Responding to Michael Shermer’s article: What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?

This is the time of the year where many Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Personally, I think it should be celebrated every day. But that’s a topic for another time. Skeptic Michael Shermer has written an article called What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?

Sadly, there is nothing original in this article at all.

In it, he says:

“The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims” Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find.”

So let’s lay this out here:

(1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
(2) The claim that any miracle such as the resurrection is extraordinary.
(3) Therefore, any evidence supporting it ought to be extraordinary as well.
(4) I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “extraordinary.”
(5) But whatever evidence you attempt to come up with, it’s not going to work.
(6) Therefore, we can’t ever have justification for believing Jesus rose

If “extraordinary evidence” means that one must provide miraculous evidence for any miracle or so called extraordinary claim, it would lead to an infinite regress. In other words, if the theist kept providing miraculous evidence the objector would most likely keep asking for more evidence. It would go on and on.

Natural Causes Only?

If an “extraordinary claim” means something that is non-natural, than it must be shown that natural laws are immutable. However, natural laws are not immutable because they are descriptions of what happens, not prescriptions of what must happen. Natural laws don’t cause anything, they only describe what happens in nature.

In asking whether “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” it is also important to understand the difference between deductive reasoning which 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). But whether a miracle has occurred is not determined by a priori probabilities but by a posteriori facts.

If you want to see how William Lane Craig answered this issue, see his debate with Keith Parsons.  This pretty much sums up the issue.

Who was David Hume? 

David Hume ( 1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. Although many of his arguments have been found to be problematic in contemporary philosophy, his legacy and writings live on in the academic arena. Most of  the skeptical arguments against miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) in the Bible can be traced back to Hume. As James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis say in their book In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment“It is no exaggeration to say that, from his days to ours, the vast majority of philosophical attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistakable Humean aroma.” Hume left us with his argument against miracles:

1. Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence. 2. A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence. 3. The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare. 4. A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence. 5. Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.

A response to Hume’s argument:

1. Even if people saw Jesus rise from the dead, according to Hume, you as a wise person, should not believe it. It seems a bit odd to something wrong to disbelieve what you verified to be true. 2. Hume confuses probability with evidence. He does not weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather he adds the evidence for all regular events unworthy of belief. This is flawed reasoning. The issue is not rather we have an event is that is regular or rare, the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh the evidence for the event in question, not add the evidence for all previous events. 3. Hume’s Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview) is clearly seen here. He rules out miracles in advance and hides behind his presuppositions. 4. Hume’s “uniform” experience either begs the question or is special pleading. It begs the question if Hume presumes to know the experience is uniform in advance of the evidence. (6)

There have been more responses to Hume’s arguments than I can count on my hand. Even people were writing counterarguments to Hume in his own day. To read one of the more current responses to Hume, see John Earman. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles.

Or see, John Depoe’s lecture here:

The Resurrection?

I do agree that the resurrection of Jesus isn’t an ordinary claim. But the statement, “extraordinary claims require evidence” can cut both ways. One can’t dismiss the historical data for the resurrection simply because it is a so- called “miracle claim.” We need to remember that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical claim.

Therefore, historians can and do apply historical tests to the very documents that discuss the resurrection.  After all, it is certain aspects of the historical method that makes it possible to attempt to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happened. Hence, it is falsifiable.  For example,  I remember watching documentary film  by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron called The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The documentary was an attempt to demonstrate that archaeological evidence warranted that Jesus’ tomb was found. So we need to be consistent in our use of the historical method to show what can and can’t happen.

So in my opinion, we must at least be willing to look at 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). These five facts 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

And one must explain how naturalistic theories that have been presented throughout the centuries have better explanatory power for: 1. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimatha 2. The discovery of Jesus’ tomb 3. The postmortem appearances 4. The origin of the disciple’s belief in Jesus resurrection 5. A high Christology in a very short time period/The birth of the Messianic Movement-pre 70 A.D.

