Full text of Dr. William Lane Craig’s talk titled ‘Who was Jesus, Really? Searching for the Historical Jesus’ in which he unpacks questions surrounding Jesus’ resurrection and the historical accuracy of the biblical claims. Columbia University, 2009.
Dr. William Lane Craig – American analytic philosopher, Christian apologist
Thank you very much. It’s a delight to be with you this evening. This has been my first visit to Columbia University, and I’ve really enjoyed your beautiful campus as well as getting to know many of you. I especially enjoyed the dialogue last night with Shelly Kagan, and I’m looking forward to our discussion together this evening.
Twenty centuries after His death, Jesus of Nazareth continues to fascinate thinking men and women. From The Da Vinci Code to The Passion of the Christ to the Talpiot Tomb, Jesus continues to capture the public’s imagination. For centuries, Jesus has been the most influential person in human history, and He refuses to go away.
BUT WHO WAS JESUS OF NAZARETH, REALLY?
Was He God incarnate, as Christians believe? Or could the historical Jesus, as many Jewish people believe, have been simply a Jewish holy man? Or are Muslims correct in thinking Him to have been no more than a human prophet sent by God? Or could certain radical contemporary critics be correct that Jesus was a sort of social gadfly, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher?
Well, perhaps the best way to get a start at these questions is to ask what Jesus thought about Himself. If you want to know who someone is, then the logical place to begin is to ask him who he thinks himself to be. Who did Jesus think that He was?
Well, immediately we confront a problem. Since Jesus Himself did not leave behind any writings of His own, we’re dependent upon the works of others for knowing what Jesus said and did.
Now, this situation isn’t unusual for figures of antiquity. For example, the famous Greek philosopher Socrates also left behind no writings of his own. We’re dependent upon his disciple Plato for most of our knowledge of Socrates’ life and teaching. In the same way, we’re dependent upon the records of Jesus’ followers for our knowledge of His life and teaching.
But while this situation isn’t unusual, it does occasion the question, how do we know that these records are accurate? Maybe Jesus’ followers claimed that he said and did certain things that he really didn’t. In particular, since the early Christians believed that Jesus was God, maybe sayings and stories to that effect evolved in the Christian church and were ascribed to the historical Jesus.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus in the Gospels makes claims and does things implying His divinity. Maybe the historical Jesus who really lived was quite different from the divine figure that we read about in the Gospels.
How can we tell if these records are historically accurate?
Well, up until the modern era, questions of this sort were basically unanswerable. But with the rise during the Renaissance of the modern science of historiography and of textual criticism, historical scholars began to develop the tools to unlock these questions. Jesus is today no longer just a stained-glass figure in a window, but a real flesh-and-blood person of history, just like Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, whose life can be investigated using the standard methods of history.
The writings contained in the New Testament can be scrutinized using the same historical criteria that are used in investigating other sources of ancient history, like Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars or the Annals of Tacitus.
Now the first thing that we need to do in conducting a historical investigation of Jesus is to assemble our sources. Jesus of Nazareth is referred to in a range of ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, including Christian, Roman, and Greek, or rather Jewish sources.
Now this is really quite extraordinary when you think about how obscure a figure Jesus of Nazareth was. He had at most a three-year public life as an itinerant Galilean preacher. And yet we have far more information about Jesus of Nazareth than we do for most major figures of antiquity.
The most important of these historical sources have been collected into the New Testament. References to Jesus outside the New Testament tend to confirm what the Gospels say about Him, but they really don’t tell us anything new. And therefore the focus of our investigation must be upon the documents contained in the New Testament.
Now I find that many students don’t understand this procedure. They think that if you examine the New Testament writings themselves, rather than look at sources outside the New Testament, then somehow you’re reasoning in a circle, using the Bible to prove the Bible. If you even quote a passage out of the New Testament, they think that somehow you’re begging the question, presupposing that the New Testament is reliable.
But that’s not at all what historians do when they examine the New Testament documents. They’re not treating the Bible as some sort of holy inspired book, and then trying to prove it’s true by quoting it. Rather they’re treating the New Testament just like any other collection of ancient documents, and investigating whether they’re reliable.
It’s important to understand in this connection that originally there wasn’t any such book called the New Testament. There were just these separate documents handed down out of the first century, things like the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Greece, and so forth.
It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later that the church assembled these documents under one cover, which then came to be known as the New Testament. The church only included the earliest sources, which were closest to Jesus and the Apostles, and they left out the later secondary accounts like the forged apocryphal Gospels, which everybody knew were fakes.
So from the very nature of the case, the best historical sources were included in the New Testament. People who insist on investigating only evidence taken from writings outside the New Testament don’t understand what they’re asking us to do. They’re asking us to ignore the earliest primary sources about Jesus in favor of sources that are later, secondary, and less reliable, which is just mad as historical methodology.
Now, this is important because all of the radical reconstructions of the historical Jesus that you hear about are based on later writings outside the New Testament. In particular, the so-called apocryphal Gospels.
WHAT ARE THE APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS?
Well, these are Gospels which were forged under the Apostles’ names. Things like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Philip, and so on and so forth. They first began to appear in the second half of the second century after Christ, and radicals claim that these extra-biblical writings are the key to correctly reconstructing the historical Jesus.
Professor Luke Johnson, who is a distinguished New Testament scholar at Emory University, points out that all of the recent spate of books claiming to uncover the real Jesus follow the same predictable pattern. It goes like this:
One, the book begins by trumpeting the scholarly credentials of the author and his prodigious research.
Two, the author claims to offer some new and maybe even suppressed interpretation of who Jesus really was.
Three, the truth about Jesus is said to be discovered by means of sources outside the New Testament, which enable us to read the Gospels in a new way which is at odds with their face value meaning.
Four, this new interpretation is provocative and maybe even titillating. For example, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, or was the leader of a hallucinogenic cult, or was a Jewish cynic philosopher.
And five, it is implied that traditional Christian beliefs are therefore undermined and need to be revised.
Now, if you hear of books following this familiar five-point pattern, then your critical antennae should immediately go up. You are about to be duped.
