Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 8

Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 8 June 22, 2014

In the first three paragraphs of William Craig’s “case” for the claim that Jesus died on the cross, Craig makes 60 different historical claims, but provides only ONE piece of actual historical evidence for just ONE of the 60 historical claims. Furthermore, the one piece of historical evidence provided by Craig is irrelevant to the historical claim it was supposed to support, based on a modern scholarly translation of the Major Declamations.

In paragraph four, Craig makes 22 historical claims, nearly half of which are supported ONLY by the historically dubious Fourth gospel:

although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, [claim 2]
they did not break Jesus’ legs [claim 3]
because [claim 4]
they saw that [claim 5]
He was already dead. [claim 6]
…one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side [claim 8]
to ensure that He was dead, [claim 9]
…blood and water flowed out. [claim 11]
wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices, [claim 19]
in Jesus’ case about seventy-five pounds of them. [claim 20]

Based on the assumption that claims (8) and (11) are true, Craig asserts some related medical claims, even though he has no medical expertise:

This flow [of blood and water] could have been a serum from the pericardial sac, mixed with blood from the heart,[claim 12]
or a hemorrhagic fluid in the pleural cavity between the ribs and the lungs. [claim 13]

No historical evidence is given in support of the remaining historical claims, except for claim (25):

According to procedure, […one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side] [claim 7]
Jesus was taken down from the cross [claim 14]
and buried in the customary Jewish manner. [claim 15]
This included [claim 16]
binding the hands and feet [claim 17]
and [also included wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices] [claim 18]
the body was then laid in a tomb carved out of rock, [claim 21]
and a great stone was laid across the entrance. [claim 22]
This was then sealed, [claim 23]

Claim (25) is supported only by the gospel of Matthew:

a guard was set around the tomb. [claim 25]

But, as Craig is well aware, the story in Matthew about guards watching the tomb of Jesus is doubted by many N.T. scholars, so simply pointing to the gospel of Matthew is not sufficient, not to mention that there are dozens of critical background questions about the gospel of Matthew that Craig has not even attempted to answer.

Craig has published an entire article defending the historicity of this one story found only in Matthew: “The Guard at the Tomb.” New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 273-81. You can read the article for yourself on Craig’s website:

The Guard at the Tomb

If simply citing the passage from Matthew was sufficient, then there would be no need for such an article. But, as the first sentence of the article states:

Matthew’s story of the guard at the tomb of Jesus is widely regarded as an apologetic legend.

Since many N.T. scholars doubt or reject the historicity of this story in Matthew, it is intellectually dishonest for Craig to assert this event as an historical fact and to simply point to the gospel of Matthew as his evidence.

Since claim (7) is a duplication of a claim from paragraph three, there are just 21 new historical claims in paragraph four, bringing the total number of historical claims in paragraphs one through four to 81.

No historical evidence was provided for 69 out of the 81 historical claims. For ten claims Craig points to (or could point to) passages in the Fourth gospel that describe events or details found ONLY in that gospel, a gospel considered to be historically unreliable by most of the leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries. For one claim Craig points to a story found only in the gospel of Matthew, a story that many leading N.T. scholars doubt or reject as being unhistorical. For one claim Craig provided the very poor historical evidence of the passage from Major Declamations (which he did not even bother to quote).

Thus, of the 81 historical claims that Craig makes in his “case” for the death of Jesus:

85% are simply asserted to be true with NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE being provided.

14% of those claims are supported by pointing to historically dubious passages about events or details that are found in ONLY ONE of the four gospels, mostly the historically unreliable Fourth gospel.

And one remaining claim is based on the weak and pathetic evidence of a passage from a book of fictitious courtroom speeches written by one or more unknown authors as an exercise to entertain others and to show off their fancy speech-making skills.

The fifth and final paragraph of Craig’s case merely repeats and summarizes previous claims, and provides no additional historical evidence in support of any of the many claims he has made. So, it should come as no surprise that Craig has not persuaded me that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday.

The only thing that Craig has managed to prove, is that it is simply NOT POSSIBLE to make a reasonable case for the death of Jesus on the cross in just two or three pages. It was just a bad idea from the start.

If one needs to make dozens of historical claims, as Craig has done in just a few paragraphs, then since each of those claims needs to be supported with historical evidence, and since each piece of historical evidence requires a significant amount of clarification, explanation, and justification as to how and why it is relevant and provides strong evidence for the claim in question, it will require at least two or three pages for EACH PIECE of historical evidence (recall that Craig wrote an entire article defending the historicity of the one passage in Matthew about the guard at the tomb), and since dozens of pieces of evidence will be required, we are talking about the need for one or two hundred pages to lay out a reasonable case for the death of Jesus on the cross.

I conclude that in Craig’s book The Son Rises, his very short “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross is a failure, and therefore I conclude that Craig’s case for the resurrection is indeed a complete failure, because he has failed to establish a basic assumption that is needed to prove the resurrection, namely the claim that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday.

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