Is the Resurrection Historically Reliable?

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This article was first published in the Fall 2009 issue of Bible and Spade. It has been slightly edited, April 2010.

 

Is the Resurrection historically reliable? It depends on whom you ask. The human writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so. In fact, Paul went so far as to suggest that if Jesus did not rise, Christianity is nothing but a blind alley—a fool’s hope (1 Cor 15:14). To be sure, a good number of people think Christianity, along with its tale of resurrection from death, is precisely that—a tale. These routinely suggest that the Resurrection did not happen, and that the existing records (especially the gospel accounts) are themselves the problem. These records, it is claimed, are simply the late and largely fictitious creations of that strand of Christianity eventually dubbed “orthodox” (much to the chagrin of the competitors it snuffed out).1 Therefore, we must ask, can the history Scripture teaches be trusted, or has this alternative view gotten things right?

Evidence

The alternative view has gotten things wrong, because it erroneously assumes two things about Scripture’s account.2 First, it wrongly assumes the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection were written long after the death of the historical Jesus (i.e., the Jesus nearly everyone admits lived and died in the first century). Second, it mistakenly assumes these later writers fabricated the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, so that the historical Jesus would match the Christ they were already worshipping. To deal with these false assumptions, we must show that the records are both early and filled with details not likely to have been invented by later Christian groups. We will do this by noting three firm facts.3

Fact 1: The Empty Tomb

This fact is supported by three considerations. First, Jesus was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of Jesus’ tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that Jesus had vacated His tomb could have been easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted).4 That Jesus’ tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark’s gospel, written no more than 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources, mentions that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43). This early detail was not likely a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Council (or Sanhedrin; Mk 15:43).5 In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist helping Jesus? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Jewish authorities could have disproved it easily. They could have checked the records to find out whether or not Joseph had been a member of the Council and/or whether or not his tomb had been used, not to mention vacated, by Jesus.6

Second, not only was Jesus’ tomb well known, it was also found empty. This detail is also found in very early sources, this time not only in Mark’s report (16:1–8) but also in Paul’s (implied in 1 Cor 15:4).7 In fact, many scholars date the tradition Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:3 to within five or six years after Jesus’ death. Moreover, Mark’s report of the empty tomb contains obviously non-legendary material. It indicates that the tomb was found empty by women. In Jewish society at that time, the testimony of women was considered unreliable.8 As Josephus, the early Jewish historian (ca. AD 31–100), notes, women were not allowed to serve as credible witnesses in Jewish courts.9 To this, N.T. Wright adds, “If [the early Christians] could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it.”10

Third, Matthew’s still relatively early account itself adds to the historicity of the empty tomb. Matthew records what the early Jewish response was to the apostolic preaching of Jesus’ resurrection. Significantly, it was not: “These fellows are out of their minds—here is Jesus’ body!” Rather, the Jewish authorities invented a tale that suggested the disciples had stolen away the body (Mt 28:13). In short, the earliest Jewish response was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and the tomb was empty.11

The Nazareth Inscription
The Nazareth Inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of Christ was being preached right from the beginnings of Christianity. It is a Greek inscription on a marble tablet measuring approximately 24 inches by 15 inches. The exact time and place of its discovery is not known. The text records an abridged decree by Emporer Claudius (AD 41-54), instituting the death penalty for robbing bodies from tombs, a very unusual act of theft and level of punishment for such an act. This inscription strongly supports the assertion that the belief in the resurrection of Christ was widely known almost immediately after His crucifixion. In other words, the story of the resurrection of Christ must have been a story that was circulated by his Apostles themselves, and it was not a later invention by Christians of the post-apostolic period, as some scholars argue. The Nazareth Inscription does force modern scholars into making a choice of either believing in the resurrection of Christ or of believing that His disciples stole His body from the tomb in order to perpetrate a great religious fraud. Since its original publication in 1930 by M. Franz Cumont, no scholar has published evidence to disprove its authenticity.

Fact 2: The Resurrection Appearances

Paul’s early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus risen (1 Cor 15:5–9). This detail is not only early, but it is also non-legendary. Timothy Keller explains,

Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing [ca. 56] and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist.12

Fact 3: The Rise of the Early Church’s Belief in the Resurrection13

Three considerations demonstrate that the early Church’s belief in the Resurrection was not something they simply created. First, the majority of Jews did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of time (i.e., before the final judgment), and they would not have called a non-bodily appearance a resurrection.14 Rather, for a Christian Jew (as the disciples were) to proclaim, "He is risen" meant that Jesus was indeed bodily risen.15 Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection before the final judgment come, if not from the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances?

Second, resurrection, though important, was central to neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor Jewish thought in the time between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament period (often referred to as Second Temple Judaism). In contrast, resurrection moved to the center of Christian belief (see Paul’s “first importance,” 1 Cor 15:1–6). Again, we must ask, what made resurrection so central to early, largely Jewish, Christianity?

Third, we must remember the disciples were so convinced of this event that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. One must explain therefore, what happened to the disciples between their fearful flight (Jn 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion and their bold preaching soon thereafter (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:2). (We might add to these the conversions of Paul and James; see Acts 9:1 and John 7:5 respectively.) In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations?