For the fact is that there is no document outside the New Testament which calls into question the portrait of Jesus painted in the Gospels. In the words of John Meier, who is a prominent New Testament critic, the idea that the apocryphal Gospels offer us new information about Jesus is, and I quote, “largely fantasy”.
The fact is that these writings are later derivative writings shaped by the theology of the second century or even later, and that what this means in the words of Professor Johnson is that ‘despite all of the hoopla in the media, the writings of the New Testament remain our best historical witnesses to the life of Jesus.’
So, try not to think of the New Testament as a single book. Imagine that it was never assembled. Try to think of it as what it originally was, just a bunch of separate documents written in the Greek language, handed down out of the first century, telling this remarkable story about Jesus of Nazareth.
And the question is, HOW HISTORICALLY RELIABLE ARE THESE DOCUMENTS?
Here we confront the very crucial question of the burden of proof. Should we assume that the Gospels are reliable unless they are proven to be unreliable? Or should we assume that the Gospels are unreliable until they are proven to be reliable on some point? Are they innocent until proven guilty? Or are they guilty until proven innocent?
Skeptical scholars almost always assume that the Gospels are guilty until proven innocent. That is to say, they assume that the Gospel narratives are unreliable unless and until they can be proven to be reliable on some particular fact. And I’m not exaggerating here. This really is the approach of skeptical critics.
I want to suggest, however, five reasons why I think it would be historically unjustified to simply assume that the Gospels are unreliable until proven to be correct.
Number one, there was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the hard core of historical facts. Sometimes students will say, well, how can you know anything that happened 2,000 years ago? What they fail to understand is that the crucial time gap is not the gap between the evidence and today. Rather, what is important is the gap between the evidence and the events that the evidence is about.
If the gap between the events and the evidence about them is short, then it doesn’t matter how much both the events and the evidence have receded into the past. Good evidence doesn’t become bad evidence just because of the passage of time. As long as the time gap between the events and the evidence about them is short, then it’s just irrelevant how long it has been since the time of the events until the present day.
So the question here, then, is HOW CLOSE THE SOURCES FOR JESUS’ LIFE ARE TO THE TIME HE LIVED.
And here the Gospels are in marked contrast to the sources for Greek and Roman ancient history. The sources for Greek and Roman history are usually biased and usually removed one or two generations or even centuries from the events that they record. And yet Greco-Roman historians reconstruct with confidence the course of Greek and Roman history.
By contrast, the Gospels were all written down and circulated within the first generation after the events while the eyewitnesses were still alive.
According to Professor A.N. Sherwin-White, a professional Greco-Roman historian, in his book, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament: for the Gospels to be legendary in their core, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be, “Unbelievable! More generations would be needed.”
Secondly, the Gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary urban legends. Tales like those about Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends about the vanishing hitchhiker rarely concern actual historical individuals and therefore are not analogous to the Gospel narratives.
The Gospel accounts are about real people that actually lived and that you can read about in literature contemporaneous with the New Testament. About real events that actually took place, about real places that have been archaeologically excavated. And thus they are not analogous to folk tales or urban legends.
Three, the Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture, like that of first century Palestine, the ability to memorize and to retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age, children in the home, in the elementary school, and in the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.
And thus to compare the Gospel narratives, as some have done, with the child’s game of telephone displays a complete misunderstanding of how oral tradition works in an oral culture like first century Jewish society.
Four, there were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check upon any tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus and were entrusted with the tradition.
And finally, number five, the Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. I have time to only look at one example of this, Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These are really one work and they are separated in our Bible simply because the church grouped together the four Gospels in assembling the New Testament.
Luke is the Gospel writer who writes most self-consciously as a historian. In the preface to his work, he writes as follows in his dedication to Theophilus: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
This preface to Luke’s double work was written in classical Greek, such as was used by Greek historians. After this, Luke changes to a more common Greek, but he’s put his reader on alert that he can write, should he wish to, like the learned Greek historian. He speaks in his preface of his lengthy investigation into the story he’s about to tell. He assures us that it is based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.
NOW WHO WAS THIS AUTHOR THAT WE CALL LUKE? He was clearly not himself an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, but we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the 16th chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first person plural: ‘We set sail from Troas to Samothrace…’ ‘We remained in Philippi for some days, as we were going to the place of prayer, and so forth.’
The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul’s entourage on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities.
In Acts chapter 21, he accompanies Paul back to Palestine, and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first-hand contact with eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry in Jerusalem.
Skeptical critics have done backflips to try to avoid this conclusion. They’ve said, for example, that the use of the first person plural in the book of Acts shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s just a literary device which was common in ancient sea voyage stories.
Well, never mind that many of the passages in the book of Acts are not about Paul’s sea voyage, but take place on land. The more important point is that when you check it out, this theory turns out to be sheer fantasy. There just is no literary device in the ancient world of sea voyages told in the first person plural. The whole thing has been shown to be a scholarly fiction.
There’s no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul, who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life while in Jerusalem.
WHO WERE SOME OF THESE EYEWITNESSES?
Perhaps we can get some clue by subtracting from the Gospel of Luke everything found in the other gospels, and seeing what remains that is peculiar to Luke alone. When you do this, what you discover is that many of Luke’s peculiar narratives are connected to women who followed Jesus. People like Joanna and Susanna, and significantly, Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Was the author reliable in getting his facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. You see, the book of Acts overlaps significantly with the secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable.
This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies in his book, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical detail, ranging from what would have been common knowledge at that time down to details which only a local person would have known. Again, and again, and again, Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated. From the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet out of Egypt, to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands, to the peculiar titles of the local officials which were shifting constantly, Luke gets it right.
According to Professor Sherwin-White, and I quote, “The confirmation of historicity in Acts is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd.”
The judgment of Sir William Ramsay, a world-famous archaeologist, still stands. He said, “Luke is a historian of the first rank. This author should be placed among the very greatest of historians.”
Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability, as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.
So on the basis of those five reasons that I listed, I personally think that we should assume that the Gospels are historically reliable in what they have to say about Jesus, unless they are proven to be mistaken. But in any case, at the very least, we cannot assume that they are wrong unless they are proven to be right. We should at least adopt a position of neutrality in approaching the Gospel accounts.
