The Table Podcast

Evidence for Jesus’ Empty Tomb

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Gary Habermas discuss the historical Jesus, focusing on evidence for his empty tomb.

Timecodes
00:15
Investigating the historical Jesus
05:40
Critical scholarship and the empty tomb reports
20:40
Why do some scholars doubt the historicity of Jesus' empty tomb?
22:50
Two key arguments for Jesus' empty tomb
32:05
Were reports of the empty tomb embellished?
35:00
Paul’s conversion and the empty tomb tradition
45:00
Summary of the evidence of the empty tomb
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table where we discussed issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendrick Center. And our topic today is the resurrection of Jesus, looking specifically at the empty tomb. And we have two guests today. One guest in the studio is Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at Dallas Seminary and senior research professor of New Testament. Welcome.
Darrell Bock
Good morning, or good afternoon or whatever time it is where you’re listening.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, it’s morning somewhere. And coming to us via Skype is Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Gary Habermas is the distinguished research professor of apologetics and philosophy chair at Liberty University. Thanks for being with us, Gary.
Gary Habermas
Glad to be here. Good topic, good group of guys.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, definitely one of our favorite topics to discuss, the resurrection of Jesus. And today we’re specifically looking at the evidence for the empty tomb. And the way we want to approach this topic is during Easter time a lot of Christians get into these conversations at family gatherings and places where people start talking to them about the Easter story that sometimes catch people off guard. And so our hope and our goal is to give people some talking points that they can use as they engage their skeptical friends in conversation about Jesus, about the resurrection and specifically about the empty tomb. And just to start off, Darrell, I wanna ask you to kind of set the stage for us in terms of how the empty tomb relates to the whole historical Jesus discussion.
Darrell Bock
Well, obviously without an empty tomb, there would not have been much preaching in Jerusalem because people would’ve simply said, “Oh, do you think he’s raised from the dead? Just go over there and look on in and you’ll see a body.” Only when they went to go to the tomb that Jesus was buried in, there was nothing there. So various explanations popped up for why that was. So the empty tomb is one of two pieces of material that you see after Jesus is crucified in the Gospels that are designed to communicate that he was raised from the dead. The second group are the appearances that are undertaken that various people experienced after he was raised. But the empty tomb is kind of the starting point and physical beginning of the preaching that Jesus was risen from the dead. And of course, the story of the women going to the tomb is where that reality kind of pops up in the Gospel stories and gets us going in terms of what happened to Jesus.
Mikel Del Rosario
And so for people who don’t believe that the Bible is inspired, who don’t look at the Bible as an authority, how do historians who don’t believe in Christianity how would they take a look at data and say is this historical or not?
Darrell Bock
Well there are a variety of ways people take a look at data. They sometimes will talk about what’s called multiple attestation, how many different kinds of witnesses from different source streams view this event. So you don’t just count Gospels, because the argument can be that Mark is feeding into what you see in Matthew and Luke sometimes. But it has to do with what comes, generally speaking for New Testament scholars, what comes from Mark, what do Luke and Matthew share. That’s the source often called Q, but what do Luke and Matthew share in terms of teaching. Then there’s the unique material of Matthew, the unique material in Luke, the unique material in John, the stuff that Paul supplies. There are a variety of source strands, and the more witnesses you have, the more credibility you have for the point. The argument is the deeper this goes across the tradition, the more likely it is to be early and have credibility. So that’s called multiple attestation.

Some people will emphasize a criterion called a dissimilarity where what Jesus did or what happened to Jesus is not like what Judaism believes and is not like what Christianity believes. That’s the strongest form of it. A variation goes it’s not quite like Judaism. It’s not quite like Christianity. And if you look at it, it actually looks like something that moves between the two moving from one to the other. That’s called the continuum approach and sometimes is labeled double dissimilarity. That’s another criterion that gets used.

