William Lane Craig debates radical skeptics on the resurrection of Jesus

Let’s learn about the radical fringe of skeptical New Testament scholars by listening to a lecture about them, and then by listening to them debate against William Lane Craig.

A lecture on the historical Jesus

Brian Auten at Apologetics 315 recently posted a lecture by William Lane Craig on the historical Jesus.

In his post, Brian doesn’t really say much about where or when the lecture was recorded. But I can tell you! This lecture has a special meaning for me because when I was just learning about apologetics, this was one of the first lectures I ordered. The lecture was delivered in 1996 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as part of the distinguished Carver-Barnes Lecture Series. The title was “Re-Discovering the Historical Jesus”. Hearing this again (I lent mine away and never got it back) was a real treat for me.

The MP3 file is here.

And here is a summary I made so you can follow along as you listen.

Lecture 1: the pre-suppositions of the Jesus Seminar
– the origins of the radically skeptical “Jesus Seminar” group
– what does the Jesus Seminar believe about Jesus?
– what is a pre-supposition?
– how do pre-suppositions affect the study of history?
– the Jesus Seminar’s pre-supposition of naturalism (atheism)
– the Jesus Seminar’s pre-supposition that the NT gospels are late
– the Jesus Seminar’s pre-supposition of political correctness
– does the Jesus Seminar represent the consensus of NT scholars?

Lecture 2A: are the NT gospels historically reliable?
– should the gospels be assumed to be reliable or unreliable
– argument #1: insufficient time from events to written record
– argument #2: gospels contain very little legendary material
– argument #3: Jewish culture was good at oral transmission
– argument #4: eyewitness correction and apostolic supervision
– argument #5: the gospels are reliable where they can be tested
– #1: legendary elements only appear 1-2 generations after events
– but gospels were written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses
– sources for the gospels are even earlier, e.g. – 1 Cor 15:3-8
– on the other hand, the apocryphal gospels do contain legends
– #5: gospels are confirmed by history and archaeology were possible
– Luke includes details showing that he traveled with eyewitness Paul

Lecture 2B: the self-understanding of Jesus
– how early and reliable is believe in Jesus’ divinity
– it would be hard to get monotheistic Jews to think Jesus was divine
– the only way this belief could have emerged is if Jesus taught it
– parable of the wicked tennants and vineyard – Jesus’ self-understanding
– passage about no one knowing the father except the son, etc.
– passage about not knowing the date of his second coming
– the healings and exorcisms are well-attested and skeptics grant them

Lecture 2C: the trial and crucifixion of Jesus
– crucifixion is well-attested inside and outside the New Testament
– even the Jesus Seminar considers this an indisputable fact about Jesus
– Jesus was crucified for blasphemy – i.e. claiming to be divine

Lecture 2D: the minimal facts case for the resurrection
– minimal fact #1: the burial in a known location
– minimal fact #2: the empty tomb
– minimal fact #3: the appearances to individuals and groups
– minimal fact #4: the early belief that Jesus was resurrected
– the majority of scholars, including skeptics, accept the minimal facts
– naturalistic explanations are not able to account for these facts

There is a very noisy weird person in the audience who keeps shouting his approval. This lecture is almost identical to a lecture that Craig gave for Stand to Reason’s Masters Series, on the pre-suppositions of the Jesus Seminar. There is no Q&A in this lecture, but there is Q&A in the STR version.

William Lane Craig debates crazy people

Now let’s hear some debates between Bill Craig and radical skeptics. I listed the skeptics in order of increasing craziness, then made fun of them in the parentheses.

  • Vs. John Dominic Crossan (denies all four minimal facts because a bodily resurrection makes his Hindu friends feel sad)
  • Vs. John Shelby Spong (pro-gay-rights apostate Anglican bishop wants to stick it to those nasty conservatives)
  • Vs. Robert G. Cavin (argues that Jesus had an identical, unknown twin brother who stole Jesus’ body and kept up the charade until he was crucified – as a prank – then he appeared to Paul somehow out of thin air)
  • Vs. Robert M. Price (Internet Infidels / History of religions – seems to think that ad hominem attacks are arguments)
  • Vs Richard Carrier (seems to think that Jesus never existed, and that the New Testament is entirely mythical)

It’s good that Craig has done so much preparation because he makes defeating these guys look easy, but it really isn’t easy at all. You would need to prepare a lot to beat them – and that would include having a PhD or two, and a few dozen peer-reviewed publications. Even though they are radical, you would have to know just what to say to expose them in the short time allowed for your speeches. Craig is excellent at all of this.