Now, by the very nature of the case, it would be impossible to say a whole lot more beyond this point to prove that certain stories in the Gospels are historically true. How could you prove, for example, the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha in Bethany? You just have here a story told by a reliable author in a position to know, and no good reason to doubt, the historicity of the story. There’s not a whole lot more to be said.
Nevertheless, for many of the key events of the Gospels, a great deal more can be said. And what I’d like to do now is to take some of the most important facets of Jesus in the Gospel and say a brief word about their historical credibility.
Number one, then, Jesus’ radical self-concept as the unique Son of God. Radical critics deny that the historical Jesus thought of Himself as the divine Son of God. They say that after Jesus’ death, the early church claimed that He had said such things, even though He really hadn’t.
Now, the fundamental problem facing this hypothesis is that it is inexplicable how monotheistic Jews could have attributed divinity to a man whom they had accompanied during His lifetime if He had never claimed any such things Himself. Monotheism is the very heart of the Jewish religion, and it would have been blasphemous to say that a human being was God. And yet this is precisely what the earliest Christians did believe and proclaim about Jesus. Such a claim must have been rooted in Jesus’ own self-understanding and teaching.
And, in fact, the majority of scholars do believe that among the historically authentic words of Jesus are claims that reveal His divine self-understanding. Now, I could give a whole lecture on this point alone, but let me just focus on Jesus’ self-concept of being the unique Son of God.
Jesus’ radical self-understanding as God’s only Son is revealed, for example, in His parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard in Mark chapter 12, verses 1 to 8. Even skeptical scholars admit the authenticity of this parable, that it was actually spoken by the historical Jesus.
Now, in this parable, the owner of the vineyard sends servants to the tenants of the vineyard to collect its fruit. The vineyard symbolizes Israel. The owner is God. The tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are the prophets sent by God. The tenants beat and reject the owner’s servants.
Finally, the owner says, “I have one left to send, my only beloved son. They will listen to my son.” But instead, the tenants kill the son, because he is the heir of the vineyard.
NOW, WHAT DOES THIS PARABLE TELL US ABOUT JESUS’ SELF-UNDERSTANDING?
It tells us that He thought of Himself as God’s only Son, distinct from all the prophets who had gone before, God’s final messenger, and even the heir of Israel itself. This is no mere Jewish peasant.
Jesus’ self-concept as God’s Son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11:27. He said, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
Now again, there’s good reason to think that this is an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. It is drawn from an old source, shared by Matthew and Luke, which scholars call the Q document. Moreover, it’s unlikely that the church invented this saying, because it says that the Son is unknowable. No one knows the Son except the Father.
But you see, for the post-Easter church, we can know Christ personally. We do know the Son. So this saying is not a product of later church theology.
BUT THEN WHAT DOES THIS SAYING TELL US ABOUT JESUS’ SELF-CONCEPT?
It reveals that He thought of Himself as the exclusive and absolute Son of God, and the only revelation of God the Father to mankind. Make no mistake, if Jesus was not who He said He was, then He was crazier than Jim Jones and David Koresh put together.
Finally, I want to consider one more saying. Jesus’ saying on the date of His second coming, as recorded in Mark 13:32. He said, “But of that day and hour no man knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This is an authentic saying of the historical Jesus, because the later church, which regarded Jesus as divine, would never have invented a saying attributing limited knowledge or ignorance to Jesus. But here Jesus says He doesn’t know the time of His return.
BUT WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THIS SAYING?
It not only reveals Jesus’ consciousness of being the one Son of God, but it presents us with an ascending scale from man, to the angels, to the Son, to the Father. A scale on which Jesus transcends not only every human being, but even every angelic being in His proximity to the Father. This is really incredible stuff, and yet this is what the historical Jesus believed. And this is only one facet of Jesus’ self-understanding.
C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “A man who was merely a man, and said the sort of things Jesus said, would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level of the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
Number two, JESUS’ MIRACLES. even the most skeptical critics today cannot deny that the historical Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms. Rudolf Bultmann, who was one of the most radical, skeptical scholars of the 20th century, wrote back in 1926, “Most of the miracle stories contained in the Gospels are legendary, or at least are dressed up with legends.” But, he said, “But there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries’ understanding, miracles, that is, deeds that were the result of supernatural, divine causality. Doubtless, he healed the sick and cast out demons.” This from one of the most skeptical New Testament critics of the 20th century.
Back in Bultmann’s day, the miracle stories were thought to be influenced by stories of mythological heroes in pagan religions, and hence, in part at least, legendary. But today, it is widely recognized that the hypothesis of mythological influence was simply historically incorrect.
Craig Evans, who is a well-known historical Jesus scholar, says that “the older notion that the miracle stories were the product of mythological, divine man ideas has been largely abandoned.” He said “It is no longer seriously contested that miracles played a role in Jesus’ ministry.”
The only reason left for denying that Jesus performed literal miracles is the PRESUPPOSITION OF ANTI-SUPERNATURALISM, which is not a historical consideration, but rather a philosophical position, which is independent of the evidence.
Number three, JESUS’ TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was condemned by the Jewish high court on the charge of blasphemy, and then delivered to the Romans for execution for the treasonous act of setting himself up as the king of the Jews. Not only are these facts confirmed by independent biblical sources like Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, but they are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources.
From Josephus and Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate. From Josephus and the Syrian writer Mara bar Serapion, we learn the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and participated in the events leading up to His crucifixion.
And from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, we learn the Jewish involvement in the trial was explained as a proper undertaking against a heretic. According to Luke Johnson, the support for the motive of His death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before His death, was condemned, and executed by crucifixion.
The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the radical critics in the so-called Jesus Seminar as being the one indisputable fact about Jesus. But that raises the very puzzling question.
WHY WAS JESUS CRUCIFIED?
As we’ve seen, the evidence indicates that His crucifixion was instigated by His blasphemous claims, which to the Romans would come across as treasonous. That’s why He was crucified in the words of the plaque nailed to the cross above His head as the KING OF THE JEWS.
