Answering Objections to Visions: Part Three

Answering Objections-Part Three

In my previous essays, I did my best to answer the objections raised to the hypothesis of visions that I advocate for Christian origins. My previous essays, however, do not exhausively answer all the objections that are usually raised and so more essays are needed. In this essay, I will address an objection raised by William Lane Craig, in his book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus.


This objection is that the New Testament differentiates between visions on one hand and appearances on the other hand. Any hypothesis or theory of visions (which I argue for) or hallucinations (which I do not argue for), or what-have-you, doesn't explicate this difference and so any visionary hypothesis cannot in principle account for appearances because they do not fit the nature of a vision. In fact, Bill Craig, goes as far as to say that he believes that this is a fatal flaw to the vision hypothesis, like the one that I advocate. More than this, he explicitly challenges skeptics to explain the difference. While I willingly accept such a challenge, I hope that such a challenge is not stated with the intention of forcing a conversion among skeptics. I regret that Bill Craig is wasting his breath if he thinks a skeptic like me would gladly and cheerfully convert if I could not meet such a challenge. I have already spoken elsewhere what the personal consequences for me would be if I came to conclude the Christian gospel was valid: I would take my own life; I would see no reason to delay the inevitability of Hell. Never-the-less I enjoy a challenge and the more confrontational it is, the more I love to rise to the challenge, especially if answering it means putting confrontational Christian apologists in their places and just shutting them up! Craig puts forth this distinction in his book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, as follows:

"On the difference between visions and appearances of Christ, see the discussion by Grass, Ostergeschehen, pp. 189-207. Although Grass discounts most of the visions recorded in Acts as legendary, he nevertheless concludes, primarily on the basis of Paul's testimony, that the Easter appearances took place within a community that enjoyed visions, revelations, and estatic experiences (I Cor. 12-14; II Cor. 12: 1-5; Gal. 2:1; Acts 16:9). The community recognized, however, that the appearances of Christ were restricted to a small circle designated as witnesses and that even to them Jesus did not continually re-appear, but appeared only at the beginning of their new life.

"One cannot follow Grass, however, when he attempts to draw the essential distrinction between an appearance of Christ and a vision as being solely in content, viz.., in an appearance Christ was seen as exalted (Ibid., pp. 229-32) This is undoubtedly true, but surely a vision could be of the exalted Christ, too; indeed how could a Christian believer have a vision of the unexalted Christ? Both the vision of Stephen and the book of Revelation show that the visions of the exalted Lord which were not appearances were possible for the early Church. It is of no matter whether Stephen's vision be an unhistorical embellishment as Grass thinks; the point is that the church of Luke's day was prepared to accept that Stephen saw a vision of Christ. Grass' argument that Revelation is not a vision but a picture story because of the many portraits of Christ seems to presuppose that visions must be monotone. At any rate, the point is Revelation presents itself as a vision, thus showing again that the church did not object out of hand visions of the exalted Christ.

"Nor can it be said that the distinguishing element in an appearance as opposed to a vision was the comissioning, for appearances were known which lacked this element (the 500 brethren). What then distinguished an appearance from a vision? It seems to me that the most natural answer to this question is that an appearance involved extra-mental phenomena, something's actually appearing, whereas a visions, even if caused by God, was purely in the mind. Certainly this seems to be the way in which the New Testament concieves of the distinction. Visions, even veridical visions sent by God, are exclusively mental phenomena, whereas Jesus's appearances always involve an extra-mental appearing in the real, external world. The resistance to this conclusion among contemporary critics seem largely due to a philosophico-theological rejection of the physicalism of the gospels. On this basis, Grass superimposes the form of heavenly visions onto the resurrection appearances, and contemporary scholarship has followed him in this. (See Alsup, Stories, pp. 32, 54.) But if this is done, then-apart from it's being exegetically unjustified- it seems to me impossible to differentiate a vision and appearance, which the early church clearly did. It might be said that a vision, in modern parlance, a subjective vision, that is, a self-induced visionary seeing, but that an appearance is an objective vision, that is, a visionary seeing induced by God.

