Why the Hypothesis that God Raised Jesus from the Dead is the Best Explanation

Introduction

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. So let’s take a look at if the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an adequate explanation for the following data:

#1:The Resurrection of Jesus Explains God’s Actions in History

Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask where and when God has broken through in human history.

The last Anthony Flew said, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (see Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available from the Web site of Biola University at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew).

Some skeptics lament that one of the reasons we can’t accept the resurrection of Jesus is because we don’t see people rising from the dead today. Firist, the entire point of the resurrection of Jesus is that it is a unique one-time unique event. If we had had all kinds of people rising from the dead (and not dying again as in the case of Jesus), that would not make the resurrection of Jesus unique at all.  To see more on this issue, see our post called The Resurrection by Alister McGrath.

#2: The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Explains the Post-Mortem Appearances to the Disciples:

The post- resurrection appearances are varied. We see them here:

• Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, shortly after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
• Jesus appears to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8-10)
• Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12,13; Luke 24:13-35)
• Jesus appears to Peter ( Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5)
• Jesus appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).
• Jesus again appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. At this time Thomas is present (John 20:24-29).
• Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1,2)
• Jesus is seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
• Jesus appears to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7)
• Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
• He appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:50-53).
• He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).

I find it interesting that many New Testament scholars/historians agree that the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

Allow me to mention few quotes here:

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

“That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever can agree.” (Reginald H. Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142)

What did the disciples see? Was it a hallucination, a vision, or the resurrected Jesus? To read more about this, see here:

#3: The Resurrection of Jesus explains the conviction of the disciples in their proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus:

There is no reason to distrust the conviction of those that testified to having seen the risen Jesus. As we said, many historians/scholars concede that the disciples at least thought they saw the resurrected Christ. As James Warner Wallace points out in his latest book people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:

1.Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The NT shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned.

2. Sexual or Relational Desire: The NT does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity.

3. Pursuit of Power:

While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the 4th century and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Just look at Paul’s testimony here:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” – 2 Cor. 11: 23-27

#4: The Bodily Resurrection Explains the Birth of Early Christianity/The Messianic Movement Pre-70 AD.

It is true that the old saying, “Jesus is just one of several messiah’s in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)
2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)
3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)
4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)
5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)

Given I have written about this issue, I will briefly summarize: Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.[1]

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

Furthermore, this theme became more interesting in the discovery of what is called The Temple Scroll in 1977.This scroll is one of the longest scrolls of all that was found at Qumran. It can be observed in column 64:7-12 that the passage just mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is seen as referring to the crucifixion. However, the theme in the Temple Scroll is expanded to include those who are crucified are cursed by God and men. It says:

“If a man passes on information about his people and betrays his people to a foreign people and does evil to his people, than you shall hang him on the wood so he dies. On the strength of two witnesses or the strength of three witnesses he shall be killed and they shall hang him on the wood. If a man has committed a capital offense and fl ees to the nations and curses his people, the Israelites, then you shall also hang him on the wood, so that he dies. Yet, they shall not let his corpse hang on the wood, but must bury it on the same day, for cursed by God and man are those who are hanged on the wood, and you shall not pollute the earth.” (2)

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. Paul could not of made it any clearer when he stated, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:23-24). We can conclude that apart from the resurrection, the Jesus movement would of faded out very quickly (just as we see in the ones listed above).

#5: The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Explains Paul’s Christology

Paul’s Letters (dated 47 to 60 AD) are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. To see any objections to Pauline authorship, click here. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. In several of Paul’s Letters Jesus is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

Also, as pointed out by Richard Bauckham in his work on this topic, Paul believed that Jesus was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things
2. God is the Sole Creator of all things
3. God is the only being deserving of worship

So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:

1. Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things

Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

Here, Jesus is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

Jesus is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.

Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

3. Jesus as worthy of worship

As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Jesus. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship. Here is one of the earliest Christological texts:

Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

To see more on why the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for what happened to Paul, click here:

Conclusion:

I have barely covered all the arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to go deeper, see the online article called The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

While the Christian has a responsibility to uphold and defend the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15), Christians also are called to make daily application of the resurrection into their daily lives (Romans 6:1:7:25). If Christians understood that God wanted to radically transform their lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the world would be a different place. The Gospel is not simply a message about the death of Jesus, but his resurrection as well (1 Corinthians 15:1-12). We as Christians are called to live the resurrected life by bringing restoration and justice to a world that desperately needs hope.