But if Jesus was just a peasant, cynic philosopher, just a liberal, social gadfly, then His crucifixion becomes inexplicable. As Professor Leander Keck of Yale has written, “the idea that this Jewish cynic and his dozen hippies with his demeanor and aphorisms was a serious threat to society sounds more like a conceit of alienated academics than sound historical judgment.”
The New Testament scholar John Meier is equally direct. He says, “such a Jesus would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one.”
Skeptical critics have thus created a Jesus who is incompatible with the one indisputable fact about Him, namely HIS CRUCIFIXION.
Finally, number four, JESUS’ RESURRECTION.
Now most people would say that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just believe in by faith or not. But in fact, there are FOUR ESTABLISHED FACTS recognized by the majority of critics who have written on this subject which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
Fact Number 1: AFTER HIS CRUCIFIXION, JESUS WAS BURIED BY JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA IN A TOMB. This fact is highly significant because it means that the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem to Jew and Christian alike. In that case it becomes inexplicable how belief in His resurrection could arise and flourish in the face of a tomb containing His corpse.
According to the late John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge University, “the burial of Jesus in the tomb is one of the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.”
Fact Number 2: on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of His women followers. According to Jakob Kramer, an Austrian specialist in this area, and I quote, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”
As D. H. Van Daalen has pointed out, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it,” he says, “do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”
Fact number three, on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced APPEARANCES OF JESUS ALIVE FROM THE DEAD.
This is a fact that is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament critics today. Even Gerd Lüdemann, the most prominent current critic of the resurrection, admits, and I quote, “It may be taken as historically certain…,” those are his words, not mine, “as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
Finally, Fact Number 4: the original disciples suddenly believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
Despite their having every predisposition to the opposite, it is an undeniable fact of history that the original disciples came to believe in, proclaimed, and were willing to go to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge University concludes that we have here a belief which nothing in terms of prior historical influences can account for apart from the resurrection itself.
Any responsible historian then who seeks to give an account of the matter must deal with these four independently established facts: The burial of Jesus in the tomb, the discovery of His empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in His resurrection, and hence of Christianity itself.
And I want to emphasize that these four facts represent the conclusions not of conservative scholars, but of the wide majority of New Testament scholarship today.
The question then is, HOW DO YOU BEST EXPLAIN THESE FACTS?
Well, here the skeptical critic faces a somewhat desperate situation. To illustrate, some time ago I had a debate with a professor at the University of California, Irvine, on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Now this man had written his doctoral dissertation on the subject, and was thoroughly familiar with the evidence, and he could not deny the facts of Jesus’ entombment, His empty tomb, His post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in His resurrection. And therefore his only recourse was to come up with some alternative explanation of those four facts.
And so, he argued that Jesus of Nazareth must have had an unknown, identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, who came back to Jerusalem just at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’ body out of the tomb and presented himself to the disciples who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead.
Now, I’m not going to go into how I went about refuting his theory, but I think that the theory is instructive, because it shows to what desperate lengths skepticism must go in order to deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
In fact, did you know that the evidence is so powerful that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians — Jewish theologians — the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at Hebrew University in Tel Aviv, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that “the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.”
So in summary then, the Gospels are not only trustworthy documents in general, but as we look at some of the most important facets of Jesus in the Gospels, like His radical personal claims, His miracles and exorcisms, His trial and crucifixion, and His resurrection from the dead, their historical veracity shines through.
GOD HAS ACTED IN HISTORY, AND WE CAN KNOW IT.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
MODERATOR: I have been asked to model a few questions, and then we’ll bring three by five cards up here and continue to ask Dr. Craig questions related to his presentation.
The questions that I’m modeling this evening really emerge from our core classes, and not only inside the classroom, but outside the classroom as well, from our readings of the New Testament regarding the historical Jesus. Let us hope that these are the right questions, because the right question might provide half the answer.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: That would be nice.
MODERATOR: Today is Ash Wednesday. It is fitting to ask a relevant question. What does Genesis 3:19, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return,’ have to do with the historical Jesus and the resurrection?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I think that the resurrection provides hope for life beyond the grave, that although our bodies return to dust, eventually the Christian and Jewish hope is that there will be a resurrection of the dead and life beyond the grave. It’s perhaps foreign to us as Westerners to understand this form of immortality. We often think of the immortality of the soul as the soul flying away to some celestial heaven, but the Jewish-Christian hope is of an embodied immortality. It is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body so that there will be a new heavens and a new earth in which we will have a corporeal existence and relate to one another in bodies such as Jesus displayed after His resurrection.
MODERATOR: Thank you. In the West, regarding the evolution of the historical record of Jesus, we move from an oral tradition to a written one very quickly, from Greek and some Aramaic to Latin, and then the vernacular languages. Are translators traitors who corrupt the text? Does entropy cause too much information to be lost with form-restricting content? 2 Corinthians, does the letter kill and is not an oral tradition more trustworthy?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think that the use of translations, at least that was the drift of the first part of your question, is absolutely vital in bringing the content of the New Testament to the ordinary layman who doesn’t read the original languages like Greek. Fortunately, we have the text of the New Testament in the original Greek so that for those who care to learn Greek, that person is not dependent upon translation.
So we have the Greek text of the New Testament established to about 99% reliability. That is to say there are only about 1,400 words out of the 138,000 words in the New Testament about which there’s still some question. And those words are trivialities like, for example, the difference in 1 John chapter 1 between saying, we write this that our joy may be full. Some manuscripts say, we write this that your joy may be full. So that no important doctrine hangs upon any of these textual variants.
So given that we’ve got the original text in Greek, I am an ardent supporter of having the Bible translated into as many languages as possible throughout the world so that every people and tribe and nation can read the Bible in their own language and benefit from it.
The difference between the Gospels being written down and oral performances of it, as you said, actually came about very, very quickly. The Gospels were already in written form within the first generation of the events before the eyewitnesses died off. So the period of oral transmission was really extraordinarily brief compared to the oral traditions that go on in some other cultures.