"This distinction, however, will not help to solve the problem, for so-called objective visions were experienced in the church and these were not ranked as appearances. For example, Peter's vision in Acts 10: 9-17 was certainly "objective" , for it was caused by God (10: 28), but it was not in the same class of phenomena as the appearances of Jesus. More the point, Stephen's vision of Jesus was probably "objective"- Luke does not want us to take it as a self-induced hallucination-, but this was not an appearance of Jesus. But what is the difference between what Stephen saw and what Paul experienced, such that the latter could be called an appearance of Jesus ( Acts 9: 17; contrast the vision to Ananias himself in 9:10 which was not an appearance)? What is the difference between Paul's opportunity on the Damascus road "to see the Just One to hear a voice from his mouth" (22: 14) and his subsequent appearance in the temple when he fell into a trance and saw Jesus speaking to him (22:17)? It is of no help to speak of subjective vs. objective visions, for the mind of the Jewish/Christian believer, all genuine visions were "objective"-anything else would be just an illusion. It seems to me, therefore, despite the modern antipathy to "physicalism," that the difference between a visions and an appearance of Jesus was that only in the latter did he actually appear in the external world. The support for this view is two-fold: 1.) exegetically this is consistently the difference between the two; 2.) if one rejects this view, then the distinction between an appearance and a vision which was made in the early church threatens to dissolve." ( William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus footnote pgs. 68-69)"

First of all, I am not all that convinced that such a distinction really exists or that it is as strong as some Christians make it out to be. Furthermore, if I was to accept that such a distinction did exist, I would have to conclude that such a distinction is no accident nor did it arise because of divine revelation. I would conclude that such a distinction evolved in the Christian community for apologetical purposes. The scope of this essay, therefore, is to illustrate why I am not convinced that the distinction is that strong and subsequently to show precisely how such a distinction originated as a matter of apologetics in early Christianity. I believe that if such a distinction exists, then its origins as an apologetic is precisely what critics like myself would come to expect on the basis that the visionary hypothesis of Christian origins is valid. In other words, I believe that the visionary hypothesis that I am advocating actually can be made to predict that such a distinction may evolve in the early Christian communities as an apologetic, especially against heretics and critics. So let me first deal with the two answers I have proposed, that 1.) such a distinction might not exist or be as strong as Christians claim it to be and 2.) that granting such a distinction exists, it originated as apologetics against heretics and critics.

First of all, I want to make a qualifying remark about this essay. I want to state my main counter-theses in order to answer Craig's thesis and then defend my theses with arguments against his objections to them. This essay is not meant to be an extensive defense of my arguments nor an extenisve survey of historical and textual evidence for my counter-theses. I simply wish to state Craig's thesis and my arguments in terms of a counter-thesis, thereby answering Craig's objections to my counter-theses. An extensive review of historical and textual evidence will be forthcoming in a later essay or essay series and will commence as soon as I feel I have completed my analysis of arguments for and against my theses in greater detail which will take some time.

Why is it that I think that such a distinction might not really exist or be as strong as some apologists make it out to be? It seems to me that if such a distinction exists, it seems to originate with the canonical gospels themselves. Going earlier into the New Testament corpus, especially the written works of apostles such as St. Paul, such a distinction doesn't seem to exist. In 1st Corinthians 15: 3-7, it has been argued that Paul is passing on a creed to the Corinthians, one that he recieved. The creed has a list of appearances of the risen Jesus to various people. Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose from the dead according to the Scriptures, appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve, to more than 500 people, to James, to the disciples, and finally to Paul who came into the fold rather late. The Greek word for "appear" in this creed is ophthe. Is this significant? I believe that is is. In another letter, generally regarded as authentically Pauline by many New Testament critical scholars, is the letter to the Galatian Christian Church. In it, Paul recounts how he was converted by God. Paul uses a word for God revealing Christ to Paul, and the Greek word is not ophthe but a word meaning "revelation" Is this significant? I believe that it is. From what I understand, this Greek word in Galatians is used normally to denote visions. It is the same word used in the canonical New Testament book of "Revelation". The significance of these Greek words can now be understood. I take it that Paul had a visionary experience on the road to Damascus as the word suggests in Galatians. If one accepts both 1st Corinthians 15 and the creed as authentically Pauline, and furthermore, as perfectly compatible and harmonizable with what is written in Galatians, then one has to conclude that the Greek word meaning "revelation" in Galatians is describing the same exact experience as the Greek word ophthe in 1st Corinthians 15.

Futhermore, Paul uses the same Greek word ophthe to describe the appearance of Jesus to others in the 1st Corinthians 15 creed. To me, this means one of two things: that since both Greek words ophthe and the one meaning "revelation" are both used to describe Paul's Damascus experience, that it was necessarily a vision. I take this to mean that Paul had a visionary experience on the road to Damascus and that the Greek word for ophthe in this context necessarily means a visionary experience. I also conclude that it's prima facie likely that since the same Greek word ophthe is used to describe the appearance of the risen Jesus to others, then others had visionary experiences involving altered-states-of-conciousness as well. Thus I conclude that such a distinction is either weak or nonexistent. True, I am willing to grant that the Greek word ophthe can be more than a visionary experience of some sort, but I believe that additional textual indicators must exist to modify it in such a way to make it mean that more than a mere visionary experience happened. There would have to be textual indicators/modifiers to show something physically and tangeably happened that could not be otherwise if it was an actual phyiscal and tangeable encounter with the risen Jesus who ate fish and drank in front of the disciples, something no visionary experience, whether to a singular person or collectively to a group of people at a time, could cause. I don't believe that any such textual indicators or modifiers exist in the 1st Corinthians 15 creed or in the letter to the Galatians. I, therefore conclude that it's prima facie likely that all of the postmortem appearances of Jesus were, in fact, originally visionary experiences involving altered-states-of-conciousness and nothing more.