A third one is called coherence. Anything that gets through particularly those first two and coheres with it can be credible. And another one that’s important is what’s called embarrassment. The early church would never create this kind of an event. This is one that does apply theoretically to the empty tomb because your first witnesses are women; we’ll probably come back to that in more detail. But that’s the criterion of embarrassment. The church would never make up a story where your core witnesses are people who culturally generally wouldn’t count as significant witnesses for a significant event and have credibility. So those are some of the criteria. I haven’t named them all but those are some of the key criteria that come up when people are asking how can I test on a kind of neutral standard that something has credibility.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. That’s news to some people ’cause I think for a lot of people they think well you either believe the Bible or you don’t, right? And yet it’s possible for us to take a look at the data even with people who aren’t Christians, even people who don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God and assess is this historical or not. Gary, I want to turn to you now. And I know many years ago you had a journal article come out and the journal for the study of the historical Jesus and you kind of summarized where the critical discussion was up until that point. On the empty tomb, where was critical scholarship at that point in time and where has it moved now, if it’s changed at all?
Gary Habermas
Well, let me back up. When I was in graduate school decades ago –
Darrell Bock
Before computers, right?
Gary Habermas
I’m sorry?
Darrell Bock
Before computers, right?
Gary Habermas
Oh, way before computers. Computers would be a what’s that kind of thing. And you could pick some topics that are apropos to our topic today. I mean the empty tomb would be one of them, but you could say was Jesus a miracle worker. And on topics like that when I was in grad school, Rudolph Bultmann hadn’t died yet; he died in 1976. This would’ve been about 1972, 1973, and the New Testament community was still taken by his research. And he was you know probably the most significant light on the horizon then. And if you said something like you believe Jesus was a miracle worker or you said you believe in the empty tomb, your classmates might judge you to be either evangelical or a conservative Catholic, but it was certainly a minority view.

Today, most scholars believe in some sense Jesus is a healer and an exorcist in some sense, and the majority believe in an empty tomb. So as I tried to say in that article, I tried to talk about trends from 1975 to the present, and the empty tomb is one of them that’s been on a fairly upward rise from that time. And today most scholars believe in the empty tomb from what I’ve been able to tell from a headcount from 1975 to date, French German and English sources, about 75 percent of New Testament scholars accept the empty tomb way more than when I was in grad school. And as Darrell just said, by far the main reason that critics give for the historicity of the tomb is the testimony of the women. And for a lot of people who may be listening or watching this, they may think well there’s some collusion here. These fellows are just agreeing to tell the story this way.

But we have to think about how the Gospels were written, how far around the Mediterranean would you have to look to find the next writer and so on, and when these writers sat down and wrote the account what’s the likelihood that all four of them would have begun by saying the women came to the tomb. And if we back up a little bit, it’s not just that the women came to the tomb; they’re practically the only ones present at the cross. They’re practically the only ones present at the burial with the exception of two very little-known disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus. They’re the first ones to come to the empty tomb, and they’re the first ones to see the appearances. So in the women, we have a uniting of both the two characteristics that Darrell mentioned, both the empty tomb and the appearances. All this with women.

Now when you think about where the Gospels were written, you think about different parts – I mean for example, the tradition that John was written to Ephesus. If you stretch these Gospels out around that are, why do they all tell the story this way, and why do they put a weak foot forward? You know it’s not true like a lot of people report. It’s not true that women could not testify in the court of law; they could. But there was pretty much an inverse relation between how important the fact was and whether they would bring women to testify that have a lot of to do with whether there were men present.

