Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 3

As a Christian apologist who defends the claim that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’, William Craig takes upon himself a heavy burden of proof. To meet the burden of proof Craig must put forward powerful historical evidence to prove that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’. But in most of his books, articles, and debates on the resurrection, Craig simply ignores this issue.

One exception to this pattern of neglect is found in his book The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. (hereafter: TSR). In TSR Craig devotes five paragraphs, consisting of a grand total of 35 sentences, to making his case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross.

In previous posts, I have examined the first 16 sentences of Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, which constitutes about the first half of Craig’s case. The results so far: Craig has made 35 historical claims, but has provided ZERO historical evidence in support of those claims. So, at the half-way mark, Craig’s case is a complete failure.

It is time to take a look at paragraph number three in Craig’s five-paragraph case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross. By my count Craig makes about 24 historical claims in this paragraph. Some of these claims (about eight), however, are repetitions of, or inferences from, other historical claims. So, paragraph three contains about 16 basic historical claims.

Let’s examine the first eight sentences of paragraph three:

Death by crucifixion is slow [1]

and gruesome. [2 – inference]

As the victim hangs on the cross, his lung cavity collapses, [3]

so that he can no longer breathe. [4]

In order to breathe, he must pull himself up [5]

on those nail pierced hands [6 – inference]

and push with his feet until he can catch a breath. [7]

But he cannot remain in this position very long. [8]

So he has to let himself drop back down. [9 – inference]

Then he cannot breathe anymore, [10]

so he must start the painful ascent all over again, in order to get air.

[11 – inference]

And so it goes, hour after hour, [12]

until the victim is too weak to pull himself up, [13]

and so literally chokes to death. [14 – inference]

Sometimes the Romans sped up the process by breaking the legs of the victim with a mallet [15]

(called in Latin crurifragum), [16]

so that he could no longer push himself up to breathe, [17]

and the victim, dangling helplessly by his arms, died of asphyxiation.

[18 – inference]

(TSR, p.38)

Most of these historical claims have a medical aspect to them. Since Craig is not a medical doctor and he is not an expert on human physiology, he cannot assert such claims on the basis of his own authority. Medical claims concerning crucifixion require both medical evidence AND historical evidence to be properly supported.

In the first eight sentences of paragraph three, Craig makes 18 historical claims. Six of those claims are inferences from other historical claims. How much historical evidence has Craig put forward in these eight sentences? None. How much scientific medical evidence has Craig put forward in these sentences? None. Since the six claims that are inferences, are inferences from unsupported historical claims, those six claims are also not based on actual historical evidence. So, the first eight sentences of paragraph three make 18 unsupported historical claims.

We have now examined the first 24 sentences of Craig’s 35 sentence case for the historicity of the death of Jesus. That means we have examined two-thirds of his presentation of “historical evidence” for Jesus’ death on the cross. What has Craig given us so far? 30 unsupported historical claims in paragraph one, 5 unsupported historical claims in paragraph two, and 18 unsupported historical claims in the first eight sentences of paragraph three. So, in 24 sentences, Craig has asserted a total of 53 historical claims and has provided exactly ZERO pieces of historical evidence.

At two-thirds of the way through Craig’s presentation of “historical evidence” for the death of Jesus on the cross, we plainly see his case is a complete failure, because he has presented us with no historical evidence for any of his dozens of historical claims.

This is the sort of childish and pathetic “argument” that we should expect from any attempt to prove that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’ in just two pages.