In fact, Richard Bauckham, in his recent book on The Gospels as Eyewitnesses, suggests that it’s almost misleading to speak of the Gospels as embodying oral tradition because there wasn’t any period of time at which the eyewitnesses were dead. He said it’s more accurate to speak of oral history that could still be checked by the eyewitnesses before it was written down.
MODERATOR: Thank you. As you have stated, there is always a question bag on the shelf of unanswered questions regarding the historical Jesus and the Resurrection. How do we live with unanswered questions and avoid allowing unanswered questions to become destructive doubts? Given the experience of many students, how do we avoid leading secular universities that have taught us to question everything and sometimes believe in nothing except perhaps our own critical faculties, the privileged epistemology of reason, and a postmodern skepticism? What is the proper relationship here between faith and reason?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: That is the bottom line, isn’t it? That’s the bottom question. I think that this raises profound issues of existential importance. If, in order to come to a knowledge of the Resurrection of Jesus, you had to become a first-century New Testament scholar, then the knowledge of Jesus being risen would be closed off to all but a tiny fraction of a percent of humanity. The vast majority of the world’s population do not have the education, the library resources, or the leisure time to conduct a historical investigation of the Resurrection of Jesus, so that it would be impossible for them to come to a knowledge of His Resurrection if we had only the historical avenue open to us.
Fortunately, I think that the Bible teaches that there is also what I call the existential avenue to a knowledge of the Resurrection. That is to say, if Jesus really is risen from the dead, that means that He is alive today and can be personally experienced. And the vast majority of the world’s Christians who believe in Jesus’ Resurrection do so on the basis of their personal relationship with Christ. They know the Living Lord because they have experienced Him in their lives. And I think that this is a perfectly rational and acceptable means for coming to a knowledge of the Resurrection.
So I think there are two avenues to a knowledge of the Resurrection that are complementary. One is the existential or experiential approach, and the other is the scholarly, historical approach. And these complement each other and are independent of each other in that one can come to a knowledge of the Resurrection through either one or both.
MODERATOR: We read Thomas Aquinas in The Core and he contemplates the divine on the wings of reason and revelation, but one wing got clipped near the end of his life when he said that all he had written was like straw.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Yes, he had some sort of profound existential experience with God, didn’t he? And then quit writing his Summa and regarded it as just, as you say, worthless almost. I think that’s unfortunate. I don’t know what kind of experience Thomas had, but at least in my life, I think that it’s totally compatible to have a deep existential relationship and encounter with the living God, and yet at the same time to reflect on this dispassionately as a scholar and as a philosopher and as a historian. So I don’t see any reason to clip either of the two wings. I think the bird will soar quite well using both wings.
MODERATOR: These questions come right out of my core classes. The next one is an interesting one. How would you describe the relationship of Jesus to His own parents? What lesson does Jesus teach us about finding a correct relationship with our own parents and families and fulfilling at the same time our individual calling and divine destiny? How do we harmonize our own heartfelt and God-given convictions with family obligations? Jesus confronts or checks His own mother in the temple saying, “Why were you searching for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Luke 2:49.
And again in Matthew 8:22, Jesus says to a disciple, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” How do we harmonize our heartfelt and God-given convictions with our obligations to our family and to our parents?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: The Bible or the New Testament doesn’t say a whole lot about Jesus’ relationship to His parents because it treats primarily His public ministry, His public life. We just have snapshots of Him as a child or a boy. But I think it helps us to recapture the humanity of Jesus to realize that He related to His parents in the way that a typical Jewish boy would relate to his folks.
Now, by the time He was 12 years old and was found in the temple disputing with the priests and the scribes, He evidently had a sense of His divine calling and commission. He said, “Don’t you know I have to be about My Father’s business?” Nevertheless, you notice He submitted to His parents. He went back home with them and lived under their direction and authority.
And when He became an adult, He saw His calling and His commission by God as supreme. It trumped even His obligations to His family. His brothers and, as far as we know, His sisters didn’t believe in Him. It’s striking that none of the younger brothers of Jesus thought that He was a Messiah during His lifetime. It wasn’t until after His resurrection that they converted.
But nevertheless, Jesus saw His calling as paramount above any sort of family obligations that He had as an adult. Nevertheless, when He was dying on the cross, it’s very interesting that His last thought was for the welfare of His mother. He said to John, “Son, behold your mother.”… “Woman, behold your son.” And entrusted Mary, who may by that time have been a widow because we hear nothing more about Joseph after the infancy narratives. He cares for His mother and entrusts her into the care of John, His disciple. And then Mary later does appear in the book of Acts among the group of disciples in the upper room.
So Jesus was still discharging the son’s duties to care for His mother, but nevertheless did see, as you said, the calling to follow God’s claim upon His life as paramount and trumping every other human obligation. And I think that we need to think in those similar categories. We need to ask ourselves, what has God called me to do in these 70 odd years that He’s given me on this planet? What does He want me to do? That ought to be our number one question in life in terms of what mission He’s given us to fulfill.
And then to recognize that if our parents were to, say, oppose that, that the commission by God would even trump their prohibitions. For example, if you felt God was calling you to be, say, a missionary or a minister and your parents wanted you to be a Wall Street broker or a lawyer, I think you would need to follow what you think God is calling you to do. But as long as one is a minor, I think one needs to still be in submission to one’s parents in the way that Jesus was. It’s as an adult that then you are no longer under their tutelage and may have to simply say, I believe God has a higher calling for me.
MODERATOR: As an adult, this is the biggest challenge that any one of us will ever face in life to my mind and to my heart. This is a midterm question that I will reveal now since this is a midterm week. How would you describe or characterize the voice of Jesus in the Gospels? Why does Jesus frequently speak in parables, aphorisms of reversal, and in the tone of the Sermon on the Mount, which is very different from the tone of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy and Exodus?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think that Jesus deliberately concealed the truth from persons that He felt had hearts who were hardened and would not be receptive to it. He said that He gave the parables so that people who did not understand would continue not to understand. Those who were spiritually blinded and insensitive wouldn’t perceive His message. But for those who were spiritually inquisitive and were seeking for God, these parables and aphorisms would serve as sort of brain teasers that would entice them to think about the kingdom of God and the nature of God’s kingdom that Jesus heralded and the type of person that Jesus was claiming to be.
