bookmark_borderWhy William Lane Craig Has Not Seriously Argued for Jesus’ Death

It is difficult, of course, to get into someone else’s mind and to figure out why that person thinks the way they think. But I can make some educated guesses as to why William Lane Craig rarely argues in support of the death of Jesus on the cross, and why when he does so (e.g. in The Son Rises, hereafter: TSR), he does not make a serious intellectual effort (i.e. he rattles off dozens of historical claims without providing actual historical evidence to support those claims).
I think there are at least a couple of reasons for this: (1) Craig believes that the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter ADT) was soundly refuted long ago, and (2) Craig believes that the refutation of the Apparent Death Theory is sufficient to establish the Christian view that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday. However, Craig is wrong on both points.
One reason why Craig thinks that ADT was refuted long ago, is that he thinks that David Strauss refuted ADT in the 1800’s, especially in Strauss’s book The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, which was published in the 1830s:
The full original title of this work is Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (Tübingen: 1835-1836), and it was translated from the fourth German edition into English by George Eliot (Marian Evans) (1819–1880) and published under the title The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (3 vols., London, 1846). (“David Strauss” Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Strauss)
Here is Craig’s general view of ADT:
Strauss’s critique really put the nails in the coffin for the apparent death theory. Again, I want to emphasize that no contemporary scholar would support such a theory; it has been dead over a hundred years. Only in propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain or in sensationalist books in the popular press does such a theory still find expression. (TSR, p.40)
But Craig fails to fully grasp the logic of Strauss’s position on ADT. In Strauss’s day, there were two main camps on Jesus: traditionalists who believed that Jesus performed miracles as described in the Gospels, and skeptics who believed that Jesus did more-or-less what the Gospels claimed but that Jesus did NOT perform any miracles. Strauss rejected the views of both the traditionalists and of the anti-supernaturalist skeptics. He did so by rejecting an assumption that was held by both traditionalists and skeptics: the Gospels provide historically accurate and reliable reports about the life and ministry and death of Jesus.
Strauss argued that the Gospels contained a healthy dose of fiction and myth, and that we should not take them at face value as accurate and reliable historical accounts. Against the skeptics of his day, Strauss argued that IF one assumes the Gospels to provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then one cannot reasonably deny that Jesus performed miracles. But such arguments were NOT intended to persuade the skeptics to believe that Jesus performed miracles; the arguments were intended to persuade skeptics to abandon the assumption that the Gospels provided reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus.
In view of this background information, one can view Strauss’s criticism of ADT in a similar fashion: IF you ASSUME that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the trials, crucifixion, burial of Jesus, and of the discovery of his empty tomb, and of the appearances of Jesus to his disciples on Easter Sunday, then you cannot avoid the conclusion that a miracle occurred, that Jesus rose from the dead. Specifically, IF you ASSUME that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then you cannot reasonably accept ADT.
This seems like a reasonable position to me. But the point was NOT to disprove ADT nor to prove the resurrection, but rather to prove that it is logically inconsistent to hold BOTH of the following beliefs:
(1) The Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.
(2) ADT is true.

