Which Takes Priority? Natural or Revealed Theology?

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 material 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). Therefore, the God of the Bible is capable of 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 intentions. (1)

Hence, the acceptance of revelation, therefore, is, of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word ” apokalupsis” which means “an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”

When I was in my early 20’s, I was asking questions about the Christian faith. I had been raised in a church but was by no means a committed Christian. I was one of many nominal Christians. The more I look back on it, this is the pattern God used to reach me. By the way, we find this pattern in the Bible itself.

What are the mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to man?
1. General Revelation: Creation: (external manifestation)
2. General Revelation: Conscience: (internal manifestation)
3. Special Revelation: The Messiah: (external manifestation)
4. Special Revelation: A Messenger: (external manifestation)

Medium #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.

“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.” (Rom.1:18-21)

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 obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).

Romans Ch1:18: The word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.” However, that which is “suppressed” is not destroyed. As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him.

In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Theologians, philosophers, and apologists have made significant comments in relation to Romans 1:18-21. Here are a few of them:

1. The revelation of God in nature is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God’s general revelation is in fact “general,” in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self evident. The revelation is clear enough for an unskilled and illiterate person to perceive it. The memory of conscious knowledge of the trauma encounter with God’s revelation is not maintained in its lucid, threatening state, but is repressed. It is “put down or held in captivity” in the unconsciousness. That which is repressed is not destroyed. The memory remains though it may be buried in the subconscious realm. Knowledge of God is unacceptable, and as a result humans attempt to blot it out or at least camouflage it in such a way that its threatening character can be concealed or dulled. (Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, John and Arthur Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.1984, 46-59).

2. Former atheist J. Budziszewski:

I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. ( Geisler, N. L. and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49).

Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator.

The interesting thing is I always knew from my observations of the natural world that there was a Creator. I knew this before I began to read the Bible. This is why it is called natural theology.

Medium#2: The Light of Conscience

“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. (3) Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality.

We should also note that natural theology (sometimes called “The Book of Nature”) also shows traces of God’s handiwork in the following areas:

Why does natural theology matter? It matters because many people don’t think the Bible is authoritative nor inspired by God. Hence, for  Christians that are dogmatic about starting with the Bible can run into some roadblocks.Let me also share what Peter May says here in his article called ” Karl Barth and Natural Theology?” May  says:

A few years ago, I organised what I hoped would be a debate on Islam. A leading British Muslim agreed to take part and debate with Professor Gary Habermas.

The Muslim agreed to promote the meeting and promised that many Muslims would attend. In the event, he came alone with his driver and seemingly no other Muslim attended. Gary Habermas spoke first and presented his well known arguments concerning the earliest evidence for Christianity, focussing on the historicity of Paul’s creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. It was a powerful case, tracing the beliefs “of first importance”, concerning Christ’s death and resurrection, on sound documentary evidence back to within three to five years of the events themselves.

How would his opponent respond? Well, he didn’t. He engaged with none of the issues and offered no arguments at all to support his views. He merely stated his Islamic beliefs, interspersed with such phrases as, “We are taught to believe this…”,“We are told that…”. No justification of these Koranic beliefs was made at any point. His presentation was entirely ‘fideistic’, that is, a statement of faith, unargued and unengaged with any contrary opinion. Personally, I found it shocking. This did not even follow the rules of polite conversation, where you respond to what the other person has just said. There was no exchange. It was as if Habermas had said nothing.

The Fideism of Karl Barth

However, fideism is not confined to Muslims. The greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth-century adopted entirely this approach. Karl Barth did not believe in arguments or evidences to proclaim Christianity, and his influence persists strongly today. Such rational approaches to belief could in his view do nothing to facilitate a personal encounter with Christ. The evidence of nature and apologetic reasoning had no role in bringing people to faith.

In his view, such rational thought could only be of benefit for those who already believed in God, and such belief could only come about by God’s revelation of himself. It cannot justify itself through external criteria. The argument he proposed went entirely one way – from God to the world and not from the world of human thought and experience towards God. Here is the antithesis of dialogue. God’s revelation must be accepted by faith, unaided by reason, whether historical, scientific, cultural, moral, psychological or social. Such fields of discourse do not overlap at any point with Barthian biblical theology.

God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature

In so doing, Barth broke free from the long Christian tradition that God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature; in what he has said and in what he has done. Needless to say, his approach plays straight into the hands of the New Atheists, who keep asserting that faith is a blind leap, unrelated to evidence. Endorsing such a view leaves us with no stepping-stones in our common experience. We are left with a take-it-or-leave-it, undiscussable, theological imperialism, whose truth claims must be accepted uncritically, lock, stock and barrel. This leap of faith is, of course, the same for most cults and religions including Islam, whose beliefs are walled off from intellectual enquiry and justification.

It also plays into the hands of Relativists, who maintain that the truth they have found is their personal truth: “it is true for me”. Keith Ward has written that adding those two words “for me” is “a central heresy of our culture”.[1] It is the ultimate denial of ‘public truth’, that reality which is objectively true for everyone, whether or not you believe it. And it plays into the hands of those for whom subjective experience is the final arbiter of truth, leaving them at the mercy of another experience. Such theology is undiscussable and loses all pretensions to be an academic discipline, with a rightful place in university life.[2]

Barth’s Historical Context

Barth’s approach was certainly extreme but, not surprisingly, it had an historical context. Barth was born in 1886 and was initially trained in Protestant Liberalism. He came to see that this human-centred approach to theology was too deeply immersed in German culture and he countered it in his preaching by emphasising Christ-centred, biblical theology. Matters came to a head when his former university teachers declared their support for German warmongering under Kaiser Bill.

The subsequent rise of Nazism between the wars led Barth to draw up the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church in 1934, which said:[3]

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation … as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ … as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message … to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

These were certainly heady days. An extreme theology came out of extreme circumstances! Natural theology, being linked with German national volk-religion, was set against the revealed religion of Christ in Scripture, and Barth’s theology became all the more extreme in its defence. His biblical theology became isolated from rationality, presupposing its own truth, which needed no justification. He maintained that God in his sovereignty makes himself knowable. Man in his sinfulness cannot otherwise obtain any knowledge of God. A great gulf is fixed, bridged only by God in disclosing himself in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Such knowledge is entirely a work of grace, unaided by human intellect.

Responding to Fideism

What then can one say in response to such biblical fideism? Well, you could say it is self-defeating, as it denies rational justification for its beliefs. Why should anyone believe it? As rational beings, we demand rational justification for what we believe. It is essential to our humanity, a God-like property marking us out from other animals.

As rational beings, we demand rational justification for what we believe. It is essential to our humanity…

We might also say that it is particularly attractive to the intellectually lazy or timid, who cannot be bothered to answer people’s rational objections to faith. Such fragility is common. People justify their belief in Christ through their belief in the Bible, and justify their belief in the Bible through Christ’s teaching. The argument is entirely circular and closed off against further debate. Evangelism is made easy, believing that only God can open blind eyes and that we have no role in this. We can ‘tell’ others about the Gospel, and if they don’t grasp it, we can only tell them again, perhaps more loudly. This may be a caricature of what happens but, I suggest, it is close enough to the truth to be immediately recognisable. For many orthodox Christians, it justifies a ‘simple proclamation’ approach to evangelism, devoid of any need to persuade.

The Limit’s of Natural Theology

So ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far, but it does point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument, while exposing the vacuum at the heart of human experience, the nihilism of a world without meaning or value. It points to the balance of probabilities and an inference to the best explanation.

  • Notice May says ” So ‘natural theology’ can only take us so far, but it does point to fundamental realities of our existence and provides a cumulative argument, while exposing the vacuum at the heart of human experience, the nihilism of a world without meaning or value.”
    I agree 100%! And Natural Theology can’t fully disclose the following:
  • The Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

Special Revelation/Revealed Theology

Therefore, while natural theology 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. The ultimate special revelation that God has given to mankind is the person of Jesus the Messiah.