What about the other religious claims such as Mormonism, Islam, etc., who make extraordinary claims? For starters, in evaluating any extraordinary claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it? 4. What is the historical and religious context for the claim?

False Analogies

Also, we want to avoid false analogies. This type of analogy is said to be false when it compares two objects that are actually relevantly dissimilar or if the points of comparison are used to draw a conclusion that simply does not follow. For example, skeptics like to compare the resurrection of Jesus with belief in Big Foot, UFO’s, etc. This gets really old. I don’t have any  historical or religious context for Big Foot or UFO’s. And the last time I looked, there is quite a bit of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and very little if any for Big Foot, or UFO’s. So it would be nice if skeptics would stop with the poor analogies. 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

Conclusion

I don’t expect the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” to go away. It is so ingrained in skeptics minds that it comes up with almost any conversation with them. There is no need for the apologist to keep providing evidence for the one who keeps bringing this objection to the table. I doubt much will ever satisfy them. To see more on this, see the post “What evidence will satisfy hard-core unbelief?”

Sources: 1. Kreeft, P. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1994, 101-120. 2. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481. 3. Ibid, pgs 470-481. 4. Ibid. 5. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12. 6. See Geisler, N.L., and Frank Turek. I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 197-217.

Answering Fifteen Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

There are several approaches to defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Skeptics have offered a wide range of natural explanations throughout history to explain away the bodily resurrection of  Jesus. In this post, I will go ahead and several of them and try to give a response. In some cases I will leave some additional reading.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Andreas Kostenberger co-authored this statement about historical investigations (published through B&H which has SBC ties). Kostenberger, along with Bock and Chatraw, write:

“With regard to the past, one cannot empirically prove a historical event in the same way in which one proves a mathematical equation or verifies that someone is six feet tall or has blue eyes, though historical evidence can point strongly in one direction. Historical truths are tested by assessing hypotheses in view of the evidence and then accepting the hypothesis that best explains the evidence.”-Köstenberger, Andreas J.; Bock, Darrell L.; Chatraw, Josh. Truth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible (pp. 166-167). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Let’s assess some of the hypotheses that best explains the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus:

 #1: Legends Hypothesis: This hypothesis states that the New Testament accounts of the disciples who gave testimonies of the postmortem appearances are all legends that were invented much later.

Response: This can’t be supported by the evidence. From about AD 48 until his death, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. To see common objections to Paul, see here.

Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. Of course, there are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul. But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. And it is fairly well known that Bart Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

In this book, he discusses the other Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausible case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.

30 A.D.—–33A.D.—-40 A.D.—-50 A.D.—-55 A.D.—60 A.D.—65 A.D—70 A.D.

(CREED OF 1 Cor. 15:3-8 received before 55 A.D.)

Also, the creed that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8  has been dated very shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus. Even the skeptical scholar Gerd Lüdemann says about the creed, “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in New Testament scholarship.” (1)

 Even if the four Gospels were written some 30-70 years later, we still can posit that there was an entire oral history before the Gospels reached their written form. We can say confidently that there was simply not enough time for exaggeration or a legend to develop.

#2: The Naturalistic Objection

The one area that always creeps up into apologetics is the issue of naturalism which says that nature is the “whole show.”  In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). Naturalists generally only punt to one kind of explanation- non-intentional accounts. In other words, please don’t ever say there is any agency or interference into the natural world by an outside cause that is non-natural.

Response:

I have had the opportunity to lay out the arguments for the resurrection for various people. Most people seem to take two different approaches. 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). It is evident that this objection to the miracles of Jesus is mostly philosophical in nature.  Many skeptics attempt to claim that it was during the Enlightenment period that any so called miracle claim was cast into the domain of superstition and pre-modernism. After all, modern people can’t believe such silliness. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification.

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). Some scholars may say they are open to taking an a posteriori approach to the resurrection, when it comes time to actually examine the evidence. 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 I suggest looking to see if which worldview does a better job of explaining reality. For further reading, see:

 John DePoe on Ex-Hume-ing Miracles

A Bayesian Analysis of the Cumulative Effects of Independent Eyewitness Testimony for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Is Naturalism a Simpler Explanation Than Theism? by Paul Copan

God—The Best Explanation: Paul Copan

Miracles: Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

#3: We Can’t Use the Historical Method to Determine Whether A Resurrection Took Place!