Strauss’s view is that belief (1) ought to be rejected. But if a skeptic agrees with Strauss, and rejects (1), then there is no longer any strong reason to reject (2), because the logical inconsistency has been resolved by rejecting (1).
Now Strauss may have also rejected (2) as well as (1), but if a person embraces Strauss’s skepticism about the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts, that undermines almost all of the reasons given for rejecting (2). So, Strauss in NO WAY refuted ADT, but rather showed the way to refute most of the objections that have been raised against ADT, including the objections raised against ADT by Strauss himself.
The most often quoted objection to ADT from Strauss is what I call the Sickly Jesus Objection (hereafter: SJO). If Jesus was beaten and scourged before being crucified, and then he was nailed to the cross, then even if Jesus survived crucifixion and managed to escape from the stone tomb and find his way to the disiples, he would have been weak, and bloody, and cut, and bruised, and limping, and would have looked like warmed-over death on Easter Sunday, and such an appearance could not have inspired his disciples to develop a strong faith that Jesus had risen from the dead.
But this scenario depends heavily on the assumption that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the details of Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, burial, and appearances to his disciples. What if Jesus was NOT beaten up or scourged prior to being crucified? What if Jesus had been tied rather than nailed to the cross? What if the first post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus took place two or three weeks after the crucifixion, rather than 48 hours after it? The force of Strauss’s most famous objection to ADT rests on the very assumption that Strauss was challenging: the assumption that the Gospels provide us with accurate and reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus. If your reject this assumption, then the force of Strauss’s best-known objection to ADT is seriously diminished.
Craig might also believe that refuting ADT is sufficient to show that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday. But this involves a confusion about the logical relationship between ADT and the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday” (hereafter: DOC). DOC and ADT are mutually exclusive ideas:
If DOC is true, then ADT is false.
If ADT is true, then DOC is false.
However, these two ideas do not jointly exhaust all of the logical possibilities:
If DOC is false, then ADT might be true or might be false.
If ADT is false, then DOC might be true or might be false.
What Craig may not fully realize is that ADT is a fairly complex idea. ADT makes more than a dozen assumptions and assertions:
1. There was an historical Jesus.
2. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.
3. Jesus appeared to die on the cross on Good Friday, but he was actually still alive.
4. Jesus was judged on Good Friday to have died on the cross by the Roman soldiers who crucified him.
5. (4) happened because of (3).
6. Jesus was removed from the cross on Good Friday.
7. Jesus was burried in a stone tomb on Good Friday at about sunset.
8. The tomb where Jesus was burried on Good Friday was empty on Easter Sunday.
9. Jesus’ disciples experienced appearances of a living Jesus on Easter Sunday.
10. Jesus’ disciples developed a firm conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead on or shortly after Easter Sunday.
11. Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday.
12. (11) happened because of (3) and (4).
13. (8) happened because of (11).
14. (9) happened because of (11).
15. (10) happened because of (8), (9), and (11).

DOC and ADT are logically incompatible because of claim (3) above. So, one possible objection to ADT is to show that DOC is true. But there are many other claims and assumptions that are part of ADT. For example, if I challenge the assumption (1) that Jesus was an historical person, that would be a challenge to both ADT and DOC. If I challenge claim (2) that Jesus was crucified, that is a challenge to both ADT and DOC.
If I challenge claim (9) that Jesus’s disciples experienced appearances of a living Jesus on Easter Sunday, that would be a challenge to ADT. If I could prove that (9) was false, that would be showing that one of the claims of ADT was false. But showing that (9) is false would NOT prove that Jesus actually died on the cross. In fact, if (9) was proven false, that would cast significant doubt on the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts, and thus would undermine the primary evidence used to support the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, objections to ADT, do not necessarily provide support for DOC, and may actually provide evidence against both ADT and DOC.
If I challenge the claim (7) that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb, that would challenge ADT but not DOC. However, if it could be proved that (7) is false, that would refute ADT, but would NOT establish that Jesus actually died on the cross. Jesus could have been crucified, and survived crucifixion, but was rescued from the cross at night by a friend or a disciple, and thus was NOT burried in a stone tomb on Good Friday. In that case both ADT and DOC would be false.
Because ADT is a complex idea, a theory, it encompasses a number of claims and assumptions, and only ONE of those assumptions is that Jesus did NOT die on the cross. So, there are lots of logical possibilities besides ADT vs. DOC. In short, refutation of ADT as a way of supporting DOC commits the fallacy of false dilemma. There are more alternatives than just these two possibilities. An objection to ADT might not provide any support for DOC, and in some cases objections to ADT also work as objections to DOC.