Sources:

1. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.
2. Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2006), 17-18

Is the Purpose of the Bible to Prove God’s Existence?

Note: For all that think I am begging the question by starting with the Bible, you can read the other posts on this site that deal with the reliability of the Bible/God’s existence outside the Bible.

The Bible and God’s Existence

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that the Bible presupposes God’s existence. In other words, the Bible’s sole purpose is not to “prove” God’s existence. For that matter, when it comes to talking about God’s existence, I have dropped the word “proof” from my vocabulary. I find that the word “proof” conveys the need to provide some sort of infallible, mathematical proof (2+2=4..etc..) for God’s existence. This is silly and unnecessary. One of the best solutions to handling the issue of evidence and arguments for God’s existence is to utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. But that is a topic for another post.

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God). In this article, we are referring to the theistic God of the Bible. In a classical apologetic argument, the cosmological (including both the horizontal and vertical cosmological argument) give a general outline that point to theistic God of the Bible.

Biblically speaking, God can’t be reduced to an argument or a proposition. And God is not just an abstract idea. This doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t demonstrate any evidential arguments for God. Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His Messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These Scriptures appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah. And remember that the Apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8).

Since I am married, I can give an analogy: I don’t know what my wife expects of me unless she communicates. Otherwise, I am in the dark. That is why we must not forget that the acceptance of revelation is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” Therefore, the God of the Bible is capable of communicating/giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. (1)

So what are some of the ways people knew that the God of Israel existed in antiquity? By the way, these mediums are still used by God today.

1. The Light of Creation

While God predominately revealed Himself to the Jewish people through specific actions in the course of human history, the Jewish people agree that the Torah was the pivotal moment of God’s supreme revelation to them. But what about the Gentile nations? After all, it is Israel that was given the Torah. The good news is God has also taken the initiative to reveal Himself to Gentiles through general or natural revelation. In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine, invisible being, we have to use induction. Induction is the method of drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, since we can’t observe gravity directly, we only observe its effects.

As Paul says in Romans 1: 18-21,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.”

In this passage, God’s knowledge is described as “eternal power and divine nature.” Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are seen “through the things that are made” (this is the effect). Therefore, the unbelievers problem is not one of not understanding the truth of God, but of suppression, which leads to not receiving the truth.

One comment about God’s revelation in nature has been made by Alvin Plantinga who happens to be one of the most influential theistic philosophers to date: He says:

“Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements.” (Plantinga, A. Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).

2. The Light of Conscience

Another part of God’s general revelation to humanity is discussed in Romans 2. As Paul says, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge. It is instantaneously apprehended. The issue of moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. (2) Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality.

The Hebrew word for the conscience is “lebad,” which is usually translated as the “heart” in the Old Testament. The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person. (3) In the Hebrew Bible, not only is “heart” used to describe as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, but it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the heart is the psychic center of human affection or the source of spiritual life and the seat of intellect and will. (4)

The conscience can become dull, or seared (1 Tim 4:2). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sadly, a hardened heart can make someone less sensitive to the things of God. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit.

3. Miracles

What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. For example, Peter Kreeft says, a miracle is “a striking and religiously significant intervention of God in the system of natural causes.” (5) So we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. In the Bible, miracles have a distinctive purpose: they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (6)
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2).

In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). Miracles also confirmed the apostolic claim. In 2 Corinthians 12:12: Paul says, “The things that mark an apostle signs, wonders, and miracles were done among you with great perseverance.” (7)

It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. In this event the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (8) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

4. Jesus as the Messiah

A few things shall be mentioned here: If you want to study this topic further, there are other articles on this website that deal with the reliability of the New Testament. However, I am starting with these premises and conclusion.
1.The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2.The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique convergence of miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

While general revelation manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal Him as Redeemer. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, it is not sufficient for salvation. If the God of the Bible is a good God, it would make sense that He would give a fuller revelation of Himself to humanity.

As Heb. 1:1–2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Jesus did comment on how people respond to Him by saying, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil 2:5-7; Col 2:9;Titus 2;13; Heb 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Furthermore, Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12).