In the end, the alternative view’s assumptions simply do not account for these three facts. The empty tomb, the appearances, and the rise of the early Church’s belief in the Resurrection are details that come from early sources and cannot be satisfactorily explained as the creation of later Christian writers. Still, these three facts do not automatically prove the Resurrection, since any number of explanations could be and, in fact, are given, given for them (e.g., someone stole Jesus’ body, the disciples hallucinated, Jesus did not die on the cross).16 Presently none of these alternative explanations has gained much traction, since each stretches the bounds of credulity. It is, however, important to point up (1) that alternative explanations of these facts are offered, something which provides a certain amount of confirmation of the firmness of these facts, and (2) that incredible alternative explanations are given, since believing in a resurrection, it is claimed, is even more incredible. After all, for some skeptics the Resurrection would be a miracle and miracles, it is routinely asserted simply do not and cannot happen.

Worldviews

To evaluate whether something can or cannot happen brings one to a consideration of worldviews. As postmodernism helpfully reminds us, everybody has one of these. It is the lens through which each of us interprets reality.17 It is the thing that tells one to expect what goes up to come down or to expect things in motion to stay in motion. It is what tells us to expect “y” to not equal “non-y” or “y+y” to always equal “2y.” The question, then, is not whether or not someone has a worldview, but whether or not one has the correct worldview.

The mechanism for evaluating worldviews and attempting to locate the correct one involves criteria such as coherence (internal consistency), scope (comprehensive explanatory power), efficacy (livability), and simplicity (simplest is often the best explanation), among a few others.18 The trouble that those run into whose worldview denies the possibility of the miraculous is that their worldview falls short on a number of these criteria. For instance, the miracle-denying worldview is founded upon the basic premise that all human knowledge is gained by either sense experience or reason (e.g., inductive reasoning). However, neither of these explains the near-universal belief in moral obligation (e.g., it is always wrong to rape, sex-traffic, torture children, etc.). In other words, nothing from sense experience or reason suggests that something ought not to happen or that something ought to happen, yet most people are deeply committed to knowledge of this sort.19 Can a worldview be sufficiently comprehensive if it is unable to explain some nearly universal phenomenon? Other examples could be given. Suffice it to say that this worldview comes up short time and again. Therefore, to reject the possibility of the miraculous on the basis of a largely inadequate worldview is, at the least, bad form.

Decisions

If the facts are patiently considered and one’s worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture’s explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, not least its divine Author, is not content with the Resurrection being deemed “possible” or “most satisfactory.” In fact, Scripture is not even content with “definite” and “best,” because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture’s goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., “Jesus was raised for our justification,” Rom 4:25). For this to occur, more than evidences are required, since forces, some supernatural, are at work that prevent the proper functioning of the human mind (see Rom 1:18-32 and 2 Cor 4:4). In the end, how one views the evidence for the Resurrection is inextricably bound up with how one views its significance. Since this is the case, historical proof must be accompanied by divine illumination. This sort of thing, at other times called faith, comes only by hearing and reading Scripture (see Rom 10:17).

The Resurrection is central to Christianity. Almost every year, secularist and liberal institutions release a new program, book, or video, proclaiming they have discovered some purported evidence that destroys orthodox biblical Christianity. The Jesus Family Tomb, released in 2007, was another attempt to undermine the Faith by attempting to refute the historicity of the Resurrection. Sourceflix produced an excellent DVD, debunking this hypothesis. It is available in the ABR bookstore.

 

 

 

Footnotes

1. Bauckham (2008: 506) calls this attitude toward the gospels’ testimony “epistemological suicide,” since ancient eyewitness accounts are normally not assumed to be guilty (i.e., unhistorical) until proven innocent (i.e., historical).

2. For a similar categorization, see, e.g., Blomberg 2007: 137, 323 and Keller 2008: 98.

3. For a similar presentation, see the material by William Lane Craig, especially that which is available at http://bethinking.org.

4. Craig 1989: 194–95.

5. Craig (1985: n.p.) notes the opinion of the eminent Roman and Greek historian A.N. Sherwin-White regarding the historicity of Mark’s (and the other gospels’) account(s):

According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He [then] chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be ‘unbelievable’; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. Indeed, a significant new movement of biblical scholarship argues persuasively that some of the gospels were written by the AD 50’s. This places them as early as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and, given their equal reliance upon prior tradition, they ought therefore to be accorded the same weight of historical credibility accorded to Paul.

Cf. also Sherwin-White (1963: 187): “It is astonishing that while Graeco- Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn.” Also, Blomberg (1994: 206) furthers Craig’s point, demonstrating a terminus ad quem of ad 60–62 for Luke-Acts. This date then puts Mark, whom (most agree) Luke used in his own composition, sometime in the middle to end of the 50s. Cf. also Bauckham 2006: 155–82.

6. Craig 1989: 354.

7. Craig 1989: 363. Brown (1970: 980) agrees, saying, “The basic time indication of the finding of the tomb [viz., Mark’s: “first day of the week”] was fixed in Christian memory before the possible symbolism in the three-day reckoning had yet been perceived.”