Let me grant for the sake of discussion that there really was a distinction in the early Christian Churches between visions and appearances. Does such a distinction destroy the visionary hypothesis that I advocate? Not at all. In fact, I believe that my visionary hypothesis can be made to predict that such an distinction would arise as an apologetic against heresy and criticism, especially those of Gnostics and other heretics who share a heresy in early Christian times, the heresy known as "Docetism". This was a heresy that Jesus didn't have an actual body of flesh and blood, only that he appeared to have one. For this essay, I had originally planned to use Charles Talbert's work Luke and the Gnostics but I have since learned from very recent e-mail correspondence with Dr. Talbert, that he considers this work (an expansion of his doctoral dissertation) to be "woefully outdated" and has recommended to me a very recently updated book of his Reading Luke which was published by him in 2002 and contains his updated views on the subject. I have yet to purchase this book and fully read it and so I cannot at this time incorporate his recent work into my essay. However, I do believe that however outdated Talbert's original work on the subject was, Craig's critique of Talbert's argument, that Luke's narrative served as an anti-Docetic apologetic, fails. Let me quote Craig at length and provide my own critique of his rebuttal at various points.

"Actually, there are postive reasons to think that the physicalism of the gospels is not an anti-Docetic apologetic: (1) As we have seen, for a Jew the very terms 'resurrection' entailed a physical resurrection of the dead man in the tomb. The notion of a 'spiritual resurrection' was not merely unknown; it was a contradiction in terms. Therefore, in saying that Jesus was raised and appeared, the early believers must have understood this in physical terms."

How was a "spiritual resurrection" a contradiction in terms? While I don't necessarily adhere to the theory that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had a spiritually resurrected body, I don't see anything as particular refuting it. The best case for the spiritual resurrection, in my judgement, has been provided by historian Richard Carrier in his essay "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb". I think that Carrier has a very interesting case but I lack the scholarly knowledge to know for absolutely sure (such as a good knowlege of Greek). I am aware of some criticisms of Carrier's arguments and I believe that any produced by such folks like Michael Licona deserve serious consideration ( I find it hard to take seriously the apologetics of Robert Turkel; am I to suppose that Turkel, who thought that the Greek word for "rise", anestemi, was used "twice for emphasis" in the gospels knows more about Greek than Richard Carrier? Am I to believe that Turkel is a better intellect than Carrier? Yeah, right! If I am to accept that, why not little green men on Mars?)

I really don't buy into most of the critiques I have seen of the "spiritual resurrection". I believe that it's a mistake made by both advocates and critics of this theory of Christian origins, to see it as a matter of "physical vs. spiritual". I believe that New Testament scholars like Robert Gundry have amply shown that the Greek word for body, soma was always and necessarily a physical substance (see his work Soma in Biblical Theology). I believe that it's better to view the argument over the "spiritual resurrection" in terms of "flesh vs. a lack of flesh". If the earliest Christians really did believe that Jesus was spiritually resurrected, I don't believe the earliest Christians would've seen Jesus' body as being nonphysical. This, I consider to be an erroneous view. Rather, I believe that if the earliest Christians would've seen Jesus as being spiritually resurrected, I believe that they would've seen the body as a physical body, just one lacking flesh (because it was made of the same heavenly substance as the sun, moon, and stars were; these were also soma lacking in flesh!). If the concept of a "spiritual resurrection" really is the best way to see Paul's discussion of the resurrection in 1st Corinthians 15: 37-50, the distinction between "natural bodies" on one hand and "spiritual bodies" on the other hand, would best be understood as a distinction between bodies (soma) containing flesh (the natural, earthly bodies) and bodies (soma) lacking flesh. All are physical but not all contain flesh. I have to repeat again; I don't necessarily advocate the theory of Christian origins that Carrier proposes. I think it's an interesting theory and I don't ultimately know how to evaluate it simply for the reason that I am not, yet, a New Testament scholar myself.

