 Corinthians 15, and it may be in Mark: “go tell the disciples and Peter.”
So two for sure – prediction, angelic proclamation; possibly Peter. Mark does know there are appearances.
Ankerberg: What about Tabor’s idea that the fact that the lists differ. I mean, is there something that’s valuable here about everybody’s got to do it the same way? I mean, you know, if all the four gospels had had it exactly in order, they would have said, “Hey, that’s a copy job here!” Okay? “They aren’t independent witnesses.” Now that you have independent witnesses, I mean, now you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Habermas: Yes. Two things to say about that. First of all, I think the list in Paul corresponds to more things in the gospels than we think. Those who say, like some of our references here, the lists hardly correspond at all, and some critical scholars say they don’t correspond. Wait a minute! You’ve got the lead appearance to Peter. Luke 24:34 has that early creedal sound bite that He appeared to Peter, and maybe the Markine illusion there. So you’ve got Peter. You definitely have an appearance to disciples, to the Twelve and to all the apostles. Where to put the 500? Okay, maybe we don’t have a parallel there. Maybe we don’t have a parallel to James. If we take Acts as Volume 2 of Luke, which I believe it’s Tabor that takes that as Volume 2…
Evans: Sure.
Habermas: …you have the appearance, the three-fold appearance to Paul, which corresponds to “last of all He appears to me.” So the list is fairly clear.
Second thing I’d say is, I think critical principles here are lacking, the same critical principles that these fellows apply in the other works. And it goes like this: the difference between Paul and John is about 40 years; every writer preserves traditions from their community, and the fact that over 40 years, different communities, the fact that different communities report different stories is what you’d expect! Nobody has to give an exhaustive list, that’s not the way the New Testament works!
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk about one more thing on resurrection and that is, what does the word “spiritual” mean when Paul uses that in 1 Corinthians 15? Because these guys use it against Paul. And we’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking with two of my favorite guests. We’re talking about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, we’re talking about The Jesus Dynasty, with James Tabor, talking about The Da Vinci Code, and we’re talking about The Gospel of Judas. Craig Evans has been on a couple of these specials that you’ve seen nationwide. And Gary Habermas is an expert on the resurrection.
And Gary, let’s follow up with you in terms of, we’ve got one more thing. Some of these writers in these books will use Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians against him in the sense of, who was the Jesus that he saw? Was it a real, physical Jesus? What kind of body did He have? Was this a vision, was it a ghost? The words are, “spiritual body,” and “physical body.” Does that mean when he says that Jesus had a spiritual body and we’re going to have a spiritual body, we’re going to have some kind of a ghostly body? What do those words mean in the Greek?
Habermas: Well, first of all, the tables have turned in just recent years. For the last few generations, I should say decades, the typical view has been that that spiritual body is sort of a disembodied, albeit real, appearance.
I would just say in passing, even on that old view, that older view – Hans Grass, Reginald Fuller, people like that – even on the old view, Jesus really appears. So I think that’s very, very important, that the key fact is He appears. Now we’re discussing the kind of body. But with these guys, resurrection is there.
But now the recent trend is to see anastasis and egeiro and words like that as being bodily in nature. Now, people point to Tom [N.T.] Wright’s book, his 2003 book The Resurrection of the Son of God, where Wright argues that these terms, across the spectrum, in every source (he argues every source, he might be pushing it a little bit) but he says basically, every time the word is used, up until 200 AD, post-Christian, that these terms are used by pagans, Jews and Christians alike to be an embodied existence.
And as Craig said earlier, they knew; they saw ghosts, they knew of spirits, they knew that, that’s not the problem. The problem is that they didn’t use this word to describe that experience. So when Paul uses soma and even sarx, flesh, when he uses soma, body, Paul’s talking about a bodily appearance. And Tom Wright’s all over that. But the point I want to make is, Tom’s book is the most detailed, 500 out of 700 pages argues this, that no matter who you’re talking about, pagan, Jew, Christian, they all say the same thing.
But I would argue that about 10 years before Tom Wright, 15 years before Tom Wright, the table has already turned. I did a count recently of people who’ve written from about 1990 to date. And about 75% of scholars today say that resurrection, or something like it, occurred. 75%. Of that 75% who say it occurred, 75% of the 75%, in other words, three to one, say it was a bodily appearance. Ken Peters had a book that was published by Eerdmans a few years ago, when 20 out of 20 scholars in his book that he edited said bodily resurrection. So I think we’re coming to a time when we’re noticing that.
I’ll say real quickly, the higher critical community – and a lot of these guys are good critical scholars; higher critical does not automatically mean horrible – but some of the critics who do not acknowledge this still acknowledge the meaning of the word anastasis. Gerd Ludemann says the key term here is that it’s language of sight, and that it’s embodied sight. That’s a key.
And most recently Jonathan Reed and John Dominic Crossan have both said they agree with Tom Wright. And Dom Crossan said in his 2003 article, he said, “I had already been going there by the time Tom said this.” And he juxtaposes Paul’s visionary appearance in Acts with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15. He and Jonathan Reed in their book on the search for Paul say, “We’re going to bracket the Lukan explanation as not being firsthand. Paul’s is firsthand. He’s an eyewitness, and so we’re going to say these appearances were believed by Paul to be bodily.” I think we’ve reached a new stage in this argument, and it’s a language argument. And Craig’s excellent on that so…
Ankerberg: Push this thing in, Craig. I mean, you’ve said it a couple of times that the Jewish conception of resurrection didn’t call for this ghostly kind of thing, it had to do with the body. The body, if it had wounds on it, had to come out of the grave with the wounds with it, okay.
