Response to William Lane Craig – Part 10

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:

It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.

Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:

The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 

Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I have argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  I will now argue that the same is true of the biblical scholar Robert Funk.

Craig quotes a part of a comment by Robert Funk:

In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion of Jesus was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians nor their opponents could deny.

The footnote for this quoted three-word phrase is rather vague:  “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”  The Jesus Seminar was in operation from 1985 to 1998, so a Jesus Seminar videotape could have been produced anytime in that fourteen-year window.  I have little hope of locating the particular Jesus Seminar videotape that this quote was taken from, so I have no way to either confirm the accuracy of the quote or to determine the meaning of the three-word phrase in the context of what Funk was talking about at that point.  I do not find this to be convincing evidence that Funk believed that the crucifixion of Jesus is a certain or nearly certain historical fact.

Furthermore, based on Funk’s comments in his book Honest to Jesus (published in 1996, hereafter: HTJ), it seems to me that although Funk believes that it is probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Funk believes that this claim is less than certain, and that there can be reasonable doubt about this claim:

There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question….We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows….Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)

The crucifixion is NOT “beyond question” according to Funk.  Even the very existence of Jesus as an historical person is NOT beyond question according to Funk.

This openness of Funk to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus is in keeping with Funk’s general skepticism.  In Chapter 1 of Honest to Jesus, Funk proposes seven ground rules for the quest of the historical Jesus.   Three of Funk’s seven ground rules clearly support a skeptical outlook in the study of Jesus:

Rule One

Human knowledge is finite.  It is fallible, limited, subject to correction.  If it were not, study and learning would be unnecessary.  This applies, willy-nilly, to the Bible, to the pope, to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and contemporary preachers alike.  And to scholars. (HTJ, p.24)

 Rule Five

In spite of the sciences, impressive methodological advances, and the knowledge explosion, we still cannot be certain that we can tell the difference between illusion and reality.

Aspects of what we think we see and hear, of what we believe we know, are almost certainly illusory.  The social world we inhabit as human beings was created for us by our historical and social contexts and by our own imaginations.  We are products, to a greater or lesser extent, of our own creative activity….One consequence of this arrangement is that we are constantly being deceived….illusion and error are a part of the human condition.  (HTJ, p.26)

Rule Seven

No matter how many illusions we dispel, no matter how firm the conclusions we reach this time around, we will turn out to be wrong in some way, perhaps in many ways, down the road.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will have to come along and correct our mistakes while adding their own. (HTJ, p.26)

Given this skeptical outlook, it is no surprise that Funk is open to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus and even to doubt about the existence of Jesus.  Funk rejects the view that the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus are beyond question.

It is not merely this general skeptical outlook that casts doubt on the crucifixion, but a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk that cast significant doubt on the crucifixion of Jesus and the on the claim that Jesus died on the cross.  I will argue that if one accepts Funk’s various skeptical assumptions, then one cannot rationally conclude that it is nearly certain that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.

Before I discuss Funk’s specific skeptical assumptions, however, I would like to touch on another aspect of Funk’s general viewpoint:  his cynicism.  I appreciate Funk’s cynicism.  Though Funk believes in God, and has some sort of very liberal belief or faith in Jesus, he is a kindred spirit, as far as I am concerned.   I appreciate Funk’s skepticism and his cynicism.

My own skepticism, I believe, arises out of cynicism, at least in part.   I suspect the same is true for many other skeptics, and it appears to me that Funk’s skepticism might also arise out of cynicism, at least in part.  So, I would like to share a few selected quotes that reflect Funk’s cynicism.

In the Prologue of Honest to Jesus, Funk lists ten of his personal convictions.  Two of them embody cynicism about human thinking:

8. I believe in original sin, but I take original sin to mean the innate infinite capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.

9.  I have come to see that the self-deception inherent in “original sin” prompts human beings to believe that what they want is what they are really entitled to and what they will eventually get–things like unending life in another world and absolute justice in this.  I doubt that it will work out that way.  (HTJ, p.11)

Funk experesses cynicism about his own conversion experience (and about other Christian believers):

…in the exuberance of youth, I thought it extremely important to hold the correct opinions.  I didn’t really know what the correct opinions were, but friends and others around me seemed to know, so I embraced theirs when I could understand them and sometimes when I couldn’t.  Among them was the good confession.  In response to prompting, I said Jesus was my personal savior.  Nobody explained to me what that entailed.  It has taken me several decades to get even a hint of what it could mean.

Most of us cling to opinions received secondhand and worn like used clothing. … (HTJ, p.4)

Funk experesses cynicism about Americans in general:

I am happy to report that I am the victim of a good education.  I would undoubtedly have grown up opinionated, narrow-minded, and bigoted like many Americans, but I had the misfortune, or the good fotune, of having excellent teachers. (HTJ, p.4)

Funk experesses cynicism about Christian ministers:

I started out to be a parish minister but soon learned that passion for truth was not compatible with that role.  In self-defense I became a scholar. (HTJ, p.5)

Funk expresses cynicism about churches and seminaries:

In Jesus as Precursor, a book I wrote while teaching in the Divinity School, I concluded that theologians should abandon the cloistered precincts of the church and seminary  where nothing real was on the agenda.   I soon followed my own advice.

The longing for intellectual freedom drove me out of the seminary and into a secular university. … the university had become my church and learning my real vocation. (HTJ, p. 5)

… I discovered that by and large what my students learned in seminary did not get passed on to parish memebers; in fact, it seems to have little or no bearing on the practice of ministry at all.  I was chagrined to learn that I was investing in an enterprise with no prospect of return. (HTJ, p.6)

Funk expresses cynicism about universities and academia:

The University of Montana taught me another hard lesson:  universities are much like churches, replete with orthodoxies of various kinds, courts of inquisition, and severe penalties for those who do not embrace mediocrity and the teacher’s union.  Preoccupation with political trivia and insulation from the real world eventually pushed me to abandon that final sanctuary.  (HTJ, p.5)

…my academic colleagues and I were trapped in a perpetual holding pattern dictated to us by a system of rewards and sanctions in the university.    That system prevented us, or at least discouraged us, from entering the public domain with learning that mattered.  In their book, The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman define intellectuals as experts whose specialized knowledge is not wanted, is not even tolerated, by the general public.  (HTJ, p.6)

Funk expresses cynicism about the general level of knowledge about religion and the Bible:

In our time, religious literacy has reached a new low in spite of our scholarship, in spite of the remarkable advances in research and publication our academic disciplines have made. (HTJ, p.5-6)

Jesus is a topic of wide public interest, and the ancient gospels are the subject of profound public ignorance. (HTJ, p.7)

All of this cynicism from Funk is found in the short Prologue of Honest to Jesus, and there is much more of this cynicism expressed in Chapters 1, 2, and 3, but I will spare you from any further cynical comments, and move on (in the next post) to taking a closer look at a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk.


Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.