Monday, June 27, 2011

Craig vs. Ehrman Part 1: Craig's Opening Statement

While searching for the answer to the question “did Jesus rise from the dead?” I stumbled across a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman. The purpose of the next series of posts will be to summarize the arguments from both parties, glean any relevant information from the discussion, point out logical fallacies on both sides of the field, and attempt to draw conclusions.

Summary of Craig’s Opening Statement

(The following is a direct quotation)

(I) Four Historical Facts Which Must Be Explained By Any Adequate Historical Hypothesis:

  • Jesus’ burial
  • the discovery of his empty tomb
  • his post-mortem appearances
  • the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
(End direct quote)

Support for this statement: (For my summary of this evidence, see “Just the Evidence: The Burial of Jesus,

  • Multiple, independent sources attest to Fact #1:
    • Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
    • The extra-biblical Gospel of Peter
    • The apostle Paul
  • The burial account is part of Mark’s ‘source’ material
    • This ‘source’ is probably based on eyewitness testimony, and is dated back to under 7 years from the crucifixion (According to Rudolf Pesch)
  • Paul cites another ‘source’ which ‘most scholars’ date to within 5 years of the crucifixion
  • Joseph of Arimathea is a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin
    • Because the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus, it is unlikely that Joseph is a Christian invention
    • In the eyes of the early Christians, the Jews ‘engineered’ the death of Jesus- why make one of them look good?

“Fact #2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.”

Support for Fact #2:

  • Multiple, independent, early attestation
    • Mark- makes use of the same early ‘source’ material listed above
    • Matthew, John, and Acts (Acts is a continuation of Luke) also contain accounts
    • Paul implies the empty tomb (1 Cor. 15:4)
  • The tomb was found empty by women
    • In ancient Jewish society, the testimony of women was worthless
    • Women were not permitted to serve as witnesses in Jewish court
    • If the gospels had been made up, ‘reliable’ sources like Peter, or John would have been listed.
    • The most likely explanation for the women being the ones to find the tomb is that the women actually did find the tomb.

“Fact #3: On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.”

Support for Fact #3:

  • “Paul’s list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred.”
  • According to Paul, Jesus appeared to Peter, the 12 disciples, 500 disciples at once, James (the brother of Jesus, who was not a believer at that time), and finally to himself in a vision.

“Fact #4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.”

Support for Fact #4:

“Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion:

1. Their leader was dead.

And Jewish Messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and

immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief.”

Craig claims that the best explanation for the radical change which took place in the lives of the disciples and the explosion of the early church is that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

“(II) The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.”

The Resurrection Hypothesis passes all of the standard criteria for being the best explanation, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, and so forth.”

Alternative explanations- the Conspiracy Hypothesis, the Apparent Death Hypothesis, the Hallucination Hypothesis, etc. are not as good as the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead.

 Craig’s Conclusion:

“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.”

Coming soon: Summary of Dr. Ehrman’s Opening Statement

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