Evans: That’s right. That’s right. For Easter to be interpreted as resurrection, it had to be a bodily resurrection and not merely a phantom or something like that. And what Paul is trying to explain in 1 Corinthians 15, when he describes the resurrection body as a “spiritual body,” is he’s not trying to deny the “bodilyness” of it. What he’s trying to explain is that it’s not a mortal body. It’s not a body like the body we currently have. It’s not a body that’s subject to corruption. And so he calls it a spiritual body to show that it’s special, it’s immortal, it’s imperishable, it is a new creation. That’s his point. He’s not trying to say that, “Well, actually what I’m talking about is sort of a ghostly, or transparent body.” And some people have misunderstood the point he’s trying to make there.
Ankerberg: Some of the books say that the Christians swiped this whole concept of resurrection from the mystery religions, okay, the dying and rising of the gods there. Hit that one.
Habermas: Well, just a disjunct here, virtually no scholars will make that move. They’ll say, oh, little things here and there, but no one takes this theory wholesale. But if you go on some of the non-Christian websites, the real radical ones, it’s all over those websites. But you go to the critical scholars, they don’t go there. Why? Because while there are pre-Christian religions – Isis and Osiris predates Christianity – while there are pre-Christian religions, at present we have no knowledge of a pre-Christian resurrection in those stories. In other words, the earliest resurrection account we have is Adonis, and the manuscripts are second century AD. Next best shot we have is Attis, third century AD. They’re post-Christian.
Now, some of you might say, “Well, I beg to differ with you, you’ve already said Isis and Osiris is pre-Christian, there’s a resurrection there.” No! And you know what, what’s interesting here, Helmut Koester, who’s part of this, you know the Gnostic…
Ankerberg: At Harvard.
Habermas: Yes. He says, in his two volume work on New Testament Introduction, he says it’s good to keep in mind that no text ever says that Osiris was resurrected. Plus we have to plug that into this discussion of what resurrection means. Talk spirit, talk Scrooge seeing the ghosts, you know. Talk that. People believe those things happened in the ancient world, but they didn’t use the word anastasis. So there’s no parallel for people to say, oh, they copied off Jesus. In fact, the most recent book on this by a Scandinavian scholar on the recent state of this says anybody who says that there’s a pre-Christian resurrection is a maverick among recent critical scholars. The book was just released.
Ankerberg: Alright. Go personal on me, okay? Two personal things in your life wrap up this program. Let’s get it down, the rubber hits the road, okay. You were a skeptic, going to Michigan State, and the facts brought you to faith in Jesus Christ. Then you experienced this whole thing of the resurrection in the dying of your wife, okay? Explain what I was talking about, put it in your own words here. Tell the folks, share with them what you found out.
Habermas: Well, when I was going through this period of doubting, I debated Christians. I got them pretty angry. And my mother called me at one point during this and said, “How are you coming with your doubts?” and I said, “I think I’m a few months away from converting to Buddhism.” And, you know, she wasn’t real thrilled.
But here’s what I thought. My conclusion at that time was, you can believe resurrection, there’s even some pretty good data for resurrection, but you can’t close the door on it. There’s too many other options to say the resurrection is what happened.
I did my doctoral dissertation on the resurrection, and I kind of used that as the ending period, symbolically, of my questions. But then, many years later, I mean, I finished my Ph.D. in 1976, almost to the year 20 years later, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I thought to myself, “Great, probably my doubts are going to come back, I’m going to fight two battles.” And they never did, and I’m really thankful to the Lord for that.
But during the time with my wife, I realized how personal resurrection faith could be. I mean, I had these discussions with the Lord. She’s upstairs, she’s sleeping 18 hours a day, I had a child monitor up there and I went and sat out on the porch, and my kids were in school. And, “Lord, why? Debbie’s 43 years old, and I’ve got four children, what’s going on here?”
And I picture kind a Job 38 kind of, “Why?”, and God says to me, “Well, did I raise My Son from the dead?” And I thought, “Uh, Lord, I’ve done 13 books on this topic of the resurrection alone. Yeah, I’ve got to be true to my books, but … could we talk about Debbie?”
“Gary, did I raise My Son from the dead?” To make a long story short, I realized that what God would say to me is that this is a world in which Jesus was raised from the dead in 30ish AD. This is a world in which Jesus has been raised from the dead, no matter what year it is. And if it’s 1995 doesn’t change the fact that He’s been raised from the dead.
There’s a card I received in those days that said, it said, “Can you wait for that day when hand in hand you’ll be able to walk with your wife down the paths of heaven?” To me that’s the New Testament teaching of resurrection. Almost 20 times we are told that believers will be raised like Jesus. Paul says He’ll take our vile body and make it like unto His glorious body. That’s the resurrection hope: eternal life with the God of the universe.
Ankerberg: Next week, we’re going to continue this conversation and we want to hit this area, was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene, okay? And I can’t think of any two guys I’d rather ask that question to, because you’ve read all these documents and we’re going to talk about that. And did Constantine actually invent the deity of Jesus Christ in 325 at the Council of Nicea, like The Da Vinci Code says? We’ll hit those two questions next week. I hope that you’ll join us.

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