This objection is problematic. Bart Ehrman says:

  Since historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and the chances of a miracle happening, by definition, are infinitesimally remote,  historians can never demonstrate that a miracle probably happened.(Ehrman  2008:243–244)

I doubt that Biblical scholars and historians would want to propose that the history can’t be used as a tool to detect a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus. After all, it is certain aspects of the historical method that makes it possible to attempt to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happened. So in other words, you can’t use the historical method to show the resurrection of Jesus did happen. However, we are free to use it to show for certain the resurrection didn’t happen. Hence, it is falsifiable.This seems a bit inconsistent.

 #4: False Testimonies Hypothesis

There is no reason to distrust the conviction of those that testified to having seen the risen Jesus. As James Warner Wallace points out in his latest book people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:

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

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

3. Pursuit of Power:

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

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

For more reading, see:

Are the Gospels a Reliable Eyewitness Account of the Life of Jesus?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

Who wrote the Gospels? Dr. Timothy McGrew

The Hearsay Objection: How Can the Gospels Be Eyewitness Accounts If They Include Things the Writers Didn’t See?

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable?

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? The Test of Personal Names

Can A Witness Be Trusted If He Can’t Be Cross-Examined?

#5: The Resurrection Story Was Invented From Other Dying and Rising God Stories!

Response:  Sadly, the internet is full of allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus are examples of religious plagiarism. The same old dying and rising god theme myth just gets rehashed over and over. What is even more problematic is the people who hold to this view automatically assume the New Testament witness to the resurrection of Jesus is false. Then they punt to the myths/mystery religions to explain the problems in the New Testament. Here are some resources:

The   Zeitgeist Movie & Other Myth Claims about Jesus: Gregory Koukl

Was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth? Glen Miller

A Challenge for the Jesus Mythers and the Religious Plagarism Charge

 #6: The Intramental/Hallucination Hypothesis Objection

This hypothesis is still remains one of the most popular options among skeptics. This hypothesis states that the experiences of the disciples were intramental phenomena such as hallucinations; the disciples and followers of Jesus were so emotionally involved with Jesus’ messianic expectation that their minds projected hallucinations of the risen Lord.

 Response: First, the hallucination theory fails to meet the criteria for a group hallucination. Glen Miller lists the criteria here and why it fails.

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

Also see:

The Resurrection of Jesus: a Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of EasterJoseph W. Bergeron, M.D. and Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D

Mike Licona: Were the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Hallucinations?

#7: The Resurrection Appearances Were Subjective Visions

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. This is rather confusing in that Ehrman first says it is visions that can explain the resurrection appearances. I  go over this objection in detail here: 

#8: The Cognitive Dissonance Hypothesis

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

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

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

I provide a response to this here called The Resurrection of Jesus and the Cognitive Dissonance Hypothesis

 #9: The Analogical Objection

An analogy is a relation of similarity between two or more things, so that an inference (reasoning from premise to conclusion) is drawn on the basis of that similarity. For example, if the resurrection of Jesus is known to have certain characteristics, and if another supernatural claim in another religion is known to have at least some of those same characteristics, the inference is drawn that the other supernatural claim also has those other characteristics. If the cases are not similar enough to warrant the inference, then it is a false analogy.

After all, if we are to accept that Jesus appeared to the disciples, what about the testimonies of people who say that Mary appeared to them at Fatima or Medjugorie? Also, what about UFO sightings? More examples could be given. It seems that we have eyewitness testimony in these events. Also, most of the people in these situations are sincere. They think they  saw something and can trust their physical senses.