I leave the argument about a "spiritual resurrection" as an open question that I would like to investigate in graduate school when I have more scholarly resources and knowledge to do so. For the time being, I would also like to say that I have no problem accepting that the earliest Christians believed Jesus to be raised with a body of flesh and I am willing to accept this as a core historical fact and that the "spiritual resurrection" was not something believed by anyone. Even accepting this, I don't exactly think that Craig has succeeded in rebutting the contention that the resurrection narratives of Luke and John were anti-Docetic narratives. He can try and try as he may wish but I hope to show that he hasn't proven his case.

"It was Docetism which was the response to this physicalism, not the other way around. The physical resurrection is thus primitve and prior, Docetism being the later reaction of theological and philosophical reflection."

This is fine; I have no qualms with this. I can accept that the earliest Christians, such as Jesus' immediate disciples believed Jesus to have been resurrected in a body of flesh. I can accept as a core historical fact that many of Jesus' disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them in a risen body of flesh and that the visionary experiences involving altered-states-of-consciousness that they had were visions of a risen Jesus with a fleshly body. I can see Docetism as emerging as a response to this and thus the resurrection narratives serving as rebuttal to this heresy and reinforcing the earlier, yet mistaken view of the earliest disciples. It doesn't mean I accept for a moment that Jesus really did appear to his disciples and ate fish in front of them on the eve of Easter in Jerusalem as Luke's gospel says. I have no problem with a belief in a risen Jesus of bodily flesh being primitive and prior to Docetism.

I believe that the point to remember is that the Greek word for "appear" in the 1st Corinthians 15 creed only means that the groups who believed that they saw Jesus, believed that Jesus simply appeared to them. Docetism would argue, later, that Jesus only appeared to have a body of flesh. The disciples mistook the apparent body of flesh for the real thing and were thus fooled into thinking Jesus had a risen body of flesh. The key point of the Docetists was that Jesus didn't have a body of flesh but only appeared to have a body of flesh. In other words, the Docetists argued, true, that Jesus didn't have a body of flesh, but argued more importantly, that Jesus only appeared to have one. No doubt that the disciples of Jesus mistook an apparent body of flesh for the real thing, but the argument of Docetists here was simple: appearances are decieving and the disciples were victims of this misunderstanding.

"(2) Moreover, had purely 'spiritual appearances' been original, then it is difficult to see how the physical appearances could have developed. For (a) the offense of Docetism would then be removed, since the Christians, too, believed in purely spiritual appearances, and (b) the doctrine of physical appearances would have been counter-productive as an apologetic, both to Jews and to pagans; to Jews because they did not accept an individual resurrection within history and to pagans because their belief in the immortality of the soul could not accomodate the crudity of physical resurrection. The church therefore have retained its purely spiritual appearances."

Once again, I believe that it's best to see any doctrine of a "spiritual resurrection" as involving a physical body yet lacking flesh. I don't believe that there would've been any denial of physicality. The point would've been that the earliest Christians, if the theory of a "spiritual resurrection" is valid, would've believed that Jesus' risen body lacked flesh. But if Jesus was believed to have had a spiritual body, then the threat of Docetism would've been removed and the necessity of anti-Docetic apologetics would've been superflous, right? Does Craig have a good point here? I am not sure that he does. I tend to agree that the earliest Christians, if they believed in a "spiritual resurrection", might have agreed with Docetists about the risen Jesus, but Docetists went further and denied that Jesus had really suffered death on the cross (something no early Christian would've been able to accept) and that Jesus never had been born or incarnated in a body of flesh (something Christians would've found insulting and offensive).

We have to keep in mind, then, that the offense of Docetism wouldn't necessarily have been removed, because Docetists weren't just denying that Jesus had a risen body of flesh- they were denying Jesus ever had any body of flesh during his whole existence on earth. Naturally, Christians would see the need to combat it. Some Christians might've been content with rebutting Docetism up to the point of Jesus' physical death as it was seen as necessary for atonement purposes, while others would probably have gone all the way to the point of completely wiping Docetism out altogether, for they would've believed Jesus to have been vindicated by God and therefore, raised from the dead in a body of flesh.

Does Craig's second objection fly here too? Would the anti-Docetic apologetic be offensive to both Jews and pagans? That depends on whom the audience of the gospels were. Craig tends to think here (lest I am mistaken) that the gospels were written as tools to help win over skeptics. I believe that the gospels were written by Christians and for Christians and no one else. If I am right, what would it matter what Jews or pagans thought? The gospels were written by Christians and for Christians and so any anti-Docetic apologetics would be to reinforce the faith of Christian believers, not to silence skeptics be they Jews or pagans or to convince them of the errors of their ways (I'm sure Craig would love it if it were; I am sure that Craig would love nothing more than to have some undeniable proof that Jesus rose from the dead to give to modern 21st century skeptics like me, so he could drag us kicking and screaming into the faith).