While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it know that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah. (Rom. 3: 9; Acts 20:21). For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18).

Paul: The Need for Faith in Jesus the Messiah

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

We see: (1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance; (2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah; (3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9); (4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed; (5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! (9)

5. Messengers

The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in Acts 10, Cornelius is shown to be a God fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).

Conclusion:

Perhaps we all have to ask ourselves some questions:
1. If Christianity is true, would you want to be a Christian?
2. If the God of the Bible exists, would you want to know that?
3. If the God of the Bible does exist, would you be interested in looking at the evidence?

Sources:
1. Dulles, A.J. Models Of Revelation. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1983, 13.
2. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 532.
3. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
4. Ibid.
5. Kreeft, P. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1994, 101-120.
6. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.
7. Ibid, pgs 470-481.
8. Ibid.
9. Marshall. I.H., The Acts of the Apostles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980, 288-290.

Three Things The Gospel Authors Would Have Never Invented About Jesus


 Over the years, one of the common complaints by skeptics of the Gospels is that the Gospel writers supposedly took great liberty to make up or embellish certain parts of their work to make their point. In other words, many parts of the Gospel authors  ‘invented’ or ‘fabricated’ certain aspects of the life of Jesus. Also, the Gospels are supposed to be so biased and given they are written by the ‘insiders’ how can we trust these documents? In response, the more I have studied the Second Temple Jewish period in Jewish history, I have found the exact opposite. Let me offer a few examples:

A Dying Messiah

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole notion of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.[1]

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.”[2] Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified. Just look at Paul’s statement in Gal 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.” Therefore, to say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not be the Anointed One of God. Also, Deut. 21: 22-23 does not really speak directly to the matter of crucifixion, nor of the crucifixion of God’s Anointed One. So this passage couldn’t of generated such a belief.

Even Michael Bird says:

Adding the title ‘Messiah’ to a crucified figure created more problems than it was worth given the divisions created in Jewish communities. It is hardly the kind of problem one would wish to create in the effort to venerate a departed leader, nor can messiahship be attached to a crucified Jesus on the back of some ad hoc scriptural proof-texting. Let us remember that the ‘Christ’ element of Christianity proved to be a point of lasting division between Jews and Christians (e.g. John 9:22; 12:42; Justin, 1 Apol. 31.5-6; Dial. Tryph. 10; 49; 90; 108). That is because a crucified Messiah was far more than an ‘insufferable paradox’. A crucified Messiah was, to many, utter madness (Acts 26:23-25) or complete foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). Yet this is precisely what Christians maintained under trying and difficult circumstances. As Joachim Jeremias put it, ‘the scandal of the crucified Messiah is so enormous that it is hardly conceivable that the community should have presented itself with such a stumbling block.”–Michael Bird, Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels

We must also expand on Dialogue with Trypho the Jew:

To build on Bird’s comments, Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. He replies:

“It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so.”[3]

Just look at some other quotes about the failure of Jesus to meet the messianic credentials is seen in the following statements by the following rabbis:

Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444).

We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521.[4]

I should note that hyper-skeptic Richard Carrier has attempted to show that it would not be hard to get a dying Messiah story going, but I have responded to that here:

Why invent a Messiah who becomes the Temple in person?

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” –John 2: 13-22

The Temple was the center of Jewish religious, cultural, political, and economic life. The impact of its destruction can be seen in some of the following comments in Rabbinic tradition:

Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has intervened between Israel and their Father in Heaven. b. Ber 32b

Since the day when the Temple was destroyed there has never been a perfectly clear sky. b. Ber 59a

Through the crime of bloodshed the Temple was destroyed and the Shechinah departed from Israel. B. Shab 33a

Ever since the day the Temple was destroyed the rains have become irregular. B. Ta’an. 29 a [5]

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. Even in the trial scene in Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).  Jesus is the foundation of the new temple (Jn 7:37-39) and he is the place for worship (Jn. 4:23-24 ). Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29).[6] So it is apparent that for the Gospel authors to make up a Messiah who behaves as if He is the physical Temple in person would only make it more difficult to convince a Jewish person about the messiahship of Jesus.This point has been expanded on by N.T. Wright in his book The Challenge of Jesus: See a summary here:

The Son of Man as Lord of the Sabbath

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, his suffering and resurrection (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33); Third, his eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31).

