Wearing blue jeans, white socks, and a dark-blue sweater with red turtleneck collar, William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th., lounged on a floral couch in his living room. On the wall behind him was a large framed scene of Munich.
It was there, fresh with a master of arts degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Birmingham, England, that Craig studied the resurrection for the first time, while earning another doctorate, this one in theology from the University of Munich. He later taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and then served as a visiting scholar at the Higher Institute of Philosophy at the University of Louvain near Brussels.
While he is internationally known for his writings about the intersection of science, philosophy, and theology, he needed no prompting to discuss the subject that still makes his heart beat fast: the resurrection of Jesus.
Before looking at whether the tomb of Jesus was empty, I needed to establish whether his body had been there in the first place. History tells us that as a rule, crucified criminals were left on the cross to be devoured by birds or were thrown into a common grave. This has prompted John Dominic Crossan of the liberal Jesus Seminar to conclude that Jesus’ body probably was dug up and consumed by wild dogs.
“Based on these customary practices,” I said to Craig, “wouldn’t you admit that this is most likely what happened?”
“If all you looked at was customary practice, yes, I’d agree,” came his reply. “But that would ignore the specific evidence in this case.”
“Okay, then let’s look at the specific evidence,” I said. With that I pointed out an immediate problem: the gospels say Jesus’ corpse was turned over to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very council — the Sanhedrin — that voted to condemn Jesus. “That’s rather implausible, isn’t it?” I demanded in a tone that sounded more pointed than I had intended.
Craig shifted on the couch as if he were getting ready to pounce on my question. “No, not when you look at all the evidence for the burial,” he said. “So let me go through it. For one thing, the burial is mentioned by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 7, where he passes on a very early creed of the church.”
Craig agrees with various scholars that this creed — a statement that Christians would recite to summarize their beliefs — undoubtedly goes back to within a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion, having been given to Paul, after his conversion, in Damascus or in his subsequent visit to Jerusalem when he met with the apostles James and Peter.
“This creed is incredibly early and therefore trustworthy material,” Craig said. “Essentially, it’s a four-line formula. The first line refers to the crucifixion, the second to the burial, the third to the resurrection, and the fourth to Jesus’ appearances. As you can see, the second line affirms that Jesus was buried.”
That was too vague for me. “Wait a minute,” I interjected. “He may have been buried, but was it in a tomb? And was it through Joseph of Arimathea, this mysterious character who comes out of nowhere to claim the body?”
Craig remained patient. “This creed is actually a summary that corresponds line by line with what the gospels teach,” he explained. “When we turn to the gospels, we find multiple, independent attestation of this burial story, and Joseph of Arimathea is specifically named in all four accounts. On top of that, the burial story in Mark is so extremely early that it’s simply not possible for it to have been subject to legendary corruption.”
“How can you tell it’s early?” I asked.
“Two reasons,” he said. “First, Mark is generally considered to be the earliest gospel. Second, his gospel basically consists of short anecdotes about Jesus, more like pearls on a string than a smooth, continuous narrative.
“But when you get to the last week of Jesus’ life — the so-called passion story — then you do have a continuous narrative of events in sequence. This passion story was apparently taken by Mark from an even earlier source — and this source included the story of Jesus being buried in the tomb.”
While those were good arguments, I spotted a problem with Mark’s account of what happened. “Mark says that the entire Sanhedrin voted to condemn Jesus,” I said. “If that’s true, this means Joseph of Arimathea cast his ballot to kill Jesus. Isn’t it highly unlikely that he would have then come to give Jesus an honorable burial?”
Apparently, my observation put me in good company. “Luke may have felt this same discomfort,” Craig said, “which would explain why he added one important detail — Joseph of Arimathea wasn’t present when the official vote was taken. So that would explain things. But the significant point about Joseph of Arimathea is that he would not be the sort of person who would have been invented by Christian legend or Christian authors.”
I needed more than merely a conclusion on that matter; I wanted some solid reasoning. “Why not?” I asked.
“Given the early Christian anger and bitterness toward the Jewish leaders who had instigated the crucifixion of Jesus,” he said, “it’s highly improbable that they would have invented one who did the right thing by giving Jesus an honorable burial — especially while all of Jesus’ disciples deserted him! Besides, they wouldn’t make up a specific member of a specific group, whom people could check out for themselves and ask about this. So Joseph is undoubtedly a historical figure.”
Before I could ask a follow-up question, Craig continued. “I’ll add that if this burial by Joseph were a legend that developed later, you’d expect to find other competing burial traditions about what happened to Jesus’ body. However, you don’t find these at all.
“As a result, the majority of New Testament scholars today agree that the burial account of Jesus is fundamentally reliable. John A. T. Robinson, the late Cambridge University New Testament scholar, said the honorable burial of Jesus is one of the earliest and best-attested facts that we have about the historical Jesus.”
As far as you (and I) are concerned I have no doubt that the fear you mention is simply a temptation of the devil, an effort to keep us away from God by despair. It is often the devil working through some defect in our health, and in extreme cases it needs a medical as well as a spiritual cure. So don’t listen to these fears and doubts any more than you would to any obviously impure or uncharitable thoughts. . . . Of course, like other evil temptations, they will not be silenced at once. You will think you have got rid of them and then they will come back again—and again. But, with all our temptations of all sorts, we must just endure this. Keep on, do your duty, say your prayers, make your communions, and take no notice of the tempter. He goes away in the end. Remember I John iii, 20 “If (=though) our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.”