Response: When it comes to evaluating any religious claim, we must ask three questions: (1) What is the claim?; (2) What is the evidence for it?; (3) What is the religious and historical context for the claim? Former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). So if we look at these three questions, the Messianic claim is that Jesus was bodily resurrected. On a variety of occasions, he appeared to several people confirming He was raised from the dead. A follower of Jesus makes the claim based on the evidence that is seen in the historical records in the New Testament.

The historical setting of the claim is seen in the Second Temple Judaism Period.  The entire ministry of Jesus allows for the proper context. The death had been considered an embarrassment and a curse. The resurrection coheres with Jesus’ entire early ministry. For example, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God.  Also, for the Jewish people, the Torah was supposed to transform Jewish life and separate the Jewish people from the rest of the world. The mission of Jesus was not to overthrow Torah but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-19). Jesus never granted Torah as a mediator between humanity and God. Rather, Jesus understood his own person, not Torah, to be the means of eternal life (Mark 10:17-31). So in summary:

1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms a messenger from God.

2. Jesus offered a cumulative case that confirms He is the incarnation of the God of Israel—His fulfillment of prophecy, His sinless life, His messianic actions/messianic miracles, His speaking authority, and His miraculous resurrection.

3. Therefore, Jesus offered several lines of evidence that  confirm that He is the incarnation of the God of Israel

These are just a few things that demonstrate that provide the context of  Jesus’ ministry. The point is that not all miracle claims are equal in evidential support.  This is just one example as to why it is incumbent upon us to think critically and try to answer the three questions that I just mentioned.

#10: The Genre of the Gospels Are Historical Fiction!

If someone makes the claim that the Gospels or other parts of the New Testament are myth (meaning half-truth, folklore, fantasy, or a fictionized account of history, etc), one thing that can aid in clearing up the confusion about this issue is genre studies. Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent.  To see our post on this topic, click here.

#11: The Faulty Sources Objection

This objection says that the New Testament documents are not trustworthy. Despite all the objections to the sources, even Bart Ehrman says we can know the following:

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).

For more answers to the objections to  the NT, see here:

12. The Need for Present Day Analogies for the Resurrection

Alister McGrath says: “A third line of criticism of the historicity of the resurrection is due to the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, who argued that, as dead men don’t rise, Jesus couldn’t have risen. The basic principle underlying this objection goes back to David Hume, and concerns the need for present-day analogues for historical events. Before accepting that an event took place in the past, we need to be persuaded that it still takes place in the present. Troeltsch asserted that since we have no contemporary experience of the resurrection of a dead human being, we have reason for supposing that no dead man has ever been raised.”

McGrath responds by saying:

“Of course, as Christianity has insisted that the resurrection of Jesus was a unique historical event, the absence of present-day analogues is only to be expected. If people were raised from the dead on a regular basis, there would be no difficulty in accepting that Jesus Christ had been thus raised. But it would not stand out. It would not be different. It would not say anything, either about the identity of Jesus himself, or about the God who chose to raise him in this way. The resurrection was taken so seriously because it was realized that it was totally out of the ordinary, unique in the proper sense of the word.”

See full article here: 

13. “But What About Miracle Claims in Other Religions?”  

I am often asked about miracle claims in other religions. It just so happens that David Clark’s chapter called Miracles In The WorldReligions is available to read online. It is taken from In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History,  edited by R. Douglas Geivett, Gary R. Habermas. Please read and enjoy!

14. “The Burial Story was Invented” 

I have always found the burial aspect of the resurrection story to be quite fascinating. William Lane Craig has been quick to defend the Joseph of Arimathea account of the story. However, some skeptics have tried to postulate that the burial story has problems. For example, given the fact that Jesus came from a poor family, he would of most likely been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. In other words, some skeptics posit a relocation hypothesis. But the Gospels say otherwise. A couple of years, I got to see  archaeologist Jodi Magness lecture on this topic. She has done many digs in Israel and is a specialist on the tomb issue. She is a non-religious Jew. She 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. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

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” ( Magness, pg 171)

So here are the issues:

