This is an electronic copy of the entire article.
The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist
William Lane Craig. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1985, 677 pp., $69.95.
The first couple of decades of this century witnessed the demise of
liberalism, with its mistrust of supernatural events as well as of most revealed
The middle decades proved to be the heyday of existential theologies of various
manifested primarily in the dialectical thought of Barth and in the more radical
tendencies of Bultmann. But while taking distinctly different views on the issue
resurrection, both of these scholars exhibited little toleration for attempts to
findings of historical studies to the life of Jesus. In contrast, scholarship in
twenty years has produced a distinct upsurge of interest in historical aspects
This massive volume begins with the assertion that few scholars are aware of the
dialogue concerning Jesus' resurrection that has occurred over the centuries
prior to the
present. Craig believes that the period of the Deist controversy, in particular,
some especially insightful historical precedent for portions of the
discussion. Accordingly Craig explains that his chief purpose in this work is
not only to
discuss various aspects of the Deist controversy over the resurrection as an
phenomenon in itself but also to assess the arguments that were utilized at that
order to ascertain what may be relevant for today's studies (p. XV).
The book is divided into three sections, the first consisting of what the author
"Pre-Modern Anticipations" of what will later become the multifaceted historical
for Jesus' resurrection. It concentrates on the various forms of argumentation
the NT itself, in the writings of the early-Church theologians through Eusebius,
the middle ages through Thomas.
The portion on the NT, though brief, uncovers a number of worthwhile points. The
endnotes in particular provide many insightful comments for the serious student.
the few disappointments in the entire volume, perhaps, is that this section is
too briefly and is even somewhat sketchy. The material on all four gospels plus
instance, occupies only about 16 pages (pp. 3-19), necessitating some picking
choosing of topics. Yet a developed NT apologetic is not the purpose of this
several pithy points seldom found in the relevant literature are still made. The
of Paul's major text in 1 Cor 15:3-8, though it also is short (pp. 19-26), is
helpful, especially because evangelicals so seldom treat this passage in terms
critical discussions. And here the endnotes are perhaps the strongest element in
The second portion of section 1 is concerned with several authors of the second
third centuries who treat the resurrection in their writings, both defending it
utilizing it as part of an apologetic for Christianity. Defenses of the
resurrection of the
body and Origen's debate with Celsus formulate the key portions of this topic,
which is an historical period so frequently ignored by Protestants.
Lastly, in section 1, Craig discusses the time period that he laments as the
of historical reasoning. Few scholars of the middle ages pursued this
rigorously, and only two are discussed in much detail: Augustine and Thomas.
Section 2, "The Modern Period," formulates by far the bulk of the volume. It is
subdivided into two parts: the upturn in the historical argument for the
occurred in the eighteenth century, and the decline of similar argumentation
century and afterwards due to trends in higher criticism and to the
subjectivism then emerging in Europe. The former part contains much of the
debate, including discussions of the nature of Deism, its variety of attacks on
the resurrection, and orthodox defenses of the integrity of Scripture and the
nature of Jesus' bodily resurrection. Here the reader is confronted by some of
scholars of this period, such as Locke, Blount, Tindal, Toland, Woolston,
Voltaire and Rousseau. Claim is set forth and confronted by counterclaim with
principal participants sometimes being placed head-to-head.
In part 2 the decline of historical argumentation for the Christian faith is
such causes as Lessing's radical attack on reasons of any evidential sort
historical ones) serving as the basis for faith, the continuing surge of
explanations being proposed to account for belief in the resurrection, and the
of an inward, sentimental romanticism. Even conservative theology experienced a
to such subjective interests (p. 476).
Section 3 provides an assessment of the eighteenth-century debate surrounding
resurrection of Jesus. Subjects discussed include the philosophical issue of the
of miracles and the higher-critical methods of Biblical studies. Craig's chief
purpose is to
ascertain those facets of the past discussion that are relevant to a
contemporary study of
the resurrection. And here modern critical scholarship has witnessed that the
were right on some issues while the orthodox scholars were correct on others.
Craig asserts that the orthodox apologists presented a better overall case in
the resurrection, however, than the Deists did against it (p. 542), partially
of the deistic victories are on what many scholars today would consider
nearly moot points in terms of the issue of Jesus' resurrection (pp. 540-541),
contemporary defenses of this event frequently utilize some arguments that are
similar to those of the orthodox scholars (esp. pp. 528-535). Craig concludes by
brief case for the resurrection as understood in a contemporary context.
Yet this last apologetic section (pp. 528-546) is basically only an outline. It
needs to be expanded further if it is to stand on its own as 'a developed case
resurrection of Jesus. In fact Craig recently has completed a companion volume
so that a
detailed apologetic can be given for this event.
I recommend this book for those careful students of apologetics who are
the subject of Jesus' resurrection and who wish to pursue some of the history of
argumentation surrounding it. Such a study would help us not only to understand
past but also to see where our current apologetic approaches are similar to
by others throughout history. Further, such comparisons can assist us in
approaches that are likely to fail even today. Finally, the more than 1300
provide both additional commentary and sufficient sources (especially original
those who would be interested in a further study of any of a number of important
Gary R. Habermas
Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA
Gary R. Habermas,
"Review: The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus
during the Deist Controversy," Journal of the Evangelical
Theological Society 31:2 (1988): 240-242.
Habermas, Gary R. "Review: The Historical Argument for the
Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist Controversy." Journal
of the Evangelical Theological Society 31:2 (1988):