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Words to Live By
The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
September 30, 2017
Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
George Beverly Shea was “America’s Beloved Gospel Singer,” who for seven decades thrilled the world with his rich voice. But Bev Shea was quite shy. As a young man he was a nervous wreck in front of crowds. Once when he was invited to give a talk, he wrote his dad asking for an outline. His father wrote back, saying, “Son, God helped Balaam’s donkey to talk, so I’m sure He can do something for you. Love, Dad.”1
Recommended Reading: Numbers 22:22-34
It was a lesson Bev Shea never forgot.
The Bible is a virtual zoo of interesting animals that have lessons for us—Jonah’s whale, Peter’s rooster, the scapegoat of Leviticus, the soaring eagle of Isaiah 40, the industrious ant of Proverbs, the birds of Matthew 10, and deer with their feet in high places in Habakkuk 3. The next time you see a member of God’s animal kingdom, praise God for His creative genius; and pause a moment to see if the Lord may have a biblical lesson for you from the lambs, foxes, doves, hens, bees, badgers, and gazelles.
When your donkey speaks, shut up and listen.
Read-Thru-the-Bible: Zechariah 11 – Malachi 4
A student of Zwingli and a good friend of Grebel, Felix Manz (1498 - 1527) was cofounder of the first congregation of Anabaptist Swiss Brethren. The son of a Catholic cleric, Manz, like Grebel, had a well-rounded sixteenth-century humanist liberal arts education that included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Like Grebel, he was imprisoned for preaching his new-found faith and for challenging the Zurich city council on the matter of believers' baptism.
In March of 1526, only months before Grebel's death of the plague, the Zurich city council had enacted a law making believers' baptism (rebaptism) a capital offence punishable by drowning. Manz would become the first Anabaptist martyred for this offence. Insisting that he was not seeking to prevent Reformers from baptizing infants, he argued that his only motive was "to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to leave the rest in their present conviction." But Zwingli and the city council were determined to make Manz's death a deterrent. Just two days before his drowning, Zwingli wrote to a fellow Reformer: "The Anabaptist, who should already have been sent to the devil, disturbs the peace of the pious people. But I believe, the axe will settle it."
But Manz would not be axed to death. Rather, officials execute him by his own baptismal prescription—immersion of an adult believer. His death is ridiculed as the third baptism: infant, believers, and drowning—"He who dips shall be dipped!" The story is chilling. Bullinger describes the scene: On a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in January of 1527, "Manz was taken out of the Wellenberg prison and led to the fish market there by the Limmat [River]. There his death sentence was read. He was taken to the butcher shop, and then forced into a boat, in which the executioner and a pastor were standing." A crowd of onlookers, including his mother and brother, had accompanied him. Offered an opportunity to recant, he publicly proclaims his faith, encouraged by his family and other supporters. He is then rowed some distance from shore, where he is pushed into the icy water, declaring his faith in Christ until the water engulfs him. Among the writings that he leaves behind is a hymn, the first lines offering his own testimony:
With gladness will I now sing;
My heart delights in God,
Who showed me such forbearance
That I from death was saved
Which never hath an end.
I praise Thee, Christ in heaven
Who all my sorrow changed.
In the weeks and months that follow, six more Anabaptists suffer a similar fate.
Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.
From Mere Christianity
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
Make War with Unbelief
By John Piper
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.(Ephesians 6:16–17)
When I am anxious about getting old, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7–9).
When I am anxious that I may make shipwreck of faith and fall away from God, I battle unbelief with the promises, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Join me in this battle! Let us make war, not with other people, but with our own unbelief. Unbelief in the promises of God is the root of anxiety, which, in turn, is the root of so many other sins. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, Paul said in Ephesians 6:17. The shield by which we quench Satan’s fiery deceits is faith (verse 16) — faith in that very word of God. So take up the shield in your left hand and the sword in your right hand, and let us fight the good fight of faith.
Take up the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for help, lay the promises up in your heart, and fight the good fight — to live by faith in future grace.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10, NIV
Think of a tall tree covered in green leaves with birds nesting in its branches. If we cut off a branch, it withers and dies. The only branches that thrive are connected to the flourishing tree. Sunlight is received by the leaves and water is drawn up through the roots.
When we are connected to Christ, opportunities and blessings we cannot imagine in our own strength become available to us. Instead of being limited by our own capacity and strength, we have His strength and power available to us. Each person called by God is equipped by God. We can rely on God, just as Moses and Joshua did.
God’s power is like a towering tree. We can let go of our expectations and self-sufficiency. The life He has for us is beyond what we can imagine or achieve on our own. The best part, He is with us and we can remain connected to Him through every season and in every moment of our lives. It is in our best interest to stay stuck on God. He is life.
The greatest barrier to knowing God’s will is simply that we want to run our own lives. Our problem is that a battle is going on in our hearts—a battle between our wills and God’s will.
Zechariah 6 – 10