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!

Conclusion:

In the end, Christians are better off appealing to both natural and revealed theology. If someone is open to read the Bible and thinks it is plausible that God has revealed himself through a written text, then we may not have to utilize natural theology. But in other cases, we will have to utilize both natural and revealed theology.

Uncategorized

A Look at Problems with the Old Testament

For our weekly online apologetics meeting, we discussed what is called “The Problem with the Old Testament.” We discuss some of the reasons Christians place little value on the Old Testament. Some Christians struggle with violence in the Old Testament, the issue of reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament, overemphasizing typology, and the relationship between the Torah and how we apply it today.

Uncategorized

What Did Paul See? A Look at the Resurrection of Jesus and What Happened to Paul

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I think a good starting place about historical discussions about Jesus  is seen in the book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona.[1]  In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul became a follower of Jesus after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.[2]

In this post, I want to focus on #3. After all, Paul wrote a large majority of the New Testament. Also, his letters are the earliest records we have for Jesus.

Well known New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman writes the following regarding Paul’s experience:

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” [3]

Even New Testament scholar Dale Allison even says that Paul converted from a persecutor of the church to one of its greatest promoters because of an experience he perceived was of the risen Jesus appearing to him. [4]   Note: see more below on the issue of whether Paul  “converted.”

Some Background on Paul

The undisputed letters of Paul that can be used to give us an understanding about who he was and what his mission was are in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest of the letters yield very little about the life of Paul.  From Paul’s Letters, we can gather that:

1. The man’s name was Paul: A Greek name.

2. He had a Jewish name, Saul. Remember, having two names was not uncommon for Jews who lived outside Palestine in the first century.

3. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Southwestern Asia Minor.

4. He came from a family of Pharisees of the tribe of Benjamin and was named for the tribe’s most illustrious member, King Saul.

5. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel. Hillel is known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder.  The House of Hillel was a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in the 1st century B.C.E. Jerusalem.

6. Since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas. Hence, Paul’s exegesis of the Old Testament shows evidence of his rabbinic training.

7. Paul was probably, as an adult, a resident of Damascus. [5]

Paul was an active persecutor of the early Messianic Community:

The language Paul uses in his pre-revelatory encounter with the risen Lord shows how much how antagonistic he was towards the messianic movement. In Gal. 1:13-15, Paul uses terms such as “persecute” and “destroy” to describe his efforts to put an end to the spread of the early  faith.

Even though Paul does not give a list of the reasons why he was an ardent persecutor of the early Messianic Movement, this reasons for being a persecutor was probably due to several reasons:

First, Paul may have perceived it to be a threat to Torah obedience.  We need to keep in mind that in within the historical background of the first century, if a Jewish person was to deny the Torah as part of their practice, they would be denying the fact that they were Jewish! [6]

Second, given how he speaks about this topic in his letters (Gal 3:13;1), Paul was most likely aware of 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. 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. So Paul most likely found the idea of group of Jewish people following a crucified Messiah to be abhorrent.

Third, given what we see in Acts 8 (following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7)  we see that Paul most likely found the Jesus movement as a threat to the Temple. It says in Acts 8: 1-3,

“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

What Can We Know About Paul’s Revelation of Jesus? A Resurrected Jesus, Or A Subjective Vision?

Jesus was crucified about 33 A.D.  According to many scholars, Paul became a follower of Jesus around 35 A.D. Remember, Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60.

 Also, Paul did not follow Jesus from the beginning.  However, Paul is still considered an apostle, though “abnormally born” and “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). ). His first years as a follower of Jesus in Arabia remain a mystery. In many places, Paul discusses his Jewish identity. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel”  (Acts 28:20).  Notice that Paul didn’t say “I was a Pharisee” or that “I was a Jew.” So perhaps it is inaccurate to say that Paul switched religions. Hence, it would be more reasonable to say that while Paul did have a radical reorientation about his theology, but he more likely received a “call” rather than a conversion to a new religion.  If anything, Paul did ‘repent.’ The Hebrew word for repent is “shub” which means to “turn back” or “return.”  So Paul was most certainly restored to the God of Israel through the Messiah. But  the old saying, “Paul converted to Christianity” (like Ehrman says)  has not gone unchallenged within New Testament scholarship.

The Messiah Appeared to Paul

“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.” -1 Cor. 15: 3-8

Let’s go back to Ehrman’s comment:

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.

Last year, Bart Ehrman  released another book on Christology. In the book  he devotes two chapters to the resurrection. As usual, his hypothesis is that the disciples had visionary experiences. In it he says:

It is undisputable that some of the followers of Jesus came to think that he had been raised from the dead, and that something had to have happened to make them think so. Our earliest records are consistent on this point, and I think they provide us with the historically reliable information in one key aspect: the disciples’ belief in the resurrection was based on visionary experiences. I should stress it was visions, and nothing else, that led to the first disciples to believe in the resurrection. -Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: Harper One, 2014),  183-184.

The good news is that Ehrman goes onto to define what he means by “visions” of Jesus. He describes visions as something that are either “veridical” or “nonveridical.”  Veridical visions means people tend to see things that are really there while nonveridical visions the opposite-what a person sees is not based any kind of external reality.  It is the latter that leads to what is called the hallucination hypothesis. In other words, skeptics assert that nonveridical visions can be attributed to some sort of psychological explanation. Ehrman then punts to his agnosticism again and says he doesn’t care if the appearances can be attributed to either “veridical” or “nonveridical” visionary experiences or anything else.

So let’s look at the appearance of Jesus to Paul:

Gerd Lüdemann says:

“At the heart of the Christian religion lies a vision described in Greek by Paul as ōphthē—“he was seen.” And Paul himself, who claims to have witnessed an appearance asserted repeatedly “I have seen the Lord.” So Paul is the main source of the thesis that a vision is the origin of the belief in resurrection….When we talk about visions, we must include something that we experience every night when we dream. That’s our subconscious was of dealing with reality.” (7)

The problem with Lüdemann’s comment is that he doesn’t expand enough on how ōphthē is used. Hence,  ōphthē isn’t restricted to describing something that is only visionary, spiritual, or physical.

Furthermore, given Paul  had discussed his personal visions in 2 Cor. 12:1 and other places, he knew the difference between an internal vision and an external appearance.

1 Corinthians 9

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 9: 1-2

Here we see that Paul is using “seen”  (ὁράω)  “horáō”  which in the passive form of (ōphthē)  entails ” to see with the eyes,” “to see with the mind, to perceive, know,”  “to see”  (i.e. become acquainted with by experience, to experience), “to see, to look to” or “I was seen, showed myself, appeared.”

Acts 26

“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.  At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.  And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,  delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”- Acts 26: 12-20.

Sometimes, people point out  Acts 26: 19, where Paul says: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (ὀπτασία) “optasía”  but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. ”

However, a look at the entire context of this chapter shows that the vision here could refer to the time when Ananias received the information about Paul’s commission to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9: 10-19). Paul did not receive his specific missionary mandate from his Damascus road experience (Acts 9: 1-9). Rather, he was told “to go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v. 5) where  the “vision” (v. 10) came to Ananias that Paul was given his missionary mandate “to carry my [Christ’s] name before the Gentiles” (9: 15). Therefore, when Paul said “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26: 19), it is possible it was to the commission he was given through Ananias’s vision that Paul is referring to.

