The Resurrection of Jesus and the Cognitive Dissonance Hypothesis

Cognitive Dissonance is all the rage these days. In other words, more and more skeptics are trying to postulate that the birth of the Jesus movement is the result of cognitive dissonance. As N.T Wright says:

“One theory which would go against this conclusion [that the rise of Christianity is best explained by Jesus’ bodily resurrection] was very popular a few years ago but is now widely discredited. Some sociologists suggested that the disciples had been suffering from ‘cognitive dissonance’, the phenomenon whereby people who believe something strongly go on saying it all the more shrilly when faced with contrary evidence. Failing to take the negative signs on board, they go deeper and deeper into denial, and can only sustain their position by shouting louder and trying to persuade others to join them. Whatever the likely occurrence of this in other circumstances, there is simply no chance of it being the right explanation for the rise of the early church. Nobody was expecting anyone, least of all a Messiah, to rise from the dead. A crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah. When Simeon ben Koshiba was killed by the Romans in AD 135, nobody went around afterwards saying he really was the Messiah after all, however much they had wanted to believe that he had been. God’s kingdom was something that had to happen in real life, not in some fantasy-land.

 

Nor was it the case, as some writers are fond of saying, that the idea of ‘resurrection’ was found in religions all over the ancient Near East. Dying and rising ‘gods’, yes; corn-kings, fertility deities, and the like. But – even supposing Jesus’ very Jewish followers knew any traditions like that – nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans. No. The best explanation by far for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost (the stories are very clear about that), but as a living, bodily human being”-From Tom Wright’s ‘Simply Christian’, p.96-97

Despite Wright’s comments about the cognitive dissonance theory, it is no surprise that it still seems to be quite popular in skeptical circles. There is also a reply to William Lane Craig’s podcast to the cognitive dissonance topic on Infidel’s website called The Cognitive Dissonance Theory of Christian Origins: A Cordial Reply to Dr. William Craig. After reading the response to Craig (feel free to read it), my thoughts are the following:

1.The resurrection claim was very, very, early. It was something proclaimed from the very start. Therefore, if the disciples/Paul invented the resurrection story (based on a cognitive dissonance issue), they did it from the very start. It was not something invented much later.

2.To posit any kind of cognitive dissonance explanation, we are back to some sort of conspiracy theory. In other words, Jesus did not really (literally) rise from the dead in a physical body. The disciples must of made up the appearance accounts because they were faced with contrary evidence. But what is the contrary evidence? Jesus was really still dead in a tomb since his body was somewhere else?

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)

Therefore, the cognitive dissonance theory has to rely on the hallucination hypothesis.But this has problems and has been dealt with elsewhere.

Or, see N.T. Wright’s 3 part series on this topic:
Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:

3.The cognitive dissonance theory would have to posit an adequate explanation for the resurrection category itself. Of course, Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God shows that the Greek word for resurrection which is “anastasis” was used by ancient Jews, pagans, and Christians as bodily in nature, with this being the case until much later (A.D. 200).So if the evidence was contrary (meaning Jesus did not appear bodily to them), this means they could of coped with the situation by making up a category to describe what happened to Jesus such as resuscitation, translation/exaltation (as seen in Enoch and Elijah) or apparitions (visions). Hence, it seems if they did want to win converts they could of picked another category other than resurrection.

4. To posit a cognitive dissonance theory, one must assume in order to deal with the contrary evidence (Jesus was dead), they also made up something else that was radically different: a Messiah that was divine. The birth of the Jesus movement and the birth of Christology are inseparable. Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have about Christology and it is here we see that that the earliest Christology was something from the start. It was not something that evolved over time. And the Christology we see did not stem from the disciples flirtation with religious syncretism, Hellenism, or Polytheism. It is true Jews don’t follow a dead Messiah (as mentioned in the Infidels article), but my question is it true the followers of Jesus really punted to some sort of cognitive dissonance?

