The Polemics of William Lane Craig

In researching Jewish polemics, I ran across two articles by William Lane Craig where he argues that “the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb” of Jesus. 1  Craig makes several assumptions to show that Jews of the time of Jesus’ death conspired to deny the resurrection based on their counter-arguments to Christians’ claims.  He clearly states that the origin of each claim is Christian in origin and attempts to use Jewish response to validate those claims.  Though his argument of the topic is acceptable based on the presumptions he asserts, one must look at those presumptions to determine if they can stand on their own against the weight of the argument. 

Though nothing in the book of Matthew can tell us who actually wrote the document, when it was written or where it was written, the scholarly view is that the book was most likely written in Antioch between the years 80 and 85 of the common era.2   This is approximately fifty years after the generally accepted date of the crucifixion which has been calculated to most likely have happened April 3, 33 C.E.3   It has been further hypothesized that the work was not original, but based upon another source document known as the Q document4  as well as upon the book of Mark (ibid).  As such, it would be unlikely that the Matthew document could be construed as an eyewitness account.  However, I will concede to Craig’s assertions for the sake of answering his argument on his terms.

Christian:    ‘The Lord is risen!’
Jew:   ‘No, his desciples stole away his body.’
Christian:   ‘The guard at the tomb would have prevented any such theft.’
Jew:   ‘No, his disciples stole away his body while the guard slept.’


 ‘The chief priests bribed the guard to say this.’ 5


Craig’s entire argument relies on the premise that Jewish defense is a confirmation that they were aware that the tomb was empty rather than looking at the obvious interpretation that Christians were being given the benefit of the doubt by Jewish responders when claiming the empty tomb story.  This belief comes from the same text which claims that the Pharisees themselves posted a guard at the tomb.  His assumption is that since no argument was made by the Jews as to the tomb being empty, it must have been so.  However convenient, no non-Christian source exists to corroborate this claim and Craig abbreviates his source to limit exclusively to the text which states that the Pharisees asked for and were granted permission to post the guard. 

But let us first look at this last unanswered claim that the Jews bribed the guard.  Would it have been necessary for the Jews who supposedly posted this guard to bribe him into letting the disciples remove the body?  It is more likely that the disciples would have bribed the guard to have allowed them to do so.  If as the book of Matthew claims in chapter 27, verses 62 through 66, which Craig uses to justify his premise, the Pharisees were concerned with discrediting Jesus’ claim that he would arise in three days, they most certainly would not have bribed their own guard to state anything to the contrary.

The argument also leaves out a key piece of evidence in the Matthew story related in verses 60 through 62 which clearly states that the request to post a guard at the tomb was not made by the Pharisees until the day after the body was placed there.  This leaves a whole day for the body to have disappeared before any such guard was posted and is a convenient omission by Craig.

The discrepancy in the timeframe would suggest that the entire argument to which Craig refers is moot.  The question becomes, what happened to the body in the twenty-four hours between the time that the body was placed in the tomb and a guard was posted.  That the Jewish responses omitted this question is understandable given the possible outcome of it having been asked in such a way.  Instead, it was more cautious and acceptable to refute the claims in the manner which Craig proscribes.

Craig does attempt to argue this counterpoint in his second article citing examples in the Christian canon and that no other gospel mentions the guard; however, to support his position, he resorts to demagoguery such as accusations of “Jewish slander”6  before finally abandoning the whole concept of the existence of a guard as superfluous.  Using this one Christian document of Matthew as his exclusive source, his final assertion is that “the early opponents of the Christians themselves bear witness to the fact of the empty tomb” 7 while disregarding the other sources he has cited to the contrary. 

Craig’s articles will appeal to fundamentalist followers as they only use one source to support his presupposed position while dismissing others, even within the Christian canon, that counter it.  By this measure, I would define Craig himself as more of a polemicist than apologist.

But the entire basis of the argument goes beyond whether or not Jesus was resurrected from the dead, for this is the foundational belief in Christianity and Craig’s entire argument is intended to solidify this foundation of Jesus as Messiah (Moshiach in transliterated Hebrew).  For Christians, Jesus is the fulfillment of the messianic prophesies.  But let’s take a look at what those prophesies state the Messiah to be. 

  1. The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26) 
  2. Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4) 
  3. The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17) 
  4. He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:8-10) 
  5. The Messiah will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with "fear of God" (Isaiah 11:12) 
  6. Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4) 
  7. Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9) 
  8. He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10) 
  9. All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12) 
  10. Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8) 
  11. There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8) 
  12. All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19) 
  13. The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11) 
  14. He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7) 
  15. Nations will end up recognizing the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5) 
  16. The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23) 
  17. The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55) 
  18. Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9) 
  19. The Temple will be rebuilt resuming many of the suspended mitzvot (Ezekiel 40) 
  20. He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9) 
  21. Jews will know the Torah without study (Jeremiah 31:33)
  22. He will give you all the worthy desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4) 
  23. He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9)


Notably absent from this list is the requirement of a resurrection which seems to be Craig’s focal point in defining Jesus as Messiah.  The myth of resurrection is what so many Christians put forth first in order to “prove” that their religion is the only true religion and that Jesus is the Messiah.  Yet such an important requirement seems to be missing from all of the extant texts.

It is easily arguable that the majority of these prophesies were not fulfilled by the person Jesus.  To account for these failings, Christians readily posit the second coming theory in which the remaining prophesies will be fulfilled.  But nowhere in the prophesies does it state anything about the Messiah returning.  They all refer to a “first coming.” 

There is no way that Jesus could ever fulfill the fourth item above if his was truly a virgin birth.  If we follow the genealogy in Matthew 1:18-23 which traces Joseph’s line, we find in verse 11 that Joseph descended from Jeconiah.  Setting aside the fact that there is no precedent for tribal lines following adoption (since he is not the biological father), both would be subject to the curse of Jeremiah 22:30 and Jeremiah 36:30 which states, “Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (King James Version).

According to various scriptures, the Messiah will descend from David through Solomon (II Samuel 7:14; I Chronicles 17:11-14, 22:9-10, 28:4-6).  However, Joseph’s genealogy listed in Luke 3:31 states that he did not descend through Solomon, but through Nathan.  It includes descendants of Jeconiah (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel) who would also disqualify him for the same reasons listed above. 

But let us assume for the sake of argument that the apologist prefers the line of matrilineal descent.  Tribal affiliations exclusively follow patrilineal descent (Numbers 1:18, Ezra 2:59).  Mary’s genealogy is further never given which wholly removes the claims of the apologist that Jesus was a descendant of David through Mary.  Furthermmore, Jeremiah 33:17 clearly states, "There shall not be cut off from David a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel," so there is no room for Mary in the equation.

This poses an insurmountable problem for apologists such as Craig.  Yet he attempts to surmount them by berating one set of beliefs and an entire race of individuals for not subscribing to this one belief that is even so confused in his own chosen sources. 

1. Craig, Dr. William Lane; The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus;; accessed April 6, 2008.

2. Harris, Stephen L.; Understanding the Bible; Palo Alto; Mayfield; 1985.

3.; accessed April 6, 2008.

4.; accessed April 6, 2008.

5. Craig, Dr. William Lane; The Guard at the Tomb;; accessed April 6, 2008.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid