In The Method of WLC’s Madness, I talked about William Lane Craig’s misuse of “explanatory power” – explaining that he tries to use historical method inappropriately.
In A Pop-Up Refutation of the Resurrection, I pointed out that WLC (along with other apologists) refer to New Testament scholars as expert witnesses for the historicity of the biblical character Jesus. There’s a major issue with this because those who devote their lives to studying the New Testament are biased.
This is not to say that there aren’t some scholars who emerge from all that study no longer believing the accuracy of the bible. There are some indications that many who study the Bible deeply begin to doubt it, not just New Testament scholars, but also Seminary College students.
There is a psychological predisposition to avoid the sense that one’s life has been wasted on a complete fabrication. This can be seen in the fact that even Bart Ehrman, who debated the historicity of Jesus with WLC, claims that Jesus existed, was crucified on the orders of Pontius Pilate and his body was not found in the tomb by whoever it was who went to check (the four gospels have four different accounts on this last item). Ehrman does not, however, accept the resurrection as historically factual nor does he accept that Jesus was divine. One is left to wonder why, once the key elements of the gospel accounts are removed, should any of the stories necessarily be true.
In this article, I want to address another problem, one which brings WLC’s intellectual honesty into question. First, let us have a little closer look at some of words that WLC uses, repeatedly, in his resurrection argument. Check out the following excerpts from debates (and two websites) spanning a period of eighteen years:
WLC-Krauss (2011): The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. Historians have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms.
WLC-Law (2011): The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was by all accounts a remarkable individual. Although Dr. Law has recently defended the claim that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed, historians have reached something of a consensus that Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms.
WLC-Ehrman (2006): … most New Testament scholars, as Bart Ehrman knows, do believe that Jesus of Nazareth carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms. Whether you believe they’re supernatural is an additional step. But there’s no doubt today that Jesus of Nazareth was what he thought was a miracle worker.
WLC @ BeThinking (2003): Today the majority of New Testament scholars agree that the historical Jesus deliberately stood and spoke in the place of God Himself, that he claimed that in himself the kingdom of God had come, and that he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as signs of that fact. According to the German theologian Horst George Pöhlmann,
Today there is virtually a consensus ... that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, with the claim of the authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation. With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior: either to believe that in him God encounters us or to nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. Tertium non datur. [There is no third way.]
WLC @ ReasonableFaith (2001): The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God's place. That's why the Jewish leadership instigated his crucifixion for the charge of blasphemy. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracles and exorcisms.
WLC-Crossman (1995): The majority of New Testament critics today agree that the historical Jesus deliberately stood and spoke in the place of God himself. The German theologian Horst Georg Pöhlmann reports, “Today there is virtually a consensus that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority – namely, the authority of God…”
WLC-Zaas (1993, quoted in “Who Was Jesus”, Copan and Evans, 2001):
I want to close with a quotation from the German theologian, Horst Georg Pöhlmann. He writes,
“In summary, one can say that today there is virtually a consensus concerning that wherein the historical in Jesus is to be seen. It consists in the fact that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority - namely, the authority of God - with the claim of the authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation.”
“This unheard of claim to authority, as it comes to expression in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, … presupposes a unity of Jesus with God that is deeper than that of all men, namely a unity of essence.
This . . . claim to authority is explicable only from the side of his deity. This authority only God himself can claim. With regard to Jesus, there are only two possible modes of behavior: either to believe that in him God encounters us or nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. There is no third way.”
So, actually, they are not Craig’s words, they are Horst Pöhlmann’s words. And who, exactly, is this Horst Pöhlmann? He’s an obscure German theologian whose book, from which Craig quotes <<Abriβ der Dogmatik>>, does not have an English translation – this is despite being quoted by Craig repeatedly since as early as 1993 and despite having been in print (in six German editions) since 1973. Nobody other than Craig seems to quote Pöhlmann, other than indirectly when quoting Craig.
When using the quotation (which he often fails to credit, possibly because Pöhlmann is so obscure), Craig doesn’t use the same words every time as one would expect with a quotation but rather employs “creative tailoring” to the extent that he thinks he can get away with it. I’m left wondering whether a less obscure author, or one who regularly wrote in English, might have been less forgiving of such flagrant and repeated abuse of his work.
On his websites, bethinking.org and reasonablefaith.org, Craig is relatively honest – assuming that, prior to his summarisation, Pöhlmann had made clear that he was talking about slightly more authoritative “New Testament scholars”, rather than just “Christian Apologists” or “Christians”. He seemed to have been more honest in his early years, in the debates with Zaas and Crossman, although there are a couple of early debates in which he did not present this argument at all.
The crib notes that WLC now appears to work from, if he hasn’t simply memorised the entire speech – which seems quite likely – now have him saying that historians have reached a consensus on the nature of the “historical Jesus of Nazareth”.
This simply isn’t true, except perhaps if the consensus in question were to be “this whole resurrection thing never actually happened”.
I don’t think you could call this misuse or a mistake on Craig’s part. This is – plain and simple – an oft repeated lie.
You can go to Hell for that sort of thing …
If a visitor from Germany ever pops in, one with access to <<Abriβ der Dogmatik>>, and they could be so kind as to inform us as to what Pöhlmann actually had to say on the “consensus” and whether it was a consensus of theologians, New Testament scholars, Biblical scholars, Christian Apologists or historians, I’d be very grateful.