Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 7

In the first three paragraphs of William Craig’s “case” for the claim that Jesus died on the cross, Craig makes 60 different historical claims, but provides only ONE piece of actual historical evidence for just ONE of the 60 historical claims.

Furthermore, in part 6 of this series we saw that the one piece of historical evidence provided by Craig was CRAP. Based on a modern scholarly translation of the passage in question, the evidence is simply irrelevant to the historical claim it was supposed to support, and even given a more favorable alternative translation, the passage is at best weak and questionable evidence for only a part of the historical claim.

It is now time to move on to paragraph four, in which Craig makes a number of historical claims, about 25 claims by my count:

The gospels report that [claim 1]

although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, [claim 2]

they did not break Jesus’ legs [claim 3]

because [claim 4]

they saw that [claim 5]

He was already dead. [claim 6]

According to procedure, [claim 7]

one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side [claim 8]

to ensure that He was dead, [claim 9]

and, John reports, [claim 10]

blood and water flowed out. [claim 11]

This flow could have been a serum from the pericardial sac, mixed with blood from the heart,[claim 12]

or a hemorrhagic fluid in the pleural cavity between the ribs and the lungs. [claim 13]

Jesus was taken down from the cross [claim 14]

and buried in the customary Jewish manner. [claim 15]

This included [claim 16]

binding the hands and feet [claim 17]

and [also included] [claim 18]

wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices, [claim 19]

in Jesus’ case about seventy-five pounds of them. [claim 20]

the body was then laid in a tomb carved out of rock, [claim 21]

and a great stone was laid across the entrance. [claim 22]

This was then sealed, [claim 23]

and, according to Matthew, [claim 24]

a guard was set around the tomb. [claim 25]

The very first claim Craig makes in paragraph four is FALSE. Furthermore, it is clearly false to anyone who is familiar with the Passion narratives in the gospels. The Fourth gospel (attributed to John) is the ONLY gospel of the four canonical gospels that reports the story about the breaking of the legs of the two criminals. So, it is simply FALSE to say that “The gospels report that although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men…”. This does not inspire confidence in Craig as a careful historical scholar.

The claims about the stabbing of Jesus with a spear, are also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel, and the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side is also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel. The claim about the use of seventy-five pounds of aromatic spices is also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel. So, Craig is relying heavily on the Fourth gospel for information about the death and burial of Jesus. Claims (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (8), (9), and (11) all rest on the Fourth gospel alone, as do claims (19) and (20). Claims (12) and (13) are proposed explanations for the “fact” asserted by claim (11), so claims (12) and (13) are relevant only if claim (11) is true.

Also, claims (12) and (13) are medical claims, but Craig is not a medical doctor, nor is he an expert in human physiology. So, he has no relevant expertise, and thus no authority upon which to simply assert such medical claims. Since there is no end note or reference to someone who does have relevant medical expertise, we can set those two claims aside as having no basis.

Three of the claims in paragraph four concern the contents of various gospels. The remaining 22 claims are concerned with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Of the 22 substantial historical claims, about half are based ONLY on the Fourth gospel.

As with the passage from Major Declamations, Craig fails to address dozens of questions that a reasonable person would need to have answered before accepting a passage from one or more gospels as being solid evidence for an historical claim about Jesus.

For example: Who wrote the gospels? What do we know about the authors? Did they have first-hand knowledge about Jesus’ crucifixion or burial? If not, how did they come by the information and stories about Jesus that they wrote down? Are they persons of honesty and integrity? Do the authors have any religious, political, or philosophical beliefs or values that might influence or bias what they wrote? When were the gospels written? What sort of genre are the gospels? Are they historical/biographical works? How old are the oldest manuscripts of the gospels that currently exist? How well preserved is the text of each gospel? Are there lots of significant differences and variations between existing manuscripts or only a few minor differences and variations? Are there textual issues or issues of translation or interpretation with any of the relevant passages? Etc., etc….

It is absurd and question-begging for Craig to draw any historical conclusions simply on the basis that “the gospels report…” certain events or details. Any critical thinker who is not already a committed Christian believer ought to have some doubts about the historical reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Any one who is aware of the views of mainstream biblical scholars and Jesus scholars will know that such historians and scholars generally view the “reports” of the gospels with a good deal of skepticism and doubt. This general skepticism and doubt about the gospel accounts is even stronger when it comes to “reports” of events and details that are found exclusively in the Fourth gospel.

Many leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st Centuries have rejected the view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable historical source of information about Jesus:

• Gunther Bornkamm

• Joachim Jeremias

• James Robinson

• Norman Perrin

• E.P. Sanders

• Geza Vermes

• Ben Meyer

• Marcus Borg

• John Meier

• Gerd Theissen

• James Dunn

Gunther Bornkamm, E.P. Sanders, and Joachim Jeremias on the Fourth Gospel.

Norman Perrin, James Robinson, Geza Vermes, Ben Meyer, and Marcus Borg on the Fourth gospel.

John Meier, Gerd Theissen, and James Dunn on the Fourth gospel.

William Craig is well aware of the fact that mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars have rejected the view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable source of information about Jesus. Craig is perfectly within his rights to disagree with mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars on this question, but he has no right to simply ASSUME that the Fourth gospel is a historically reliable source. This is a view that most N.T. and Jesus scholars have rejected, so Craig ought to caution his readers on this point and provide some significant evidence and argumentation in defense of the highly controversial view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable source of information about Jesus. It is childish and pathetic to simply point to the Fourth gospel as “historical evidence” for claims about Jesus, especially for claims that are supported ONLY in the Fourth gospel and nowhere else.

Craig might have been blissfully ignorant of the serious problems with his use of the Major Declamations as historical evidence for claims about the crucifixion of Jesus, and his readers were no doubt also blissfully ignorant about those problems, but Craig knows better when it comes to using the gospels as historical evidence, and so do many of the skeptics and doubters that Craig is attempting to persuade and evangelize. He knows that mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars are skeptical about the reliability of the gospels, and have generally rejected the Fourth gospel as a reliable source of information about Jesus. Thus, the offhand use of the gospels as historical evidence (“The Gospels report that…”) is completely unacceptable. This is NOT a serious attempt to provide historical evidence in support of historical claims about Jesus.