Darrell Bock
There were certain topics on which they were allowed to testify, but in a lot of ways they were viewed very much as second-class witnesses.
Gary Habermas
They were, so you’re definitely not putting your best foot forward. So why do four writers in four different geographical areas over you know a slightly spread-out period of time, why do they all tell the story the same way, when by telling the story that way you are – well use Darrell’s word, so you’re doing a secondhand evidential presentation of the story. Why do it that way? Real simple answer: It’s because it happened.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. And the way I like to tell this is imagine you’re the disciples in the period between Jesus’ death and the preaching of the resurrection. And you’ve got a dead Messiah and you’re having a meeting, ’cause remember that the liberal approach to this is to say, “Well they made it up.” So you’re in the meeting and it’s your PR group and they’re saying, “How are we gonna keep hope alive? We’ve got a dead Messiah, how are we gonna keep hope alive?” And so someone raises their hand and says, “Oh, I got a brilliant idea. Let’s ask this view that is a minority view in the culture at large resurrection, physical resurrection, not everyone believes it. In fact, a lot of people don’t. They think when you’re quite dead and that’s the end of the story, or they think maybe your soul is immortal. But they don’t think about a physical resurrection. Pharisees believe that and maybe a few others, but not very many other people. So I got an unpopular idea, and the way I’m gonna sell this idea is I’m gonna send out to be my top witnesses people who culturally generally speaking don’t count as significant witnesses.” And everyone goes, “Oh, that’s a great PR idea. Let’s sign up on that one and let’s all agree that’s what we’re gonna do and that’s what we’re gonna say.”
Gary Habermas
Right.
Darrell Bock
It stretches credibility. The women were in the story because they were in the story. There was no real way to kick them out and tell your story. So that’s what I think we see in the Gospels. And I think it’s hard for people to remember, particularly people who aren’t used to reading stuff where the idea is the Gospel writers made up this material, to realize that if you say they were able to make it up, all your options are on the table. You could’ve had appearances to the apostles. You could’ve had appearances to other groups. One of the points I like to make is I find it fascinating that even though there’s testimony that Jesus appeared to Peter and Jesus appeared to James, we don’t have a detailed account about what was involved in either of those events. If you were making it up from scratch, those would be the first people whose testimony you’d want I would think. So those are the kinds of realities that historical scholars wrestle with and so the bulk of them when they look at those kinds of features go yep, the case for this is very strong. Now that doesn’t solve the next question, which is if I have an empty tomb, how do I explain it? What does it mean to have an empty tomb? That’s a whole ‘nother conversation. Just like I like to illustrate it if I were alive in 30 or 33 AD, which ever year you think that Jesus was crucified that gets debated between New Testament scholars, and three people were walking by Golgotha on the day that Jesus was crucified, someone could turn and say, “Look, three men are being crucified and the placard on one of them says one of them is Jesus of Nazareth.” Okay, and everyone would agree. I can see that. I can touch that. I can feel that.

But then the next part of the historical event that Christians like to talk about, he died for sin. Okay, now how do I touch, feel, or taste that you know? That’s the interpretation of the significance of the event. So I have an empty tomb and people believe that there’s an empty tomb and then there’s the explanation for how the tomb got empty and that takes on a variety of forms, including some of these more, for lack of a better description, theological explanations for its significance, and that’s a whole ‘nother level of conversation and a whole ‘nother level of debate.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. So, Darrell, you just mentioned the women and they wouldn’t make it up that way, that’s dissimilarity and that’s embarrassment.
Darrell Bock
Well it’s actually more dissimilarity. Well it’s dissimilarity to the culture at large, but it’s more embarrassment. It’s really is the criteria of embarrassment that is being appealed to there.
Mikel Del Rosario
Okay.
Gary Habermas
And by the way, the story that Darrell just told, picture that happening in four different places around the Mediterranean, because the earlier account Darrell made a really good point. When you’re counting sources, you don’t just say Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, that’s four. You don’t count that way. By the way, this is an aside, but as Darrell knows, the Gospel to the Hebrews does narrate the story very briefly of Jesus’ appearance to his brother, and it’s very similar to his breaking bread with the two men on the way to Emmaus. It’s a very similar account and it’s not that old a Gospel. But anyway, so picture that happening four times, and four times they bring up hey, we can see the women are the witnesses, and everybody four times says, “Wow, that’s the best option I’ve heard.” And all four of them sit down to do this poor option.

And let me say one more thing. In Luke and John, we have the story that in Luke only Peter is mentioned but later in that chapter that says, “Certain of us went,” so there’s plural, more than one. And in John, there’s Peter and John and they go to the tomb. Now if you really wanted to be crafty, you could be telling the truth and say Peter and John were the first two witnesses and they went to the tomb and found the tomb empty. If you wanted to, you could start the story with the men a couple of hours later. But no, they stuck to the story in four different places. Four out of four stuck with the women because they were primary even before Peter and John went. So I think this whole story is amazing because they all did the women at different locations, and they could have told the truth and gone with the men, but they didn’t; they told the story with the women. I think those are accounts are just amazing.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. And then there’s another piece to this and that is what happens when the women report that the tomb is empty, which you get in Luke. And when that happens, what you get is the reaction that you expect from your leaders, which is oh, we’re so glad you told us about the empty tomb, we’re rejoicing. No, no, no, that’s not how they respond. The story says they tell them and they thought it was a fairytale, basically that it was an empty fable. Actually, what they said to them was, “You’re suffering from post-crucifixion syndrome.” That’s PCS, that’s a disease you get when grief overwhelms you because someone close to you has been crucified. And they didn’t believe it.