Acts 9:  Paul’s Damascus Road Experience

Here we see whatever happened, this was after the ascension. Hence, to say Paul saw the exact same Jesus before he ascended is hard to infer from the text. There simply isn’t enough information here.  The Bible says, “they heard” the same voice Paul did ” (Acts 9: 7). But they “did not see anyone ” (Acts 9: 7). Notice  Paul was physically blinded by the brightness of the light. One way or the other, the experience involved something that was external to Paul. It wasn’t something that was the same thing as a vision that Paul talks about in 2 Cor. 12:1.  Furthermore, the phrase “he let himself be seen’” (ōphthē , aorist passive, ), is the word Paul uses  in 1 Cor. 15:7 to describe of his own resurrection appearance as the other ones in the creed. As Paul Barnett says:

“It is sometimes claimed that the word appeared (ōphthē) means a mystical seeing, as of a vision, and that since this was what Paul “saw” it was what the other apostles “saw.” In other words, after death, Jesus was taken directly to heaven whence he “appeared” to various people, mystically, as it were. This however, is not all the meaning of Paul’s words. First, the word ōphthē, “appeared” is not limited to visionary seeing it is also used for physical seeing. Moreover, the verb raise used in the phrase ‘raised on the third day” is used elsewhere in combination with the words “from the dead” which literally means “from among the corpses.” Thus raised preceding  appeared gives the latter a physical not a mystical meaning. Christ, as “raised from the dead” ….appeared.”  Furthermore, when Paul asks “ Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”(1 Cor. 9: 1), he is using the ordinary word horan, “to see” for physical sight. If “seeing” the Lord “raised from the dead” qualified others to be apostles, then Paul is, indeed, an apostle. It was no mere subjective vision that arrested Paul en route to Damascus. (8) .

In the end, word studies can’t entirely resolve this issue. We need to remember the etymological fallacy as well. We  would have to look at all the texts that speak of resurrection (including the entire 1 Cor. 15 chapter in their entire context as well as the anthropology of the New Testament. We also need to study the resurrection in light of the Second Temple Jewish period. See our reading list here for some resources that may help.

What About Galatians 1:11-12?

When we come to Galatians 1:11-12, Paul defends his ministry by discussing the manner of how he received the Gospel:

“ For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12).

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

So what is the truth? Paul says in Galatians that he received it by divine revelation. But  what about the creed in 1 Corinthians 15? How do we respond to this?  First, while we always need to look at the context of where the word “received” is used, in both 1 Cor. 15:3 and Galatians 1:12, the word “received” (“παραλαμβάνω”) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. In other words, according to Paul, he did not create the Gospel story. It was something he received from another source.

So in this case, what is helpful here is to differentiate between essence and form.  The essence of the gospel, that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, was revealed to Paul (he received it) on the life changing moment on the Damascus road. Paul realized that the Christians that he had been persecuting had been right all along about Jesus being the Messiah.

As far as the form the gospel, this includes the historical undergirding of certain events, certain phraseology used to express the new truth and doubtless many other things that were passed onto Paul by those other than him (see Carson, Moo, Morris, An Introduction To The New Testament Survey, pg 220).

Remember, Paul also employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters in the following places:

Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”

1 Corinthians 11:23: For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.

Philippians 4:9: The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

1 Thessalonians 2:13: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditionswhich you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-5. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. At that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19).This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38. 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” (9)

Conversion Disorders and Hallucinations: Note: To see a critique of these options for what happened to Paul, see  The Resurrection of Jesus: a Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter Joseph W. Bergeron, M.D. and Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D

Conclusion:

In the end, it is clear that Paul had a dramatic change that turned him from a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus to the greatest missionary of the early faith. Someone may object and say it is not a big deal for someone to make such a radical change in their beliefs in antiquity. After all, people change beliefs all the time (i.e. people leave Islam for the Christian faith or vice versa). In response, I suggest doing a thorough study of the honor and shame culture that Paul was acquainted with. You will see it was much more of a challenge to change one’s beliefs in antiquity than it is today. I submit that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the change in Paul’s life.

Sources

1. Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographal Approach (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2010).

2. Ibid, 302-303.

3. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 276.

4. Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 263-268.

5. Most of points 1-8 are laid out in Marion Soard’s The Apostle Paul: An Introduction to his Writings and Teaching (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1987), 10-11.

6. See Martin Hengel’s The Pre-Christian Paul (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

7.  Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM, 1994 (1994), 97, 100.

8. Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1999), 183-184.

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

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What Did The Disciples Mean When They Said “Jesus is Risen!”

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 (1 Cor.15:7). Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. As I have noted elsewhere, the resurrection story started very, very, early. Also, there is an excellent post on the empty tomb issue over at Wintery Knight’s blog.

Anyway, let’s take a look at what explains the resurrection appearances. First, let’s observe the list of appearances:

• 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 will go ahead and offer some comments from various scholars and what they say about the appearances and the experiences of the disciples:

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.”[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

 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.[4]

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).[5]

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.[6]

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. [7]

What did the disciples see? Let’s now look at some of the comments by how some scholars account for the appearances:

Marcus Borg

The historical ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus, both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death. In the early Christian community, these experiences included visions or apparitions of Jesus. [8]

Rudolph Bultmann

The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching which brings illumination. If the event of Easter is in any sense in historical event additional to the event of the Cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since is was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history. All that historical criticism can establish is that the first disciples came to believe the resurrection.[9]

John Dominic Crossan

When the evangelists spoke about the resurrection of Jesus, they told stories about apparitions or visions. People have visions…. there is nothing impossible about that. But were these post-resurrection stories accounts of historical visions or apparitions? What sort of narratives were they? Were they histories or parables? [10]

Gerd Lüdemann

At the heart of the Christian religion lies a vision described in Greek by Paul as ōphthē—-“he was seen.” And Paul himself, who claims to have witnessed an appearance asserted repeatedly “I have seen the Lord.” So Paul is the main source of the thesis that a vision is the origin of the belief in resurrection….When we talk about visions, we must include something that we experience every night when we dream. That’s our subconscious was of dealing with reality. A vision of that sort was at the heart of the Christian religion; and that vision, reinforced by enthusiasm, was contagious and led to many more visions, until we have an appearance to more than five hundred people. [11]

So having read these comments, keep in mind that several early followers of Jesus certainly did experience supernatural visions such as Stephen (Acts 7:55–56), Peter (see Acts 10), see Paul (Acts 16:8; 18;9).  Remember, a subjective vision is a specific type of dream or hallucination in that it has a religious subject. Nevertheless, it is still simply “a product of our minds and has no cause or reality outside of our mind (see Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), pp. 111–112.

Ehrman has released another book on Christology.

In the book  he devotes two chapters to the resurrection. He tends to lean on the Lüdemann hypothesis that the disciples had visionary experiences. In it he says:

It is undisputable that some of the followers of Jesus came to think that he had been raised from the dead, and that something had to have happened to make them think so. Our earliest records are consistent on this point, and I think they provide us with the historically reliable information in one key aspect: the disciples’ belief in the resurrection was based on visionary experiences. I should stress it was visions, and nothing else, that led to the first disciples to believe in the resurrection. -Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: Harper One, 2014),  183-184.

So here Ehrman sides with the visionary language that Crossan, Borg and Lüdemann use. The good news is that Ehrman goes onto to define what he means by “visions” of Jesus. He describes visions as something that are either “veridical” or “nonveridical.”  Veridical visions means people tend to see things that are really there while nonveridical visions the opposite-what a person sees is not based any kind of external reality.  It is the latter that leads to what is called the hallucination hypothesis. In other words, skeptics assert that nonveridical visions can be attributed to some sort of psychological explanation. Ehrman then punts to his agnosticism again and says he doesn’t care if the appearances can be attributed to either “veridical” or “nonveridical” visionary experiences or anything else. This is rather confusing in that Ehrman first says it is visions that can explain the resurrection appearances. Given Ehrman and others like Lüdemann punt to the vision hypothesis, Bryan goes on to say the following about the quotes from Bultmann, Borg, and Crossan.