8. “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a). “The world cannot exist without males and without females—happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” (Talmud, Qiddushin 82b).

9. Ant. 4.215. Cf. Craig 1989: 366.

10. 2003: 608.

11. Craig 1989: 377. As Craig (369) further remarks, “The fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, could come into existence and flourish in the very city where he was executed and buried seems powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.”

12. 2008: 204.

13. For an extensive treatment of this particular point, see N.T. Wright 2003. Craig (2006: 148) calls Wright’s book, “The most extensively developed version of [this] argument.”

14. As Jeremias (1974: 194, quoted in Craig 1989: 409) has observed: “Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa as an event of history.” Cf. also Reymond 1998: 565.

15. Cf. Wright 1998: 4.

16. See, e.g., Geisler 1999: 644–47.

17. E.g., Wright (1992: 123) describes them in this way: “Worldviews provide the stories through which human beings view reality.”

18. See, e.g., Herrick 1999:791–92.

19. Frame (1987: 117–18) says, “Statements about sensible facts do not imply anything about ethical goodness or badness, right or wrong, or obligation or prohibition.”


Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard
2006 Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Blomberg, Craig
1994 “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament” in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, ed. William Lane Craig. Wheaton: Crossway.

2006 “The Historicity of the Resurrection” in The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue, ed. by Robert B. Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress.

2007 The Historicity of the Gospels, 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity.

Brown, Raymond
1970 The Gospel according to John. Anchor Bible Reference Library. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.

Craig, William Lane
1985 “Contemporary Scholarship and the Resurrection of Jesus,” Truth 1. Pp. 89–95.
http://bethinking.org/bible-jesus/advanced/contemporary-scholarship-and-the-resurrection-of-jesus.htm (accessed July 7, 2008).

1989 Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 16. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

Frame, John
1987 The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.

Geisler, Norman
1999 “Resurrection, Alternate Theories of” in the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, ed. Norman Geisler. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Herrick, Paul
1999 Reason and Worldview: An Introduction to Western Philosophy. Orlando: Harcourt.

Jeremias, Joachim
1974 “Die älteste Schicht der Osterüberlieferungen,” in Ressurrexit, ed. Edouard Dhanis. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Keller, Timothy
2008 The Reason for God: Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton.

Reymond, Robert L.
1998 A New Systematic of the Christian Faith. Nashville: Nelson.

Sherwin-White, A.N.
1963 Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon.

Wright, N.T.
1992 The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress.

1998 “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review 41/2. Pp. 321–37. Cited 7 July 2008. Online:  http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm 

2003 The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol. 3: Christian Origins and the Question of God.  Minneapolis: Fortress.



ABR Director of Development, Henry B. Smith Jr., discuss the Nazareth Inscription and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Comments Comment RSS

4/1/2010 6:48 AM #

just to add to the facts listed above, the empty tomb is solid evidence because people talk.  the word would have gotten out that joseph of A. approached pilate and made his famous request.

this is news that would not be kept silent especially since joseph of A. was a member of the council. people would spread this because it was not a normal event or request. here is a leader of the ocmmunity sacrificing his tomb for a 'criminal'.

everybody would have known about it and known where the tomb. notice also in the biblical accounts, the pharisees andother religious leaders did NOT question the tomb's location, they knew where it was and placed a guard over it.

this act solidifed the location of the tomb and made sure everyone knew where it was and makingit so they could not question Christ's ressurrection. thus historically there is no doubt, the ressurrection was real and took place as described in the Bible.

Dr. David T. - 4/1/2010 6:48:04 AM

4/2/2010 10:39 PM #

I have written a response to the entire article:

“Is the Resurrection historically reliable? It depends on whom you ask. The human writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so. In fact, Paul went so far as to suggest that if Jesus did not rise, Christianity is nothing but a blind alley—a fool’s hope (1 Cor 15:14).”

Response:Even assuming that the conclusions of Robert Price's 1995 article “Apocryphal Apparitions:
1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation” are baseless, it should be remembered that Paul was not an actual witness to the resurrection, but was converted by what could have been a mere hallucination caused by fatigue or a sudden transition from a harsh desert environment to a lush Damascan one.

“To be sure, a good number of people think Christianity, along with its tale of resurrection from death, is precisely that—a tale. They routinely suggest that the Resurrection did not happen, and that the existing records (especially the gospel accounts) are themselves the problem. These records, it is claimed, are simply the late and largely fictitious creations of that strand of Christianity eventually dubbed “orthodox” (much to the chagrin of the competitors it snuffed out). Therefore, we must ask, can the history Scripture teaches be trusted, or has the alternative view gotten things right?”

Response:“late”?-The earliest gospel(Mark) is commonly admitted to date from 67-70 AD!

Evidence
“The alternative view has gotten things wrong, because it erroneously assumes two things about Scripture’s account. First, it wrongly assumes the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection were written long after the death of the historical Jesus (i.e., the Jesus nearly everyone admits lived and died in the first century).”

Response:Is thirty-five to eighty years “long after”? The generally accepted dates for the composition of the gospels are:Mark:67-70, Matthew:80s, Luke:late 80s, and John, 90s.