Now to John and Peter’s credit, as John’s Gospel notes, they are bothered enough by this report to check it out; you know they don’t hang around to give the women a hard time. But the bulk of the response is no, no, no, this can’t be. And my point here is, again this is another example of the criterion of embarrassment, you’re commending your leaders by how you tell your story, and so you’re gonna create a story that has your leaders basically looking like buffoons in terms of the hope of the Christian Gospel and belittling these women who are testifying to something that really happened? You know most stories that you get like this when you get to the point where the hero does the miraculous, everyone goes you know hallelujah, end of story. That’s not what you get here.

And so that’s another dimension that adds I think to the level of the appearance of credibility and authenticity, ’cause they’re even critical of their own leaders and how they initially responded to the report of the empty tomb, which interestingly enough, ironically tells you how women’s testimony was viewed in the culture. Okay. It wasn’t taken seriously, and they had to be convinced by other means before they actually believed it.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm, so that’s embarrassment on two accounts then.
Gary Habermas
One more example. When Paul reports the pre-Pauline creedal confession in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following, there’s no women there.
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Gary Habermas
And many commentators think that’s because he, not Paul but those who came up with the creed, which is almost always said to be pre-Pauline, those who came up with the creed were a little shy about making the women the witnesses. And just like Luke and just like John, they do start with the men. They start with Peter, and then they talk about the 12. So they did skip the women and move on, and that’s our earliest source as far as that predates the Gospel. So it’s amazing, all these things. But one thing is for sure. When four out of four Gospels say it’s the women, that’s probably because the women were there and did something. And I can tell you in the literature, back to the article that you mentioned, the critics mention the women testimony far more than any other reason to believe the empty tomb.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, because like I said, there’s no way you would have made up a story, and this is hard for people who aren’t used to thinking about how skeptics handle the Bible, but there is no credible way to think about why women would be put in that initial key place if you were making up the story from scratch and you were just trying to, like I say, keep hope alive by propagating something that wasn’t the case.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. So the women were in the story because they are in the story.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right.
Gary Habermas
By the way, the larger topic of reliability that is another pointer to the Gospel writers being accurate and historical and honest, that’s the way they told the story, because that’s because it happened that way. If they wanted to tell the story a different way to put a best foot forward, they could’ve done it, but they didn’t. I think that’s a reflection in a broader sense on reliability and how they told their story historically.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. We’re gonna come up on a break here in a couple minutes. But real quick, Gary, when you found the 75 percent of scholars that held to the empty tomb, is that 25 percent all world view issues? What was the issue with those? Did they just think the evidence wasn’t good enough, or what?
Gary Habermas
You know what we think a lot of times when someone disagrees with us and they’re big-name scholars, we assume that it has to be evidence; they don’t see good evidence. Now the critics do say that once in a while. They’ll say, “How come there’s no empty tomb recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following?” And there’s a dispute about whether an empty tomb is implied given a Jewish understanding. And by the way, both John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg both say that the empty tomb could very well be presupposed in that creed, although Dom goes on and says he thinks it was a mark in construct. But we think they’re doing things for reasons of facts, and very, very frequently it’s because of emotions and not wanting to support another viewpoint. I mean you know just look at what happened today with the “swamp” in D.C. and how a political program is going through that. According to commentators, they were right there three days ago and couldn’t pass anything. But today they have to pass it. What changed the facts? Everyone’s saying none, no facts changed. Why? Because there’s a lot of pressure and we gotta get something done. So there’s a great example of facts equal the facts but I feel differently today or someone’s pressuring me today.

And I really think far from scholars being immune to this kind of stuff, I think we vote with our moods sometimes. We don’t want the other side, whoever that is, to get the upper hand, and critics don’t like to tell the other side that they’re right. So I think largely it’s nonfactual issues that are keeping people from agreeing. But even so, 75 is way up from when I was in grad school, so I’m pleased with the change.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. If you had two arguments that you wanted to use in a short space of time, you’d probably talk about the women and this whole idea that the preaching when on in Jerusalem. Why don’t you unpack that a little bit for us, Gary?
Gary Habermas
Well let me back up and say of the facts surrounding the resurrection of which Darrell started the program at saying the two most important ones are the tomb and the appearances, you know of all the ones we could line up, the relevant evidences, there are probably more facts for the empty tomb, in favor of the empty tomb, from a critical viewpoint, not taking some presupposition of inspiration or something. I have a list of 22 different critical evidences for the empty tomb, but I would say these two are the top two. Number one, we’ve done a great detail that why would anybody go with the women in four different locations around the Mediterranean? Why would they take that story – and by the way, critics think at this point, the four Gospels whatever you do with the synoptics, they’re not so dependent on Mark at this point. Critics say there’s either three or four independent accounts in the four Gospels. So again, you have this three or four times that make the same story.