Moreover, I think that Craig is grossly mistaken here. The Jews would not have accepted an individual resurrection? How does Craig know this? I don't doubt that a number of Jews wouldn't have accepted any individual resurrections before the general resurrection, but Craig is really stretching if he seriously believes that this would apply universally without any possible exception whatsoever across the board when it comes to all first century Jews.

"(3) Besides, Docetism was mainly aimed at denying the reality of the incarnation of Christ (1 Jn. 4: 2-3; II Jn. 7), not the physical resurrection. Docetists were not so interested in denying the physical resurrection as in denying that the divine Son perished on the cross; hence, some held that the Spirit deserted the human Jesus at the crucifixion, leaving the human Jesus to die and be physically raised (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.26. 1). An anti-Docetic aimed at proving a physical resurrection therefore misses the point entirely."

I disagree. I believe that the incarnation, crucifxion, and resurrection were points of denial for Docetists. Suppose that Craig is right and the Docetists were mainly denying the incarnation and not so much the resurrection and it the narratives could hardly serve as an anti-Docetic apologetic. Even if the Docetists didn't so much deny that Jesus had a risen body of flesh, there were other Gnostic groups that did. I would at least accept that the narratives were written as some kind of apologetic against those who denied that Jesus had a risen body of flesh, even if it wasn't really the Docetists. There were four general groups, such as the Docetists, Adoptionists, Separationists, and Patripassiantists, but these categories were not so clean-cut and rigid; there was variation and spectrum within the groups.

"(4) The demonstrations of corporeality and continuity in the gospels, as well as the other physical appearances, do not seem to have been redactional additions of Luke or John ( it is thus incorrect to speak, for example, of "Luke's apologetic against Gnosticism"), but were part of the traditions recieved by the evangelists. Docetisim, however, was a later theological development, attested to in John's letters. Therefore, the gospel accounts of the physical resurrection tend to ante-date the rise and threat of Docetisim."

And how did Craig determine this? I want to know how this is any more than Craig's pontifical "say-so". Why does Craig think that the demonstrations of corporeality and continuity in the gospels are not "redactional additions"? I know for a fact that Craig accepts the Markan priority of the gospels and seems to accept that Matthew and Luke used Mark in their composition. If Luke can redact Mark's gospel and change a prediction (coming from Mark's "young man") of Jesus appearing in Galilee to a prediction of Jesus back when he was in Galilee (as Luke makes the women seem to remember Jesus' words) why can't Luke go beyond the traditions that he had in Mark (and Q?) and go onto write an apologetic against docetism, incorporating corporeality and making such narratives continuous with the rest of the narratives he composed in his gospel? How does Craig know that Jesus eating fish in front of his disciples and inviting them to touch him and showing himself to doubting Thomas were part of the traditions recieved by the evangelists? How does Craig know this?

One last point: Craig repeats himself by saying that Docetism was a later theological development, this time adding the qualifying phrase "attested to in John's letters". I don't necessarily think that Docetism originated at the time of its first mention in John's letters. I believe that Docetism was alive and well before John wrote his letters. I want to be careful here and say that I am not going to attach a precise date as to the origin of Docetism. I really don't know when it originated but I don't think it originated after Luke wrote his gospel and necessarily before John wrote his. I suspect Craig wants more than anything for this to be the case so he can make his work of trying to get modern skeptics to accept the resurrection and get them saved a lot easier. I think that perhaps Docetism originated sometime shortly after 70 C.E. and the gospels have an increasing tendency towards a more corporeal and fleshly Jesus, starting without any resurrection appearances in Mark, one which the disciples see Jesus but don't touch him in Matthew, to Jesus eating fish and inviting contact in Luke and finally a full-blown anti-Docetic apologetic in John's gospel. This may reflect various stages at which Docetism grew in strength and became a threat. Perhaps when Mark wrote his gospel, it wasn't percieved to be that much of a threat (if any) and perhaps was in its nascental stages and evolving more and more during the writing of Matthew and Luke to the point where John's opening prologue was specifically shooting down Docetism as were the letters attributed to John.

"Moreover, not even all later Gnostics denied the physical resurrection ( cf. Gospel of Philip, Letters of James, and Epistle of Rheginus). It is interesting that even in the ending of Mark there is actually a switch away from material proofs of the resurrection to a verbal rebuke by Jesus for the disciples' unbelief."

I am pleased to hear Craig say this! Not all later Gnostics denied the physical resurrection! I also believe that not all early Gnostics denied it either nor had all of them accepted it. I believe that there was a bit of variety among different sects of Gnosticism and perhaps stretching over time. Now it's question time again, boys and girls: how does Craig know that Mark's ending is meant to be a switch away from material proofs of the resurrection?