“Second, it mistakenly assumes these later writers fabricated the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, so that the historical Jesus would match the Christ they were already worshipping. To deal with these false assumptions, we must show that the records are both early and filled with details not likely to have been invented by later Christian groups. We will do this by noting three firm facts.”

Response: “Fabricated”! Please, do not use such strong words!  A piece of writing may contain fact, distorted accounts, false assumptions based on facts, allegory, poetry, myth, and, very, very, very rarely, pure lie. To an atheist, the resurrection account would be considered a distorted account of an incorrect assumption based on facts.

Fact 1: The Empty Tomb
Response: This fact is undeniable, and is probably the root cause of the idea Jesus was resurrected. I know not who moved the body, but whoever moved it probably was not an apostle. I do not deny the fact that two women were the first to realize the tomb was empty.

Fact 2: The Resurrection Appearances
“Paul’s early account speaks of hundreds of witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus risen (1 Cor 15:5–9). This detail is not only early, but it is also non-legendary. Timothy Keller explains,
Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing [ca. 56] and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist.”

Response:Assuming that this section of the First Epistle to the Corinthians was written by Paul, Paul might be merely reporting Christian traditions of the resurrection he did not witness. There are three responses to the “five hundred witnesses” 1. Paul may simply be confusing witnesses of the resurrection with people who may only have seen the empty tomb 2. Paul may be off with his numbers 3. The five hundred witnesses may simply be people who, by process of self delusion, have convinced themselves that they have seen the resurrected Jesus while they may have only seen the empty tomb.

Fact 3: The Rise of the Early Church’s Belief in the Resurrection
“Three considerations demonstrate that the early Church’s belief in the Resurrection was not something they simply created. First, the majority of Jews did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of time (i.e., before the final judgment), and they would not have called a non-bodily appearance a resurrection. Rather, for Christian Jews such as the disciples, “He is risen” meant that Jesus was indeed bodily risen. Therefore, we must ask, from whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection before the final judgment come, if not from the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances?”

Response:I cannot possibly know how the apostles thought. “From whence did this belief in a bodily resurrection before the final judgment come, if not from the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances?” My best guess would be the empty tomb and the apostles' self-delusion.

“Second, resurrection, though important, was central to neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor Jewish thought in the time between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament period (often referred to as Second Temple Judaism). In contrast, resurrection became a central tenet of Christian belief (see Paul’s “first importance,” 1 Cor 15:1–6). Again, we must ask, what made resurrection so central to early, largely Jewish, Christianity?”

Response:See above.

Third, we must remember the disciples were so convinced of this event that they were willing to risk their lives testifying to it. One must, therefore, explain what happened to the disciples between their fearful flight (Jn 20:19) following Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and their bold preaching soon thereafter (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:2). (We might add to these the conversions of Paul and James; see Acts 9:1 and John 7:5 respectively.) In short, we must ask, what caused these remarkable transformations?

Response:See above.

In the end, the alternative view’s assumptions simply do not account for these three facts. The empty tomb, the appearances, and the rise of the early Church’s belief in the Resurrection are details that come from early sources and cannot be satisfactorily explained as the creation of later Christian writers.

Response:Who says this belief came from “later Christian writers”? No one who looks at the evidence denies that this belief might have been held by the apostles themselves.

Still, these three facts do not automatically prove the Resurrection, since any number of explanations could be, and in fact are, given for them (e.g., someone stole Jesus’ body, the disciples hallucinated, Jesus did not die on the cross). Presently none of these alternative explanations has gained much traction, since each stretches the bounds of credulity. It is, however, important to point up (1) that alternative explanations of these facts are offered, something which provides a certain amount of confirmation of the firmness of these facts, and (2) that incredible alternative explanations are given, since believing in a resurrection, it is claimed, is even more incredible. After all, for some skeptics the Resurrection would be a miracle and miracles, it is routinely asserted as fact, simply do not and cannot happen.

Response:How do these explanations “stretch the bounds of credulity” in any way? There is, indeed, “a certain amount of confirmation of the firmness” of several facts of Jesus' life. Why else would the apostles become martyrs and the gospels be written?

Worldviews
“To evaluate whether something can or cannot happen brings one to a consideration of worldviews. As postmodernism helpfully reminds us, everybody has one of these. It is the lens through which each of us interprets reality. It is the thing that tells one to expect what goes up to come down, or to expect things in motion to stay in motion. It is what tells us to expect “y” to not equal “non-y,” or “y+y” to always equal “2y.” The question, then, is not whether or not someone has a worldview, but whether or not one has the correct worldview.
The mechanism for evaluating worldviews and attempting to locate the correct one involves criteria such as coherence (internal consistency), scope (comprehensive explanatory power), efficacy (livability), and simplicity (simplest is often the best explanation), among a few others. The trouble that those run into whose worldview denies the possibility of the miraculous, is that their worldview falls short on a number of these criteria. For instance, the miracle-denying worldview is founded upon the basic premise that all human knowledge is gained by either sense experience or reason (e.g., inductive reasoning). However, neither of these explains the near-universal belief in moral obligation (e.g., it is always wrong to rape, sex-traffic, torture children, etc.). In other words, nothing from sense experience or reason suggests that something ought not to happen or that something ought to happen, yet most people are deeply committed to knowledge of this sort. Can a worldview be sufficiently comprehensive if it is unable to explain some nearly universal phenomenon?”

