William Lane Craig assesses the credibility of the Rapture doctrine

In the Christian Post. (H/T Pastor Matt’s round-up)


Several months before “Left Behind” opens in theaters, a prominent Christian philosopher is reminding the American church that the movie’s claims about the rapture are false.

“This doctrine is not really found in the book of Revelation. If you read the book of Revelation, you won’t find any mention of the rapture there,” said William Craig, a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

Instead, Craig says, the idea of the rapture comes from a “misinterpretation of 1 and 2 Thessalonians where Paul is describing the coming of the Lord and resurrection of the dead, which will occur at His coming.”

“If you compare what Paul says there to what Jesus says about the End Times, Paul uses the same vocabulary, the same phraseology. I think it’s very plausible that Paul is talking about the same event that Jesus predicted, namely the visible coming of the Son of Man at the end of human history to usher in his kingdom,” said Craig. “But proponents of the rapture view, say that Paul is not at all talking about the second coming of the Christ there. What he’s really talking about is this invisible preliminary secret return of Christ to snatch believers out of the world before the great tribulation occurs. I think there’s no textual warrant for that at all.”

According to Craig, the rapture became a popular theory about the End Times due to the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible, which was published in the early 20th century and promulgated John Darby’s mid-18th century’s views on the rapture. Later, Christian institutions, among them Dallas Theological Seminary, and churches began teaching the validity of the rapture.

“A good many Bible-believing Christians absorbed this view as their mother’s milk as it were and have never thought to question its Biblical credentials,” said Craig.

I have no opinion on end times doctrines, although people always ask me. I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t know and don’t care about the rapture, especially. And what’s more, I think that thinking about the exact timing and events of the end of the world is a waste of our time – it has no value whatsoever.

I wish that the Christian church put every second of time they put into reading or thinking about end times issues into science apologetics instead. I think that we would be in a much different position culturally if we spent more time thinking about the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion than we spend reading Christian fiction and worrying about the end of the world. And I think it’s better for God if we do that, although it might be less “fun” for us.

Let’s leave the fiction reading to the atheists.

16 thoughts on “William Lane Craig assesses the credibility of the Rapture doctrine”

  1. I share the idea that the end times can and does absorb Christians in unhealthy way. And money is made off it. I just don’t spend much time on it. But I can’t really say “it has no value whatsover.” It is spoken of in the Bible by Jesus, Paul and John. So by my definition, it has value.


      1. It holds value because the early church placed value on eschatology. While I do not think the focus of a Christian should be completely on the end-times and I certainly agree that it is a mistake to attempt to set dates for the end, I think it is completely erroneous to ignore eschatology altogether. I agree with Dr. Craig on 99% of what he teaches, but I am really surprised by his disdain of eschatology. This is one of the few times that I will have to respectfully part ways with him.


  2. I understand completely. But we agree it is the Word of God. So it cannot be value-less. It follows. As to answering your question, I cannot. I simply cannot find the practical application beyond “be ready” but we are already told to be that. However, my ignorance and the abuse by others, does not change that it is in Scripture.


  3. I think you’re right, a whole lot of end time prophecies and the book of Revelations is often misinterpreted and distorted. I suppose people have a natural tendency to want to prepare, like they can protect themselves or something if they can just predict future events.

    There used to be a tee shirt that said, “eat right, exercise, die anyway.” It still makes me laugh, because sometimes people like to fool themselves into believing we’re the ones in control.


  4. Sorry, WK, have to respectfully disagree on this one.

    Correct sequencing of scripturally dictated eschatological events is just as important to Biblical logic and consistency as the accurate gospel reporting of the sequence of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. For instance, although many passages in the New Testament urge Christians to be ready for the return of Christ, such verses lose any real punch if Christians are likewise told that Christ cannot come today, but only after a recognizable period of time with clearly identifiable events. If scripture is to be held up as logical and consistent, such contradictions must be set straight, and this is really only possible by carefully considering issues related to the sequence of various future events. Failure to do so can lead even the best of theologians (or apologists!) into illogical or at least questionable attempts at explaining Biblical passages. Craig in the statements that you have posted is a an excellent example of just such a thing.

    While I admire Dr. Craig greatly, apologetics is his real “bag”, and when he strays into areas of theology that are peripheral to his chief focus, he is susceptible, just as any other theologian, to making statements that are unguarded and not so well thought out. From what I understand, Dr. Craig does believe in a literal 7 year tribulation and he believes that the church will be present within that period. He would be classified as a post-tribulationist. If he believes the scriptures also describe a period of 1,000 years following the return of Christ, during which Christ will reign physically upon the earth and during which time the multitude of OT divine prophetic promises to Israel will be fulfilled, then his understanding of the timing of Christ’s return and resurrection of Church believers as being at the end of the Tribulation lands him in something of a quagmire. Here is what I mean: Paul specifically says that when he himself and other church believers will be resurrected, “ALL” believers will be changed and all at the same time (“a moment, the twinkling of an eye”), meaning both the dead and those still living (I Cor. 15:51-52). Yet, if this takes place at the end of the tribulation and all believers are given new bodies, then exactly who will be left to enter the Millennial period in natural bodies to carry on in their natural physical bodies as portrayed in many of those yet unfulfilled OT prophetic promises. This is a very long standing pre-trib argument, but Dr. Craig has apparently not considered it, or if he has, he has chosen to remain silent in suggesting a solution to the problem. He is either content with the inconsistency of his own understanding of scripture or, most likely, he is unaware of it.