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” –Matthew 12: 1-8.

Given the Sabbath was and still is the most important observance in Judaism, for the Gospel authors to make any figure as having authority over  the Sabbath would only create another huge stumbling block for Jewish people.

As Ben Witherington III says,

“Now in Jewish theology, God of course was the Creator of the universe who set up the sabbatical pattern in the first place, and rested on the seventh day (see Gen. 1). Since God had created the Sabbath, only God was the Lord thereof. Yet here, Jesus’ claims, as Son of man, to be Lord over the Sabbath, and claims that He can reinterpret the Sabbath to mean, this is the perfect day to give sick people “rest” from their illnesses, even though this activity constitutes work by any Old Testament definition. In other words, as Son of man, Jesus felt He could rewrite the Sabbath rules. Why? Because He was Lord over the Sabbath and its proper observance now that God’s divine saving activity was breaking into human history through Him. “[7]

Conclusion

I could cite many more examples. But suffice to say, the more we learn about the Second Temple period, it is clear that it would be counterproductive for the Gospel authors to invent a Jesus that would die, replace the Temple, or be the Lord of the Sabbath.


[1] Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

[2] See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

[3] Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949) pg, 208, 291.

[4] David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.

[5] Michael Brown, Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol 4 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus(Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2007), 152-161.

[6] Willam Lane Craig,  Reasonable Faith: Third Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 307.

[7] Ben Witherington III. Did Jesus Believe He Was The Son of Man. Available athttp://www.4truth.net.Did_Jesus_Believe_He_Was_the_Son_of_Man.htm

Review of “Resurrection or Reimagined: Discussion Between Dr. Michael Licona and Dr. Larry Shapiro, Feb 26th, 2017, The Ohio State University

On Feb 26th, 2017, we co-hosted an event on The Ohio State Campus called “Resurrection or Reimagined? Two Professors Discuss the Plausibility of the Resurrection of Jesus. This was a discussion between my friend Dr. Michael Licona,  professor of New Testament at Houston Baptist University, and president of Risen Jesus. and Dr. Larry Shapiro, professor of philosophy at The University of Wisconsin, Dr. Licona has published extensively on the resurrection of Jesus. His book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach set the bar in scholarship. Dr. Shapiro has published a book called The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified.

Here were some of my thoughts on the discussion/debate. Obviously, much more can be said. 