Response:It is able: Pain is undesirable because natural selection favored those who had the sense of pain(those who had the sense of pain escaped from death and were able to have children). Therefore, all people now understand that pain is undesirable. Therefore, people dislike causers of pain(criminals, robbers, liars, murderers). Punishment comes from the desire to cause as much pain to the criminal as the criminal did to the victim (also, since punishment stops crime [because of the undesirability of pain], societies that punish criminals are favored by natural selection). The fact that pain is undesirable and criminals are bad leads to the near-universal conclusion that the infliction of pain is bad, and therefore, inherently evil.
Pity comes more from a social reason: societies whose inhabitants help each other tend to be more prosperous, and, therefore, more populous.

“Other examples could be given. Suffice it to say that such a worldview comes up short time and again. Therefore, to reject the possibility of the miraculous on the basis of a largely inadequate worldview is, at the least, bad form.”

Response:When??? Show me even one instance when the atheistic worldview “comes up short”?

Decisions
"If the facts are patiently considered and one’s worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture’s explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, and certainly its divine Author, are not content with the Resurrection being deemed “possible” or “most satisfactory.” In fact, Scripture is not even content with “definite” and “best,” because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture’s goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., “Jesus was raised for our justification,” Rom 4:25). For this to occur, more than evidences are required, since forces, some supernatural, are at work that prevent the proper functioning of the human mind (see Rom 1:18-32 and 2 Cor 4:4). In the end, how one views the evidence for the Resurrection is inextricably bound up with how one views its significance. Since this is the case, historical proof must be accompanied by divine illumination. This sort of thing, at other times called faith, comes only by hearing and reading Scripture (see Rom 10:17)."

Response: Christianity is also “predisposed against the miraculous”-it denies the fact that other gods except the trito-god of Christianity (Exodus 20:2-3!) can exist. I accept the validity of the last three sentences of this article.            

E. Harding - 4/2/2010 10:39:16 PM

4/12/2010 9:49 PM #

I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful and civil interaction. Below, I’ve tried to respond to each of the points raised. For ease of reference, I’ve briefly summarized and enumerated each question/criticism before giving my response. Ideally, interested readers will read the original article first, then the critique, and then my response below.

(1) We shouldn’t rely on Paul as an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection since he was not one of the original witnesses and what he experienced was most likely a hallucination.

(1.1) To begin with, very little of my argument depends on Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ. I mention it here and once below when I ask for a sufficient explanation to explain his conversion. So, if I grant your point about the extraordinary nature of Paul’s experience, my argument loses very little steam.

(1.2) Still, I think a good case can be made that Paul’s experience, detailed in a number of places (Gal 1:11–17; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8–11; Acts 9:3–9; 22:6–11; 26:12–19), was not merely an internal experience. On these texts, you might find the following helpful: N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), pp. 375–98.

(2) The problem with the Gospel accounts is not their distance from the events they claim to report, as my article suggested. After all, Mark was written only three decades after the death of the historical Jesus.

For many scholars, the three decades between Jesus’ death and Mark’s gospel are  sufficient to allow for a period of largely uncontrolled, oral transmission of the gospel traditions. What is more, the final form of these traditions, it is routinely claimed, owes less to the shape of the historical events themselves than it does to the needs of the communities in which and for which the traditions were redacted. One brief look at R. Bultmann’s The History of the Synoptic Tradition (ET; 2nd ed. 1968) and the scholarship that follows in its train (not least, the Jesus Seminar) will illustrate the point I am making here. For a nice refutation of these and related points, see N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 1; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), esp. chs. 1–4, and Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006).

(3) I have misrepresented critics of the Gospels by suggesting they claim the disciples “fabricated” the resurrection accounts. Rather, only rarely do critics suggest the disciples were liars. (This criticism is made here and once more a bit later on.)

(3.1) On one level, I agree with the criticism. Not all critics suggest the disciples “fabricated” the accounts, especially if fabricated necessary implies intentional deception. Some do, of course. But not all. For an example of one who does, see the classic study by H. M. Reimarus’s The Goal of Jesus and His Disciples  (transl. G. W. Buchanan; Leiden: Brill, 1970 [1778]). Moreover, it is a short step from the earliest explanation of the empty tomb to this charge (see Matt 28:13; cf. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 108).

(3.2) On another level, however, the objection is misplaced. Fabricate need imply nothing more than “invent” or “construct,” without necessarily saying anything about ill-motive.

(4) While the empty tomb is “undeniable,” it does not demand the additional conclusion of a resurrection. Rather, someone—probably not a disciple—moved Jesus’ body.

(4.1) I agree: the empty tomb is “undeniable.”

(4.2) It seems implausible that anyone other than followers of Jesus would have risked ceremonial uncleanness and Roman guards (to say nothing of moving large rocks!; cf. Mk 15:46) in order to steal away Jesus’ body.