In his book The Resurrection of the Messiah, Christopher Bryan responds to Lüdemann:

One may grant that such visions as Lüdemann describes were common in antiquity and are so still—I  will confess to having had two such experiences myself. Yet however common such visions may have been or are (and in sense, the commoner they were or are, the stronger this objection becomes) neither in antiquity nor in the present are they normally regarded as evidence of resurrection. On the contrary they are taken to be at worst hallucinations, and at best (as I take them to be) genuine communications of the comfort about the departed from beyond the grave. But in neither case are they considered to be declarations that the departed one has risen from the dead. That, however, is what the texts claim about Jesus. That is what Peter and Paul actually do say. Why do they do that? Lüdemann’s hypothesis leaves that question unanswered. Hence, it does not explain what Ludemann himself says needs to be explained. [12]

Bryan goes on to say the following about the quotes from Bultmann, Borg, and Crossan:

If the experience of the first Christians was the kind of experience that Bultmann, Borg, and Crossan suggest—visionary and internal, simply the conversion of their hearts to God’s truth and the real meaning of Jesus life and death—then why on earth did they not say so? The language to describe such experiences was clearly available, so why did the first Christians not use it? Why did they choose instead to use the language of resurrection, words such as egeiro and anistemi, words which, we have noted, were normally used in quite different connections and whose use here was therefore inviting misunderstanding of experiences that would, in fact, have been perfectly acceptable to many in the ancient world who found resurrection ridiculous?”  Why did the first Christians bring “resurrection” into their proclamation at all (other than future open)—unless they genuinely believed that something had happened that could be only be spoken of in this way? [13]

Building on what Bryan says, Peter Walker says:

“Resurrection” (anastasia) in Greek was a word which has already developed a  clear meaning. It referred to a physical raising back to life within this world of those whom God chose –“the resurrection of the just” “on the last day” (cf. Matthew 22:28; John 11:24). So when the disciples claimed Resurrection for Jesus, they were claiming that God  had done for one man what they were expecting him to do for all his faithful people at the end of time (what Paul refers to as the “hope” of Israel [Acts 23;26:6]. If they had meant merely that Jesus was a good fellow who did not deserve  to die and whose effect on people would surely continue beyond his  death, they would have used some other word. They would not have dared to use this word, which meant one thing and only one thing—God’s act of raising from physical death. That is what they meant. And that is what they would have been heard  to mean. [14]

Furthermore, the use of the word “ōphthē” (the Greek word for appeared) shows the Gospel writers did believe that Jesus appeared physically. “There you will see ( ōphthē) him” (Matt. 28:7); “The Lord has risen and has appeared (ōphthē) to Simon” (Luke 24:24). When they used “ōphthē” here, it means that He appeared physically to them. So when Paul gives his list of appearances in 1 Cor. 15:3-8, the issue becomes whether the appearance to him is the same as it was to the disciples. Bryan says:

There is no indication that he wants  to regard the last item in that series as essentially different from the others. Second, he uses the word “ ōphthē” of the appearances to himself as he uses of the appearances to the others. He regards it as the same kind.  He saw the risen Lord as they did.  There is no doubt the post resurrection body of Jesus (after the ascension) had to be somewhat different than the body the disciples saw. [15]

So in other words, Paul employs the same Greek verb as the tradition, (“he was seen”), to describe his personal experience of the risen Christ.  Hence, Paul’s experience was the same in character as that of the preceding disciples. To see more, see our post called “What Did Paul See?”

Let’s return to Bryan’s comment: “Why did the first Christians bring “resurrection” into their proclamation at all (other than future open)—unless they genuinely believed that something had happened that could be only be spoken of in this way?”

Were there other options on the table other than “resurrection”? Let’s look at some of them:

 Apparitions

We just saw some like Borg and Crossan postulate the possibility of apparitions or visions. Apparitions is a word used for visual, paranormal related manifestations of deceased loved ones. People in the ancient world as well were familiar with apparitions. Therefore, the witnesses to the resurrection could of described the appearances of Jesus as apparitions. Most of this is discussed in Dale C. Allision’s Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. As far as apparitions Allison says, “I am sure that the disciples saw Jesus after his death. [16] But he concludes that the apparitions of the dead do not explain completely these appearances.[17] He goes onto say: “Typical encounters with the recently deceased do not issue in claims about an empty tomb, nor do they lead to the founding of a new religion. And they certainly do not typically eat and drink, and they are not seen by crowds of up to five hundred people.” [18]

Ironically, Crosssan says in his book with Jonathan Reed that resurrection is not the same thing as apparitions. They say:

Resurrection is not the same thing as apparition. The question is not whether apparitions or visions occur or how they are to be explained. The ancient world assumed their possibility; for example the slain Hector appears to Anchises at the end of the Trojan War and the start of Virgil’s Aenied. The modern world does too; for example, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders-IV judges them not as mental disorders but as common characteristics of uncomplicated grief. That might be especially so, then and now, after the sudden, tragic , or terrible death or disappearance of a beloved person. Even if, therefore, no Christian texts had mentioned apparitions or visions of Jesus after his crucifixion, we could have safely postulated their occurrence. But, and this is not the point, apparition is not the same as resurrection or anything like enough to invoke its presence. (19)

Translation/Exaltation

Translation is seen in Elijah and Enoch –they did not die, but were simply  translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24).  Jews were no doubt familiar with the translation stories. Also, within the extra-canonical Jewish writing called Testament of Job 40, an account of translation was given as a category to describe recently deceased people as well as to the living. Translation is defined as the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven. But the witnesses to the resurrection didn’t utilize the translation category. Once again, Cross and Reed agree that Resurrection isn’t the same thing as exaltation. They say:

Resurrection is not the same as exaltation. Within Jewish tradition, certainly very holy persons were taken up to God rather than being consigned to an earthly tomb, for example, Enoch from among the Patriarchs or Elijah form among the prophets. The Greco Roman equivalent was apotheosis; for example, Augustan coins showed Julius Caesar’s spirit ascending like an upward shooting star to take its place among the heavenly divinities. Those were uniquely individual cases and had no relationship to the fate of others. If one wanted to say that about Jesus, the proper terms were exaltation, ascension, apotheosis, not resurrection. Put  another way, with regard to Jesus, you could not have resurrection without exaltation, but you could have  exaltation without resurrection. Jesus could be at the right hand of God without ever mentioning resurrection. (20)

On top of these comments, it should be noted that within the Jewish martyrdom tradition in 2 Maccabees 7 it tells the story of  the torture and execution of the seven brothers, who refuse to violate the Torah.  One of the brothers says to Antiochus, “The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (v. 9). Another brother warns the tyrant, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life” (v. 14).  In this case, we see that their martyrdom should lead to their exaltation. Thus, the Jewish martyrs in 2 Macc 7 believed they would be raised on the last day when God came. However, Jesus predicted His imminent death and resurrection, ahead of the general resurrection. This is unique. Also,  Paul said “Christ is the first fruits of those who sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Hence, Jesus was not another Jewish martyr who had been vindicated by God. Instead, His resurrection was the first of its kind.

Immortality of the Soul

Paul nor the other witnesses refer to the resurrection of Jesus as immortality of the soul. And if Paul and others were trying to attract non Jews to the Jesus movement, it would have been pointless to push a material resurrection on them.  As Ben Witherington says:

It is sometimes claimed that the stress on the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus is pure apologetics. I have always been mystified by this claim. If the gospels were written in the last third of the first century, when the church not only had a viable Gentile mission but also was already well on the way to being a largely Gentile community, why would a community trying to attract Gentiles make up a resurrection story, much less emphasize the material resurrection of Jesus? This notion was not a regular part of the pagan lexicon of the afterlife at all, as even a cursory study of the relevant passages in the Greek and Latin classics shows. Indeed, as Acts 17 suggests, pagans were more likely than not to ridicule such an idea. I can understand the apologetic theory if, and only if, the Gospels were directed largely to Pharisaic Jews or their sympathizers. I know of no scholar, however, who has argued such a case.[21]

Hallucinations

I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence . . . Is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another. . . . In the ancient world, to experience supernatural manifestations of ghosts, gods, and wonders was not only accepted, but encouraged.”–Atheist Richard Carrier―The Spiritual Body of Christ‖ in Empty Tomb, pg. 184.