  1. Remember, Dr. Licona’s specialty is history and New Testament studies. And he has published many works on the resurrection. Shapiro’s specialty is philosophy. This doesn’t mean Dr. Licona doesn’t know anything about philosophy. He knows a lot about philosophy of history and anyone who has read his massive book on the resurrection of Jesus knows this.
  2. Shapiro doesn’t have a background in history and New Testament. So that hurt him on many levels. His comments about the New Testament being corrupted or embellished didn’t work and Dr. Licona exposed the weakness of that argument. Not even Bart Ehrman agrees we can’t know anything in the New Testament.
  3. Shapiro’s entire argument that the supernatural is always unjustified was question begging. This is a circular argument and is a repeat of what Hume said. Of course, there has been more than enough responses to Hume. 
  4. I did think Shapiro did communicate well and connected with the audience. He was clear in his communication. He was funny as well.
  5. Abduction/Inference to the Best Explanation: Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). Both Licona and Shapiro appealed to what is called “Abduction” or “Inference to the Best Explanation.” Abduction or, as it is also often called, Inference to the Best Explanation is a type of inference that assigns special status to explanatory considerations. Most philosophers agree that this type of inference is frequently employed, in some form or other, both in everyday and in scientific reasoning. See Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy article here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/
  6.  Shapiro attempted to explain this with the cookie jar illustration which was good. But that didn’t translate well at all into his attempt to explain the competing hypotheses for the resurrection. He seemed unaware that many of those competing hypotheses had been answered and the ones he mentioned lack explanatory scope and power. They were also ad hoc.  I was surprised he didn’t mention anything about hallucinations or cognitive dissonance. Those seems to be the big ones they use. We went over the problems with those at the RC meeting. He also said that perhaps a competing hypothesis was that the witnesses were deceived or they lied.  But we must differentiate between what’s possible and what’s reasonable.  Is it a possibility they lied or were deceived? I guess. But is it reasonable? Jim Wallace points out people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons: 1) Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The New Testament shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned; 2) Sexual or Relational Desire: The New Testament does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity; 3) Pursuit of Power: While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the fourthcentury and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. As far as Shapiro’s points that people who follow cult leaders die all the time for their leader, the biggest difference is it is true they know they are dying for a lie and will still die for it. The witnesses in the NT thought that what they believed was true. Also, as Dr. Licona said, the argument isn’t because someone is martyred, that makes it true. We have never said that. We must also take into consideration about the entire scope of the ministry of Jesus. He isn’t just another cult leader.
  7. When the question from the audience came to him as to what like experiences had shaped Shapiro’s view of the resurrection, he said he had lost someone close to him, it revealed there is some pain there. I wonder if he prayed and maybe didn’t see God intervene. Who knows?
  8. Justification: I thought Shapiro’s use of justification was interesting. Justification says a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring  and maintaining a belief. A belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation. Note he said he wasn’t arguing about whether the resurrection is true. But since the average person there may not know much about epistemology, he may have lost them on this point.
  9. Shapiro’s comments about people at the time of Jesus being mistaken about things at that time translated to “the first followers of Jesus could be mistaken about the resurrection.” This translated as “we are smarter than the ancients.” But this argument didn’t work and takes us back to his view any supernatural explanation is wrong. Even if they got some things wrong, he still must explain the competing hypotheses on the table.
  10. In my opinion, when Shapiro said Christians should be concerned that they do get the resurrection correct, this was a home run! It does impact the way we view reality. Thus, this was a good challenge for Christians. But his comments about abortion and gay marriage was telling. Once again, we have a secularist admit they are concerned about non-secular values forming public policy. Nothing new there. Remember, people get hurt on secular values and secular laws as well. So his view of reality better be right as well!
  11. The Cause of a Miracle? One things that did seem to come up was that we needed to get behind the cause of a miracle? Can we know? Stephen T. Davis has suggested three criteria for assessing whether a miracle remains a potential explanation: (1) when the available naturalistic explanations all fail and nothing else on the naturalistic horizon seems promising, (2) when the event has moral and religious significance, and (3) when the event in question is consistent with one’s background beliefs about the desires and purposes of God, as revealed in the religion to which one is committed (for example, the event occurred after prayer or as an aspect of an epiphany or incarnation). (see Copan and R.K. Tacelli,  Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: Intervaristy. 2000), 75.  If we take these criteria in to consideration, it is evident that the resurrection of Jesus does have great moral and religious significance.  If we take these criteria in to consideration, it is evident that the resurrection of Jesus does have great moral and religious significance. As far as our background beliefs about God, if there is a God who is responsible for the questions listed here, it would make sense that He would want to reveal his purpose and plans for humanity within the context of human history.
  1. How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  2. How do you explain the Fine-Tuningof the Universe?
  3. How do you explain the  Fine-Tuningof Planet Earth?
  4. How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  5. How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  6. How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  7. How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  8. How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  9. How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  10. How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  11. How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  12. How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  13. How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  14. How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

12. As far as our background beliefs about God, if there is a God who is responsible for the questions listed above, it would make sense that He would want to reveal his purpose and plans for humanity within the context of human history. By the way, if we take these three criteria into consideration, I think Dr. Licona’s  illustration as his head getting chopped off, etc would maybe fulfill these three criteria: (1) when the available naturalistic explanations all fail and nothing else on the naturalistic horizon seems promising, (2) when the event has moral and religious significance, and (3) when the event in question is consistent with one’s background beliefs about the desires and purposes of God, as revealed in the religion to which one is committed (for example, the event occurred after prayer or as an aspect of an epiphany or incarnation). But since they ran out of time, they couldn’t discuss these.