bookmark_borderAn Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig

Dear Dr. William Lane Craig,
Let me be honest: I am opposed to Christianity. I am an enemy of Christianity. My life (or at least my free time outside of work) is dedicated to attacking and destroying the Christian faith.
However, though I hate the faith, I love the believer. I don’t hate you or any other Christian apologist. In fact, I admire you and your life-long dedication to the defense of Christianity. I think you have the potential to be the best Christian apologist of the 21st century, and even of the modern era. As an undergraduate, my plan was to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and do graduate study in Christian apologetics under your guidance. But I left the Christian faith about the time I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy, so my original plan did not work out.
As an enemy of Christianity, I must admit to a certain degree of pleasure in taking apart the arguments of Christian apologists, such as your arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. But, frankly, I’m tired of knocking down the straw men that you and your fellow apologists so steadily put forward. I’m not committing the Straw-Man Fallacy when I do so; there just are no ‘real men’ out there to challenge, no real, intellectually serious cases for the resurrection of Jesus that exemplify scholarly excellence.
I don’t want to win the war against Christianity simply because you and your fellow apologists are too lazy to make a real and honest intellectually serious effort to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. I want to win only after having come face-to-face with a powerful and scholarly and well-thought-out case for the resurrection, and I think you are the one who could actually pull this off. But you have not done so yet.
David Hume was a skeptic who challenged the intellectual complacency of Immanuel Kant. As a young man, Kant thought that Christian metaphysics was in the bag, a done deal, a settled matter. Kant was wrong. It took the skeptic David Hume to wake him from his dogmatic slumber. I want to perform a similar service for you and your fellow apologists. There is no real, intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus, no case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytic thinking. I want to wake you up from your dogmatic slumber on this issue.
Although we are on opposite sides of the fence concerning Christianity, you and I agree on some important issues. We agree that everyone, at least every American and every European (and Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and South American), ought to take a stand for or against the Christian faith. Nobody should be a Christian just because their parents were Christians, or just because their friends or neighbors were Christians. Just like nobody should be an atheist just because their parents were atheists, or just because their friends or neighbors were atheists. Each person should make up his or her own mind and take a stand on this important issue.
We also agree that, although there are many different beliefs and practices associated with Christianity, there are a few basic issues that constitute the heart-and-soul of the Christian faith: Who was Jesus? Was Jesus just a wise Jewish teacher? Or was he a true prophet, the divine Son of God, and the savior of humankind? Anyone who denies that Jesus was a true prophet, or that he was (and is) the divine Son of God, or that he was (and is) the savior of humankind, is not truly a Christian, no matter what other specific Christian beliefs or values he or she may have adopted (e.g. the Golden Rule, charity towards the poor, etc.).
Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:
1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday?
2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?
Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.
Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).
I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. 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 your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.
Here are my recommendations:
1. Confess the Truth (i.e. Geisler’s principle)
If you agree with Geisler’s principle that the historicity of Jesus’ death must be proven in order to prove the resurrection, then admit this principle. If for some reason you disagree with Geisler’s principle, then say so publically, and make your best and strongest case against Geisler’s principle in public and in writing.
2. Confess the Sin (i.e. the intellectual shortfall)
If you agree with Geisler’s principle, then take the next step and admit that your case for the resurrection (as well as the case made by each of your fellow Christian apologists) is a failure because you have not (yet) made an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross, a case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking.
As a young man, Richard Swinburne looked around and noted that one of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith was in the apparent conflicts between science and faith, particularly between science and the Christian faith. He also noted that this was the elephant in the living room, that Christian theologians and intellectuals had failed to seriously address this problem. He then dedicated his life to understanding both science and the Christian faith, and to making a serious intellectual effort to reconcile science with the Christian faith. As with alcoholism, it is essential to recognize and admit that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
3. Repent (i.e. fill the intellectual void)
I know you are a sharp person who has knowledge and skill in N.T. scholarship, and in the history of Christian apologetics, and in philosophical analysis. I have faith in you. I believe that you have the potential to fill a huge gap in Christian apologetics and to be the only modern apologist to make an intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus.
So, no more of the crappy two-page “cases” for the historicity of the death of Jesus. Just say ‘NO’ to such intellectual sloth. Take your own good advice to heart:
The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier [than philosophical apologetics] is because they do it superficially. But, of course, one can do philosophical apologetics superficially too! My point is that if we are to do a credible job in our apologetics, we need to do the hard thinking and the hard work required, or at least to rely on those who have.
(Reasonable Faith, p.253)