(4.3) Were one to claim, then, that it was in fact Jesus’ followers who moved Jesus’ body, the above difficulties would still remain and would be compounded by others. Perhaps the most serious is the difficulty of explaining why Jesus’ followers would persist in this “belief” in the face of persecution when they knew their message was based on a hoax.

(5) The tradition Paul records about the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:5–9) says nothing about the nature of Paul’s own experience. Moreover, Paul may have mistakenly tallied witnesses to the empty tomb, not to Jesus’ resurrection, or Paul may have misremembered the exact number, or the witnesses tallied may simply have convinced themselves of something that was not the really true (self-delusion about Jesus’ resurrection).  

(On Paul’s own experience of the risen Christ, see my response under in 1.1 and 1.2 above.)

(5.1) If Paul was mistaken about what the witnesses saw, then a first-century skeptic (which I imagine there were—consider Thomas in John 20:24–29) could have followed up on this one with any number of the folks Paul mentions. After all, Paul says many were still living (1 Cor 15:6).

(5.2) Let’s say he rounded up. Would four hundred witnesses be adequate? Three hundred? How about two hundred?

(5.3) On self-delusion, see 6 below.

(6) The best explanation of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the rise of the early Church’s belief in the resurrection is that the tomb was empty (the body was moved by someone) and the disciples convinced themselves Jesus had risen (“self-delusion”).

It seems to me that an argument based on self-delusion is necessarily one based on hallucinations; otherwise, what are we to do with the claims of the disciples to have seen the risen Jesus. As such, I think it is subject to similar criticisms, the chief of which being the disciples’ lack of necessary preparation for such hallucinations. On this point, G. E. Ladd’s has said,

[V]isions do not occur arbitrarily. To experience them requires certain preconditions on the part of the subjects concerned, preconditions that were totally lacking in the disciples of Jesus. To picture the disciples nourishing fond memories of Jesus after His death, longing to see Him again, not expecting Him really to die, is contrary to all the evidence we possess. To portray the disciples as so infused with hope because of Jesus’ impact on them that their faith easily surmounted the barrier of death and posited Jesus as their living, risen Lord would require a radical rewriting of the Gospel tradition. While it may not be flattering to the disciples to say that their faith could result only from some objectively real experience, this is actually what the Gospels record (“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” in Christian Faith and Modern Theology, ed. Carl F. H. Henry [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1964], pp. 270–71; see a similar statement by Günther Bornkamm, one of R. Bultmann’s students, in Jesus of Nazareth [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960], pp. 184–85).

For more on this, I’d recommend the piece by Gary Habermas, “Explaining Away the Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories,” Christian Research Journal 23/4 (2001): [bethinking.org/.../...f-hallucination-theories.htm]; and also Jake O’Connell, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Collective Hallucinations,” Tyndale Bulletin 60/1 (2009): 69–105.

(7) How do the alternative explanations for the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the rise of the early Church’s belief in the resurrection “stretch the bounds of credulity”?

(7.1) See the material I reference just above on the “self-delusion” or hallucination theory.

(7.2) For summaries and responses to alternative explanations, I’ll simply point to one or two references that might help. See Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), esp. chs. 5–8; Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 685–718; W. L. Craig, ‘Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,' Truth 1 (1985): 89-95 [bethinking.org/.../...he-resurrection-of-jesus.htm].

(8) A naturalistic worldview can explain the universal experience of moral obligation.

(8.1) I’ll call your first argument, the argument from avoidance of pain. I don’t find it satisfying because it does not sufficiently represent reality. That is to say, not all pain is undesirable and not all pain causers are “bad” or punished. On the former, the old quip “no pain, no gain” sufficiently proves my point. And, on the latter, I might adduce pain-causers such as doctors and nurses—or returning to previous categories: personal trainers! As such, some other criterion is needed to adjudicate between beneficial and detrimental pains and between immoral (“bad”) and moral pain-causers. I ask again, what is it that makes nearly everyone agree that the pain inflicted in my three examples (sex-trafficking, rape, child torture) is indeed wrong and should be punished. Pain alone is an insufficient explanation.

(8.2) I’ll call your second argument, the argument from pity. I also find this one unsatisfactory. While pain is not always bad, pity or, more broadly, altruism (“societies [who] . . . help each other”) is not always good. What if I pity a sincere, young cleric who wants to impose Sharia law in my county? What if a government were to pity a struggling automaker and bail it out when more benefit would come to more people (some might add: “to say nothing of the environment”) by its demise? I ask again, what is it that makes the pity felt for victims of child abuse, sex-trafficking, and rape right but wrong or misplaced in these other examples. Since we must appeal to another criterion, pity is not sufficient in itself to explain these behaviors.

(8.3) In either case, I’m still not sure the two explanations you’ve given adequately describe the sense of moral obligation most people feel to act in certain ways towards the victims and perpetrators of the actions I mention. What you’ve given is an explanation for an instinctual avoidance of pain (and, thus, punishment of pain-causers) and an instinctual practice of pity. I’m not sure you’ve given an adequate explanation, however, for the moral outrage people feel about and toward sex-trafficking/traffickers, rapes/rapists, and tortured children/child torturers.

