Commentary on:

William Lane Craig Articles: Historical Jesus

August 2006

(March 20, 2017 note: Most links in this series of essays are broken. I assume for the moment that Craig has simply relocated the articles to which they went. I will update the links when I find out where the articles are now.)

I had never heard of William Lane Craig before reading Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ in early 2000, back when I was still new to cyberspace. I have learned since then that he is apparently one of the big guns of evangelical apologetics. That doesn't mean he converts a lot of skeptics. Being a good apologist has little to do with converting unbelievers. It has much instead to do with keeping believers in the fold, preventing them from turning into unbelievers. Craig no doubt sincerely wishes he could bring a few skeptics to a belief in his version of Christianity, but his fallacy-ridden arguments are not going to do that, and he probably knows it. But, if he can keep just one Christian from becoming a skeptic, then that is just as good from his viewpoint. Whether he gains a convert or prevents an apostasy, either way one less soul will burn in hell for eternity.

I have no knowledge of whether Craig has actually kept anyone from losing their faith. No Christian has told me that they were having serious doubts about Christianity's truth until they read something Craig had written or saw him in a debate with some atheist. But, I've been a Christian myself, and so I know what Christians want to hear from their mentors. Craig does say what they want to hear, and he says it very effectively and with much scholarly authority. He has the academic credentials it takes to impress people who think authority is everything. To the evangelical way of thinking, you not only can't do anything without someone's permission, you can't believe anything without permission, either. Craig reassures Christians that they have all the permission they need to be Christians but, more to the point, none at all to be skeptics.

The Web site I am critiquing here is not just a defense of Jesus' historicity. Craig is not, at least not directly, addressing those who deny that Christianity originated in the teachings of a charismatic first-century itinerant rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth. The site could have been more accurately titled "Historical Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth." What Craig attempts to prove is that there is solid historical evidence not just for Jesus' existence but also for his having risen from the dead—evidence so solid, he would have the reader think, that it just is not reasonable for anyone to entertain any doubt about the matter. And that, of course, is exactly what intellectually active Christians need to be told if they are going to stay Christians.

I will not attempt any proof here that there was no resurrection. For the sake of this discussion I stipulate that a reasonable person may reasonably believe that Jesus of Nazareth came back to life a few days after he was killed by Roman executioners. I will try to limit my argument to the proposition that it is at least as reasonable to doubt the resurrection as to believe in it. The evidence for the resurrection, even if permissive, is not compelling. All it takes to justify doubt is an ordinary healthy skepticism, not a pigheaded refusal to face incontrovertible facts.

There are 11 articles on Craig's Web site. They were not written as a set, but separately for various publishers over several years, and there is consequently a certain amount of repetition of his arguments. I have tried to avoid repeating my own self by focusing on different aspects of an argument where it appears in more than one place. Since the last article listed on Craig's home page, "The Disciples' Inspection of the Empty Tomb," adds nothing substantial to his case, I have prepared no response at this time.

1. Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar

2. The Evidence for Jesus

3. Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis

4. Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus.

5. From Easter to Valentinus and the Apostles' Creed Once More: A Critical Examination of James Robinson's Proposed Resurrection Appearance Trajectories

6. The Guard at the Tomb

7. The Problem Of Miracles: A Historical And Philosophical Perspective

8. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus

9. Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

10. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Site home.

Religion index.

(This page last updated on March 20, 2017.)