"(5) The demonstrations themselves do not evince the rigorousness of an apologetic against Docetism. In both Luke and John it is not said that either the disciples or Thomas actually accepted Jesus' invitation to touch him and prove that he was not a Spirit. Contrast the statements of Ignatius that the disciples did physically touch Jesus (Ignatius Ad Smyrnaeans 3.2; cf. Epistula Apostolorum 11-12). As Schnackenburg has said, if an anti-Docetic apology were involved in the gospel accounts, more would have to have been done than Jesus' merely showing the wounds."

I beg Craig's pardon? Eating fish in front of the disciples "does not evince the rigorousness of an apologetic against Docetism"? Was it not Craig who made this stink about the distinction between visions and appearances in the first place? How rigorous does "rigorous" have to be? Does Jesus have to take a stainless steel stake and pound it through his right hand, have his disciples verify that it penetrated by getting blood from Jesus' hand onto their hands, only to have Jesus take the stake out and have his disciples watch his hand heal itself in front of them as though Jesus is a mutant with superhuman powers like the comic book character "Wolverine" in Marvel's The Uncanny X-Men May I suggest something for readers here? May I suggest that not all anti-Docetic apologetics need be the same in terms of rigor and intensity? Docetism, I believe, just like every other heresy, started out small and grew with time. Not every apologetic designed to answer heresies like Docetism need be as rigorous as the next. Luke's apologetic is not as rigorous as would, say, John's because Docetism needn't have been considered as dangerous a heresy in Luke's time as it would've been in John's time. In fact, it may well have been in its nascental and infant stages at the time of Mark's writing which might be why Mark doesn't have any resurrection narratives designed to illustrate that Jesus really did have a body of flesh. From Mark to Matthew, Docetism might have grown somewhat and may have started to become a threat in Luke's time with it evolving to the point of a dangerous heresy in John's time. Ignatius, writing later, wants to assert that the disciples did phyiscally touch Jesus because such a level of rigorousness and seriousness would be needed to combat Docetism in his time, whereas in earlier times it probably wasn't that strong and, hence, not that big a threat and not commanding that much in terms of resources to combat it.

"(6) The incidental, off-hand character of the physicality of Jesus' resurrection appearances in most of the accounts shows that the physicalism was a natural assumption or presupposition of the accounts, not an apologetic point consciously being made. For example, the women's grasping Jesus' feet is not a polemical point, but just their response of worship. Similarly, Jesus says, 'Do not hold me,' though Mary is not explictly said to have done so; this is no conscious effort to prove a physical resurrection. The appearances on the mountain and by the Sea of Tiberias just naturally presuppose a phyiscal Jesus; no points are trying to be scored against Docetism."

Fleshly physicalism may have been a natural assumption to begin with for the earliest Christians but that needn't mean that it wasn't in need of defending by the time that the gospels were pinned. Indeed, not every minor little detail need be polemically against Docetism. These may have just been the kind of details that many Christians believe Jesus would've done had he a risen body of flesh, regardless of how much of a threat Docetism was in their minds. But the eating of fish, the showing of wounds, and Jesus preparing breakfast for his disciples are the exact sort of feats that would be expected to count aginst Docetism. Depending on the composition and the various stages in the evolution of heresies like Docetism, we can expect there to be varying accounts of anti-Docetic apologetics, with varying degrees of physical interaction and corporeality, depending on how widespread and serious the threat of Docetism or any other antiflesh heresy that existed in New Testament times was. Some accounts will not have much physical action performed by Jesus while others will have Jesus doing a lot of physical feats that a mere vision could not do. Now we come to the finale of Craig's rebuttal here...

"Together these considerations strongly suggest that the physical appearance were not as apologetic to Docetism, but always part of the church's tradition; there seems to be no good historical reason to doubt that Jesus did, in fact, show his disciples that he had been physically raised from the dead." ( Craig, William Lane, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus pgs. 330-338)"

Craig would seriously love to think this, wouldn't he? Anything to convince a modern skeptic to become a Christian. Unfortunately, it is Craig who is mistaken here, not Talbert or anyone else. These considerations, I hope to have shown, are flawed and do not make Craig's case as strong as he would like to think that they do. Craig hasn't shown how they were always part of the Church's tradition and hasn't answered Talbert's original arguments. In conclusion, though, I want to say that the fleshly corporeality of the resurrection narratives introduce a Jesus who physically interacts with the world and is no mere vision and that there is a extra-mental phenomenon at work behind the scenes. But the gospels were not written to convince post-Enlightenment skeptics like me but I believe were designed to answer those who would deny that Jesus had risen in the flesh.