(8.4) Moreover, I wonder if either of your suggestions can explain why criminals still exist and/or why some people refuse to show pity. If, e.g., natural selection favors societies that punish pain-causers, how do you explain the persistence in such societies of this presumably non-fecund gene (a gene that leads to its possessor’s demise)? Related, in your account you prioritizes survival as an ultimate good. This end, however, is not universally acknowledged, not least by adherents to three of the world’s great religions (i.e., Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). Either you must admit that your worldview is insufficient in scope and, therefore, unsatisfactory, or you must give sufficient reasons for these sorts of exceptions.

(9) Christianity’s criticism of a naturalistic worldview on the ground that the latter rejects supernatural causation is disingenuous since Christianity does not accept all claims for supernatural causation.

(9.1) Here, if I understand you correctly, you’ve simply made a category mistake. The converse of  “predisposed against the miraculous” is not “judges all claims for the miraculous/supernatural as valid.” Simply because the Christian worldview allows for the miraculous does not mean it has no mechanism for evaluating the genuine from the spurious.

(9.2) What criteria one uses in such decisions depends, once again, on worldview considerations. For some good material on questions such as this, see this page of online articles that discuss some of the world’s major religions from a Christian perspective.

Sincerely,

Jared Compton

Jared Compton - 4/12/2010 9:49:09 PM

4/12/2010 10:09 PM #

Concerning the interaction with E. Harding, I add these comments pertaining to any moral argument that does not have a orthodox, Biblical foundation, rooted in the eternal, transcendent being of the Triune God:

In arguing for transcendent moral values, atheists and other philosophers HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO explain how these transcendent moral values could have arisen in a randomly materialistic and autonomous universe. To remain consistent in their worldview, atheists must consistently maintain that objective moral standards are derived from impersonal clouds of hydrogen gas that exploded from the so-called cosmic-egg 15 billion years ago.[1] John Frame has summarized this point:

Certainly if the laws of the universe reduce to chance, nothing of ethical significance could emerge from it. What of ethical significance can we learn from the random collisions of subatomic particles? What loyalty do we owe to pure chance? ...And the main question here is: HOW CAN AN IMPERSONAL STRUCTURE CREATE OBLIGATION???? ...Or: on what basis does an impersonal structure demand loyalty or obedience?[2]

We summarily turn the argument back upon Mr. Harding and point out that his moral assertions are logically incoherent within his own philosophical framework. If the universe were truly one without the Creator[3], there would be no good or evil, only random chance and non-rational material. G.K. Chesterton is sarcastic, yet insightful, in the following anecdote:

A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, 'How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter.' Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.[4]

Mr. Harding fallaciously assumes that human beings can autonomously make those moral determinations, and he wants the unsuspecting Christian theist to go along with his unstated assumption. John Frame again is helpful:

Unbelievers must surely not be allowed to take their own autonomy for granted in defining moral concepts. They must not be allowed to assume that they are the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong. Indeed, they should be warned that that sort of assumption rules out the biblical God from the outset and thus shows its character as a faith-presupposition. [5]

Atheists often want the Christian theist to agree upon moral principles, but are ALWAYS asking the theist to make that determination in a framework of agreement governed by human autonomy, essentially asking the theist: "Let's join together to autonomously and independently agree upon certain moral absolutes without reference to the God of the Bible." This far-reaching and unwarranted presupposition cannot be accepted by Christians.

Humans measure their own personal morality and the moral behavior of others against a certain transcendent ideal. Atheists always have some moral ideal in mind when they lay out their arguments. Any moral ideal stands "outside" or "above" any act in and of itself. It is supposed to be "objective". C.S. Lewis observes:

If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. The moment you say that one set of moral ideals can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.[6]

Human beings are constantly appealing to this objective standard, whether in everyday life or in philosophical discussions. Atheists, just as Christian theists, rightly become angry and indignant about all the suffering and evil in the world.[7] The world is indeed a disastrous mess.[8] Everyone becomes angry because we all know there is an objective morality (Lewis calls it a "Real Morality") and it is constantly being violated.

But the atheists are being inconsistent with their underlying philosophy. If they efficaciously and consistently applied their atheism, they would understand that they should not get angry at all. The story of God's command to destroy the Canaanite society, for example, would be a fiction in the naturalistic world, and should not be morally bothersome to the atheist at all.

The atheist would not theoretically possess the ability to get angry because objective morality would not exist and the evil and disastrous state of affairs in the universe would be absolutely normative. Since the mind of man is no more than an accident of random chance and impersonal matter, how could he possibly even conclude there is anything wrong with the world as it exists now? Rather, if he were being consistent, he would naturally accept his fate in the manner prescribed by Chesterton's indifferent and mechanistic cosmos. "Immorality" would be absolutely normative.

Those who ignore the general revelation of God in all creation and his special revelation found in Scripture have never been able and will never be able to develop a philosophically coherent system of morality. It is impossible without the God from whom perfect and infinite morality flows.