I think the next one is just as important as the women, and that is if you’re gonna preach bodily resurrection, which was a radical idea in the ancient world, if you’re gonna preach bodily resurrection and there’s somebody in that grave, do it in Rome, do it in Ephesus, do it in Egypt, but don’t do it in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the last place you can preach that story if the tomb was occupied. And it would be so easy to disprove it. And by the way, critics say something like, “Well, according to your own book, they didn’t start preaching for 50 days.” In 50 days, the body would be messed up biologically and you wouldn’t be able to tell who it is. Two comments. Number one, Michael Cone and I have both interviewed scholars, you know doctors who work with bodies and causes of death, and the body would not be messed up in 50 days in a normal dry Middle Eastern spring environment.

But number two, here’s the key. If you found any body in the tomb, Christians lose. They didn’t say Jesus is in the tomb. They said, “Nobody is in the tomb.” They said, “The tomb is empty.” If you find a body in the tomb, you lose. They could only preach that message if there was no body or nobody, and that’s how it went. And so it was only on the presupposition, anybody could take a stroll and find out if there is a body there or not. If nobody else is there, you can look in; you can check it out. And they couldn’t do it. So if you’re gonna preach bodily resurrection, that tomb better be open. Whether you can identify the corpse or not, it’s irrelevant. There ought to be no corpse inside that tomb if your proclamation is not just that Jesus isn’t there but that nobody is there. That’s gotta be pretty much verifiable. And by the way, all the accounts going back to the early Acts sermon summaries in Acts 1 through 5, 10, 13, 17, they agreed that the preaching started in Jerusalem. So again, bad place to start if the tomb is not empty.

Darrell Bock
And let me add to the argument by saying not only is there evidence that it’d be a bad place to preach the message but to have the message be believed. In other words, you’ve got thousands of people who came to faith in that very city as a result of the preaching, and that wouldn’t have – I mean think about what the Jewish response would be, “Oh, you preached an empty tomb. Jesus is raised from the dead. No, no, go down, turn left, okay, take a right, then take a left and look in that tomb. You know that’s where he was buried.” And they would of course know where he was buried ’cause they know who buried him. They know which tomb it was in, and so for that very reason the fact that there are believers who come out of this situation in the midst of this preaching in Jerusalem in the very place where it happened means there’s gotta be an empty tomb. The fact that there’s a story circulating that says the body was stolen tells you there is an empty tomb that you’re dealing with, that people are having trouble coping with as the preaching is going on, so much so that there are a variety of suggestions as to why that tomb was actually empty.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Is that a kind of enemy attestation kind of that –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s an example of enemy attestation in the sense of reporting what the explanation was coming from the other side, which is conceding the fact that the tomb in which Jesus was laid is now empty.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Why is there pushback sometimes on Joseph of Arimathea being a part of this story and that being his tomb?
Darrell Bock
Well you sometimes get Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus challenged as one they’re mentioned specifically in the Gospel of John. And so there’s questions about how multiply attested this is and so whether such a figure actually existed, that kind of thing. But here is the interesting part of material behind that. There actually is a tradition in Judaism that says if someone dies as a felon, they cannot be buried in a family tomb. This is why the Jesus tomb story couldn’t have been. And so what do we have? What we have in the case of Joseph of Arimathea going and asking for the body from Pilot is Jesus being buried in a tomb that’s not his family’s tomb, okay. It actually honors the Messianic teaching, granted it’s later but it honors the Messianic teaching in Sanhedrin, in the tractate Sanhedrin that says you do not bury someone who’s committed a crime in a family tomb. That’s part of the dishonor that they experience as the result of their death.

Now the irony is of course that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bury Jesus in the tomb that they bury him in in order to give him an honorable burial and in order to show respect for him. But they do keep this one part of the Jewish tradition that fits the background. So that’s actually another little detail that tells you the story works because it fits into the cultural backdrop of what happens when someone is executed as a criminal they don’t get buried in a family tomb. So I see the detail as being actually pointing to the authenticity and actually showing awareness of this other tradition that we’re talking about.