So His message was veiled. It was opaque to those who were dulled and opposed to Him, but it was open enough that those who really sought to find the truth would be provoked by it and I think would find the core to the mystery.
MODERATOR: The next question actually comes from the cards that are coming up here, and it’s also a question that I had. It deals with the concept of justice, a major theme in contemporary civilization. In a side chapel of Notre Dame in Paris is a stone panel of Christ’s Son of Man with a sharp two-edged sword coming from His mouth, Revelation 1:16. Can we view this incredible image of Jesus Christ with a sword of righteousness as a clear message that there will be no final peace without justice? How can we begin to bring this important message into our lives right now? No peace without justice.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I can appreciate why people would want to lend a political interpretation to that image and that passage, but I have to say in all candor that I think as it was originally written in the first century that that wasn’t what was being conveyed at all. They lived in an incredibly unjust military dictatorship and this image is found in an apocalyptic form of writing. This is a type of Jewish writing that envisions the kingdom of God and the judgment of God coming into human history in which the enemies of God will be finally vanquished, the dead will be raised, people will be judged, and then folks will go into their final desserts.
And so this image of the Son of Man as the judge is one that really comes out of Daniel chapter 7 where Daniel sees this divine human figure who looks like a Son of Man, like a human being, and He comes before God, the Ancient of Days, and it says that all authority is given to Him so that every nation and tribe should worship and serve Him. So this is really an image about the supremacy of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom and His judgment over the whole world.
Jesus regarded Himself as the Son of Man. I talked about His self-understanding as the Son of God, but one could also talk about Jesus’ self-understanding as the Son of Man and He thought of Himself as this figure prophesied in the seventh chapter of Daniel and at His trial before the Sanhedrin, it was… when the high priest said to Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus responded, “I am. And hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of glory in judgment…” that they condemned Him for blasphemy.
So this image isn’t really about political activism or no peace without justice or anything of that sort. What it’s about is the end of the world and the establishment of God’s kingdom and reign when every sin will be done away with and injustice will be abolished and righteousness will be rewarded, but this isn’t going to happen in this lifetime. This is something that happens when human history has been rolled up and brought to a conclusion.
MODERATOR: The next question deals with love. Does Jesus teach us that love conquers all things, that the heart extends further than the mind, that the longest journey for each of us is from the head to the heart, and that the opposite of death is love?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I can’t think of anywhere where He teaches those things. Again, those are lovely sentiments, but I can’t think of any passages where Jesus teaches that sort of thing. He doesn’t teach that the opposite of death is love. I mean, on the contrary, we can love things that then die and we ourselves die. What Jesus taught was that the opposite of death is resurrection. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” He claimed Himself to be the bread of life who will give life to the world.
So the opposite of death isn’t some sort of love, human love. It’s Christ Himself who gives life.
MODERATOR: I’m wondering about the theme of love is eternal here. We have images of the sacred heart of Jesus and the notion that this human love becomes divine and tries to transcend death.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: You may not have this so much in Jesus, but I think you have it in Paul where he has this lovely chapter in his first letter to the Corinthian church about the excellency and the supremacy of love where love is, as you say, eternal. He says, faith will someday pass away, and prophecy will someday pass away, because these things will be fulfilled and no longer necessary. But he says, love never ends because we will only be drawn deeper and deeper into love as we come to know God and come to know Christ better.
So in that sense, Paul certainly does teach the supremacy and eternality of love.
MODERATOR: Does Jesus help us to understand life as a paradox? The fire that warms you can hurt you. Good and evil. Does He help us in dealing with life as contradiction that where there is good, there is bad. And the greater capacity for good that we have, the greater capacity for evil.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I can think of certain passages in the teachings of Jesus that might be relevant to that. For example, He says that God sends His sunshine on the just and on the evil. He makes it rain on the just and on the unjust. That these good gifts are distributed alike in the world. And He seems to think also that injustice and harm fall upon the good people as well as the unjust people.
When the tower of Siloam fell and killed several people, Jesus said to them, ‘Do you think that those on whom the tower fell and were killed were any worse than yourselves?” He says, no. Or with regard to the man born blind, they asked Him, ‘Was it this man who sinned or his parents that sinned that caused him to be born blind?’ And Jesus said it was neither that he sinned nor his parents sinned that he was born blind. It was that the acts of God might be magnified in him.
So Jesus seemed to understand that in this life there is no perfect justice, that goods are distributed to good and evil alike and that harm seemed to be distributed to the just and the unjust alike as well. He had the parable where He said too, that the weeds will grow with the wheat until finally the judgment day at the end of history and then God will separate the wheat from the chaff or from the weeds.
So I do see in those sayings of Jesus something of what the questioner I think is asking, the kind of paradoxical mixture of good and evil that we have in this existence where in this world there is no perfect justice and the scales of God’s justice will not be balanced until the end of human history and the judgment of God.
MODERATOR: A lot of questions coming up about the resurrection. What are we to make of the Christian tenet that a transcendent and omnipotent God became flesh, became a human being in the person of Jesus? If we believe in the transcendence and omnipotence of God, then the resurrection, a return to transcendence, which we might call God’s natural state, should not be surprising. What should challenge us is the belief that God descended to the status of humanity at all. Would you agree with this observation? Does it have any value? It’s the coming down, not so much the going back.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I think that there’s a point that he’s making, but I think on the other hand this student, the question embodies a profound misunderstanding of the doctrine of the incarnation. The doctrine of the incarnation is not the doctrine that God somehow turned Himself into a human being. That notion is much more akin to the metamorphoses of Greek pagan mythology where Zeus turns himself into a swan or turns himself into a bull or some such thing.
The Christian doctrine of the incarnation is not that God turned Himself into a human being and thereby ceased to be God. Rather it is that in addition to His divine nature that He has had from eternity, the Second Person of the Trinity took on an additional nature, namely a human nature, so that Christ had two natures: human and divine, so that He was both fully human or truly human and truly divine. It wasn’t a kind of metamorphosis of one into the other. He was truly human and truly divine simultaneously.