Sincerely,

Henry Smith
ABR

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] This, of course, does not answer the question of where the hydrogen clouds came from to begin with. Whatever his atheistic shade of naturalism (and there are many varieties out there), the skeptic must present a justification for morality in a mechanistic universe that arose from impersonal matter. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE.

[2] John Frame. Apologetics to the Glory of God. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1994), 97-98.

[3] The universe could not exist without God, so technically speaking, this point is mute as well. For the sake of argument I am not pressing the discussion that far, although it would be perfectly acceptable to do so. I only accept the premise for the sake of argument.

[4] Masie Ward. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), 48.

[5] Frame. Apologetics to the Glory of God, 169.

[6] Lewis, C.S.  Mere Christianity. (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1952), 13.

[7] The atheist becomes angry because the image of God has not been wiped fully from him, despite sin and deliberate suppression of the truth (Romans 1:18ff). There is a sense of justice in all men, having its source in the infinite and perfect justice of God. Atheistic anger toward evil is confirmation of Romans 1-2.  

[8] The Bible explains why the world is a disastrous mess, particularly in Genesis 3:1-19 and Romans 1:18ff; 8:18-23a. The judgment of God has come upon the world because of the sin of man. The non-Christian does not accept the answers that Scripture provides, instead always wanting to wrongly impugn God.

Henry Smith - 4/12/2010 10:09:16 PM

5/8/2010 7:48 PM #

Thank you for your commentary.

I too was an unbeliever for many years. I didn't believe the Bible and didn't understand the resurrection. God led me to himself in medical school and it was through a meticulous process of study and reflection after he changed my heart that he allowed me to see the truth about this.

The previous writer said the apostles were "self-deluded." I understand his answer - not because it makes any sense, of course it doesn't considering the evidence, but because in his mind he cannot accept Jesus as Lord - and so the only other option is this thing didn't happen - period!

For he knows the facts but can't really explain them:

1.) Empty tomb and intact head-dressing folded
2.) Apostles believed he rose from the dead
3.) Apostles claimed he rose from the dead and all were killed (except John) for this belief and claim

*He probably isn't aware of other things such as prophecy regarding details of Christ etc.... but in his mind this has to be false.... so he says the Apostles are "self-deluded" and then he sleeps soundly, not understanding what is really going on here and how serious this really is.

Remember to pray for him because only God can open his eyes - logic cannot - The Jews knew Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and wanted to him dead again as well as Christ.

Chris - 5/8/2010 7:48:13 PM

5/11/2010 5:43 AM #

As to the Debate:  Take each side, one at a time, and ask yourself: If this position is TRUE, and the consequences are also TRUE.  How will I be affected, and will it matter? Do not ask yourself if you believe in the position or not, just ask; If this position is TRUE, and all the consequences are also TRUE and as DIRE as foretold, Does it matter?

Again, without considering at this time if you believe in the position or not, just consider; What steps do I need to take to assure a positive outcome, or to avoid a negative outcome.

Once you can perform this exercise honestly and faithfully, you will be in the correct frame of mind to evaluate the pros and cons of the proposition.

As to resurrection, it is not a uniquely Christian idea. The Name speaks of resurrection when it is revealed to Moses. I AM! I WAS! I WILL BE!

The Almighty revealed it to Moses, Moses proclaimed it, and Jesus interpreted it when he taught that God is the God of the Living, not the God of the dead.

If this be so, where then is death? Are those who are alive at that time translated from one form and place to another?

Do the rest of us Sleep?  Some of us to arise at the resurrection to Glory and some to Shame?

What is the worst pain you have ever experienced? Was it physical, emotional, or a combination of both kinds of pain? What is the longest you have ever been in pain? Do you find that intense, sharp pain usually over quickly and that lesser, dull aching, throbbing, pressure pain lasts much longer?  Would you rather have your hands cut, burned, or crushed?  What do you do when your pain will not let you sleep?  Have you ever lost hope of having your pain relieved?  Which is worse: Hunger or Thirst?  What is the longest time you have gone without food? Water?  Would you rather be hot or cold, dry or wet, standing up or lying down?  What if you were confined inside a 3-ft. by 3-ft. by 3-ft. cube of 4-in. square steel screen? Are you claustrophobic? Have you wondered what it would be like to not see, hear, smell, taste, or feel anything outside of your own body? Now imagine you are in total darkness, unable to feel if you have moved or not? How would you describe this kind of lonelyness? What would you do? What would you wish for? Would this be sheol? What would you give to avoid a situation like this? If you could buy insurance that would guarantee you would never face a situation like this, would you buy it?

R.M.S. - 5/11/2010 5:43:06 AM

6/26/2011 3:57 AM #

Jared, how many names exactly of the "Holy Family" were coincidentally found in the ossuary all the names or just two of the names?

Giovanni - 6/26/2011 3:57:45 AM

6/28/2011 2:23 PM #

Hi Giovanni,

Thanks for the question. I think you'll find Michael Heiser's article on the tomb helpful. Here's the link (I'm not sure how to embed it)

www.biblearchaeology.org/.../...s-Family-Tomb.aspx

Jared

Jared Compton - 6/28/2011 2:23:47 PM

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