Mikel Del Rosario
So when John Dominic Crossan says something like the corpses may have been left on the cross and Ehrman comes out and says it was standard procedure to leave them on the cross, are they just mistaken there?
Darrell Bock
Well no, it’s standard procedure to leave him on the cross, and what the text is telling you is that it was a special request in the case of Jesus, which Pilot honored. So I can have that be standard procedure. Standard procedure means that happens in most of the cases, but it doesn’t mean it happens in all the cases.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, yeah. That’s good.
Gary Habermas
Plus, you have the problem with the Sabbath, buried the body before the Sabbath, so.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Yeah, that’s why they’re rushing to get it done because they’ve gotta get it done before the Sabbath comes.
Gary Habermas
Right. If the crucifixion were on Monday, you could’ve left it up there for a while, but the crucifixion is just before the Sabbath so we have an additional problem.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, we don’t want an unclean body in a situation defiling taking place before we get to the Sabbath, so that’s why they’re rushing against the clock. And so they can’t do the work, and what’s going on here? They can’t do the work of burying the body on the Sabbath, so they’ve gotta get it done before the Sabbath comes and they don’t want to leave the body hanging there in public ‘til after the Sabbath.
Gary Habermas
By the way, just another side, Josephus says that even persons who are crucified were given a decent burial, which is a witness – well it’s a witness to what happened at Jerusalem in 66 or 70 AD. But it’s also a witness to the respect that Jews had for bodies and those who might complain that the body might not have been put in the tomb because it would’ve been a dishonorable burial has to deal with Josephus who specifically says that even crucified persons were given decent burials, so.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Now sometimes people will push back on the entire notion of any of this being historical. I know you’ve debated some people, Gary, who say that this was embellished or it was myth; it was legendary. What’s the quick go-to with that kind of challenge?
Gary Habermas
That someone says what, that the whole story was brought into the Gospels too late?
Mikel Del Rosario
It could’ve been too late. It could’ve been embellished or could’ve just been made up.
Gary Habermas
Okay. By the way, a couple things. If Mark is the lead Gospel, that’s per Darrell’s comments earlier, for those who think that Mark is the lead Gospel of the synoptics, Darrell, you guys may have heard that one date has already appeared for this Markan fragment, and it has been dated to 80 to 110 AD. And some critics have said well that would push back the Gospel of Mark, and I might also note here that entirely apart from dating a fragment of a copy to as early as 80 AD, you’ve got two critics, two agnostic non-Christians, in James Crossley and the late Morris Casey who both on separate grounds, actually separate from each other and separate from the fragment, date Mark Crossley about 38 to 42 AD. Casey just says about 50. And by the way, Casey dates Matthew 50 to 60. So if the dates are coming back a little bit for the synoptics here and Mark in particular, if Mark can be brought back even earlier because you can’t have a fragment of a copy in 80 and somewhere else geographically and the book be written just a very few years before that, five or ten years before that, that’s gonna say something about the market source being earlier. So that’s one thing I would say.

One more thing I would note are the Acts sermon summaries. Again, Acts 1 through 5, 10, 13, and 17. Acts 13’s Pauline statement there is that Jesus was buried and his body did not undergo decay, as was the case with David. Sort of like Acts 2, only Peter is doing the preaching in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 13. Those are early. Bart Urman dates the Acts sermon summaries to one to two years. He doesn’t specify which is which, but he dates them to one to two years after the cross. If the sermon summaries are one to two years after the cross, he specifically thinks that Acts 13 is among the earliest. Now he’s got other theological reasons for admitting that. But if the Acts sermon summaries are within the year or two and Mark has come back ten or twenty years, we’ve got two sets of very early arguments for what’s going on with the empty tomb, and of course multiple sources.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, let me comment on some of this ’cause this is important. I’ve hesitated to use the fragment argument yet because I want to see the evidence about the fragment, which hasn’t been put out yet. What Gary is reporting is stuff that has been circulating and has been said, but we haven’t seen the data for it yet so I’m a little hesitant to make much of that at that point. If it’s true, it’s interesting. But I wanna make another point that I think we sometimes miss in conservative circles and it goes like this. It does not matter what the dates of the Gospels are as much as the quality of the tradition that feeds them. And I think this is an important point, because sometimes we get into discussions about are the Gospels written 20 years, so 20 years after the gap if it’s in the 50s, or if you’re talking 38, 40 you’re even tighter; you’re within a decade. If it’s written in the 60s, which is where most people put the synoptic Gospels, that’s 30 years after. If it’s in the 80s, which is where most non-conservatives will put the Gospels, you’re dealing 50 or 60 years after the events that we’re talking about. The Gospel of John is put generally speaking in the 90s; you know that’s 60 years later.