And the Resurrection and Ascension do not represent the abandonment of His human nature. On the contrary, the doctrine of the Resurrection is the most startling and remarkable affirmation of the value of the human body that I think I can possibly imagine. It says that the incarnation was not merely a temporary status that the Second Person of the Trinity assumed for 30 years here on earth and then sloughed off. Rather in the Resurrection and Ascension, Christ takes His human nature into eternity.
So this is a tremendous affirmation of the value of materiality, of corporeality, and of humanity that the Second Person of the Trinity is permanently incarnated in a human nature. So we mustn’t think of the Resurrection and Ascension as a return to this blissful state of pure divinity as though His human nature is no longer valuable and is sloughed off and left behind.
Having said that, however, I think the student is certainly right in emphasizing that the act of taking on our humanity is an incredible act of condescension on God’s part that He would leave the glory and majesty that He enjoyed with God the Father and stoop so low as to take on our humanity and experience the fatigue and the sufferings and the anxiety and finally death itself that our human nature is prone to, thus fully identifying with our humanity.
So this is an amazing God that we Christians worship, one who humbles Himself and condescends to take on this form of a servant in this remarkable way.
MODERATOR: Thank you. A number of cards here deal with Jesus as teacher and comparing Jesus to Buddha or Socrates. Are there many paths but one truth, or does Jesus represent a higher path to the truth?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: This I think is probably the burning theological question of our day, this question of religious pluralism. Are there many ways to salvation, to God? In one sense the question is no, in that I think the New Testament is very clear that it is only through Christ’s atoning death that forgiveness and salvation is obtainable for human beings.
Given the universality of sin and the uniqueness of Christ’s sacrificial atoning death, it follows necessarily that there is no salvation outside of Christ because He is the only person who has died a sacrificial death on our behalf to pay for the penalty for our sin. So in that sense the apostles proclaimed “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” and that was the name of Jesus.
On the other hand, it’s undoubtedly true that before Jesus came, people in Old Testament times experienced God’s salvation. They had never heard of Christ and yet they obviously knew God. Think of people like Moses and David and Abraham in the Old Testament. How were they saved? Well I think what we would want to say is that they were saved only through the atoning death of Christ even though they had no conscious knowledge of Christ. But they were faithful to the covenant that they did have that God had established with them at that time, the Abrahamic covenant or the Mosaic covenant. And so they were responsive to the light of revelation that they had and therefore God applies to them the benefits of Christ’s death without their having a conscious knowledge of Christ.
Now where it really gets interesting is in the case of certain so-called ‘holy pagans’ in the Old Testament. That is to say certain people in the Old Testament who were not Jews, who were not even members of the Old Covenant and yet clearly seemed to have a relationship with God. And I’m thinking here of people like Job or Melchizedek. These people were not Jewish. Job was from Ur in Mesopotamia. Melchizedek wasn’t a descendant of Abraham obviously. And yet clearly God says, ‘My righteous servant Job…’ and Job is commended as clearly knowing God.
So it’s evident that these people I think also enjoyed God’s grace and salvation because they were faithful to the light that they had. And so it would seem that there would be a salvation available to these people if they respond to the light that God has given them and then God will apply to them the saving benefits of Christ’s death even though they don’t have a conscious knowledge of Christ.
Now where this really gets interesting is this: Could there be today modern day Jobs or Melchizedeks living say in the hinterlands of Xinjiang China or in Kyrgyzstan who have never heard the gospel of Christ but are responsive to the light of nature and conscience that God has given them? In Romans 1 and 2, Paul says that ‘what can be known about God is plain to all persons everywhere because it’s revealed in creation and in conscience.’ And it’s possible that persons who have never heard the gospel could be saved through the benefits of Christ’s death without a conscious knowledge of Christ if they respond in an appropriate way to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. And by that I do not mean that they would be such righteous and good persons that God would save them.
Quite the contrary. I’m thinking of someone who looks up at the stars at night and the intricacy of nature around him and senses all of this is made by the Great Spirit, a Creator. He looks into his own heart and senses the moral law of the Creator written there that he should love all men and treat them as his brothers. But he also senses how desperately short he falls of this moral law that he is guilty and needs forgiveness and therefore in desperation flings himself for mercy upon this unknown God.
And I’m suggesting that it may be that a person like that could have the benefits of Christ’s death applied to him though he has no conscious knowledge of Christ. Now are there very many people like this? God knows. I think as you read the book of Romans you have to say that there is little ground for optimism that very many people do access salvation that way. What Paul says in Romans 1 and 2 is that people do not respond to His general revelation in nature and conscience. Instead they worship and serve creatures rather than the Creator and they flout God’s moral law and throw themselves into moral degeneracy.
So that Romans 1 gives little hope that very many would access salvation this way. But maybe there will be some. Maybe there will be a few. I would love it if Aristotle were in heaven, for example through a method like this. I don’t know, but one can hope. You know on the chapel here on campus I was shown the other day the inscription from Acts 17: above the altar what you ignorantly worship, Him I proclaim to you. And that was from Paul in Athens when he saw the altar to the unknown God. He says this is really Christ. And he preached Christ and His resurrection to those Athenians.
So I think that someone who hasn’t had the benefit of God’s full revelation of the gospel but who is responsive to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience will respond to the gospel if he hears it. He will sense this is the truth about this God that I’ve been worshiping in an ignorant way and will respond to it and affirm it.
But if he never gets the opportunity in this life to hear the gospel, then it may well be the case that God will apply to him the benefits of Christ’s death without him having a conscious knowledge of Christ.
MODERATOR: Speaking of inscriptions we’ll begin an inscription project this spring recording all the inscriptions on the buildings here at Columbia to see how that compares with the Columbia University of today.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Interesting.
MODERATOR: Very. What is the relationship of knowledge to self-knowledge for Jesus? This comes right out of your presentation tonight. In Mark 13:32, regarding the Second Coming, Jesus admits that He does not know the time of His return. This passage in Mark seems to ascribe limited knowledge to Jesus. Does Jesus teach us how to live with limited knowledge of our own self-knowledge and destiny?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I think he shares that condition with us. I think one of the failings of contemporary Christianity is to really affirm and appreciate the humanity of Jesus. I think very many of us have the idea that Jesus is basically kind of like Superman dressed up as Clark Kent. But He’s not really a human being. He really hasn’t taken on our full humanity. And that’s not what the church fathers thought. Or what the New Testament affirms.