Or we can listen to some serious debates

Anyway, if you want to hear a good debate on the historical Jesus, then check out the James Crossley debates with Richard Bauckham, Michael Bird and William Lane Craig.

Crossley is an atheist, but he is a serious, well-informed scholar.

12 thoughts on “William Lane Craig debates radical skeptics on the resurrection of Jesus”

  1. Crossan denies the facts? Isn’t he the one who thought Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs? That seems to concede the empty tomb!


    1. Oh he doesn’t think there was a tomb! He doesn’t admit the burial in a tomb. I said he was crazy. He thinks the body was thrown into a common area and eaten by dogs. Anyway, in the debate, he admits that he is an atheist and that he is very worried about offending other religions by thinking that Christianity is exclusive. So the resurrection cannot have happened, because of that!

      You can get the first debate in a book, but I don’t recommend it. The book is “Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”.

      He had a debate with NT Wright also, which is fun to listen to. And there is a book of it, but I like the audio better because the book doesn’t have the discussions after each respondent. If you are interested, e-mail me about it – maybe I can lend it to you.

      I should mention that in the SECOND debate, he seems to be accepting the burial and the appearances, and he even tells N.T. Wright that he “doesn’t mind” the empty tomb! But he still thinks the resurrection is a metaphor. It’s fun to see how his views have changed a little as he’s debated more and more. That’s why he’s the least crazy of the crazies.


  2. About Price, you claim, that he makes ad-hominem attacks and believes they are arguments. Granted, in your making a dismissive one-sentence analysis of his argument, but you are giving an unsubstantiated rebuttal and are doing exactly what you claim he is doing in making it. Why is it ad hominem to simply read from Craig’s writing and apply the demands of logic? And why then do you think Craig is not making ad hominem attacks against non-believers when he says that anyone not convinced of his arguments must be resisting Jesus (ie must have something wrong and sinful in them)? Is the latter not ad hominem attack? Are you really unable to see the circular nature of Craig’s argument, each layer building on a subjective opinion as if that subjective opinion were an un-deniable truth? Basically, all Craig’s logic is that we have to trust him and his gut feeling for the first, most critical part of whether to believe or not, and once we are over that hurdle all else falls into line as irrefutable. And Craig’s self-deprecation, (paraphrasing, if you don’t believe the arguments don’t blame Jesus, blame my poor arguing skills) is entirely disingenuous and insulting since he later states that unbelievers are just resisting because they have something they are hiding. He is an arrogant buffoon. “Faith” is not a provable fact; you can not convincingly argue that “faith” proves anything, or assail anyone for lack of faith in the same things as you believe, simply because you feel you “know”.


    1. If you listen to Prices 20-minute opening speech, it is 17 minutes of analyzing Craig’s religious epistemology and his motives for doing New Testament scholarship. There is nothing in the first 17 minutes that has anything to do with historical methods or historical evidence. And all 17 minutes are delivered with dripping sarcasm.


      1. And you believe any questioning of Craig’s epistemology is an ad hominem attack? Craig’s epistemology is sacrosanct and anyone who suggests otherwise a blasphemer and any suggestion Craig’s methodology is essentially flawed is not allowed in debating this issue, is what you are saying. Craig’s entire argument rests on simply accepting that he is right, if you don’t believe he is right, you are wrong and are for some hidden, hateful reason you are resisting what you know to be true. It is simple logic that Price is arguing for in pointing out Craig’s flawed reason, a flaw that is obvious to anyone not willing to suspend the demands of logic in order to “prove” their faith. As to Price’s sarcasm, yes, somewhat, but mostly he was just dismissive of Craig’s views. That didn’t help him with winning people to his side, agreed. But for a person steeped in the rigors of legitimate philosophical argument to have to sit through 20 minutes of “proof” that is grounded in flawed methods of reason/logic, to hear the ad hominem attack that the reasons anyone thinks otherwise is simply dumb, probably sinful resistance to the truth, and to hear the faithful’s mighty applause for such glib misleading, it is somewhat understandable. You don’t refute anything he said, however, just focus on the delivery. What did he say about Craig’s epistemology that you can refute?