To posit the hallucination hypothesis, this puts us back to something like the apparition category. As N.T Wright says:

Everybody knew about ghosts, spirits, visions, hallucinations, and so on. Most people in the ancient world believed in some such things. They were quite clear that that wasn’t what they meant by resurrection. While Herod reportedly thought Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead, he didn’t think he was a ghost. Resurrection meant bodies. We cannot emphasize this too strongly, not least because much modern writing continues, most misleadingly, to use the word resurrection as a virtual synonym for life after death in the popular sense. An important conclusion follows from all this, before we look at the Jewish material. When the early Christians said that Jesus had risen from the dead, they knew they were saying that something had happened to him that had happened to nobody else and that nobody had expected to happen. They were not talking about Jesus’s soul going into heavenly bliss. Nor were they saying, confusedly, that Jesus had now become divine. That is simply not what the words meant; there was no implicit connection for either Jews or pagans between resurrection and divinization.  (22)

Resuscitation

Also, remember that resurrection is not the same thing as resuscitation. As Crossan and Reed say:

It did not mean that an almost revived Jesus had been revived once taken down from the cross. Individuals could survive an interrupted crucifixion, as Josephus mentions in his Life. He begged Titus for three acquaintances already on crosses after the destruction of Jerusalem , in 70 C.E. and, although, “two of them died in the physicians hands, the third survived.” (421). So also could criminals hung by strangulation be taken down from London’s eighteenth century Tyburn Tree and resuscitated (“resurrected” as they put it). But the Christian traditions’ on “after three days” or “on the third day” is its way of emphasizing that Jesus was really and truly dead. Only a visit to the tomb after such an initial period could certify the person was actually dead. That is why in John 11:17 notes that ‘when Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” He was, in other words, certainly and securely dead. (23)

 Back to Resurrection

It seems that no matter how hard scholars or skeptics punt to subjective visions, apparitions, or hallucinations, the real question at hand is why the early Jesus movement stuck with the resurrection category.  Perhaps they stuck  with “resurrection” because that is exactly what happened  to Jesus!  (John 11:25). As Crossan and Reed say,

To say Jesus had been raised from the dead was to assert that the general resurrection had begun. Only for such an assertion was “resurrection’ or “raised from the dead” the proper terminology. The general resurrection was, it were, the grand finale of apocalypse, the final moment when a god of justice publicly and visibly justified the world, turned it from a  place of evil and violence to one of goodness and peace. To announce the resurrection of Jesus was to claim such an event had already started. (24)

One final thought: The lesson here is to try to attempt to understand the context of the resurrection claim. If we actually attempt to do this, false analogies like Big Foot, Elvis, and UFO sightings will begin to look incredibly silly!

Also, see our post Answering 15 Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Sources:


[1] E.P. Sanders , The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books, 1993),  279-280.

[2] Bart Ehrman,  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, (Third  Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 276.

 [3] Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230

 (4] Ibid, 231.

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

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

[7] Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1980),

[8] Ibid, 2, 169, 181.

 [9]  Rudolph Bultmann, “The New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. Hans Werner Bartsch, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (London: S.P.C.K, 1953-62), 38, 42.

 [10] John Dominic Crossan, A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir (San Francisco: HarperSanFransisco, 2000), 164-165.

[11] Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM, 1994 (1994), 97, 100.

[12] Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford University Press, USA, 2011), 163-164.

[13] Ibid, 169-170.

 [14] P.W. Walker, The Weekend That Changed the World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 63.

 [15] Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah, 53.

 [16] Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 283-284.

 [17] Ibid.

 [18] Ibid.

19. J.D. Crossan & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts 9New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 259-260.

20. Crossan and Reed, 259-260.

21. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 165.

22. N. T. Wright. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 62.

23. Crossan and Reed, 260-261.

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The Metaphysical Hurdle and The Minimal Facts Argument

 

Anyone who has been involved in the apologetic endeavor is familiar with what is called the “minimal facts” argument. The main proponents for this argument are Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. The five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus) are 1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a committed follower of Jesus the Messiah

Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see:

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

In his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians and they are part of the minimal acts argument.

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).

However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.

Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.

I have listed elsewhere some of those that agree with the minimal facts or historical bedrock. Even Bart Ehrman agrees with these three points:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).

2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “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).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).

So as you can see, it really boils down to what accounts for the post mortem resurrection appearances. And what do skeptics generally punt to account for the appearances? Subjective visions or hallucinations. I discuss this issue in greater detail in  my post here:   Licona and others have responded to it as well. This shouldn’t be a shock given that the biggest hurdle in the minimal facts argument is the issue of metaphysics (i.e., the study of being, reality). Granted, there have been many books written about the issue of miracles and it would seem that Hume’s dogmatism that many atheists seem to repeat isn’t as strong as it once was.

But in the end, the debate over the resurrection is always going to be about metaphysics. One approach is what it called the a priori  approach while the other is called the a posteriori approach. Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it).  Let  me give an illustration by Natasha Crain:

“Pretend for a moment that you just sent three kids out to play in the backyard. Knowing they’ll clearly occupy themselves for a reasonable amount of time without getting hurt, becoming bored, destroying the yard, or fighting with each other, you realize you can relax on the couch with a good book for the next hour. (What? That’s not a realistic scenario in your home? Don’t worry, it’s not in mine either.) Much to your shock, your relaxation is interrupted a few minutes later by all three kids screaming. They run into the house shaking and scared. One explains, “We just saw three pigs fly by!” You smile in relief that it wasn’t a real problem and calmly explain that pigs can’t fly, so they must have seen something else. But the kids are emphatic and all agree. They go on to give you all kinds of reasons for believing their claim. Let me ask you something: Is there any amount of evidence that would convince you they actually saw three flying pigs, short of witnessing it yourself? Probably not. Why?

Because you know, based on how our world works, that pigs can never fly. No matter what evidence there is, you’re simply never going to believe the kids actually saw flying pigs. That is very much the problem most nonbelievers have with the resurrection. We can lay out “minimal historical facts” that nearly everyone agrees on and establish that competing theories about what happened fail to explain those facts , but many people will never seriously consider the idea that Jesus came back to life because we know dead people don’t come back to life. It’s as simple as that for them—just as it’s as simple as that for you to know pigs don’t fly and conclude that any claims to the contrary are undoubtedly wrong. Therein lies the sticking point. We do all know that dead people don’t come back to life… naturally. Christians and nonbelievers agree on that! But if God exists, He could supernaturally cause events to happen that we know could never happen naturally. If God does not exist, such events are impossible.”-Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith by Natasha Crain

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.

When it comes time to actually examine the evidence,  some scholars may say they are open to taking an a posteriori approach to the resurrection. However, in many cases, they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than we are back to natural theology and we need to discuss whether naturalism can explain reality better than theism.

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A Look at the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus: Data, Inferences and Claims

This was the clip from our weekly apologetics meeting. Here, we discuss the role of data, using inferential reasoning, and then coming to a proper judgment in relation to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Inferential reasoning is drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment based on circumstantial evidence or indirect evidence  rather than based on direct observation. Much of history and science is based making inductive or abductive inferences. The goal is not absolute certainty. So when people complain about the lack of evidence or say they want “proof” for the resurrection of Jesus, they generally need to be educated about the role of inferential reasoning.

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Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?

