Summary of the Craig-Price Debate on Jesus’ Resurrection (1999)
(Redated post originally published on 16 October 2011)
This is yet another old debate summary from my archives. I’m not sure when I wrote this, but I’m guessing it was between 1999 and 2002.
THE CRAIG-PRICE DEBATE: DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD?
The Veritas Forum
Ohio State University, 1999
Curiously, the audiocassettes do not mention Robert Price’s name, or even a debate at all. Instead, the label on the tape reads, “Intellectual Foundations for Belief in Jesus Christ by William Lane Craig.” The tape begins with a lengthy (roughly ten minutes long), preaching introduction by an unnamed representative of the humbly-titled, “Veritas Forum.” As a result, I initially thought I had been sent the wrong audiocassette! But finally the debaters were introduced and the debate got underway.
CRAIG’S OPENING STATEMENT
Introduction: Will not assume the infallibility or inerrancy of the Bible, but will treat the New Testament documents as ordinary historical sources.
I. Four facts. NT documents establish four facts about the fate of Jesus. These facts are widely accepted by a consensus of NT scholars.
A. Honorable burial. This fact is highly significant because it implies that the location of Jesus’ tomb was known. Price admits this.
1. Attested by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:4, which is an extremely old tradition. Comparison of this formula to the gospels and the book of Acts “reveals” that 1 Cor. 15:4 is a “summary” of the story of burial by Joseph of Arimathea.
2. Independently attested by the pre-Markan passion source, which actually pre-dates the early fomula quoted by Paul in 1 Cor. 15.
3. As a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.
4. The story lacks any signs of legendary development, as Bultmann admits.
5. No other competing burial story exists. If the burial story were a late, legendary tradition, it is strange that we have no competing traditions.
B. Empty Tomb.
1. Paul’s testimony implies the empty tomb in two ways:
(a) The expression, “He was raised,” followed by, “he was buried.” A first-century Jew could not have believed those expressions without believing the tomb was empty.
(b) “On the third day” is probably a time-indicator for the women’s discovery of the empty tomb.
2. The empty tomb story is part of Mark’s source material.
3. The story is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment. Just compare it to the forged, later apocryphal gospels. “Real legends” look like those later gospels.
4. The tomb was probably discovered by women, yet women could not serve as legal eyewitnesses in a court of law. If the account were legendary, we would expect the story to have men discover the empty tomb.
5. The earliest Jewish response presupposes the empty tomb.
C. Post-Resurrection Appearances. Different individuals and groups saw Jesus alive after his death.
1. The list of eyewitnesses which is quoted by Paul “guarantees” that the appearances really happened.
2. The appearance narratives in the gospels provide multilple, independent attestation of the appearances. Lüdemann says that it is historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences.
D. Origin of Disciples’ Belief. The disciples came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
1. Jewish messianic expectations had no idea of a messiah who would be shamefully executed as a criminal.
2. According to OT law, Jesus’ execution exposed him as a heretic.
3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded a resurrection before the general resurrection at the end of the world. Yet the disciples came to believe in the Resurrection so strongly that they were willing to die for that belief.
Price denies not only all four of these facts, but he denies the historicity of Jesus itself. In order to avoid the weight of the evidence from 1 Cor. 15, Price is forced to claim that 1 Cor. 15 is an interpolation. Yet “no one” believes such a view. Price is so “far left” he’s “off the radar screen.”
II. Best Explanation: God raised Jesus from the dead. All of the old theories like “the disciples stole the body” or “Jesus wasn’t really dead” are no longer taken seriously. Those who reject the Resurrection because of its supernatural character are left with no explanation at all. Given the failure of naturalistic explanations, the rational man can hardly be condemned for concluding that a miracle occurred.
PRICE’S OPENING STATEMENT
Will not respond to Craig’s opening statement until his next speech; instead he will read a prepared opening statement. Most of his opening statement appears to be identical with his online essay, “By This Time He Stinketh,” so I will not summarize his opening statement here.
CRAIG’S FIRST REBUTTAL
The whole dispute tonight is over my first contention. Are these four facts true?
