Archive for the ‘Guard at the Tomb’ Category

Rebuttal to Craig’s Denial of the Historicity of the Guard Account

June 25, 2013

The Bible declares:

Matthew 27:62-66
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.”
Pilate said unto them, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.” So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

Matthew 28:2-4 & 11-15
And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

But William Lane Craig says, in response to the question “were there guards at the tomb”:

Well now this is a question that I think is probably best left out of the program, because the vast, vast majority of New Testament scholars would regard Matthew’s guard story as unhistorical. I can hardly think of anybody who would defend the historicity of the guard at the tomb story. And the main reasons for that are two:
One is because it’s only found in Matthew and it seems very odd that if there were a Roman guard or even a Jewish guard at the tomb that Mark wouldn’t know about it and that there wouldn’t be any mention of it.
The other reason is that nobody seemed to understand Jesus’ resurrection predictions. The disciples – who heard them most often – had not an inkling of what he meant and yet somehow the Jewish authorities were supposed to have heard of these predictions and understood them so well that they were able to set a guard around the tomb. And again, that doesn’t seem to make sense.
So, most scholars regard the guard at the tomb story as a legend or a Matthean invention that isn’t really historical.
Fortunately, this is of little significance for the empty tomb of Jesus, because the guard was mainly employed in Christian apologetics to disprove the conspiracy theory that the disciples stole the body. But no modern historian or New Testament scholar would defend a conspiracy theory, because it’s evident when you read the pages of the New Testament that these people sincerely believed in what they said. So, the conspiracy theory is dead, even in the absence of a guard at the tomb.
The true significance of the guard at the tomb story is that it shows that even the opponents of the earliest Christians did not deny the empty tomb, but rather involved themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain it away by saying that the disciples had stolen the body. And that’s the real significance of Matthew’s guard at the tomb story.

This shows part of the soft underbelly of William Lane Craig’s excessive reliance on scholarship over revelation. The text itself treats the account as historical. There are no signals in the text that the account is mythical or parabolic. Indeed, the theory that the “vast, vast majority of New Testament scholars” would be adopting here is one that says that the text has its origins in the will of man rather than in the inspiration of the Spirit.

Let’s consider the two reasons that Craig gives. The first reason is Mark’s omission of the account. This is hardly a compelling reason. After all, while Matthew includes the vast majority of the material found in Mark, Mark contains less than three quarters of the material found in Matthew. Mark is simply a significantly shorter gospel. The guard at the tomb story, while significant to the conspiracy story and consequently to Matthew’s apparently Jewish primary audience, is not a central aspect of the resurrection account. It’s not only absent from Mark but also from Luke and John.

In this way it is similar to Matthew’s account of the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27) that Jesus miraculously paid for himself and Peter with the help of a fish. That account likewise is not found in Mark, Luke, or John, and likewise is of particular interest to Matthew’s presumably Jewish primary audience.

Moreover, while the first half of the guard at the tomb account is in an easily separable pericope, the second half of the guard at the tomb account is woven into the account of the arrival of the women at the tomb, which is part that Craig would undoubtedly consider historical. Thus, the keepers of the tomb should also be regarded as historical.

The second reason that Craig gives is that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ resurrection predictions, and therefore it is unlikely that Jesus’ critics would have recalled these predictions. This analysis seems contrary to our common experience. Often, one’s harshest critics pay even more attention to one’s words than one’s own friends. Moreover, the disciples had a mistaken notion that Jesus first coming was to be like his second coming, in terms of being triumphant. They seemed not to accept his very clear predictions of his own death. By contrast, Jesus’ critics mocked his prediction of his death and accused him of paranoia (“The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?” John 7:20, for example).

Thus, the disciples were quick to overlook Jesus’ comments specifically predicting his resurrection. By contrast, Jesus’ critics hung on his every word. (“Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” Luke 11:54) So, when they were thinking how to eliminate this movement, they were not depressed and in despair over Jesus’ death, but instead were focused on trying to stamp out the movement altogether.

Neither of Craig’s reasons, therefore, provide a compelling case for rejecting the historicity of the guard at the tomb account.

The clip from the John Ankerberg show can be seen in the embedded video, below.

By the way, Geisler got on Mike Licona’s case for denying the historicity of the mass Jerusalem resurrection account. Why hasn’t he criticized Craig for denying the historicity of the guard at the tomb accounts? In fact, William Lane Craig’s analysis of the account and its significance are significantly more harmful to the doctrine of inerrancy than Licona’s treatment of the mass resurrection as apocalyptic. Where is the consistency? Is Geisler simply unaware?



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