        1. I’ll have to give you the last word. To hear a good atheist, trying listening to James Crossley debate Bill Craig. He actually talks about the historical evidence in the first 17 minutes of his 20-minute opening speech, as well as the last 3 minutes of his 20-minute opening speech. So he talks about the historical evidence for all 20 minutes of his opening speech. And all 12 minutes of his first rebuttal. And all 8 minutes of his second rebuttal. And all 5 minutes of his concluding speech. Actually, I find him a real joy to listen to. Definitely my favorite atheist historian – miles above Crossan, Borg, Ludemann, Hoover, and the two dozen or so other people I’ve heard Craig debate on the resurrection.


  3. I don’t know what Tre is talking about as I have not listened to the Price piece. I’d chosen the Spong piece since I find Spong particularly annoying.

    Spong seems to take great pride, and seems to think we should be impressed or that it lends to his credibility, that he was involved with the Jesus Seminar radicals. Despite whatever creds and standing these “scholars” might have, it seems a stretch to claim they’re anywhere near the mainstream. Like all radicals, I think they just like to claim they are.

    I don’t understand where this idea that the first Christians were unable to express what they really wanted to impart to those to whom they might evangelize. If this were true, how is it they used such common language that would be so naturally taken to mean what such words could only mean? If Christ didn’t appear bodily, how could they hope to make the listener believe something more spiritual if they said He appeared bodily? It just doesn’t make sense. I guess it just takes a superior mind like Spong and his Seminar cronies to understand what generations of scholars could not.

    Then, he speaks of his friendship with Carl Sagan. I guess if Sagan says Christ couldn’t ascend, then it must be true. But of course, they’re looking at the miraculous through the prism of the law of the physical world. Ain’t gonna see what you hope to see that way. If Sagan were still alive, he’d go crazy and kill himself if he were to witness a miracle, because by it’s very nature, there’d be no way to prove what he just saw, as there would likely be no evidence remaining to prove it even occurred. Otherwise it would not be a miracle. (That is, if we’re talking of the water into wine variety, or the raising of the dead or healing of the blind).

    I hope to listen to all your offerings here. Thanks for them.


    1. Thanks for your comment and thanks for taking time to listen to the debates on the resurrection. Another good one is the Craig/Borg debate.

      Regarding Carl Sagan: Sagan believed in an oscillating universe that existed eternally, naturalistic evolution, unobservable aliens everywhere and nuclear winter. These speculations were never about science. He was a charlatan and an ideologue, not a scientist. The fact that a generation of public school sheep were fed his lies is regrettable, and a good argument for school choice, or, better yet, the absolute abolition of the Federal Department of Education.


  4. Carl Sagan was a UFO skeptic, he felt that much of the belief in UFO’s (at least higher intelligent visitors from another planet of galaxy) had a fanatical religious cause. There is only a few people on the fringe of sciences who question the effects of nuclear war on the world’s environment (for example, Kearney [sp?] book on how to survive nuclear war…I think the SurvivalistCult.com bundles that with the Anarchist’s Cookbook to card holding members of any fanatical group). Their reasons for doing so escape me other than that they knew they would sell a lot of books to people pre-disposed to believe in anything anti-science.

    Sagan’s work is not science, that is true. He based his work on Einstein’s work and the scientific theories of physics, however (and its explanations of astronomy), as it was at the time of his writing. The current theories about the universe rely heavily on Einstein’s work, with the addition of possibly more accurate descriptions because of further discoveries, quantum physics, etc.

    Which lies would you prefer to be told to public school kids, the ones that are either right or provably wrong, or the ones that will not accept being challenged? For someone who laments the perceived use of ad hominem attacks by those opposed to your heros, most of your commenting and writing relies entirely on name calling and bombastic one-sentence write offs of opposing opinion. Why? Is it easier to do than to actually counter opposing views, or is it just shorthand for the indoctrinated, as if by you calling someone a “charlatan” somehow actually disposes of their argument for the brethren?


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