Here’s the point I like to make. In what goes into the Gospels, there’s a tradition. If that tradition has been solidly communicated, it doesn’t matter when it’s written down, okay, because the tradition is older than the incorporation of the material in the writing. And so it’s actually the quality of the tradition that we get that’s important to the Gospel authenticity as opposed to the dates of the Gospels per se. And that’s important because if we think about the roots of that tradition in Christian circles, we have to use, in the words of that great theologian Chris Burman, we have to go back, back, back, back, back to the experience of Paul. The experience of Paul is, and this is something Gary teaches when he’s in public and I’ve played with it, and it goes the experience of Paul is within about 18 months to a couple of years of the actual crucifixion.

The experience of Paul takes place when he is an opponent of Christianity. The experience of Paul takes place because he’s heard the apostolic preaching. And the experience of Paul takes place so that when he sees the raised Jesus he automatically and instantly is able to process that message that the apostles were giving me that I was denying must now seem to be true. So that experience even predates when Paul has the experience. It goes back to the preaching and teaching he heard that allows him to process that experience. And so we’re literally at that point, in terms of the core tradition of a resurrection of Jesus, on top of the events themselves with someone who lived in the city where it happened. And this gap that we often talk about in relationship to when the events happen versus when the Gospels was written all of a sudden has shrunk down to being basically nothing.

In fact, when I do this on stage, I start off and go from one end of the stage to the other. And by the time I’m done with this explanation, I stand right next to where I’d marked that the crucifixion happened and I just take a little hop step to show we’re right up against the event now. So this is a very, very important part of the roots of the tradition, and the roots of that tradition can be shown to go all the way back virtually to the events themselves.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. I think it’s worth noting that the pushback is often not on the data itself, but it’s a pushback on the theological implication of the data, of the empty tomb. And as Jesus mentioned to the Jewish establishment, to the Jewish leadership at his examination, this had major ramifications. Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. Absolutely, it did. There’s a core truth that challenges everybody, ’cause it says you’re accountable to God, Jesus has raised from the dead, God has done this, and the way to interact with what it is that God is doing in the world is interact with what he’s done with Jesus. Gary, I don’t know if you have any more feedback you want to put on that description of Paul and Paul’s experience, but I actually think that’s one of the most important evidences for the quality of the core tradition of the church that we possess.
Gary Habermas
Right. No, I agree. I do this timeline lecture that I’ve done in one form or another 2,000 times now, believe it or not. And even when you start with 1 Corinthians, you’re only 25 years away. And so I’ve move it back, and the consensus New Testament position now as reported by Richard Bachman and others, the consensus New Testament position is that Paul received this material about 35 AD. And if you take a 33 crucifixion, it’s 38 AD, but it’s a plus five is the math. But that’s when Paul heard it, and if he gets the testimony from Peter and James, Galatians chapter 1 their discussion of the Gospel, if he gets it from Peter and James, Peter and James have it before Paul has it. In fact, Peter and James are reporting their own testimonies; that’s pre-Pauline. And then you have to go back before Peter and James to the actual events themselves, and this is where Jimmy Dunn says the creed had to be in existence just months after the cross.

So if the cross is in the spring, months is probably gonna be before the year is over. So you’re in maybe the fall of the year at the latest. I’m thinking about other people; there’s a number of New Testament scholars. I can go down the line and mention names, but there’s a lot of scholars that say 30 AD. Larry Hurtato says days after the event. This stuff is so early. I mean Jesus Seminar members. When you go back and look or John Dominic Crossan in his books will say that, by the way, multiple attestation for these sightings. Dom Crossan gives three independent sources for the empty tomb, and he doesn’t even believe it and he’s got three independent sources.

So the data here are very early. They’re from the people who walked by. They’re from people who are willing to give their lives, because while we can’t be sure of most of the martyrdoms of the apostles, we have very good data for James, Peter, and Paul, and some people think we’ve got a good source for John in the second century. So John comes into the seen in Galatians 2, so when Paul goes back in the late 40s, they’re specifically talking about the Gospel, Galatians 2:2. And the other disciples add nothing to Paul’s message, meaning they’re on the same page. I mean why do they give Paul and Barnabus a right hand of fellowship. I’ve never been in a church where we do that for heretics, so they must agree with them. In fact, Paul specifically says, “They added nothing to me,” so they agreed with the message of the Gospel. I think maybe the best thing Paul gives us is the testimony of the others.