If we read the Gospels, we see the case for Jesus being divine even before he was crucified. It is not as if the disciples were presented with contrary evidence and they created a deified Jesus afterwards. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy?

According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.

Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). 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.

5. The Infidel’s article touched on Jewish messianism. But 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

As far as I know, none of them (as well as the Jewish leader named Bar Kohba) were accused of blasphemy (as Jesus was). By the way, the Sabbatean movement (something mentioned in the Infidels article) is a movement that borrow heavily from the Jesus story (see Boyd/Eddy’s The Jesus Legend, pgs, 154-156). So trying to compare it to the resurrection story is grasping for straws.

I could go on more here. But it seems to me that the cognitive dissonance theory hypothesis turns into a similar argument that we hear when theists are accused of using a “God of the gaps” argument or atheists are accused of using a “nature of the gaps” argument. Hence, we have a gap in our knowledge and look for an explanation. So now it seems we can punt to the “cognitive dissonance of the gaps.” I also should mention that the cognitive dissonance theory has been discussed in detail in Mike Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographal Approach.

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?

The Challenge of Technology and Spiritual Blindness

 

Over the last eleven years I have been doing evangelism and apologetics on a major college campus. What is probably our greatest challenge today? Technology! What do I mean by this? 90% percent of the students I see daily or weekly are on their cell phones. Trying to get them to engage and get out of their personal cell phone life is a real challenge. I really think the adversary our souls is using this to his advantage. Let me illustrate:

There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).

We see the relationship between these two passages:

Acts 26:16-18:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(4) [Blinded-presupposed]
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light

2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(4) Blinded
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light

Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.

In the end, we need to heed the words of Pascal:

“If our condition were truly happy, we would not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy…”

“As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all…”

“The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this it the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.”

– Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), Pensées, 139, 164-165, 171

Michael Bird on Genre of the Gospels

 

Given many don’t have the time to read my entire post on the genre of the Gospels, I wanted to mention these comments by Michael Bird. I couldn’t ask for a better analysis of the topic.

He says:

“The Gospels are rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. They explicitly function as the continuation and fulfillment of the story of Israel. That is why they are replete with citations, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament. The religious content and theological texture of the Gospels is heavily indebted to the worldview, socio-political landscape, and sacred texts of Judaism. Roman biography and Greek legends could refer to various religious literary works such as Delphic oracles or Homer’s Iliad. But for the Gospels, the story and worldview of Israel’s Scriptures are very much what the Gospels are about, namely, the God of Israel inaugurating his kingdom through Jesus the Messiah. It should not raise anyone’s eyebrows to say that the Gospels comprise a form of post-biblical Jewish literature with messianic faith in Jesus as its primary content. The main point of contact with the Gospels is that Jewish biographical literature contains a theography, a story about Israel’s God, working through an agent of deliverance, such as a prophet, king, or teacher. The protagonist leads the Jewish people at a time of national crisis or performs some miraculous deed at an important moment in Israel’s history. The Gospels possess a theological worldview, a geopolitical setting, didactic content, and a deliberate replication of Old Testament literary types that make some kind of connection with Jewish sacred literature irrefutable.”—-Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 229). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Bird also says:

The Gospels are the textual imprint of the oral phenomena of Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus. Viewed this way, they are Christian documents related to the needs of Christians in corporate reading, worship, apologetics, and proclamation. So in that sense they are a unique genre with no precise literary counterparts. However, their uniqueness is in many ways inconsequential because they remain largely analogous to Greco-Roman biography, and the biographical genre was typified by innovation and adaptation. The content of the Gospels is singularly determined by Jewish Christian content, while the literary form of the Gospels is a clear subtype of Greco-Roman biography.- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 270), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Now, notice Bird’s comments about the  relationship between the history of Israel and the Gospels. This means we need to ask how Christians view the Old Testament.

Perhaps we need to stop obsessing over Genesis 1-11 and the age of the earth and move on to chapter 12? Anyone heard of the Abrahamic covenant?