This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
In his debate with you and, on pp. 175 & 211 in his book "Jesus is Dead," Dr. Robert Price argues that the notion of resurrections are likely not all that unexpected in 2nd Temple Judaism and/or totally absent from the 1st century Jewish world view. He specifically cites the case of some wondering if Jesus is the resurrected John the Baptist.
Beyond your answer that points out Price's essential category error (resurrected mere men are not the same thing as the expectation of a resurrected Messiah), could you please elaborate further as to why the two instances (Jesus mistaken as John resurrected and Jewish allowances for a dying & resurrected God) are wholly distinct?
Many thanks from a former student! (Biola Apologetics MA)
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Glad to take your question, Paul! The passage at issue is Mark 6.14-16, concerning reports of Jesus’ ministry of miracle-working:
King Herod heard of it; for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
One of the facts which must be explained by any historian wishing to give an account of Jesus’ fate and the origin of the Jesus movement after his death is the fact that the earliest disciples came suddenly and sincerely to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite every predisposition to the contrary. For example, the idea of the resurrection of an isolated person apart from and in advance of the general resurrection at the end of the world was simply unknown in ancient Judaism. That datum makes it more challenging to explain why the disciples came to believe such a thing of Jesus.
Some have used the passage above to dispute the claim that the idea of an isolated resurrection in the midst of history was unknown in ancient Judaism. Such a response makes a category mistake, as you note. But you seem to have misunderstood what the category mistake is. It is not a confusion between the resurrection of Messiah and the resurrection of a mere man. Rather it is the confusion between revivification and resurrection. A person revived from death merely returned to the mortal life and would die again; a resurrection in Jewish thinking was to glory and immortality. Certainly miraculous revivifications of the dead were known—Jesus himself raised the dead in that sense—, but such revivifications were not, properly speaking, resurrections. So the Markan passage does not provide a counterexample to the claim that in Judaism resurrection was always a corporate, eschatological event, any more than does Jesus’ reviving Lazarus from the grave.
What more needs to be said, however, is that Herod and the people were not talking about either John’s revivification or resurrection. This is blindingly obvious from the fact that Jesus and John were contemporaries—Jesus was active in ministry simultaneously with John. Before John was arrested and beheaded, Jesus was alive and active. So people couldn’t possibly have thought that Jesus was literally the beheaded corpse of John the Baptist brought back to life.
Rather what’s going on here, as the comment “that is why these powers are at work in him” reveals, is that people see that the mantle of John the Baptist has now fallen on Jesus. The same power that inspired John rests on Jesus, and Jesus continues what John began. It is as if one were to say that Jesus is the reincarnation of John. But that metaphor would fit a Hindu context, not a Jewish one. In a Jewish context, one would say, as Herod did, that Jesus is John risen from the dead—not literally but figuratively.
What remains to be asked is whether, when the disciples proclaimed that God had raised Jesus from the dead, they were speaking merely figuratively, not literally. Their belief in Jesus’ empty tomb and post-mortem appearances, as well as Paul’s reflections in I Corinthians 15, shows otherwise.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org