13.The debate showed the difference between classical and historical apologetics: The classical apologist generally starts with the evidence for God outside the Bible and then works his way to demonstrating that such a God would want to reveal more of Himself to the human race through special revelation. Hence, classical apologetics relies heavily on natural theology. Of course, the classical apologist knows that many faiths try to use miracles to validate the truth of their religion. Therefore, the classical apologist demonstrates that many of the miracle claims outside the Christian faith are lacking in historical/evidential support. Historical Apologetics does have some things in common with classical apologetics in that they begin with evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Both the classical and historical apologist see historical evidence to be crucial to the defense of Christianity. However, the historical apologist doesn’t see the need for theistic apologetics (starting with evidence for God outside the Bible) as prior to historical apologetics. The classical apologist believes it begs the question to discuss the resurrection as an act of God unless one had first established that a God exists who can intervene into the world. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the supreme apologetic. The reason I bring this up is that since Shapiro already rejects what he calls the “supernatural” it shows there may be the need to establish there is a God first before it being even plausible that He has revealed himself within human history.  See our post here for more on this. 

Overall, the goal of the event was achieved. People are thinking and talking about the central event of the Christian faith which is the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Is Apologetics the Savior of the Church?

Anyone who has been in the apologetics endeavor  knows that there is always the need to properly define apologetics to both the Believer and the non-believer. Every now and then, one objection I hear from my Christian friends is that those who are overly committed to apologetics must be somewhat weak in their faith. In other words, why should a Christian need all this reason and evidence stuff? After all, faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6).  And if we are growing in our relationship with God, our faith should be more real than before.

First, for those of us that are committed to teaching and learning apologetics are not opposed to faith at all. And it does not mean we are always weak in our faith. The reality is that the first reason (at least for me) that we want to do apologetics is because we want to reach the world for Christ and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). When we set out to do this, we always run into objections to the Christian faith. So I find that one of the main reasons that many Christians are apathetic to apologetics is because they aren’t  doing any evangelism/discipleship.

Second, I agree that it’s true that evidence can become an idol. The object of my faith is not reasons nor evidence. Instead, the object of my faith is God/Jesus. So while reasons and evidence support my trust in God/Jesus, it doesn’t replace it.  I know myself and many others strive for balance.

Third, I understand the appeal to the Holy Spirit as the one gives Christians an overwhelming certainty that Christianity is true. He has an entire ministry in the life of the Christian. And I am forever grateful for his work in my life. But religious experience won’t go very far once we get out into the culture. But part of his work is to help the Christian grow in their critical thinking skills. Many of us as Christians want a robust faith that integrates our entire being. In his book, The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ, author David W. Gill makes a significant comment about this issue:

“ Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.”

Developing the Christian mind is part of our worship to God. I want to try to imitate God. While I don’t always do it, I think it is clear that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. If God is a rational being then He created us as rational beings. Therefore, learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

This past week, I had three people make the same comment about the need for apologetics in the Church. All three of them have  come of our apologetics meetings on a major college campus. They have asked me the same questions: “How come the Church doesn’t teach apologetics?”  “Where was this in my youth?”  One of them has allowed me to share her comments here. I will keep her identity anonymous. This individual attended our James Warner Wallace event and some of our meetings this year. This is what she said:

“I watched my ex boyfriend fall for this internet atheist stuff, and then wanted to become one of these “enlightened” jerks and spread the word to others. You know, so those Christians could be “free.” He showed it to me unexpectedly (I had no idea what these documentaries were) and it caused me massive sadness and pain. I was raised Christian but I knew nothing about these types of questions. I fell apart. And I would gladly have done the work to find the answers if only I knew there were even answers out there. But God pulled me back in and I went back to church and the Lord brought me to apologetics. I know for a fact that this is essential to the vitality of the church right now. The church has become nothing more than emotional highs, feelings, and an upsetting amount of “dumbing down” for the average Christian. We need to intercept these deceivers and show other Christians that there are answers out there. People make fun of Christians and call them stupid, and we get used to that. But this is not okay. My intention when I talk to someone is not to degrade them, it is to make them embarrass *themselves* and be exposed as the con artists that they are. Stopping them is defending our faith. We have to set an example for Christians to educate themselves so this stuff stops. There is no other solution for a generation that gets all of its answers on a Google search or wiki page.”

Interestingly enough, well known Christian apologist Josh McDowell said the following about the internet:

“The Internet is weakening Christian witness and “we better wake up to it because it’s just beginning.” McDowell added that his greatest asset, value-wise, used to be his time until a year and a half ago. “My greatest asset now is my focus. There is so much out there just one click away, what am I going to focus on?” See full article here:

So after reading this, I want you to notice something: the individual who said they saw the need for apologetics said they went back to a local church. Thus, It was the local church along with apologetics (I would probably assume prayer and some other things as well), that made a profound difference. So the lesson here is that apologetics is not the only brick in a Christian’s foundation. However, it is an essential brick and it is needed more than ever. Also, see my article called Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?