It affirms that Jesus had a fully human experience. And that would mean limited knowledge that grew as He grew older. We shouldn’t think of the baby Jesus lying in the manger contemplating the infinitesimal calculus or Newton’s physics. Rather, He had a typical infant consciousness like a normal baby. And the New Testament says that ‘as He grew, he grew in wisdom and in stature.’ And it says that ‘He learned moral perfection through what He suffered.’ And in His lifetime, Jesus asks questions. He exhibits limited knowledge. For example, the date of His second coming. And I feel quite confident that if you had asked Jesus a question about quantum mechanics or auto mechanics, He wouldn’t have known the answer to that question at least in His conscious waking life. So I think that we want to affirm that Jesus knew all of the limitations, cognitive and physical, that go with the human condition.
Now, does that mean that Jesus was not OMNISCIENT? Well, no. I think what that means is that we ascribe properties to Jesus with respect to His divine or human nature. With respect to His divine nature, He was omniscient and omnipotent. With respect to His human nature, He was limited in knowledge and limited in power.
Now, how can you put this together in the same package? Well, what I’ve suggested in my own work on the incarnation in the book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, that it may be helpful to distinguish between levels of consciousness within the person of Jesus. Modern psychoanalysis has shown that there is vastly more to a human personality than just the waking veneer of consciousness. There is a deep subliminal containing springs of behavior that we may not even be aware of. And it seems to me that we can say that in the incarnate state that these divine elements were largely confined to Jesus’ subliminal and that His waking consciousness would have been consistent with the experience of an ordinary human being. Though clearly He did have some understanding, as I said, of being God’s Son, being the Son of Man, having this commission by God, knowing why He had come, and so forth.
So there were elements of this divine self-understanding in Jesus’ consciousness. But I think we should say that knowledge of things like the date of His return, auto-mechanics, quantum mechanics, and things of that sort would be part of the divine subliminal rather than part of His human waking consciousness. And that gets you a genuine incarnation rather than this Superman merely clothed in a Clark Kent costume.
MODERATOR: Thank you. One last question and then closing statements. How do we build authentic and supportive Christian communities at secular universities where at times our faith is severely tested? How can we show secular humanists and academics within elite universities and colleges that we are serious, competent, and supreme scholars in our fields of study who can still believe in Jesus and the resurrection?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: This is a great question. In addition to groups that foster fellowship, community, worship, and service, we also need to be honing the academic and intellectual side of our faith. I think the only way to do what this questioner wants to do is to be better at it than our secular colleagues are. We have to be better at philosophy or physics or mathematics or Russian literature than they are.
And so I think one of the first things we need to do is to familiarize ourselves with the great Christian scholars in our area of specialization. Find out who in your major is a prominent Christian scholar who is doing excellent work in that area. And this is going to take some digging because probably this person’s books will not be assigned in your classes by secular professors and probably won’t even be discussed. There is a tremendous shunning and ignorance of the work of evangelical or Christian scholars by our secular colleagues, unfortunately. But they are out there, and first-rate work really is being done. And so we need to familiarize ourselves with these folks and then begin to read and study their works and to interact with them.
Perhaps as part of our fellowship groups, we might have a book discussion group where other people that are in your area would go through a book with you together and you would discuss it with each other. And then there are professional meetings that you can attend that, if you’re really serious about this, you can have Christian interaction with other scholars in your field. I can speak to this particularly in my field of philosophy. There are things like the Society of Christian Philosophers and the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Those are three Christian professional societies in philosophy that are all from a Christian point of view. And they all have national meetings every year that you can attend, listen to papers, interact with top scholars in your field on these kinds of issues. And it’s just a wonderful growing experience, plus great networking for the future if you do want to go into that field and eventually get a job there.
And I know there are groups like this in the sciences and I imagine in other fields as well. And so one ought to familiarize oneself, I think, with those kinds of meetings and perhaps try to attend one once a year. So those would be some of the things I think that a person can do to begin to hone the mind in such a way as to critically interact with what you’re getting in your classes.
I would say one last piece of advice in this regard, and that would be to always treat your secular professors, no matter how hostile they are, with the utmost respect that should be accorded to them in their position. You should never be flippant or rude with one of your professors even if he or she should be uncharitable toward you as a Christian. You need to respect that person because of the position that he occupies.
And I think that you should see your primary duty as a Christian student under this professor not to refute what he is saying about Christianity. That’s not your job. Your job is to learn from that professor as much as you possibly can. And so you put yourself under that person’s tutelage and learn everything that he has to teach you in a humble spirit rather than thinking that you’ve been placed there to upstage him and refute him and show him what is really the truth. That’s not your role as an undergraduate. Leave that for those who are older and more competent in the field than yourself. Your goal now ought to be simply to learn as much as you can and to ask probing questions of the professor that would get at why he believes this, what argument would you offer for this, what are your grounds for saying this.
Those kinds of probing questions I think are the best sort of way that you can interact with a secular professor who is coming at things from a non-Christian point of view.
MODERATOR: Would you like to make a closing statement? A penultimate closing statement?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: Well, I think that actually was a rather nice closing statement from me. Advice on how to interact with professors, so I think I’ll leave it at that.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Craig, for your high intellect, lived experience, received wisdom, and generous and courageous spirit. The German poet, Rilke, in his letters to a young poet, advises us “to have patience with everything unresolved in our heart and to try to love the questions themselves and to live the questions now. Then someday, far in the future, we shall live our way into the answer.”
For Further Reading:
- How College Loans Exploit Students For Profit: Sajay Samuel (Transcript)
- How to Design for Dignity During Times of War: Slava Balbek (Transcript)
- The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready: Bill Gates (Transcript)
- Revealing The Lost Codex of Archimedes: William Noel (Transcript)
- The Power of Civil Momentum: Annamalai Kuppusamy (Transcript)