The most important part is not so much that heretics at all did deny that Jesus had a body of flesh at any point of time in his earthly existence, but that he appeared to have one but really didn't. The emphasis was on appearances and this was the big point behind Gnosticism. Those blessed with the spiritual knowledge of the Gnostics knew better. The disciples believed Jesus appeared to them and Jesus did but Jesus fooled them into thinking he had a body of flesh. Jesus only appeared to have had one and the Gnostics had this sacred knowledge that Jesus didn't inhibit a body of flesh. Even if it wasn't the Docetics per se who posed a heretical threat to the earliest Christians, there were some antiflesh heretics who would need to be seriously dealt and rebutted.

This, I believe, might adequately account for the distinction between visions on one hand, and appearances on the other. Supposing that Craig is right about the distinction, I am convinced that any such distinction was apologetic in origin. This was the best way I believe that the Christians of Luke and John's community combated heretics. What's more, it also kept the lid on heretics and not only rebutted their antiflesh heresy but also prevented them from claiming any pedigree in the Church as the true disciples of Jesus and their discipleship going back to inner circle of Jesus himself. Any true Christian, any true disciples of Jesus, would have had to talk with him, to walk with him, to touch him, to have eaten with him and to have drink with him. Thus Jesus had a body of flesh after his death and rose to the heavens in it. Only the original apostolic circle was really in a position to claim any kind of pedigree and legitimacy as to being heirs of Jesus and being his disciples, because only they walked, talked, and ate with Jesus, saw him crucified, and saw him risen from the dead, and ascend into the heavens. This, I believe, explains the witness motif of Luke's gospel: to be an apostle, you have to had been appointed by those who were witnesses to Jesus' fleshly corporeality.

Thus, I believe that Craig's third objection may be answered.


Matthew

4 comments:

Bahnsen Burner said...

Some very interesting points, Matthew, and though I’ve not finished reading yet, I’m already moved to comment.

It seems to me that if such a distinction exists, it seems to originate with the canonical gospels themselves. Going earlier into the New Testament corpus, especially the written works of apostles such as St. Paul, such a distinction doesn't seem to exist.

While I suppose there may have been many reasons why the gospels’ authors chose to write their narratives, one purpose they serve is to provide a vehicle for answering charges that Christian communities no doubt frequently received, namely that their forebears were hallucinating or seeing visions or having some kind of psychotic episode which lacked any basis in fact. A man resurrected in the spirit gives no tangible evidence to settle such accusations. But a man resurrected in a physical body which even doubters could see and touch would overcome such charges. Of course, writing and distributing stories like those we find in the New Testament does not turn fiction into fact.

We do not find stories of a physical body resurrection in the earliest layers of the New Testament. The gospels, coming later, were fabricated at least in part with the ambition of answering non-Christian critics. Here we have, it is claimed, actual histories, written by eyewitnesses to the things they recorded (such as Mary divinely conceiving?), written too early, we are told, to have been the product of developing legends (I remember seeing stories of Elvis – the other King – being seen shortly after his death in 1977).

What is important to remember, however, is that contemporary Christian testimony proves that modern believers do not think that Jesus needs to put in a show-stopping appearance in the flesh in order to be personally experienced by the believer. In my review of Steven Carr’s exchange with Christian Canon Michael Cole, I focused on just this very point, which Carr himself rightly made in discussing Cole’s testimony. In his personal testimony, Cole tells us: “There was one particular experience when I was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me in the church I was serving, asking whether we would make him Lord of that church... I wouldn’t say anything about that for 24 hours, it was too personal, too close.“ Was this a physical Jesus standing beside Canon Michael? Well, if it were a physical Jesus, wouldn’t everyone else have seen Jesus as well, thus not needing to be told about it later by Canon Michael? Obviously only Canon Michael was aware of Jesus’ presence as he experienced it. No physical Jesus was needed for this. Christians will object to me supposing that Canon Michael merely imagined his Jesus standing there beside him. But what do they offer in place of this? In my review, I concluded that Jesus is a mood – a self-indulged affective state swirling with heightened emotions centering on the emotive stock put in the Jesus which the believer has concocted in his imagination.

Also, in my blog Did the Author of I Peter See the Risen Jesus of the Gospels? I reviewed the epistle looking for any hint suggesting that its author was the Peter of the gospels. It relates no account of having seen a physical Jesus resurrected after being crucified. If I were a Christian, I’d find this quite disconcerting, but that's probably because I am acutely conscientious by nature (which is why I'm not a Christian in the first place). Peter was chief among Jesus’ apostles. And yet, when he writes a letter to encourage other Christians about the hope that awaits, he does not appeal to any experience of a risen Jesus walking around in the flesh to substantiate that hope? As a non-believer, I have no predetermined commitment to the outcome that the author of the epistle actually witnessed anything unusual. He was just like Paul, taken up in a mood which was considered religiously significant.