Bart Ehrman he says, “Paul spent 15 days with Peter and James.” And then he pauses and he says, “I’d like to have spent 15 days with Peter and James.” And then he asks this question, if you don’t have an evangelical-type presupposition and think that at least a couple of the Gospels you can get back to eye witnesses, and even those where you aren’t sure, there’s still eye-witness testimony. If you don’t have that presupposition, what’s gonna be the earliest data we have? And Bart Urman adds there, he says, “Where do we get earlier than this? Where do we get closer to the eye-witness testimony than Paul’s talking to these fellows in Jerusalem?” To me that is the tightest connection on the empty tomb appearances report.

Darrell Bock
Okay, let me go one more ’cause you’re talking about the stuff that’s been written. I’m talking about the experience of Paul at the Damascus Road. So the point that I’m making is he has to have enough Christian theology in his head, which he didn’t believe up to that time, to process what it means for Jesus to appear to him and what that means. And so my point is when Jesus appears to him, all of a sudden flash, breaking news CNN, Paul realizes that stuff that the apostles were teaching and preaching me that I was challenging all of a sudden I realize they had it right. And so we’re talking about the stuff that predates anything that’s written. It may well predate anything that’s in a creed, okay, because it relates to the moment Paul was opposed to these apostles and preaching was hearing them and reacting to what it was. They were saying in the streets of Jerusalem where that empty tomb resided that everyone could go by and point to and say that’s why we’re having this discussion, and so we’re off and running in terms of what the early church is teaching.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. And this is two years after the cross.
Gary Habermas
It’s gotta be pre-creed.
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Gary Habermas
‘Cause creed takes a little while. It’s sort of like a musician who says, “Hey, I got some words to a cool song. Let’s get some music.” So you sit down and you pick some notes out. Something is gonna come before something else, and by the time you get the creed and proclaim it orally, the data on which the creed are based has to precede it. There has to be something there that you’re writing the song about in Philippians 2, Colossians one.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Gary Habermas
Something’s gotta be there. And that’s why even Jesus Seminar members call this material pre-Pauline, which by the way, Mikel, I’m thinking you’re doing your dissertation on kind of a minimal-facts argument for the deity of Christ. When people want to say rarely but when people want to say Paul invented deity, you should stop and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That message was there before Paul was even converted, so how was this a Pauline invention with Jesus being the simple Galilean farmer who didn’t have any idea about his own deity?”
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Yeah, Paul is not responsible for his own conversion; something else was, so you know.
Darrell Bock
So yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, we are just having too much fun here, but we’re coming up to the end of our time. When you think about the women and you think about the preaching in Jerusalem, how early this was, how no one would ever make this up, we see just the richness of the evidence that God has left with us so that we can talk with our skeptical friends, people who don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God and say, “Look, there’s data here that’s good enough for us to take seriously and see what God has really done in Jesus.” So, Darrell, I want to thank you so much for being a part of the show today.
Darrell Bock
My pleasure.
Mikel Del Rosario
And thank you so much, Gary, for being a part of the show as well.
Gary Habermas
Thank you for the invite. It’s been very enjoyable.
Mikel Del Rosario
We’ll have to have you back on the show again sometime in the future to continue this discussion.
Gary Habermas
That’s right, we don’t want to leave it here, do we?
Mikel Del Rosario
No, we’ll pick it up again. So we hope you will join us once again on The Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Gary Habermas
Dr. Gary Habermas has dedicated his professional life to the examination of the relevant historical, philosophical, and theological issues surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. His extensive list of publications and debates provides a thorough account of the current state of the issue. He has also contributed more than 60 chapters or articles to additional books, and over 100 articles and reviews in journals and other publications. In recent years, he has been a Visiting or Adjunct Professor at about 15 different graduate schools and seminaries in the United States and abroad. Dr. Habermas is a Distinguished Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at the Rawlings School of Divinity. He is married to Eileen and they have seven children and 11 grandchildren.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a doctoral student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles for Bibliotheca Sacra, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with confidence though his apologetics ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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