Price claims that the Resurrection is derived from pagan mythology. But this argument has been rejected by scholars for two reasons:
(1) The supposed parallels are spurious. Talbert’s “little book” is a “naive intrusion into the world of classical philology analogous to a blind-folded man” stumbling through a minefield. Talbert has so misinterpreted the ancient evidence it is unusable. Some myths (e.g., Tammuz) are mythical symbols of the crop cycles. Others (e.g., Hercules) are apeothosis stories. Others (e.g., Appolonius) are disappearance stories. None of these are parallels to the Jewish concept of the resurrection of the dead.
(2) There is no causal connection between pagan myths and the origin of the disciples’ belief. Jews found these myths abhorrent. No trace of cults of dying and rising gods in first century Palestine. According to Hans Grass, it would be unthinkable to think that the disciples came to believe Jesus was risen from the dead on the basis of folk tales about, say, Hercules.
“The presupposition of Price’s mythological theory is his belief that 1 Cor. 15 is an interpolation. … However, no NT scholar believes such a thing.” Price’s theory is incredibly complicated: on his theory, vv. 3-11 “are an interpolation of an interpolation of a fabrication of a quotation.” “In terms of the external evidence, not a single manuscript of 1 Corinthians lacks these verses. They’re all there. … Moreover, these verses are quoted as part of 1 Corinthians 15 by extrabiblical authors like Ignatius, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. Therefore, Price is forced, in his own words, to deny the date and genuineness of 1 Clement and the Ignatian Corpus. … The external evidence is overwhelming in favor of the authenticity of these verses.”
“What about the internal evidence?” There is no contradiction between 1 Cor and Galatians. In Galatians, Paul is talking about salvation by grace, not about the historical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection; there is no contradiction. “Actually, the internal evidence strongly supports authenticity.” 1 Cor 15:1 wouldn’t make sense if vv. 3-11 were an interpolation: Paul would not be making known to you the gospel that
he preaches to them. “Moreover, the first person plural pronouns in vv. 12-15 like ‘our preaching is in vain,’ ‘we are found to be misrepresenting Christ’ refer back to the Apostles in vv. 9-11, so that if you say this is an interpolation then these pronouns have no antecedents anymore. This is firmly embedded in its context.”
“Moreover, when Paul says Christ is preached is raised from the dead, that refers back to v. 11, ‘so we preached and so you believed.’ Dr. Price might say ‘No, it refers back to v. 1, where Paul says, ‘I preached to you the gospel.’ But here’s where English translations can be misleading. In the Greek, this is a totally different verb than the verb here in v. 12. V. 12 matches the verb in v. 11, and that is the gospel that he’s referring to in v. 12 when he says, ‘so we preached and so you believed.'”
“Moreover, this past perfect form of the Greek verb he has been raised is a non-Pauline verb. It is found nowhere else in the Pauline corpus. … Where does it come from? It refers back to v. 4, ‘he was raised,’ quoted from the old Christian tradition which Paul received.”
“The logic of the chapter requires these verses. Paul presents a syllogism in effect:
(1) If the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised.
(2) Christ has been raised.
(3) Therefore, the dead are raised and the Corinthians are wrong.
The evidence for the second premise is all of the evidence for the resurrection appearances in vv. 3-8. If you leave these out, then you emasculate Paul’s evidence for his second premise that Christ has been raised from the dead. Thus, by ommitting these verses, you destroy the logic of this chapter.”
Craig knows that Christ is risen by Christ’s immediate reality in Craig’s life. But that doesn’t prove it to you. So he has to give reasons for it. And Craig’s epistemology is accepted by Alvin Plantinga.
Craig is not asking Price to believe all the Biblical miracles. For example, Raymond Brown accepts the historicity of the Resurrection, but denies the historicity of the virgin birth.
If you are open-minded, you will find that the evidence justifies the conclusion that God raised Jesus from the dead.
PRICE’S FIRST REBUTTAL
Brown does believe in the virgin birth because the Pope said so, but he said he can’t prove the historicity of the virgin birth.
