If you’ve discussed the resurrection with Christians before, then you’re probably familiar with the above argument. Since first century Jews didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection like Jesus’s, then they’re no way the disciples would have believed it without actually witnessing it for themselves. William Lane Craig has used this argument several times:
He made the case again in a 2005 debate at California State University. At the 29 minute mark, he says that Jews like the Pharisees believed in a resurrection that would happen to everyone at the end of time. They never believed that an individual could have a bodily resurrection within the course of human history.
But recently, while I was reading Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, he pointed out something that I hadn’t thought of before. It turns out that there are a couple of New Testament passages that really throw a wrench in Craig’s claim. For instance, Mark 6:14-16 says:
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He 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.”
Here, we have a number of people who are ready to believe that Jesus is actually a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet from antiquity. And we find similar passages in both Matthew and Luke as well. So now we have a problem. Either Craig’s argument is totally false, and the idea of a bodily resurrection from the dead is something that people in Jesus’s time were ready to believe with virtually no evidence, or the writers of the synoptic gospels were lying or mistaken. Either way, it illustrates how an actual resurrection is the least likely explanation for the resurrection story.
If you’d like to read about other issues with the resurrection, you can check out this article.