    So, to answer your question, what value is establishing the correct sequencing of future events described by scripture, let me underline at least two areas of value. First, as I have attempted to demonstrate here, is the issue of scriptural integrity and consistency. Does scripture make sense when it says what it says? If we must understand scripture taking positions that lead to logical inconsistencies then the credibility of scripture must take a terminal blow in the eyes of believers, let alone unbelievers. Second, a correct understanding of the sequence of end time events (remember, I’m talking big picture here, not every minute detail) in regards to the timing of the Lord’s return for Christians can play a major role in providing an important motivation for the urgency of godly living and evangelism. What I mean is simply this: If Christ’s return for Christians takes place prior to any events delineated in scripture, then it could very well happen at any moment. If it does not take place until after one or more of those delineated events, then it cannot happen now, and if it does not take place until the end of the tribulation, then not only can it not happen now, but there will be a recognizable period of at least 7 years preceding it that would give anyone more than adequate time to get their life in order without worrying about it right now. See what I mean?

    Finally, let me just end by saying I am not a big fan of the Left Behind hoopla. I think it has sacrificed a sober understanding of an important internal church issue upon the alter of commercialism, turning it into little more than a Christian curiosity among the general public. In that aspect of the whole question, I would agree with both you and Dr. Craig, but neither ignoring nor oversimplifying the issue is warranted here.



    1. Sorry to Chime in a few years after the fact JMG but I had a response for your argument against the post trib view. I’ve actually never heard that idea so I was kind of startled by it. What I found startling is that you think there will be any Christians alive at all who have not been raised by Christ when he returns.

      The passages referring to the millennial reign of Christ seem to me to refer to survivors of the nations and people groups who rejected Christ, not the ones who accepted him.

      Passages like Zechariah 14 that refer to the institution of the Feast of Tabernacles for example. Or satan being let loose to deceive the nations once again in Revelation 20.

      The passage I think points to the post trib rapture/resurrection is the classic ‘pre-trib’ verse of 1 Thessalonians 4:15 which states that: We who are left will certainly not precede those who have died in Christ. The earliest those who have died in Christ are raised is in Revelation 20 at the end of the tribulation.


  5. I am so glad you said what you said about the end times. I am a new Christian of 3 years and one of the repulsive qualities I found in many Christians is this obsession with end times. I think it is good to know that there will be an end to this broken world but I believe should think and act as if we are about to see the Lord whether in the afterlife or in the end times. Makes no one bit of difference when the end times come and I believe there is an unhealthy escapist mentality in many Christians who spend so much time on wondering about the future. Doesn’t “like a thief in the night” have any meaning for them?


    1. This whole post was for you. I grew up in a non-Christian home and the fixation that Christians have in the church with this issue was just mystifying to me. I agree with you. No one knows the day, it comes like a thief in the night. Much more interesting things to talk about.


  6. Eschatology is important. It can misused and misunderstood to be sure, but still very important. I am in agreement with JMG on this. It isn’t as clear as Dr. Craig says it is.


  7. Hey Winteryknight, I appreciate all the great work you are doing and agree with much of what you say. I have noticed in some of your posts, and this one, that you seem to have a low opinion of those who go into the arts and humanities rather than sciences. I think we need brilliant Christians working in a broad range of vocations and utilizing their specific talents for Christ to reach this world. Of course every Christian, English major or science, should strive for a well informed synoptic worldview as William Craig talks about but I think we would be losing valuable ground in the fight without Christians in the arts and humanities. Clearly you do appreciate watching a good movie from time to time. How is that different than reading a good fiction book like “The Brothers Karamazov”? I’m working on my bachelors in computer science, but I appreciate the Christian who is an English Major just as C.S. Lewis was. If I am mistaken about your opinion I apologize.


    1. Three points:

      1) it’s more a requirement for men than women, because the Bible says men have to provide for their families or else
      2) if a person can make a living and provide by going into something else, then by all means, do it
      3) the humanities are more likely to be politicized by the left than most STEM fields

      Also, I wanted to be an English teacher. I was as good at English literature in high school as computer science. And teaching it was my first choice, until I saw what was happening in English departments.


      1. Thanks for clarifying your position. I agree with you about needing to make a living. I also have seen how many far left atheist English teachers are trying to indoctrinate their students. That is one reason I would like to see some great Christians in these positions rather than them. My wife is working toward a nursing degree and had the pleasant surprise of a Christian philosophy teacher in our secular university this semester. I just pray more Christians would be working harder and taking seriously being the best at whatever they do.


  8. I have nothing but respect for William Lane Craig and always will. However, this is one issue in which I greatly find disagreement with him. Eschatology does matter! I think the Olivet Discourse, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation clearly provide teachings that have not yet been fulfilled which requires one to peer to the end. I completely agree that one should not spend all their time focusing on the end, and certainly one should never attempt to set dates for the return of Christ. However, to completely ignore the end is not being true to the focus of the New Testament. According to my research, the early church leaders focused on eschatology quite a bit. In fact, there seems to be a great deal of evidence that Clement of Rome, Papias, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr were premillennial in their understanding of eschatology and placed a high value to the return of Christ. One of the great things about the Christian faith is not only that Christ defeated death by His resurrection, but will one day reveal His lordship to the world through His return. One day, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, ESV). Blessings!


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