One of the main themes that runs through discussions on college campuses and in academia is that faith/theology and science are diametrically opposed to one another. Since science tests the observable, is this the correct way to approach the existence of God?

Science or Scientism: Philosophical Errors and Presuppositions

Science is a method of gaining knowledge of the natural world by inference through observation, experimentation, and making predictions, based upon cause and effect relationships. Scientism is an epistemology (theory of knowledge) which reduces all knowledge to the aforementioned scientific method; this means that the only way to know things are true is through the natural sciences. This approach is illegitimate. That is because it reduces humanity’s knowledge of all of reality to this one area alone, and it argues in a circle. The assertion “All truth claims must be scientifically verifiable” makes a philosophical assumption: the very statement itself is not scientifically verifiable.

What needs to be remembered is that science is dependent upon certain philosophical presuppositions such as:

1. The existence of a theory- independent, external world 2. The orderly nature of the external world 3. The knowability of the external world 4. The existence of truth 5. The laws of logic 6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth-gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment. 7. The adequacy of language to describe the real world 8. The existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”) 9. The uniformity of nature and induction 10. The existence of numbers (1)

Paul Copan says something similar here: 

“ Those who consider science authoritative still assume and appropriate a lot of other philosophical ideas and assumptions—ones that can’t be scientifically proven. Though they don’t always recognize it, scientists will load themselves up philosophically before they engage in their scientific endeavors. So what kinds of philosophical ideas do they take for granted?

Here’s a start:

Realism: The physical, mind-independent world exists and isn’t an illusion, though admittedly some scientists would qualify this.

 Logic: Logical laws should be used to guide scientific work and theorizing. As Dallas Willard noted: “Logical results have a universality and necessity to them

 Math: Mathematics is important for making sense of the natural world and its processes.

 Beauty: Beauty or elegance is a criterion scientists take for granted when assessing scientific theories.

 Mental: The mental is required to understand the physical; without the existence of minds, we wouldn’t be able to understand our world.

Other minds: We can’t prove other minds exist, but we take their existence for granted. Those minds can critically examine and assess the outcomes of scientific studies.

Personal trust: Scientists trust the work of others in the scientific community and build on that research. Reliable reason: The workings of our minds are generally trustworthy and aren’t systematically deceiving us.

Reliable senses: We assume our senses are reliable and not systematically deceiving us.

 Natural laws: We count on the consistent natural laws and uniform workings of natural processes.

Mind-world correspondence: The natural world and its workings are capable of being studied and understood by human minds.

 Inferential knowledge: What we observe in nature can provide clues and indicators of unobservable processes and patterns (e.g., subatomic particles).

 Materialism (for some scientists): Scientism takes for granted the sole reality of the physical realm. But how can one scientifically prove this? This is an unverified philosophical assumption (2) 

A theist asserts that the physical universe is not all there is. There is an infinite, personal God who created it, sustains it and can act within it in a natural and non-natural way. As I can say without hesitation that I am ignorant about many things, I generally find that many people are generally ignorant about the history between theism and science. In the words of physicist Paul Davies, “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists…..accept an essentially theological worldview.” (3)

In John Haught’s book Science and Faith: A New Introduction, he says there are three current models about the relationship between faith and science:

1.Conflict Model: Faith is rooted in fantasy, whereas science is based on observable, empirically available data. Faith is highly emotional and subjective, whereas science is dispassionate, impersonal, and objective.

2. Contrast: Science and faith are distinct but no conflict can exist between faith and science since they each respond to radically different questions. There is no real competition between them, so there can be no real conflict.

3. Convergence: Science and faith are distinct because they ask different kinds of questions, but they may still interact fruitfully. Convergence tries to move beyond both conflict and allow for an ongoing conversation between science and faith.

One thing to always ask is the following:

Which of the following branches of science should demonstrate the existence or nonexistence of God?

The natural or physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy?

The social sciences, such as linguistics, textual hermeneutics, anthropology, and sociology?

The mathematical and logical sciences such as engineering, computer science, and theoretical math?

Can Science Demonstrate the Supernatural Exists? 

Atheists like to make the assertion, “Science has shown the supernatural does not exist.” Sadly, this displays an ignorance about the limits of science as well as how modern science is defined. Let’s look at a couple of definitions: 

“Science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural  processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations.  similarly, science is precluded from making statements about  supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance.” (4)   

Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm.”  (5) 

Or we could say: Science is limited to the following range of concerns:

1. Science only is concerned with the material aspects of the natural world.
2. Science restricts itself to the secondary/natural causes and would forgo consideration of a primary cause (such as a divine/intelligent primary cause) as part of the explanatory structure.
3. Science seeks to reduce the systems observed to their component parts as a way of simplifying observation and explaining the behavior of the higher levels of organization.

So if modern science  is built on methodological naturalism  which says science or history should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science, how would science be able to demonstrate the supernatural? Supernatural by definition means something that is outside nature, or something that is or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.  In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition is arguing in a circle. In my experience, many atheists confuse metaphysical and methodological naturalism.

Of course, if one wants to use the scientific method to show there is evidence for a Mind behind features of the natural world, you can study the Intelligent Design debate. Steven Meyer just released his latest book on the topic. 

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe by [Stephen C. Meyer]



Can Nature Explain Nature? 

 In his book Who Made God: Searching For A Theory Of Everything? Edgar Andrews has given us some things to ponder here:

It is important to understand that science can explain nothing except in terms of the laws of nature. Science works by first discovering (by observation) laws that describe the workings of nature and then using this knowledge to seek out further explanations — beginning with hypotheses and then confirming these hypotheses by various tests, the chief of which must always be repeatable experimental verification. To offer a scientific explanation of anything one must always appeal to existing laws (or at very least plausible hypotheses). No laws, no science; it’s as simple as that.

To explain the origin of the universe scientifically, therefore, requires an appeal to laws of nature (established or hypothesized) that pre-existed the universe. But laws of nature are nothing more than descriptions of the way nature operates. No one has ever proposed a law of nature that does not involve existing natural entities, whether they be matter, energy, space-time or mathematical systems. (Note that mathematics are arguably philosophical rather than scientific in character and are only scientifically relevant when applied to natural realities — that is, the world as it exists).

This creates a dilemma; the laws of nature cannot exist without nature itself existing but the origin of nature cannot be explained scientifically without pre-existing laws. The logical conclusion is that science cannot, by its very nature, explain the origin of the universe.

The only alternative is that the laws of nature did pre-exist the universe but existed as a kind of blueprint in some non-material medium such as the “mind of God”.

This is why Physicist Paul Davies, who is not a Christian says the following: 

“Clearly, then, both religion and science are  founded on faith—namely, on belief in the  existence of something outside the universe, like  an unexplained god or an unexplained set of  physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of  universes too. for that reason, both the  monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail  to provide a complete account of physical  existence.” (6) 

Does Science Prove Things with Absolute Certainty?

No, it does not. Here is why: Science relies on inferential reasoning. Inferential reasoning is drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment based on indirect observation rather than based on direct observation. No scientist observed the start of the universe, or the beginnings of planet earth or how the first cell started. Much of history and science is based making inductive or abductive inferences. The goal is not absolute certainty. Induction is only based on probabilities and is always open to revision.