On my bookcase is a two-volume set by Raymond Brown titled: The Death of the Messiah. The first volume is 877 pages. The second volume is 731 pages. Both volumes are densely-packed with intellectually serious work that exemplifies excellence in historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking. Brown is focused mainly on the meaning and significance of the Passion narratives, and pays less attention to historical issues. But there is plenty of good material there to make use of in building an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus.
But I’m NOT asking you to write a massive two-volume work spanning 1,600 pages in defense of the actual death of Jesus on the cross (although I wouldn’t complain if you did). What I’m asking is that you treat Question (1) with at least as much intellectual seriousness and effort and care as you have treated Question (2).
Please write a book or a long scholarly article defending the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” One hundred pages would be a good start. A 200-300 page book could really do the trick.
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
Skeptic and Enemy of Christianity

bookmark_borderCraig’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.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

Although Christian apologists bear the burden of proof to show that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross’, William Craig usually ignores this issue in his books, articles, and debates defending the resurrection of Jesus. In my previous post, I pointed out that there is at least one book in which Craig does make a case for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ Craig makes a very brief attempt at this in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (hereafter: TSR).
His case is made in just five paragraphs, in a little more than two pages of text. The first paragraph is the longest. We saw previously that Craig makes about 30 different historical claims in the first paragraph, but provides zero historical evidence in support of those claims.
The second paragraph is much shorter than the first, just two sentences:
The Shroud of Turin, whether it is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus or not, illustrates graphically the extent of Jesus’ physical suffering. The image of the man on the cloth is covered front and back with wounds from head to foot, where the flagrum, a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone, had torn apart his flesh, furnishing us a grisly picture of what Jesus must have looked like when He was laid on the cross. (TSR, p.37-38)
Craig knows better than to put the Shroud of Turin forward as historical evidence for the death of Jesus, so he does not do so. Instead, he states that it “illustrates graphically” the wounds that Jesus had “when He was laid on the cross.” So, once again, Craig puts forward some historical claims, with no historical evidence to support those claims. By my count he makes five historical claims (about Jesus) in this paragraph:
The Shroud of Turin, whether it is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus or not, illustrates graphically the extent of Jesus’ physical suffering. The image of the man on the cloth is covered front[1]
and back with wounds from head to foot[2],
where the flagrum, a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone[3], had torn apart his flesh [4],
furnishing us a grisly picture of what Jesus must have looked like when He was laid on the cross.[5] (TSR, p.37-38)

Most immediately Craig is making claims about “the man on the cloth”, but clearly he believes that the violent abuse and wounds of “the man on the cloth” are very similar to the experiences and wounds of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion. So, each claim about “the man on the cloth” implies an historical claim about Jesus:
1. The front of Jesus’ body was covered with wounds from head to foot, just before he was crucified.
2. The back of Jesus’ body was covered with wounds from head to foot, just before he was crucified.
3. A flagrum is a multi-thonged Roman whip with metal or bone.
4. Some of the wounds on Jesus’ body that resulted from being whipped were deep and serious wounds (“had torn apart his flesh”).
5. The wounds on the front and back of Jesus’ body just prior to his crucifixion, were caused by being whipped with a flagrum.
On top of the 30 unsupported historical claims in paragraph one, Craig quickly adds five more unsupported historical claims. So, in the first two paragraphs, we get 35 historical claims and zero pieces of historical evidence. Not an auspicious start to a five-paragraph presentation of “historical evidence” for the death of Jesus.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus

Anyone who asserts that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ takes on a burden of proof, and because this is an extraordinary claim, the proof required is extraordinary proof. Make a miracle claim and you take on a heavy burden of proof. So, when William Craig asserts that ‘Jesus rose from the dead’, he takes upon himself a heavy burden of proof, and part of that burden of proof is to provide powerful historical evidence for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’
It should go without saying that Jesus could NOT have risen from the dead until AFTER he had in fact died. So, proving the death of Jesus is essential to proving the resurrection of Jesus. But, as I pointed out in a recent post, in most of his books, articles, and debates on this subject, Craig simply ignores this question, and thus it appears that his case for the resurrection of Jesus is a complete failure. However, there is one book in which Craig devotes slightly more than two pages to defending the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ So, before I can show that Craig’s case is in fact a complete failure, I need to consider his two-page case for this historical claim.
It is obvious to me that it is absurd to try to argue for this historical claim in just two pages, but apparently this point is not obvious to everyone (e.g. Craig doesn’t get this), so I will walk through Craig’s attempt at defending the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ Hopefully, this will help others to see the absurdity of attempting to make a two-page case for this historical claim.
The book where Craig makes this case is The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. (hereafter: TSR). Based on the title, one would reasonably expect that a significant portion of TSR would involve Craig presenting historical evidence in support of the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ But what we actually find is that out of about 150 pages, only two pages are devoted to making a case for this key claim (about 1.5% of the book is devoted to this issue).
Furthermore, as we shall soon see, there is a glaring absence of historical evidence presented by Craig on this key question, which is no surprise given that he tries to build his case in just two scrawny pages. Craig’s case starts near the top of page 37 and concludes about 1/3 of the way down from the top of page 39. There is a little more than two pages of text in his case, which is organized into five paragraphs, containing a grand total of 35 sentences.
What is “historical evidence”? We usually think of historical evidence as being documents. There are personal documents, such as diaries, journals, and personal letters. There are also public documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, published speeches, books, articles, essays, poetry, biographies, plays, newspapers, novels, magazines, etc.
But other artifacts besides documents may also constitute historical evidence. For example: houses, buildings, furniture, carpets, tapestries, clothing, pots, dishes, cups, bowls, tools, machines, weapons, armor, boats, paintings, drawings, sculpture, mosaics, etc. Some of the best historical evidence we have is from photographs, sound recordings, and movies. (Obviously, there are no photographs, sound recordings, or movies of the actual crucifixion or burial of Jesus).
Finally, non-artifacts may also constitute historical evidence. For example: human skulls, skeletons, human hair, and even human skin (when a body is well preserved). Crimes are often solved by use of such historical evidence: footprints, fingerprints, hairs, blood, saliva, semen, and urine.
The first paragraph in Craig’s case is the longest; it contains 14 sentences, and it asserts many historical claims:
1. The theory [the Apparent Death Theory] failed to take seriously the extent of Jesus’ physical injury. In order to demonstrate this, let us review the events leading up to Jesus’ death and burial. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night and tried illegally by a night session of the Jewish court. During the trial, they spit on Him; they blindfolded Him and hit Him in the face with their fists. They turned Him over to the guards, who beat Him further. Up all night without sleep, Jesus was taken Friday morning to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who in turn sent Him off to the Jewish king, Herod, who after interrogation sent Him back to Pilate. Condemned before a crowd screaming for His blood, Jesus was given to the Roman guards, who whipped Him. They made a crown of thorns and shoved it down onto His head and beat Him with a stick. Jesus was then compelled to carry the heavy cross, on which he was to be crucified, through the streets of the city to the place of crucifixion. Unable to bear the load, He collapsed from exhaustion. Another man was forced to carry the cross the remainder of the way. Jesus was then laid on the cross, and nails were driven through his wrists and a spike through his feet. Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims, this could have been done by first nailing the wrists of the victim to the cross, then twisting the body sideways and driving the spike through both ankles. In this contorted position, the victim was then raised up on the cross, and the cross was dropped into a hole in the ground. (TSR, p.37)
Many of these sentences make more than just one historical claim, so there are more historical claims than sentences. By my count, Craig makes about 30 historical claims in this opening paragraph:
1. The theory [the Apparent Death Theory] failed to take seriously the extent of Jesus’ physical injury. In order to demonstrate this, let us review the events leading up to Jesus’ death and burial. [claim 1]
Jesus was arrested on Thursday night [claim 2]
and tried illegally [claim 3]
by a night session of the Jewish court. [claim 4]
During the trial, they spit on Him; [claim 5]
they blindfolded Him [claim 6]
and hit Him in the face with their fists. [claim 7]
They turned Him over to the guards, [claim 8]
who beat Him further. [claim 9]
Up all night without sleep, [claim 10]
Jesus was taken Friday morning to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, [claim 11]
who in turn sent Him off to the Jewish king, Herod, [claim 12]
who after interrogation [claim 13]
sent Him back to Pilate. [claim 14]
Condemned before a crowd screaming for His blood, [claim 15]
Jesus was given to the Roman guards, [claim 16]
who whipped Him. [claim 17]
They made a crown of thorns [claim 18]
and shoved it down onto His head [claim 19]
and beat Him with a stick. [claim 20]
Jesus was then compelled to carry the heavy cross, on which he was to be crucified, through the streets of the city to the place of crucifixion. [claim 21]
Unable to bear the load, He collapsed from exhaustion. [claim 22]
Another man was forced to carry the cross the remainder of the way. [claim 23]
Jesus was then laid on the cross, [claim 24]
and nails were driven through his wrists [claim 25]
and a spike through his feet. [claim 26]
Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims, this could have been done by first nailing the wrists of the victim to the cross,[claim 27]
then twisting the body sideways and driving the spike through both ankles.[claim 28]
In this contorted position, the victim was then raised up on the cross, [claim 29]
and the cross was dropped into a hole in the ground. [claim 30]
(TSR, p.37)

Craig makes many historical claims here. How much historical evidence does Craig provide in support of the many historical claims he makes here? Does Craig provide quotations from any relevant personal documents (e.g. diaries, journals, letters)? No. Does Craig quote any public documents? (e.g. legal documents, published books, speeches, biographies, essays)? No. How about other non-document artifacts (e.g. buildings, tools, coins, machines, weapons, clothing, utensils)? Nope.
There is only one brief hint at historical evidence in this paragraph. It is given in the second-to-last sentence of the paragraph: “Judging from skeletal remains of crucifixion victims…” What skeletal remains? What bones is Craig talking about? How many skeletons of crucifixion victims is he talking about? Two skeletons? Five skeletons? Ten? Two-hundred? Where are these skeletal remains now located? Who discovered and studied the remains? Where were the bones found? How old were the bones? How were the bones dated? How well preserved were the bones?
What are the credentials of those who did the “Judging” that Craig mentions? Did Craig himself examine these bones? If so, he is not an archaeologist, and he not an expert in human physiology, so his judgment would not be of much worth on this question. Craig provides no details, and no reference to any scientific or scholarly articles on the “skeletal remains”, so there is no actual specific historical evidence put forward here, only a hint at some possible but unspecified number of skeletons, discovered at an unspecified location by some unspecified archeologist, having some unspecified date established by some unspecified method…
My youngest daughter is in the fourth grade. This year she and her classmates have had more than one assignment to write a short factual essay. The teacher taught these fourth graders that when writing factual essays, they should specify the books, articles, and web pages that they used as sources of their information. If William Craig wants to do so, I could arrange for him to visit my daughter’s classroom and he could learn the importance of citing the sources of information that one uses when writing a factual essay.
There is not a single quotation or citation or end note for the thirty historical claims Craig makes in the first paragraph of his presentation of “historical evidence” for the claim that ‘Jesus actually died on the cross.’ But this childish and pathetic paragraph is precisely what we ought to expect from a two-page case for the death of Jesus.
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Craig, William. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981. Print.

bookmark_borderThe Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection

According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:

Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.
One further point to mitigate the absurdity of trying to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross in a little under two pages is the fact that the book When Skeptics Ask covers a wide variety of topics in Christian apologetics: the purpose of apologetics, the existence of God, alternatives to theism, the problem of evil, miracles, Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, science and evolution, life after death, the nature of truth, and morality. This is NOT a book devoted exclusively to the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. It is about 300 pages and covers many different topics and issues. However, as far as I am aware, the case for the death of Jesus in this book is the best and most in-depth case for this claim that Geisler has ever made.
William Craig, on the other hand, has specialized in making the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Craig has debated others on this issue on a number of occasions, and he has written books and articles specifically to present a case for the resurrection. So, if Craig understands and accepts Geisler’s common-sense point that in order to “show that Jesus rose from the dead” Christian apologists “need to show that He really did die”, then we should expect that Craig would do a much better and more thorough job of dealing with this historical question.
But Craig does NOT do better than Geisler in showing that Jesus really did die on the cross. In fact, more often than not, Craig simply ignores this issue. Therefore, I conclude that Craig does NOT understand and agree with this common-sense point made so clearly by Geisler. Craig does not understand that when he asserts that “Jesus rose from the dead”, he takes on the burden of proof to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.
The clearest evidence for my view of Craig’s failure to understand and accept Geisler’s common-sense point is in Craig’s book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. If Craig understood and agreed with Geisler’s point, then at least one-fourth of this book should be devoted to the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”.
To answer this question, Craig would need to carefully examine the passion narratives of the four Gospels, and to discuss the historical reliability of the details in those narratives. Craig would need to discuss the Roman practices regarding crucifixion, and he would need to talk about the medical aspects of crucifixion, and Craig would need to discuss the various alleged wounds of Jesus (beating, scourging, nailing to the cross, spear wound), and the medical implications of these alleged wounds.
Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus is 420 pages long, and (obviously) it is dedicated to nothing but the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. So, clearly Craig, if he accepted Geisler’s point, would devote much more than the pathetic two pages that we get from Geisler on this key question.
It is reasonable to expect that at least 100 pages, and perhaps as much as 200 pages, of this 420-page tome would focus on the whether Jesus really did die on the cross. But, alas, Craig does not write 200 pages arguing for the death of Jesus, nor does he write 100 pages on the death of Jesus. Does he write 50 pages on this question? No. 25 pages? No. Out of 420 pages, Craig writes exactly ZERO pages on the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”
Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.
In the first 347 pages ofAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:
Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)
There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
Also, EACH of the three items above provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
If we assume that Jesus was in fact buried in a tomb on Good Friday, and that the tomb was in fact found empty on Easter Sunday morning, then this is evidence that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday. But if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus either was NOT crucified on Friday, or that he survived crucifixion. The resurrection appearances are also evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, but if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Finally, if we assume that Jesus’ disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, presumably this is evidence that they believed they had seen Jesus alive after he had allegedly died. But again, if we take this as evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then it is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Craig has not only failed to make a case FOR the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday, but ALL of the evidence that he does put forward appears to make a strong case AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday.
Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.
Here is how Craig summarizes his case in the debate with Ludemann:
In summary, there are four facts agreed on by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects that any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. (Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, p.34)
Of these four “facts” the last three are actually evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross, because evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross on Good Friday.
The only “fact” here that might be used to support the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross is the burial of Jesus. But Jesus could have been buried in a tomb either as the result of a conspiracy (in which one or more persons knew that Jesus was alive when he was buried) or the result of an honest mistake (Jesus could been alive but appeared to be dead). Furthermore, the burial of Jesus shows, at best, that some people believed Jesus had died, but it does not show they believed Jesus had died on a cross. So, the burial of Jesus is hardly solid proof that he died on the cross. Furthermore, Craig makes no inference from the burial to the death of Jesus. He never argues (in the debate) that the burial is evidence for the death of Jesus.
The same is true of Craig’s debate with John Crossan. Here is Craig summarizing his case for the resurrection:
Now Dr. Crossan realizes that once you agree to these four facts–namely, Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection–then it’s very difficult to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation.(Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, p.29)
Craig makes the same points in his debate with Bart Ehrman:
In conclusion, then, I think that there is good historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Specifically, I’ve staked out two basic contentions for discussion tonight:
I. There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis: Jesus’ burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, and
II. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.
Transcript of Debate with Ehrman
viewed 5/23/14
Craig makes the same case for the resurrection in Jesus Under Fire:
What, then, is the relevant body of evidence pertinent to the alleged resurrection of Jesus? It can be conveniently grouped under three main headings: (1) Jesus’ empty tomb, (2) the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and (3) the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. (“Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire, p.146)
Again, each of these items provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
In a journal article titled “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” Craig offers the same three points:
These three great facts–the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith–all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.(Truth 1 (1985): 89-95)
Online Copy of Article
viewed 5/23/14
In his general book on apologetics, Craig emphasizes the same evidence:
The case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus seems to me to rest upon the evidence for three great, independently established facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. (Reasonable Faith, p.272)
Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
In fairness to Craig, there is one book in which he does present a couple of pages of evidence and reasons in support of the actual death of Jesus. I will examine those two pages in a future post. At best, Craig comes up to Geisler’s lowly level of argumentation in that book, and does so in only that one instance, as far as I know. In most other books, articles, and debates, Craig has virtually nothing to say in defense of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.”
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Copan, Paul, ed. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998. Print.
Copan, Paul, and Ronald Tacelli, eds. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print.
Craig, William. Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. Print.
Craig, William. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994. Print.
Craig, William. “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Jesus Under Fire. Ed. Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995. Print.
Reasonable Faith website. “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?: William Lane Craig vs. Bart D. Ehrman.” Reasonable Faith.org. (College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States – March 28, 2006). Web. Accessed 5/24/14.
Geisler, Norman, and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook of Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990. Print.

