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William Lane Craig's Critique (2000)

Robert M. Price


In a public debate on the resurrection in the New Testament, apologist William Lane Craig offered several criticisms of the foregoing article, and it seems worthwhile answering the strongest of them here. I will leave aside a few minor points such as Craig's refusal to countenance the notions that there ever were any power struggles between James and Peter factions, or that authority in the early Christian movement was based on claims to have been vouchsafed an appearance of the Risen Lord. These points seem to me too well established in contemporary New Testament scholarship to need reiteration here. I want to address what Craig calls the "internal evidence" which he says "strongly supports authenticity" for 1 Corinthians 15:3-11.

Craig contends that "1 Corinthians 15:1 wouldn't make sense if verses 3-11 were an interpolation: Paul would not be 'making known to you the gospel that [he] preached to [them]'," i.e., without the formula set forth in verses 3-5. But I think he would. The making known, or reminder, as some translate it, is implicit (even explicit) in verse 12, which I take as the original immediate continuation of verse 2: "If Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead..." (The de obviously comes from the interpolator).

"Moreover, the first person plural pronouns in verses 12-15 (like 'our preaching is in vain' and 'we are found to be misrepresenting Christ') refers back to the apostles in verses 9-11, so that if we say these verses are an interpolation, these pronouns would have no antecedents." But 1 Corinthians abounds in abrupt, unconscious transitions between "I" (Paul) (4:15) and "we"--purely formal, albeit inconsistent, inclusions of his colleagues Sosthenes (1:1), Apollos (3:6-9), Barnabas (9:5-6), or the apostles generally (1:23; 2:13; 4:9-10). Note the rapid switch in 9:3-4: "My answer to them who examine me is this: Have we not authority to eat and drink?"

"Moreover," Craig observes, "when Paul says 'Christ is preached as raised from the dead' [verse 12], that refers back to verse 11, 'so we preached and so you believed.' Dr. Price might say 'No, it refers back to v. 1, where Paul says, 'I preached to you the gospel.' But here's where English translations can be misleading. In Greek this is a totally different verb than the verb in verse 12. Verse 12 matches the verb in verse 11, and that is the gospel Paul refers to in verse 12." I do not see the problem here at all. There is such a thing as a synonym, after all, and it is hard to see why it should present more of a problem for khrussetai in verse 12 to follow up euaggelisamhn in verse 1 than for khrussomen in verse 11 to do so.

"Moreover, this past perfect form of the Greek verb, 'he has been raised,' is a non-Pauline verb. It is found nowhere else in the Pauline corpus. Where does it come from? It refers back to verse 4, 'he was raised,' quoted from the tradition Paul received." My initial response here is the standard one apologists like to offer when confronted with evidence of anomalous vocabulary: it is the context, unusual for Paul, that requires the unusual verb form. Usually we find him proclaiming the resurrection, saying things like "God raised him from the dead" (Romans 10:9), or "[Jesus] whom he raised from the dead" (1 Thessalonians 1:10) or "Jesus died and rose again" (1 Thessalonians 4:14), simple pasts. But in 1 Corinthians 15 we hear Paul occupied not with proclamation but with theology, reflection on what has transpired. In Paul's mind is the one-two punch of the resurrection: "every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The use of the perfect tense in verses 12 and 13 refer to the "holding pattern" in which the ages, for Paul, are momentarily locked. The first stage has occurred, because Christ has been raised. We await the second, because we have not yet joined him in the end-time resurrection. He wouldn't have to put it this way, but it makes good sense that he does. Thus I see no necessary allusion back to 1 Corinthians 15:4 at all. Furthermore, on Craig's reading, we would face a whole new difficulty. Why should the form "has been raised" be so rare in Paul if he derived it from the ecumenical formula of 1 Corinthians 15:3ff.? If we regard verses 3-11 as authentically Pauline we would have to expect a wide use of the formula by Paul in his gospel preaching, and surely some of that would have worn off on his usage in the epistles. But by Craig's own account, the verb form is rare in Paul. This is quite odd if Paul really wrote verses 3-11, quoting a venerable preaching formula he himself shared with the other apostles.

"The logic of the chapter requires the authenticity of these verses. Paul presents a syllogism:


(1) If the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised.
(2) Christ has been raised.
(3) Therefore, the dead are raised and the Corinthians are wrong.

The evidence for the second premise is all of the evidence for the resurrection appearances in verses 3-8. If you leave these out, then you emasculate Paul's evidence for his second premise. By omitting these verses you destroy the logic of this chapter." But we may ask if Craig has correctly captured the logic of the chapter. It seems to me, for one thing, that Craig has conflated two embryonic syllogisms. First,


(1) The dead are not raised.
(2) Christ died.
(3) Christ has not been raised.



(1) Christ died.
(2) Christ has been raised.
(3) The dead may rise.

The first is a deductive argument, the second an inductive. But there is no need for evidence for the inductive argument, since Paul manifestly assumes the Corinthians already share with him the belief in Christ's resurrection: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (verse 14). The preaching of Paul and the Corinthians' acceptance of it are alike falsified if Christ has not been raised, because his preaching and their faith are the same: they agree with him on this point. Thus the force of his first "syllogism," that of a reductio ad absurdum. Paul thinks the Corinthians are inconsistent in that they believe Christ has been raised from the dead yet refuse to acknowledge that believers will be resurrected, too. Their unbelief regarding eschatological resurrection seems to Paul to stem from a Sadducee-like skepticism about the whole idea of resurrection ("Why should it be considered incredible among you people for God to raise the dead?" Acts 26:8), and yet they believe the resurrection kerygma in the case of Christ. Well, of course, Paul is ill-informed or confused about the views of the Corinthians who more likely hold, a la Colossians 3:1, that the resurrection has occurred already in baptism, and that there will be immortality; it just won't involve the resurrection of the physical husk--a view he seems to share (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). So the resurrection of Jesus is not even at issue in 1 Corinthians 15. "Evidence for the resurrection" is way out of place there, as Bultmann and others I have quoted observed.

Finally, Craig thinks he can harmonize the appearance to the five hundred brethren with the seeming silence of the gospels by suggesting that the appearance to the multitude took place in Galilee. But then so did Matthew's mountain top epiphany in Matthew 28:16 ff., not to mention John's appearance by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21), and in any case it is not clear why the gospels should be uninterested in Galilean appearances. On second thought, Craig suggests the Matthew 28 scene might have been the appearance to the five hundred. But then this "detail" would certainly be an odd one for Matthew to omit, never mind that there is no question of a traditional Easter story here anyway. Matthew has simply built an almost-story onto Mark's abortive note (Mark 16:7) that the Risen Christ would have been there to meet Peter and his brethren in Galilee had they known to show up. Getting ahead of himself, Matthew refers in passing to some unnarrated command to go to a particular mountain. Which one? Why, the one Jesus is always climbing in this gospel: the mountain of revelation, the Axis Mundi from whence proceedeth all revelation. Trying for some effect like Luke 24:36-43, where the disciples at first do not believe their eyes, then have their doubts yield to adoring worship, Matthew instead merely coughs up an unsorted lot of the requisite story elements: "seeing him, they worshipped him, but they doubted" (28:17). And the words of Jesus to the disciples are pure Matthean composition. The only way to find five hundred disciples on stage here is if the playwright, Matthew himself, so stipulated it, and he did not. Matthew was not recounting a story he had heard (in which case he might conceivably have left out the juiciest detail of all); rather, he is making it up as he goes along. And in the latter case, it makes no sense at all to find in his story a detail he does not put there.