Overview:

William Lane Craig responded to an article of mine. Find out if my arguments really were as sophomoric as he claimed.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

William Lane Craig, a Bible scholar with two relevant doctorates, tells me that I have “a very naive understanding of the case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus” and that I use “sophomoric refutations.” Grab some popcorn, watch the debate unfold, and see which case you think is stronger.

My original article was The Bible defeats its own Resurrection story (12/2/21), and Dr. Craig’s reply was Eyewitnesses and the Resurrection (video, 3/26/22). The conversation between Dr. Craig and his cohost Kevin Harris was polite but direct, and I’ll try to reply in kind.

The article that ruffled feathers

My point was first that Christian apologists often claim that the gospel story was told by authors who were eyewitnesses. Firsthand, eyewitness testimony would be more credible. I agree that an eyewitness source would be more credible, but the Bible makes clear that they weren’t eyewitnesses.

That’s the second point. Let’s be precise: an eyewitness to the Resurrection must (1) see Jesus alive, then (2) see him dead, then (3) see him alive again. Anyone who didn’t observe each of these might have a story to tell, but they wouldn’t be an eyewitness. Our oldest gospels say that the disciples fled before the crucifixion and death, which means they didn’t witness point (2), which means they weren’t eyewitnesses.

True, the women followers saw Jesus dead. The problem remains that the eyewitnesses weren’t the authors, and the authors weren’t eyewitnesses.

Also true, the later two gospels (Luke and John) did have the disciples witness the death. But what kind of solution is this? Now you have contradictory gospels.

Eyewitness testimony

Craig pushed back:

I don’t know of any prominent exponent of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection who would base it upon the Gospel writers being eyewitnesses to these events.

That’s not my point. I only said that “many apologists insist that the resurrection was documented by eyewitnesses.” I’m not saying that it must be, just that eyewitness status is commonly claimed for the gospel authors. Craig himself agrees: “The dominant view is that the passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony.”

Craig then said:

Bob’s statement “Only eyewitness authors could be credible” is outrageously naive and patently false.

Not my claim. I’m simply paraphrasing those apologists who insist that the gospel authors must have been eyewitnesses.

NOT eyewitness testimony: writing about the distant past

Craig defends the idea that non-eyewitnesses can write good history:

Just to give one example, Arrian and Plutarch are ancient historians who wrote The Life of Alexander the Great, and they did so hundreds of years after Alexander’s death. And yet classical scholars regard these biographies of the life of Alexander as largely credible historically accurate accounts of the life of Alexander the Great.

If you’re wondering what “largely credible” is a fig leaf for, here are a couple of examples. Arrian wrote, “Alexander was also partly urged by a desire of emulating Perseus and Heracles, from both of whom he traced his descent” (Heracles and Perseus were both gods).

Plutarch said something similar, “As for Alexander’s family, it is firmly established that he was descended from Heracles through Caranus on his father’s side and from Aeacus through Neoptolemus on his mother’s” (Aeacus was also a god).

Alexander tracing his lineage back to gods on both sides of his family may have been said at the time, but the consensus of modern historians is that this isn’t historical fact. They routinely scrub the supernatural from history. Is this really the comparison Craig wants to make? Should historians give the supernatural elements in the gospel story the same harsh treatment?

The Bible makes clear that they weren’t eyewitnesses.

Dr. Craig, are you sure you want to go there?

This is an odd argument for Craig to make. He has a complicated relationship with the growth of legends. He wants to ignore the possibility of legendary contamination in the books of the New Testament (written as much as seventy years after the crucifixion). On the other hand, he doesn’t want to be forced to accept the couple of dozen noncanonical gospels written in the second century and later. He’s drawn a convenient line at roughly the year 100 CE, arguing that New Testament writings written before that date are trustworthy, and those written afterwards are not.

But now he’s arguing that the more than 400 years separating Alexander’s death from the biographies by Arrian and Plutarch are not a big deal. Is he abandoning his previous stance to now accept the noncanonical gospels?

In what seems like an Easter miracle, perhaps we’re on the same page. If Craig is saying that a 400-year gap might be acceptable if you first purge the supernatural elements, then I agree.

See also: Oral Tradition and the Game of Telephone: A. N. Sherwin-White’s Famous Quote

Continue as we puzzle over the role of women at the tomb and wonder why the disciples were surprised by the Resurrection here.

We can see the cognitive dissonance
when they try to make their excuses.
They think we don’t notice,
but it’s like the letter “l” in “salmon.”
You may not be saying it,
but when you spell it all out
we can see it right there.
— commenter MR

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...