Exclusive! William Lane Craig Accidentally Admits Nativity Accounts of Matthew and Luke “may be legend”!
That’s true. You heard it right here. An exclusive.
William Lane Craig is something of a knight in shining armour to the Christian fraternity. He is ubiquitous – whenever there is an event, he has something to say about it (the Sandy Hook massacre, for example), and whenever there is a philosophical argument, Christians reference him and his apologetics. It seems that he says “jump” and Christians say “how high?”
And for good reason. He is an incredibly knowledgeable philosopher, though a less accomplished theologian (deferring to Copan too much in issues of the Old Testament). Craig has supreme rhetorical skills and an amazingly quick mind which means that he is an indomitable debater who, more often than not, bests his opponents.
The trouble with being so successful is that he has to tow the party line. He gets funding like any other tenured professional, and like any other religious figure of such prominence. As such, he has to be very careful what he says. Here is what one article states in relation to another instance of potential heresy from Craig where some Christians see him as stepping too far away from orthodoxy:
I admire Dr. Craig in many ways and I was interested in this departure from standard Christian belief. Dr. William Lane Craig is, by many accounts, the premiere defender of the evangelical faith. He is one of the true scholars in the apologetics game – a real philosopher, and a genuinely nice guy. I say nothing below to impugn his character or call into question his faith – in fact, his stellar character and reputation makes him an excellent test case in the issue of orthodoxy vs. heresy.
Craig also got into problems with regards to original sin, saying comments like, “…that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.” The problem is that the Christian faith contains so many denominations with such diverse beliefs that he can’t please all the people all of the time. Indeed, the inerrantists are a very powerful bunch, and he seems to shy away from difficult questions on inerrancy, it appears, in light of needing to appease this massive and powerful mainly American movement.
Which is why it is BIG NEWS that he thinks the Biblical account of the nativity in Matthew and Luke as not historically reliable. I wrote a book recently on this and debated Randal Rauser, a Christian theologian, on the very topic. I gave a number of public talks in the UK over December presenting the argument that the accounts are unreliable. Interestingly, I met someone at one of these debates and was talking to him afterwards. He had a fascinating story, the importance of which I only realised a few weeks later. And hence this post. This skeptic went to one of William Lane Craig’s talks (and also the Stephen Law debate) in Southampton (on the reliability of the Resurrection accounts) on Craig’s last tour of the UK. This is what this person had to say of the event:
‘I went to a William Lane Craig talk on the ‘historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus’, it was interesting but it was the same points he always uses. I queued up at the mic to ask a question, I was going to ask:
‘You say that the early gospels are very reliable because there was not time for legend to grow, however you have used Matthew as evidence tonight. Matthew 27 says that the dead holy men came out of their tombs and were seen by many. Do you believe this happened or is it legend? If Matthew contains legend then why use Matthew as evidence?’.
This was in response to WLC comparing the simplicity of Mark’s Gospel to the ex-canonical Gospels (angels with heads up to the sky, a talking cross etc.) but later on during questioning he seemed also to want to separate the Markan resurrection from the other Gospels (you can see this at 1:03:30 in the video).
A bloke in front of me asked the same question. I had to sit down because I couldn’t think of another question quick enough (there were about three thousand people and video cameras and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself).
After the talk he was in the bar area with a few people around him asking questions. I approached him and we had a chat, at this stage it was just us two with nobody else listening. It was a friendly conversation and he didn’t seem guarded, he clearly thought he was having a chat with a fellow Christian. I was just interested in talking to the guy, this was his meeting with his supporters and I was polite and wasn’t looking to give him a hard time. This is my memory of part of the conversation.
I asked, “You said that Mark was likely to be more reliable because it was the earliest Gospel and there was less time for legend to get into the story.”
I continued, “Well, on that basis since there is no virgin birth in Mark but there is in Luke and Mathew doesn’t that suggest that the virgin birth is likely to be legend coming in to the story?”
WLC said, “Well, from an historical point of view as an historian then, yes, it may be legend; but from a theological view and as a Christian then I have to accept the virgin birth as true.” (As he said this he smiled and put his hand over his heart. It was very clear that the historian and the Christian could come to different conclusions and the faith trumped the history).
He then moved on to talking about other virgin birth stories from antiquity and how they were very different and that I shouldn’t be concerned by them. As this is not an area I knew much about I just listened to what he had to say and nodded. We smiled, shook hands and I asked if I could get a photo taken with him. He agreed and I got some guy to take my camera. I said jokingly to WLC, “As long as you don’t mind having a photo taken with a heathen?” He looked confused and said “You’re an atheist? From your questions it didn’t seem like you were an atheist”. I got the impression that he was genuinely surprised that he had been talking to an atheist for the last couple of minutes. I wasn’t trying to hide anything, it just didn’t seem relevant to our conversation. He then talked to others and I left.
Wow. I think this is huge. What a slip, to a heathen whom he thought to be a fellow Christian! It is not the only time that WLC has deferred to faith in trumping evidence. In fact, his book Reasonable Faith communicates this with alarming clarity. But I do think this is amazingly important. This essentially states that secular historians, and people who maybe have not had personal experience of God, are epistemologically justified in holding to the conclusion that the infancy narratives are not historically reliable. And this would then lead on to more justification in questioning the rest of the Gospels. In sum, from a historical point of view, they simply did not happen. But because of all the other Christian baggage, a Christian MUST believe that they did.
Craig seems to have shirked away from admitting that the Bible is not inerrant; but he did still admit a little too much to someone whom he thought was one of his own. Spread the news to your fellow Christians! Craig admits the Gospels might well be historically unreliable!