In 1976, the Christian philosopher Norman Geisler published a book titled: Christian Apologetics (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan). In Chapter 17, Geisler argues for “The deity and authority of Jesus Christ”. A portion of that chapter is devoted to Geisler’s case for the resurrection of Jesus.
In my view it is ridiculous to the point of being pathetic, that Geisler thinks he can prove the resurrection of Jesus in just 5.3 pages (p. 346 – 351). I would expect such a case for the resurrection from the brain-dead Christian propagandist Jack Chick, but not from a professional philosopher whose job it is to develop a rational case for the truth of Christianity (I wish I could get a full-time job defending atheism and naturalism!). Furthermore, Geisler wastes 1.3 pages on a discussion of the idea that the resurrection of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament as well as by Jesus himself. So he provides only 4 pages of discussion about historical evidence for the resurrection.
As ridiculous and pathetic as Geisler’s case may be, he manages to outdo both Craig and Swinburne on two very important points. First, he correctly recognizes the burden of proof that Christian apologists bear on this issue:
Before it can be established that Jesus really rose from the grave it must be established that he actually died. (Christian Apologetics, p.347)
Second, in just one page of text, Geisler lays out nine different points in support of the claim that ‘Jesus died on the cross’ (Christian Apologetics, p.347-348), and he even points to some historical data to back up most of his points (i.e. NT references to Gospel passages).
In that one page of argumentation, Geisler does a more thourough job of supporting this essential claim than Swinburne does in his 200-page case for the resurrection (The Resurrection of God Incarnate, 2003) and than Craig does in his 400-page case for the resurrection (Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, 1989). Swinburne writes less than one page on the death of Jesus in a microscopic refutation of the Apparent Death theory (ROGI, p.174-175). Craig does not even bother to write a paragraph in support of the claim that ‘Jesus died on the cross’ in his case for the resurrection. Craig does slightly better in his popular presentation of the case for the resurrection, The Son Rises, 1981, where he devotes a whopping 3.5 pages to a ‘refutation’ of the Apparent Death theory (TSR, p.36-40). You will find those pages to be completely fact free. Craig does not even bother to provide NT references to support his historical assumptions.
Because William Craig and Richard Swinburne fail to take seriously their burden of proof to show that Jesus actually died on the cross, their cases for the resurrection fail completely. They may be brilliant and sophisticated thinkers who have made significant contributions to the discussion of this isssue, but both of their cases for the resurrection have a big gaping hole in them. A hole in the shape of a cross.
In my view, an adequate case for the death of Jesus on the cross would require carefully addressing a dozen or more historical questions, which would require use of historical data from the Gospels, and thus a lengthy discussion of the reliability of the Gospels, and of the historical reliability of the passion narratives. Also, death is a medical issue, and so there would need to be a discussion of the medical claims concerning Jesus’s wounds and injuries and how crucifixion causes death. The medical claims would need to be defended in terms of both historical claims that they are based upon, and medical facts and theories that are used in order to draw various medical conclusions. So, a thorough and careful discussion of such issues would require about 200 pages, if not more. You could hardly even touch upon all of the significant issues on the crucifixion and death of Jesus in less than 100 pages.
So, Geisler is to be commended for recognizing and accepting the burden of proof to show that Jesus actually died on the cross. But, other than Gary Habermas, no Christian apologist (that I’m aware of) has made a serious attempt to build a case for the death of Jesus.
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