Regards,
Dawson

Steve Johnson said...

Well written piece. I would like to point out, though, that you'd be better off avoiding the argument comparing Ga. 1 and 1 Co 15. I'm assuming you're referring either to Ga. 1:12 or Ga. 1:16, where the word is either apocalypto (to reveal) or apocolypseos (revelation). I believe that this is a weak argument because Paul is likely referring to revelation subsequent to his initial encounter on the Damascus road.

I think your argument from the appearances of 1 Co. 15 alone is strong. You are correct that there is no lexical distinction between the appearances to Peter, the 12, the 500 and Paul. In each case, the word is ophthe. Interestingly, the lexical form for ophthe is horoo, which is the same word that is used in Ac. 7:55, where Stephen "sees" the glory of God and Jesus. In this case, the form of the word is eiden, but the lexical form is still horoo as in 1 Co. 15. In 1 Co. 15, ophthe is simply the aorist passive, meaning "was seen". In Ac. 7, the word is the aorist active, meaning "saw". If you read enough translations, you'll see that about 1/3 or more of them translate the "appearances" in 1 Co. 15 as "was seen by..." in each case.

I'm not sure why Craig would appeal to lexical or grammatical arguments for distinctions between appearances and visions, as this seems to be the weakest line I can think of.

Matthew said...

Steve,

I very much appreciate your comments here. I just wanted to ask you a few questions if you don't mind. You wrote: Well written piece. I would like to point out, though, that you'd be better off avoiding the argument comparing Ga. 1 and 1 Co 15. I'm assuming you're referring either to Ga. 1:12 or Ga. 1:16, where the word is either apocalypto (to reveal) or apocolypseos (revelation). I believe that this is a weak argument because Paul is likely referring to revelation subsequent to his initial encounter on the Damascus road."

I'd like to ask how you arrived at that conclusion, if you don't mind elaborating.

"I'm not sure why Craig would appeal to lexical or grammatical arguments for distinctions between appearances and visions, as this seems to be the weakest line I can think of."

Oh? Why does it strike you as being weak? I am curious as to how my arguments can be framed better.

Matthew

Steve Johnson said...

In response to my assertion that the comparison of Ga. 1 and 1 Co. 15 was weak, Matthew asked:
I'd like to ask how you arrived at that conclusion, if you don't mind elaborating.

Sure. In Ga. 1:12, Paul says he received "it" not from man, but through revelation. The "it" in v. 12, of course, is the "gospel which was preached by me" from v. 11. If you follow Paul's arguments throughout his writings, you see that they are very complex at times. I don't think it would be reasonable to think that advanced theological treatises such as Romans were revealed to him in one go on the Damascus road. I would contend that it was during the three-year hiatus described in 1:16-18 that he developed his understanding of the gospel he preached and that, as he understood it, it was by revelation, rather than the teachings of men.

Secondly, vv. 15-18 say this:

"But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem." NASB

First of all, his purpose in saying that he did not consult with flesh and blood is to demonstrate that he had received the gospel through revelation, rather than through the traditions of men. If this revelation had occurred on the Damascus road, why would he make this argument? The revelation must have happened during the hiatus in order for his argument to make any sense.

Note also that when Paul says "when He...was pleased to reveal his Son in me" that Paul had already been called, which calling I would take to mean the Damascus road encounter.


In response to my assertion that Dr. Craig's lexical and grammatical arguments were weak, Matthew asked:
Oh? Why does it strike you as being weak?

Upon further review of what you quoted of Dr. Craig, I think I may be putting words in his mouth. I must actually be responding to other arguments I've read that try to draw purely lexical distinctions between appearances and visions. A comparison of the words used in 1 Co. 15 and Ac. 7:55 demonstrate that that's a tough argument to sell. Another one to add to this short list is Ac. 9:17, where when Ananias speaks to paul of "...the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming...", the same word is used. Again, the word here is ophtheis, which is the aorist passive participle of horao (I misspelled this word in my previous post. I believe it should be transliterated as horao, not horoo.) So here are three references where the same word is used to describe appearances to Stephen, Paul, Peter, the 12 and the 500.

I will grant that the appearance accounts in the resurrection narratives are very different than the vision of Stephen or of Saul's vision on the road. The point, though, is that such a distinction probably didn't exist in Paul's mind and that there is manifestly no distinction at the lexical level in any of the passages. No one can point to the Greek words that are used and draw any kind of distinction. It takes much more than that. It takes a developed story.