bookmark_borderA Not-So-Good Friday

Sorry, but I cannot let this Good Friday pass by without making a comment on my favorite topic: the resurrection of Jesus.

I am uniquely qualified to write about Good Friday, because, unlike most human beings, I have been crucified. Actually, technically, I crucified myself. That probably sounds horrific, or at least a bit kinky, but it is true, and, obviously, I lived to tell the tale.

In case you are not aware, nobody knows how crucifixion causes death. There are competing theories about this, of course. The most widely held theory is that crucifixion causes death by asphyxiation. However, as Dr. Frederick Zugibe has argued in The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry (2005), there are good reasons to reject this popular theory. The main reason to doubt this theory is that crucifixion experiments conducted by Dr. Zugibe on human volunteers failed to produce evidence of any difficulty in breathing for the “victims” who were crucified.

Perhaps I should clarifiy the term “crucifixion” now. Most people think that Jesus was “nailed to the cross” and that being nailed to a cross is what “crucifixion” means. This is a false assumption. First of all, as Jehovah’s Witnesses are fond of pointing out, crucifixion need not involve a cross. Someone can be crucified on a stake or a tree. Second, crucifixion need not involve nails. Victims of crucifixion were often tied or bound, rather than nailed.

So, no, I did not nail myself to a cross. Dr. Zugibe did not nail anyone to a cross either; he secured the hands of human volunteers to a cross by means of leather gauntlets created specifically for the experiment.

Zugibe’s experiments cast significant doubt on the asphyxiation theory, but there were a couple of deficiencies in his experiments. First, we don’t know the position of the crucifixion victims and whether crosses were the standard, so many victims of crucifixion, including Jesus, could have been suspended with their hands overhead, rather than suspended with arms outstreched to each side (as we see in typical depictions of Jesus’ crucifixion).

This is significant, because asphyxiation is supposed to occur more quickly if one is suspended by hands directly above one’s head. Second, because of pain experienced by the human volunteers, the suspensions in Dr. Zugibe’s experiments were only allowed to continue for a few minutes. Since victims of crucifixion were typically suspended for hours and even days, one could wonder whether a suspension lasting longer than a few minutes would result in asphyxiation.

For those reasons, I suspended myself from my hands, with my hands overhead, using gauntlets similar to those in Zugibe’s experiment. To avoid injuring or killing myself, I did not suspend my full weight this way. I began by suspending myself on a slight angle (about 30 degrees), and worked my way up in stages to closer to vertical (about 60 degrees). I tried to stay suspended for longer than the Zugibe experiments. I think I made it up to 15 minutes (I will have to check my notes on that). At any rate, having most of my weight suspended from my wrists and arms was painful. The pain is focused on joints: wrists and shoulders. I never experienced any difficulty in breathing. Some day I hope to try this again, take some pain killers, and remain suspended for an hour or so.

Based on Zugibe’s experiments, and my personal experience with crucifixion, I conclude that the asphyxiation theory is probably false.

Zugibe has his own theory about what caused Jesus to die, but his theory is based on an ignorant and naive view of the Gospels, with a large dash of imagination and wishful thinking thrown into the mix. In any case, Zugibe’s theory is not a general theory about how crucifixion causes death, and given the dubious nature of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, a well-established theory of this sort is required in order to establish that Jesus died on the cross.

No such theory exists. We don’t know how crucifixion kills people. As a result, it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday.

I can say with confidence, however, that if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and if he was suspended from a cross (or stake) for a number of hours, then it was a not-so-good Friday for Jesus.