The Craig-Lüdemann Debate Michael Martin and Tyler Wunder

A debate on the Resurrection of Jesus took place on 18 September at BostonCollegein front of a large crowd that consisted mostly of college students. Dr. William Lane Craig, the well-known Christian apologist, defended the reality of the Resurrection while Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Professor of New Testament Studies and Director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at the University of Göttingen, although believing in God, argued against its reality. Professor Pheme Perkins was the Moderator.

The Contrasting Styles

Craig is a professional debater and Christian apologist. He is smooth, confident and articulate. He makes his points in rapid fire style. He has dozens of arguments and counter arguments for everything, and uses many quotations from authorities — including people on the other side of the issue–that tend to support the particular point he is making at the moment. He gives the impression of being thoroughly prepared.

Lüdemann is not a professional debater. His speech is slower paced than Craig’s and he has a thick German accent that makes it difficult to understand him. He uses fewer arguments and does not give the impression of being thoroughly prepared. Indeed, he said in his opening statement that he would discard his prepared statement and speak extemporaneously. Because of this his presentation tended to lack organization and coherence.

Craig’s Main Arguments

Craig’s main argument was that any adequate historical hypothesis would have to account for four facts that Craig claimed are recognized by the majority of Biblical scholars: the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the continuation of Jesus’ disciples to preach Jesus’ message after his death. Craig maintained that the most adequate hypothesis to explain these facts is that the Resurrection really happened.

Craig argued against other hypotheses by maintaining that they did not meet standard tests of adequacy such as explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, not being ad hoc, and being in accord with accepted beliefs as well as did the Resurrection theory. For example, he criticized the hallucination theory, a variant of which he attributed to Lüdemann, for not being able to explain the empty tomb. Craig also maintained that such a theory is implausible since it is fantastic that so many people in different places could suffer from the same hallucination. He rejected the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a dishonorable grave as not being able to explain why Jewish critics did not point to the burial plot in order to refute the claim that Jesus had risen. In particular, Craig found particularly implausible what he called the collective amnesia theory that is attributed to Lüdemann. According to Craig, Lüdemann claimed that Jewish critics “forgot” where Jesus was buried and this is why they did not point to his body. Craig dismissed the legend hypothesis as not being able to account for the novelty of Christian belief in the resurrection (which ran counter to Jewish doctrines) and as not being able to account for the story of the women at the empty tomb story (since in those days women’s testimony was considered worthless). Moreover, since the empty tomb story was told in several independent sources such as Matthew, John, and Acts, the legend theory is implausible. He admitted that Joseph of Arimathea was seen in a more positive way as the time passed and also admitted that Joseph was not a friend of Jesus. However, Craig insisted that these admissions do not entail that Joseph did not bury Jesus.

Craig also implied that Lüdemann’s unwarranted bias against miracles adversely affected his interpretation of the Resurrection. Maintaining that Lüdemann’s reliance on Hume’s and Kant’s argument against miracles cannot be supported, Craig argued that Lüdemann as well as many other skeptics evoke Hume and Kant without saying specifically why miracles should be rejected a priori. Although Craig admitted that on methodological grounds explanations in terms of miracles should be used be only as a last resort, he maintained that a miracle explanation is needed in the case of the Resurrection.

Lüdemann’s Main Arguments

Lüdemann maintained that one has to evaluate the Resurrection in terms of naturalistic and scientific worldviews and our background knowledge of the unreliability of the Bible. Given this background the Resurrection is implausible.

Lüdemann said that a very important question that Craig must answer is where Jesus went after his time on earth. He implied that the traditional answer that he ascended to Heaven was unacceptable in terms of our scientific worldview. Lüdemann also suggested at one point that Jesus’ failed prediction concerning his second coming cast doubt on the Resurrection account.

Although this was not developed in any detail in the debate Lüdemann said Jesus was probably buried by his enemies. He suggested that the empty tomb story was a legend that developed over the years. As the legend developed Jesus’ burial and death came more and more to be considered in a positive way. Lüdemann also maintained that as the legend was embellished that Joseph of Arimathea was also seen more positively. Another reason he proffered for his legend theory was that Paul did not mention the empty tomb in 1 Corinthians 15. Since Paul was dealing with people who might be skeptical of the resurrection, Lüdemann maintained that Paul would have mentioned the empty tomb had he known about it. Although he did not develop this point in detail, Lüdemann suggested that the origin of the belief in Resurrection was a vision of Jesus that generated other visions. These visions reinforced the legend of the Resurrection in peoples’ minds.

In this debate Lüdemann did not give a well-articulated explanation of why Jewish leaders did not try to expose Christians by pointing to Jesus’ body. Although Lüdemann briefly mentioned that it was 50 days before Christians went public with the empty tomb story he did not use the plausible explanation suggested by Robert Price: after 50 days of baking in a hot tomb Jesus’ body would not have been recognizable. Lüdemann attempted to counter Craig’s critique of hallucination by pointing out that there were reports of multiple and widespread reappearances of Jesus at later times that were clearly hallucinations. These were an embarrassment to the Church and had to be suppressed. He also drew a parallel between the many appearances of the Virgin Mary and the postmortem appearances of Jesus. Both sets of appearance, he suggested, were based on people’s desires and not reality.

Some Points in the Rebuttals

Many detailed points were raised in the rebuttals that it is impossible to mention here. In general it is fair to say that Craig made an attempt to answer all of Lüdemann’s arguments whereas Lüdemann was much more selective. However, three points will be noted. There was a great deal of discussion of exactly how one should understand 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 concerning what one can infer about Paul’s knowledge about the empty tomb. Craig pressed the thesis that one can infer that Paul did know while Lüdemann denied that any such inference was plausible. In addition, toward the end of the debate Craig got around to answering Lüdemann’s question of what happened to the resurrected Jesus. According to Craig, Jesus left the four dimension space-time universe and went into a different dimension. Craig assured the audience that there is nothing absurd about the supposition and that this was compatible with relativity theory. Lüdemann did not present any detailed theory of hallucination. However, Craig criticized the particular version of this theory that is supposedly presented in Lüdemann’s writings by arguing that Lüdemann uses psychoanalysis to reconstruct the psychological motives of Peter and Paul and that such reconstruction is unreliable. According to Craig Lüdemann maintains that Peter’s and Paul’s hallucinations were based on guilt. Craig argued that there is no evidence for this hypothesis. Lüdemann offered little defense against this point and admitted that psychoanalytic reconstructions are difficult. Lüdemann did say that the Gospel appearances of Jesus must be read with Paul as only eyewitness. He said that Paul uses the same verb to describe Jesus’ appearance to himself as he did to describe Jesus’ appearances to others suggesting all of the appearances were of the same kind. Since Jesus’ appearance to Paul is not usually interpreted as physical but as spiritual, one assumes that Lüdemann believes that Jesus’ appearances to the others mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 were also nonphysical. On the other hand, Craig maintained that Paul’s purpose was not to convince the Corinthians of the resurrection of a physical body but simply to convince them of the bare fact of the resurrection.


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