Verse 3 is part of interpolation; 3-11 is the interpolation on his theory. Price is not the first to propose that 3-11 are an interpolation. There are no copies of 1 Cor early enough to settle the question of interpolation. None of the “quotations” of 1 Cor 15 quotes the relevant verses. 1 Clement–which is psuedonymous–and Igantius’s letters are not as early as typically supposed. Price believes 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation for the following reasons:
(1) form-critically: it’s a creed. In fact, it’s a composite digest of fragments of creedal and other formulaic statements.
(2) A creed is typical of a later, institutionalizing stage of a religion, something long after the time of Paul.
(3) The idea that 1 Cor. 15 does not contradict Galatians is an outrageous example of harmonizing glossing. In 1 Cor. Paul gives you the terms of the gospel he preached first of all. What he was given by some superior, the very superiors that cannot exist according to Galatians. That’s a howling contradiction you cannot make go away.
(4) The 500 brethren is something out of the Gospel of Nicodemus. If this were part of the gospel tradition, how could it not have made it into the Gospels if it were historical?
(5) The parts of the creed that quotes James and Cephas: as Harnack showed long ago, this seems to be a scotch-taping together by way of reconciliation of two creeds, one exalting the authority James as the head of the Jewish Christians and the other exalting Cephas or Peter. The fact that we find them side by side indicates that conflict has been papered over long ago. This cannot have happened at the time of the
Price has known people who has seen visions. He met someone who believed that Jesus had appeared to her, made a promise, and then signed a piece of paper guaranteeing his promise! Does Price believe she’s lying? No! Does he buy her story? Absolutely not!
There are competing burial traditions. And the history of religions school is not passe. How parallel does it have to be? Do you have to have a story where the savior is named ‘Jesus’? The claim is NOT that Christians “borrowed” the myths from non-Christian cults. Rather, the ancient world was awash in these myths.
Price’s position is not that Jesus existed per se. Every bit of Jesus’ life is all hagiography. There may well have been a Jesus, but if so we can know nothing about him. Price does proudly older, critical views. This constant appeal to consensus is absurd. Who cares what Christian scholars think? The whole profession is made of believing Christians. Craig does not appeal to the authority of scholars because no scholar has authority. Craig clouds the issue by a constant, fallacious appeal to big names and consensus.
CRAIG’S SECOND REBUTTAL
I. Four facts
A. Honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Price thinks that Acts contain a competing burial tradition. However, the book of Acts also blames the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.
B. The Empty Tomb. Price denies that the Markan account is simple. However, the women’s discovery of an empty tomb in Mark isn’t loaded with theological reflection or apologetical development. It isn’t even a supernatural story!
C. Post-Resurrection Appearances. Price hasn’t addressed this.
D. Origin of the Christian Faith. Price’s hasn’t addressed this.
When Craig quotes the majority of scholars–whether liberal, moderate, or conservative–he’s simply saying the majority finds the facts convincing. Price’s views are so extremist that even the Jesus Seminar rejects his view.
Concerning the history of religions school, Craig’s first objection was not refuted. As for Craig’s second objection, yes, the Jews were familiar with these myths, but they were horrified by them. It’s unthinkable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead (and that they were willing to die for that belief) because they heard stories about Hercules.
As for the authenticity of 1 Cor. 15, with respect to the external evidence, “the Charles Beatti papryi comes from A.D. 200. It is one of our most precious and early manuscripts. It contains all of 1 Corinthians 15.” Moreover, with respect to Ignatius, “if you look at Ignatius’ Ad Romanos chapter nine, he quotes from 1 Corinthians 15 vv. 8-9, exactly the verses Dr. Price says isn’t supposed to be there.
The internal evidence: no contradiction between 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians.
In response to Price’s creed claim:
1) There were no competing leadership group focusing on Peter and on James in the early church. Moreover, the order in the formula is chronological.
2) Authority in the early church was based on appearance. Not everyone who saw an appearance was invested with apostolic authority.
