Craig-Ehrman Debate on the Resurrection of Christ 

On March 28, 2006, William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman debated whether there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Craig is a noted Christian philosopher and speaker; Ehrman is the author of the best-selling book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. There was some controversy following the debate over its release in audio and transcript form, but the transcript has been made available.

Much of the blogging done about this has revolved around Craig's use of a Bayesian probability analysis. In hindsight he could have perhaps done more to anticipate Ehrman's dismissal of such approaches as so much unintelligible magic. That is, the argument is sound, but Ehrman laughed it off in a way that other persons who are not math-savvy might be sympathetic to. I'm taking a different tack in this response, however. 

Craig presented first, taking the affirmative position. He put forth four features of the New Testament narrative that are regarded as historical by a majority of scholars; then he offered the Resurrection as the best explanation for those four facts. In a future post I will come back to the inference that the Resurrection is the best explanation of the facts, but first, the more concrete facts.

Craig shows that a majority of NT scholars accept these as historical:

1. After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
2. On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
3. On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. [Not all of these scholars accept these as experiences of an embodied and glorified Christ, in accord with Biblical theology; some would view them as hallucination or as spiritual visions.]
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.

These are accepted by scholars for basically the same two reasons in each case: they are multiply-attested by independent sources; and they are unexpected, even embarrassing facts for the early church, unlikely to have been made up as part of a Christ story. (For more detail, please see the transcript. I'm not intending to re-argue the whole position here.)

It is not just Christian scholars who accept these as historical. Ehrman himself, as documented in the transcript, says we can conclude "with some certainty" that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea and that three days later the tomb was found empty. He recognizes (to a lesser degree of confidence) that, as quoted by Craig, "we have 'solid traditions' . . . for the women's discovery of the empty tomb."

Most of Ehrman's response revolves around Craig's inference to the resurrection as the best explanation of these four facts. That's the more interesting part of the debate. Strangely, though, he also disputes the historicity of these four events. He never acknowledges that he has himself agreed with at least two of Craig's four facts in print. (He seems to be arguing against his own position much of the time.) He argues backward. He begins with the assumption that Christ could not have risen from the dead, and from there he concludes there must be problems with the history of these four facts.

In his second rebuttal Craig says:

"Now here Dr. Ehrman says that I have dubious use of modern authorities. I agree that the citation of modern authorities doesn't prove anything in and of itself. That's why I gave the arguments under each of the points. He has to deal with the arguments. He says that I represent a minority opinion. Not about these four facts! I said that it is controversial whether the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of those facts, but I can give him the names, the evidence, of people who hold to those four facts. That does represent the broad mainstream of New Testament scholarship. Insofar as Dr. Ehrman now chooses to deny the honorable burial, the empty tomb, the appearances, he is in the decided minority of New Testament scholarship with regard to those facts."

The more interesting discussion is yet to come, as far as this blog is concerned. It was necessary first to lay a foundation of these four facts, though, before moving on to talk about what conclusions we should draw from them.


Note to commenters: I'm getting Haloscan errors on this comment thread. Post with care, make a copy before you publish, and consider posting on the follow-up thread instead if it works better. 

Posted: Wed - June 28, 2006 at 10:24 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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