This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
I am a great admirer of your work and, frankly, cannot think of anyone who has dug deeper into the question of Jesus’ resurrection.
Although I do not currently believe in Jesus’ resurrection, I think I am open to good arguments when I see them. Your lay works recently led me to read all of your more scholarly 1989 book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. On pg. 414 you say something that is somewhat confusing to me about the vision hypothesis and I was wondering if you might clarify it:
“Even given the prior discovery of the empty tomb, they [Jesus’ followers] would probably have inferred [from visions of Jesus] that Jesus had been translated directly into heaven on the model of Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; II Kings 2:11-18).
The Testament of Job 40 shows that translation was a category applicable to recently deceased persons as well as living.”
I think you are saying here that, based on just visions of Jesus and an empty tomb, Jesus’ followers would probably have concluded that Jesus was resurrected back to *mortality* and then bodily translated up to heaven in his *mortal* body. In other words, your point is that the vision hypothesis, even if combined with an empty tomb, still cannot account for the early Christian belief that Jesus’ body was “immortalized”. Is this the point you are trying to making here and, if so, didn’t some Jews speculate that Enoch, Elijah and Moses' bodies were immortalized in heaven? For example, Sirach 45:2 says, “[God] made him [Moses] equal in glory to the holy ones." And 2 Enoch 22:6-10 says, “Take Enoch, and extract him from the earthly clothing. And anoint him with the delightful oil, and put him into the cloths of glory."
Given these speculations by some Jews about Enoch and Moses, how can you conclude that visions of Jesus combined with an empty tomb would not lead Jesus' followers to conclude that Jesus' body was *immortalized* at some point during his being raised from the dead and translated up to heaven?
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
I cannot thank you enough, John, for taking the time and effort to study my scholarly work on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection! I must confess that I sometimes grow weary of the superficial and often impertinent jibes one reads on Facebook in response to serious arguments. Too few people ever get beyond the YouTube videos and dig into my scholarly work.
Your exposition of my argument is almost right but just enough off-kilter to lead you to miss my point. My point is not about the “immortalization” of Jesus’ body. As you rightly observe, in Jewish thinking those who have been translated or assumed bodily into heaven have thereby become immortal. That would include Jesus, were he thought to have been assumed into heaven like Enoch and Elijah.
Rather my question concerns why the earliest disciples, having experienced post-mortem appearances of Jesus, would not have concluded, in line with Jewish thinking, that he had been assumed into heaven by God and thence appeared to them in glory. Why did they instead conclude, contrary to Jewish modes of thought, that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead as an isolated individual apart from and in advance of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world? We can’t say that it was the empty tomb that prompted them to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection rather than his assumption into heaven, since the Testament of Job shows that recently deceased people might be translated into heaven so that their bodies are not to be found. Your example of Moses is actually very helpful in this regard, for it gives another example of a person who in Jewish folklore (The Assumption of Moses) was thought to have been assumed into heaven, not before, but after his death. As I explain in the book, the idea of a bona fide resurrection to glory and immortality (as opposed to mere revivification) is completely unknown in the Judaism of the time. By contrast, Jews of that time had a category that would perfectly explain the empty tomb and post-mortem visions of Jesus, namely, translation or assumption into heaven.
But remarkably, the disciples proclaimed, not Jesus’ assumption into heaven, but his resurrection from the dead. As N.T. Wright has extensively argued in his massive The Resurrection of the Son of God, some historical explanation must be given for what he calls these “mutations” of Jewish beliefs in the disciples’ proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. I think that it was the physicality of the resurrection appearances that caused them to burst the bounds of Jewish thinking and come to believe “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2.32).
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.