The appearance to the 500 is not mentioned elsewhere because it occurred in Galilee, “where the multititudes had flocked to hear Jesus preach. The Gospels tend to focus on the Jerusalem appearances.” Also, “the
mountaintop appearance mentioned in Matt. 28 could be the appearance to the 500 brethren, because unlike all of the other appearances, this one was by appointment. It was a rendezvous between Jesus and the disciples.
And we know at least the women were included there, as well as the twelve; this could have been to a broader crowd as well. Notice also that this same kind of argument from silence is a double-edged sword. I
could use it to argue for the early dating of Acts and the Gospels, because it doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecution of Nero, the martyrdom of James, etc. which would show that these are
not legendary fictions. They go too close back to the original events.”
1 Cor. 15:3-11 is embedded within its context; I did not assume v. 3 is part of the interpolation. The logic of the argument requires these verses.
The disciples were telling the truth. Jesus really rose from the dead.
PRICE’S SECOND REBUTTAL
The whole notion of women and only women seeking out the body of their Lord. Perfect example of parallel with pagan myths. Isis. “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” These stories did not originate as apologetics, which is why there was no problem with the women’s testimony.
How about the John the Baptist? Mark tells us that some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.
Many scholars believe in a Christianity which did not even depend on the Resurrection. The Q document comes from a community which did not say anything about the Resurrection.
Read Reginald Fuller’s Formation of the Resurrection Narratives for a good argument that ….
The 500: desparate harmonization. Would anybody say these things if they were trying to get out of a tight spot?
Think of the doubting Thomas story. Listen to the following parallel from Appollonius of Tyana. (Reads parallel)
CRAIG’S FINAL REBUTTAL
Any similarities between these so-called ‘parallels’ and Christianity are incidental features of the narrative, but in the core–the essence of the type– they are not at all the same. The Appolonius story is something to teach the immortality of the soul. Asclepius was something of a healing god. In essence, these are not at all similar. Philostratus was commissioned to write something directly as a counterpart to Christianity; this is post-Christian stuff. The Appolonius story is designed to play off the Christ figure of the gospels. You can’t explain the resurrection by mythology. Jesus needs to be understood in a Jewish context. He was a Jew and the disciples were Jews.
Concerning Craig’s four facts:
A. The Burial of Jesus. Price did not refute this. If the site of Jesus’ burial were known in Jerusalem, there is no way the resurrection faith could have flourished there.
B. The Empty Tomb. Price only addressed one of the arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb–the discovery of the tomb by women–by appealing to Isis and Osiris. This isn’t comparable to the women going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.
C. Post-Resurrection Appearances. No refutation on this point.
D. Origin of Disciples’ Belief. John and Jesus were living at the same time. They couldn’t possibly have thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead; they were contemporaries. This was the typical Jewish way of saying that Jesus was clothed with the mantle and the power of John the Baptist in his ministry, just as John the Baptist was said to be Elijah. Contrary to Price’s claim that there was a Q community which did not believe in the resurrection, there is no evidence for a Christian community which did not believe the resurrection.
Conclusion: Jesus can be a reality in your life.
PRICE’S FINAL REBUTTAL
Transformative experiences cannot settle factual disputes about history. You cannot take verisimilitude in fiction and therefore conclude the story happened, as Craig does with the story of burial by Joseph of Arimathea. There is nothing implausible about Huck Finn, but that doesn’t mean the story happened.
Jesus was taken as the resurrected John the Baptist in probably a literal sense by people who didn’t understand who he was. Some people had heard of John, heard he died, saw was this big deal going on, and figured it was John the Baptist. Not everybody knew the whole life story of Jesus.
If there was a historical Jesus (as there well may have been), there is no problem with suggesting that earliest Christians believed that Jesus had died and would shortly return as the Messiah. When time went by and he did not return, they began to messianify his earthly life and ministry and say he already came as Messiah and he already did return and we just didn’t see it because he was originally seen by small groups behind locked doors. Jewish Christian belief which did not involve visions of a resurrection that already happened. In Mark, we read some standing there will not taste death. As Raymond Brown argues, the resurrection was retrojected into the past. There are many possibilities; historical research does not press onto a dogmatic conviction. It does not say you should lay down your life on this historical opinion. One must keep an open mind and an open heart.