A Look at the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus

When it comes to the formation of the early Jesus movement, 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7  is a crucial element to the proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) One key in examining the early sources for the life of Christ is to take into account the Jewish culture in which they were birthed. As Paul Barnett notes, “The milieu of early Christianity in which Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written was ‘rabbinic.’” (2)

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

The word “received” παραλαμβάνω (a rabbinical term) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted.

Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin. Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (3).

E.P. Sanders also says:

Paul’s letters were written earlier than the gospels, and so his reference to the Twelve is the earliest evidence. It comes in a passage that he repeats as ‘tradition’, and is thus to be traced back to the earliest days of the movement. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives the list of resurrection appearances that had been handed down to him. (4)

And Crossan’s partner Robert Funk says:

The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” — Robert Funk co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.(5)

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel discusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive. (6)

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor.1:21-22)

Once again, critical scholars including those who are not even Christians say the following about the death/ crucifixion of Jesus:

I will start with two quotes from Bart Ehrman:

The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. For some it’s simply too horrific to affirm. For others it’s an elaborate conspiracy to coerce religious sympathy. But the deniers live in a historical dreamworld.(7)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (8)

Gerd Ludemann (Atheist):

The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here. (9)

Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar:

Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. (10)

Dale Martin:

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (11)

In his book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman goes on to say:

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41.

If we apply these comments to the death of Jesus we have:

The Burial of Jesus

Given the fact that Jesus came from a poor family, he would of most likely been disposed in the manner of the lower classes such as a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. However the record of his burial in the Gospels is confirmed by archaeologist Jodi Magness (who is not a skeptic, but a non-religious Jew). She says:

Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (12)

Interestingly enough, Magness  goes on to say:

There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence. (13)

The Resurrection

As far as the appearances of Jesus, once again, many critical scholars agree that the disciples at least thought they saw the risen Jesus. For example:

E.P. Sanders:

That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it. (14)

Bart Ehrman:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection. (15)

Ehrman also says:

We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead. (16)

 Ehrman also goes onto say:  

 Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. (17)

Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19). (18)

Reginald Fuller:

The disciples thought that they had witnessed Jesus’ appearances, which, however they are explained, “is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree. (19)

Fuller goes onto say:

Even the most skeptical historian” must do one more thing: “postulate some other event” that is not the disciples’ faith, but the reason for their faith, in order to account for their experiences.  Of course, both natural and supernatural options have been proposed. (20).

Gerd Lüdemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection says:

It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ. (21)

Paula Frederickson (a non conservative) says:

I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something. The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ, their relocation to Jerusalem, their principled inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles – all these are historical bedrock, facts known past doubting about the earliest community after Jesus’ death. (22)

To see more on the appearances of Jesus, see our post called What Did The Disciples Mean When They Say “Jesus is Risen”

Sources:

1.Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.

2. Barnett, P.W., Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1997, 138.

3. Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, 254.

4. Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books), 1993

5. Hoover, R.W. and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (Santa Rosa,CA: Polebridge Press, 1998), 466.

6. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

7.  Bart Ehrman,  interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., “Who Changed The New Testament and Why”, The Infidel Guy Show, 2008. Available at : http://www.city-data.com/forum/religion-spirituality/1264542-did-jesus-exist-disciple-buddha-america.html#ixzz2pvePXTT1}

8. Bart Ehrman,  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, (Third  Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 221-222

9. Lüdemann, G. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 50

10.  Crossan,  J. D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45.  While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus. But it should be noted that while the manuscript tradition of Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus  being crucified under Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus confirmed Jesus died by crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), under Pilate’s governship (26-36 CE).

11. Martin,  D., New Testament History and Literature: The Open Yale Courses Series (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2012), 181.

12. Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2011), 170.

13. Ibid, 171.

14. Sanders , The Historical Figure of Jesus, 279-280

15. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,276.

16._______.  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230

17. Ibid, 231.

18. Ehrman,  The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 282

19. Reginald  Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142.

20. Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1980),

21.Lüdemann, G. What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80. 22. Frederickson , P. Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 2000).

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