If you read enough books by conservative Christian scholars you will begin to notice one very interesting phenomenon: They contradict each other on some major issues! Take for instance the authorship of the Gospels. It is extremely important to conservative Christians to maintain the position that eyewitnesses or the close associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. This position is necessary to maintain the conservative Christian assertion that we can trust the claims in the Gospels, in particular the claims of multiple people seeing the resurrected Jesus, as coming from eyewitness sources. The problem is: Conservative Christians can’t even agree on the two books which they maintain were written by eyewitnesses, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John.
William Lane Craig believes, as do most conservative Christians, in the traditional authorship of these books. Richard Bauckham, on the other hand, along with some other conservative scholars, believes that two other men wrote these books. So a position that is already a minority position among New Testament scholars as a whole…can’t even agree among themselves! That’s not a good sign for the strength of their position!
But that’s not the only issue. What about this issue: Was it or was it not the custom of the Romans to hand over the body of persons executed for major crimes (such as treason) to the victim’s family or to other persons or parties?
Conservative New Testament scholar Craig Evans assures us that it was the custom of the Romans to hand over the body of such persons to their families or other parties. Therefore the story in the Gospels of Pilate handing over the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea would not have been unusual.
“Not so!” says infamous conservative Christian apologist William Lane Craig (WLC):
“Mark says that he [Joseph of Arimathea] went in bravely to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. The authorities did not ordinarily give over the corpse of a victim executed for a major crime, so it took courage for Joseph to ask for Jesus’ body. According to Mark, Joseph apparently gave Jesus a proper burial.” —WLC in “The Son Rises”, p. 54
Gary: So WLC admits here what many skeptics argue: It would be highly unusual for the Romans to hand over the body of someone executed for a major crime to be given a proper burial. And if that major crime were treason against Caesar, as it was in Jesus’ case, the idea that Pilate would allow the body of such a criminal to be given an honorable burial would be highly improbable.
Yet scholar Craig Evans would have you believe that his research says otherwise! Bart Ehrman, by the way, has done a very good job of demonstrating the errors in Evans thinking on this point and would agree that William Lane Craig is correct.
So although Craig is correct on this point, it weakens his argument that Arimathea was a real historical character who buried Jesus. The burial of Jesus by J. of A. is certainly possible, but highly improbable based on Roman execution customs.