This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig,
I wanted to start off by saying that I am a great admirer of your work. Your apologetics are superb and have really helped me feel confidence in my faith. I am a Christian, and I really do see you as inspirational in the world of theology. You've said before that you do not have "fans", merely students, but I would probably consider myself a fan. My question is in regards to the Origin of the Disciple's Belief, which is one of the main facts you use in argument for the Resurrection. I know that the disciples had a Jewish concept of resurrection, and thus believed in a general raising of the dead rather than an individual raising. However, I was wondering why the disciples quote the Psalms during their sermons given in Acts, as though they believed that these passages spoke of resurrection.
Specifically, I'm referring to Psalm 16, where David mentions how the Holy One's flesh would not see corruption. At first I believed that David either meant this in a poetic, metaphorical sense, or perhaps was referring to the general resurrection. However, if this was the case, then why would the disciples quote from it as to directly parallel David's body with Christ's? It seems that the Atheist could argue that this passage inspired the origin of the disciple's belief, as they speak of Jesus "fulfilling" this passage. Couldn't this passage be used to argue that the resurrection wasn't necessary for the origin of the disciple's belief, but rather the Psalms could have been misinterpreted to give the impression that Individual Resurrection was indeed something that was alluded to in the Old Testament, but only fulfilled later by Jesus? I know that the disciples didn't have expectations of a dying and rising Messiah, but this passage has always bothered me, especially since it is quoted in Acts by Peter.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
You ask, “Why would the disciples quote [Ps 16.10] as to directly parallel David's body with Christ's?” The answer that they wanted to show that Jesus’ resurrection was in some sense a fulfillment of Scripture, and, since the Old Testament has almost nothing to say about the resurrection, they had to apply novel interpretations to passages that weren’t really about the resurrection. Now if that sort of hermeneutic strikes you as dishonest, understand that for an ancient Jewish exegete discerning such deeper meanings in the Scriptures was normal procedure and would be seen as a strength of one’s view. Giving a novel interpretation to familiar passages was seen as providing additional insight into Scripture.
So in Psalm 16. 9-10 David says,
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
He’s not talking about some future resurrection; rather he’s saying that God will preserve his life (“not give me up to Sheol”). The Psalm is not about rising from the dead but avoiding death!
The Apostle Peter lends to the Psalm the novel interpretation that it is about the Messiah’s resurrection, thereby discovering a deeper layer of meaning (Acts 2.29-32). Jews of that day might say in response, “Hmm! I never read it that way before. Interesting!”
The very obscurity of such Old Testament passages (Hosea 6.2 and the story of Jonah and the whale are other examples) has led scholars to reject the 19th century view that the disciples came to believe that Jesus was risen by reading such Old Testament passages. On the contrary, nobody would have read them that way apart from a prior belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Because they had come to believe that Jesus was risen, the disciples went to the Old Testament to find proof texts for their belief. That usually involved reading such passages in a new way that would not have occurred to them had they not come to believe that Jesus was risen.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.