One Final Note on When Science Masquerades as Philosophy

In Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, he attempts to demonstrate why science is “our exclusive guide to reality.” Here, Rosenberg attempts to provide a neat synopsis of life’s big questions, along with what he considers to be scientifically reliable answers. Here are some of life’s big questions that he thinks science can answer:

Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck . . . Is there free will? Not a chance. What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or something obligatory? Anything goes. (7) 

Here, Rosenberg makes the assumption that what science reveals to us is all that is real. But as Edward Feser points out, Rosenberg is guilty of a reductionist view of reality. Feser illustrates:

Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

Therefore, what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is probably all that is real. (8) 

Anyone who came to this conclusion about metal detectors should visit a doctor, of course. The point is, Rosenberg and others who follow his lead should allow for additional ways besides science to explain reality along with life’s big questions. Metal detectors will always find metal and science will always find material/physical explanations to reality. We must ask what kinds of questions science can legitimately answer.  Can science answer the “why” questions?  Yes, it is true science can say why the universe exists. In other words, they can say the universe exists because of the Big Bang or some other scientific explanation. But, science is generally restricted to study how the mechanisms work behind several features of the natural or physical world. But once science attempts to answer whether or why the universe and several features of reality may have a deeper purpose, design, or an end goal, it enters the realm of philosophy.

Sources:

1. Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove ILL: InterVaristy Press, 1994), 16-17.

2. Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: A Guide to Philosophy and Christian Faith, Kindle Version, 3852 to 3873.

3. Davies, P. Are We Alone? (New York: Basic, 1995), 96.

4. Teaching about evolution and the nature of science,” available at the  national academies of sciences, engineering, medicine (1998),  accessed October 14th, 2017, https://www.nap.edu/read/5787/chapter/11

5. Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 15.

6. Paul Davies, “Taking science on  faith,” New York times, November 24, 2007,  available at    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24da  vies.html

7.  Alexander Rosenberg,  A. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton. 2012), 2-3.

8. Feser, E. Five Proofs for The Existence of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 28

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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

Some skeptics assume since Jesus came from a poor family, his body would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes, which was typically in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. In other words, according to this hypothesis, although Jesus may have been placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea on late Friday, his body would have then been moved to its final location – a graveyard reserved for criminals – by Saturday night. From this point, it is argued the finding of the empty tomb by the disciples of Jesus resulted in an erroneous conclusion that Jesus had been resurrected. In response, archaeologist Jodi Magness, a non- religious Jewish archaeologist who specializes in the ossuaries at the time of Jesus says the following:

“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)

 Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson concurs by saying:

“The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been the normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities. The truth is the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable.” (14)

Even though Magness and Gibson support the burial account in the Gospels, the question is whether there is any evidence for the practice of moving criminals after a “temporary” burial to a graveyard for criminals. The question is why would Joseph himself want to move the body of Jesus to a temporary graveyard? There is no way to know if Joseph had known some future family members or Joseph himself might die. Thus, he may need the tomb he had utilized for Jesus for a future purpose? Perhaps this would be a reason to relocate the body of Jesus.

Once again, one can assert all the possibilities they want. But the question is whether there is good evidence for such possibilities. We can conclude with the following: All four canonical Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and, after Pilate granted his request, he wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb. At best, a skeptic can throw out the relocation hypothesis as a possibility. But even if skeptics want to postulate that his body was buried in a trench grave, it is a worthless apologetic on their part. Why do I say this? Whether Jesus was buried in a pit or trench grave, or it happens the Gospels are correct about the burial story, skeptics will still have to provide an account for the resurrection appearances and the entire story.

The Resurrection Appearances

 Here we must examine explanations for the appearances. First, let’s observe the list of appearances:

• 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).

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. (15)

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. (16)

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. (17)

 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. (18)

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). (19)

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. [1] 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)

What is the best explanation for the resurrection appearances? 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.  Ehrman, B.  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. ____.  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. Magness, J. Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2011), 170.

13. Ibid, 171.

14.  Gibson, S.  The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (New York: HarperOne. 2009), 52.

15. Sanders, E.P.,  The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books. 1993), 279-280.

16. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,(Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004), 276.

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

18. Ibid, 231.

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

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

21. Lüdemann, G. What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80. 22.

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Historical Causation and the Birth of the Jesus Movement

History has a variety of definitions. The word “history” (derived from the Greek historia, historeō) originally referred to “learned” or “skilled” inquiry or visitation with the purpose of coming to know someone. In many cases “history” is used to distinguish reality from myth or legend, that is, whether something really happened.  History is seen as the study of the past. Historians are not primarily interested in “what happens” or in establishing rules that govern the present and the future One thing for sure: historians are concerned with causality—the examination of cause and effect. Thus they ask cause and effect questions. Let’s expand on this issue and look at cause and effect questions that relate to the how the first century Jesus movement started and expanded from a Jewish sect to a large Gentile based religious movement.

1. Effect #1: A new Jewish sect starts in first century Jerusalem that proclaims that their leader, Jesus who had been crucified had now risen from the dead.

2. Effect #2: Paul, once an active persecutor, comes to faith in Jesus. He says Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road (Acts 9).

3. Effect #3: A group of Jews, who are staunch monotheists begin to worship and call a man “Lord.” The only person they had been allowed to pray to and worship is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.

4. Effect #4: The early followers of Jesus are seen actively preaching Jesus as Lord in the public square.

As we talk about in our presentation here called “Tweaking the Minimal Facts Argument”, and “What did Paul See?”, there are naturalistic possibilities that are given to explain the effects historians see in history. But we argue that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for these  effects we see in history.

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23 Suggested Readings on the Resurrection of Jesus

Here some of my picks to read on the resurrection. Also, feel free to visit our resource page. 

1. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona (Paperback – Sep 25, 2004)

This book is apologetic in nature. Gary Habermas, who has been one of the top resurrection apologists over the last few decades and his protégé Mike Licona give one of the most thorough treatments that I have seen. They discuss just about every counterargument that has ever been formulated against the historicity of the resurrection. They also provide some charts and acronyms that are extremely helpful.

2. Did the Resurrection Happen?: A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew (Veritas Forum Books) by Gary R. Habermas, Antony Flew, and David J. Baggett (Paperback – Apr 29, 2009)

This is rich reading. The first part of the book was an updated version of a debate that took place between the late Anthony Flew (who left atheism for deism or some kind of theism) and Gary Habermas. Flew was quoted as saying the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle that he had seen. David J. Baggett offers an assessment of the debate along with some of the counterarguments to the resurrection.

3. Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland (Paperback – Jan 2004)

This is an interesting book. It provides some apologetics and comments about ethical issues. It also goes over the arguments for near-death experiences. It is a nice combination of philosophy, apologetics, theology, and ethics.

4. The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought by Neil Gillman (Paperback – Apr 2000)

This is written by Jewish author Neil Gillman. He traces the history of resurrection thought in Judaism and why many modern Jewish people don’t accept the resurrection concept. Guess what? He even discusses naturalism and how it has impacted the Jewish community.

5. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach [Paperback] Michael R. Licona (Author)

This was Mike Licona’s doctoral dissertation. This is not simply an apologetics book. It is very helpful resource for Biblical scholars, historians and philosophers. It is a very long book but fairly easy to read. Mike has provided a large chapter on what he calls ‘horizons.” Horizons are the presuppositions that impact all Biblical scholars and historians. Horizons always play a role in how we approach the resurrection. Mike also covers the work of several scholars on their work on the resurrection such as J.D. Crossan, Geza Vermes, Michael Goulder and others. He also provides several responses to the arguments of Bart Ehrman (whom he has debated). He covers the historical sources for the resurrection and confirms that the “historical bedrock” for the historical Jesus is the following:

1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion
2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them
3. Within a few years after Jesus’ death, Paul converted after experiencing what he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Licona provides a response to the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection and shows how they don’t meet what he calls the requirements of:
1. Plausibility
2. Explanatory scope and explanatory power
3. They are less ad hoc
4. Illumination

6. Risen Indeed: Making a Sense of the Resurrection [Paperback]: Stephen T. Davis

Stephen Davis has been one of the top theistic philosophers for quite some time. This book covers a wide variety of topics such as the philosophical issues surrounding the resurrection. Davis provides a nice critique of naturalism and discusses some of the challenges of dualism and physicalism. I found the chapter on resurrection and judgment to be quite interesting.

7. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) by N. T. Wright (Paperback – Apr 2003)

This was the third volume in N.T Wright’s work on Christian origins. Along with the Licona book, it is probably the most comprehensive book to date on the topic. Wright covers a wide variety of issues such as the worldview of the Second Temple Judaism period, the resurrection in Jewish thought (in the Bible and the extra-biblical Jewish literature). He has also provided a correction that has been long overdue in Christian discipleship/theology. Does everyone know going to heaven is not what resurrection is? Sadly, due to a lack of teaching on the resurrection, Wright points out that the average Christian assumes that that the final destination is to be in the intermediate state- the place that is called ” heaven.”

Hence, immortality is generally viewed as the immortality of the soul. Contrary to what many people think, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.

Wright has been quoted elsewhere as saying the following:

“ If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth.” (John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71).

8. Resurrection Reconsidered – Paperback (Aug. 1, 1996) by Gavin D’Costa

This book contains a variety of essays on the resurrection. Some of them are written by skeptics and those who are of other religious backgrounds. One chapter that stands out is an essay written by Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok. I saw Sherbok speak several years ago. What is interesting are his comments about why he doesn’t buy the resurrection story. He says:

“As a Jew and a rabbi, I would be convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, but I would set very high standards of what is required. It would not be enough to have subjective experiences of Jesus. If I heard voices or had a visionary experience of Jesus, this would not be enough.”

Sherbock goes on to say the only things that would convince him would be something that takes place in the public domain. Such an event would have to be witnessed by multitudes, photographed, recorded on video cameras, shown on television, and announced worldwide. The resurrection would have to be announced on CNN and world media.

With these expectations, I wonder how Sherbock even knows anything happened in the history of the Jewish people. None of the events in the Torah, etc, can meet these expectations that he has for the resurrection. So he sets an expectation level that will never be met. Oh well!

9.The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective by Pinchas Lapide and Wilhelm C. Linss (Paperback – Mar 31, 2002)

In contrast to Sherbok, the late Pinchas Lapide was an Orthodox Jewish scholar who did some significant work in Christian/Jewish relations. He came to think that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was quite compelling. He said,

”The resurrection of Jesus by Creator is a fact which indeed is withheld from objective science, photographers, and a conceptual proof, but not from believing scrutiny of history which more frequently leads to deeper insights. In other words: Without the Sinai experience-no Judaism; without the Easter experience-no Christianity. Both were Jewish faith experience whose radiating power, in a different way was meant for the world of nations.”

Lapide was so impressed by the creed of 1 Cor. 15, that he concluded that this “formula of faith may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.”

What is ironic is that Lapide thought Jesus was not the Messiah for the Jewish people. But he was resurrected for the sake of the Gentiles. He thinks it is part of God’s redemptive plan for the nations. Interesting indeed.

10. The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue by Robert B. Stewart (Jan 2006)

This book is an exchange between John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright on their different understandings of the historical reality and theological meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection. The book highlights points of agreement and disagreement between them and explores the many attendant issues.
This book brings two leading lights in Jesus studies together for a long-overdue conversation with one another and with significant scholars from other disciplines. The book also contains a series of responses to Wright and Crossan by scholars such as Robert Stewart, William Lane Craig, Craig Evans, R. Douglas Geivett, Gary Habermas, Ted Peters, Charles Quarles, and Alan Segal.

11. The Resurrection of the Messiah by Christopher Bryan

Bryan has been doing some excellent scholarship. This book is a combination of literary, historical, and theological approaches in a study of the doctrine of the Resurrection. Bryan does examine the sources for the resurrection. He also includes an appendix where he critiques John Crossan’s (of the Jesus Seminar) on whether the resurrection is “the Prophetization of History.”

12. Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God by J.R. Daniel Kirk

Amazon gives the summary of the book here:

If the God of Israel has acted to save his people through Christ, but Israel is not participating in that salvation, how then can this God be considered righteous? Unlocking Romans is an intriguing study of Paul’s letter that is directed in large extent toward answering this question in order to illuminate the righteousness of God the book of Romans reveals. J. R. Daniel Kirk explains that this God is best understood not in abstractions, but in the particularity of Israel’s story. This story contextualizes the identity of God and the quality of Gods righteousness. The answer here, Kirk claims, comes mainly in terms of resurrection. Even if only the most obvious references in Romans are considered – and Kirk certainly delves more deeply than the obvious – the theme of resurrection still appears not only in every section of the letter, but also at climactic moments of Paul’s argument. The network of connections among Jesus resurrection, Israel’s Scriptures, and redefining the people of God, serves to affirm Gods fidelity to Israel. This, in turn, demonstrates Paul’s gospel message to be a witness to the revelation of the righteousness of God. Unlocking Romans is a clear and inviting theological study of what many consider the Bibles most theological book.

12. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus by George Eldon Ladd (Sep 1987)

This is an excellent short little book by one of the most influential New Testament theologians of the last century. It can be read in about an hour.

13. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Paul D. L. Avis (Oct 1993)

This book features a series of essays on the resurrection. Some of essays present some objections to the resurrection which can be helpful for all of us who are in the apologetic endeavor. One of my favorite essays is written by Richard Bauckham.

14. Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments by Mr. Michael Welker, Mr. Ted Peters and Mr. Robert John Russell (Oct 2, 2002)

15. Defending the Resurrection by James Patrick Holding

I think all apologists should read Holding’s work. Why? Because he is one of the most well known internet apologists and he has dealt with the majority of junk arguments on the internet. He also has had plenty of online debates and a public debate with Richard Carrier

16,  Jewish Scholarship on the Resurrection of Jesus by David Mishkin

I am so happy to see a book such as this one. There has been a huge need for a study of Jewish views on the resurrection. After all, our faith was birthed in Israel, and we believe a crucified Jewish man rose from the dead. And he appeared to Jews after he rose.  So the title is quite appropriate.

17. The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah

This was a book that I released last year which was my attempt to bridge the gap between the messiahship of Jesus and the resurrection. Many Christians believe Jesus is their Savior. But what does it mean to say he is the Messiah? And what does it have to do with the resurrection?

18. Michael L. Brown, Resurrection 

This book was just released. I am presently reading it and am about halfway done. Michael Brown is the premier messianic apologist and this book fills a gap.

19. Resurrection: Faith or Fact?: A Scholars’ Debate Between a Skeptic and a Christian

I read this book last year. I can’t say I was impressed with the chapters by Stecher and Carrier. Granted, I have read most of Carrier’s arguments in the past. Stecher has an anachronistic view of the New Testament which causes him to assume if we have certain expectations on modern day reporting and writing, surely we can expect that of the New Testament writers.  I didn’t find the Crag Blomberg chapter to be particularly strong. The Peter Williams chapter was worth the book.

20. Jesus’ Resurrection and Apparitions: A Bayesian Analysis by Jake O’Connell .

This is an excellent book. The author does an excellent job of showing why apparitions are the same thing as the resurrection appearances.

21. Resurrection: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) by Lidija Novakovic 

This book is nice combination of biblical studies and  and Second Temple Judaism. The author also discusses some of the ongoing apologetic debates about the resurrection. I don’t agree with everything in this book. But it has a lot of good information.

22. Resurrection and he Restoration of Israel: Jon D. Levenson

Deuteronomy 28:1–14  presents the blessings that Israel will receive if they keep the Torah. Deut. 28:15–68 presents the curses and punishment, i.e. the Babylonians invade and carry off the people into exile.  Much of the prophetic message regarding the future involves the restoration of the nation Israel. The restoration to the land became a metaphor for resurrection.

23. The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics, John BombaroJohn J. Bombaro.

This is a collection of  essays that responds to current  objections to the resurrection, It is a solid contribution  to the field of apologetics.

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