  1. Obviously the Gospels are silent about Jesus being buried in a pit grave or trench grave. At best , this is something the skeptic can throw out there as a possibility. But there is no direct evidence for a possible relocation of the burial account. Also, how would anyone get beyond the guards at the tomb?
  2. In my view, even if skeptics want to postulate that his body was buried in a pit grave or trench grave, it is a worthless apologetic on their part. Why do I say this? Whether Jesus was buried in a pit grave/trench grave, or the Gospels are correct about the burial story (Jesus was not buried in a pit/trench grave), skeptics will still have to provide an account for the resurrection appearances and the entire story. Either way skeptics will end up punting to some sort of group hallucination or cognitive dissonance/conspiracy theory. I provide some resources to these objections on our resource page

15. “Paul never met Jesus and he can’t possibly be a reliable source for the resurrection of Jesus.”

I have responded to this here: “BUT PAUL NEVER MET JESUS”AND OTHER BAD ARGUMENTS ABOUT PAUL ON THE INTERNET

There are certainly more objections than the ones mentioned here. See our resource page here. 


 1. Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 37.

Why A Pragmatic Gospel Won’t Work: Richard Dawkins on Bill O’ Reilly

A ways back, Jim Wallace posted an article called One Important Reason the Church Will Continue to Compromise. In it, he discusses the impact on pragmatism on the Church.  Recently, I was told by an atheist that he didn’t even care if Christianity was true. As long as it ‘works’ for me and makes a difference, it doesn’t need to be based in reality.  And when we had Wallace here to speak last week at our Ratio Christi chapter, he said he isn’t a Christian because it ‘works’ for him.  Rather, he is a Christian because it is true. Sadly, it is not only atheists and others that fall prey to pragmatism.  Christians fall into pragmatism  as well! In this clip,  Richard Dawkins and others have no problem in saying religion is fine if you think it works for you. But that doesn’t make it true!

As you watch the clip, while I do respect Bill O’ Reilly, I never considered him to be a Christian apologist. When I watch this exchange about how Bill’s faith helps him, I am reminded of J.P. Moreland’s comments:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.

One thing for sure is that Richard and many atheists have been publishing books to try to demonstrate that Christianity is not based in reality. Hence, Christianity is false and simply a delusion. Anyway, what is truth?

The Nature of Truth

Truth can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not. Furthermore, we must differentiate between the nature (definition) of truth and a test (defense) of truth, or from not distinguishing the result from the rule.

Truth by its very nature is absolute or relative. To say there is no absolute truth is self-defeating. Also, even though our grasp of truth is not absolute, it doesn’t mean there is no absolute truth.

Tests for Truth:

The Pragmatic Test

As Wallace points out, this is very popular view today. And this was what Bill tried to use when he spoke about his faith in this clip. This view says Truth is “what works.” According to William James, “Truth is the expedient in the way of knowing. A statement is known to be true if it brings the right results. It is the expedient as confirmed by future experience.” There is alot of merit to this view. But most people forget that just cause something works doesn’t make it true. Lies can work very well for many people. The correct view is what is true should work and produce results, not the other way around. With this in mind, historically speaking, Christianity has produced amazing results. Sure it has some black spots on its record. But overall, the world would be a much different place apart from the Christian faith.

A Coherence Test:

Some thinkers have suggested that truth is what is internally consistent; it is coherent and self-consistent. But this too is an inadequate definition. Empty statements hang together, even though they are devoid of truth content. “All wives are married women” is internally consistent, but it is empty. It tells us nothing about reality. The statement would be so, even if there were no wives. It really means, “If there is a wife, then she must be married.” But it does not inform us that there is a wife anywhere in the universe. A set of false statements also can be internally consistent. If several witnesses conspire to misrepresent the facts, their story may cohere better than if they were honestly trying to reconstruct the truth. But it still is a lie. At best, coherence is a negative test of truth. Statements are wrong if they are inconsistent, but not necessarily true if they are.

The Intention Test:

Some find truth in intentions, rather than affirmations. A statement is true if the author intends it to be true and false if he does not intend it to be true. But many statements agree with the intention of the author, even when the author is mistaken. “Slips of the tongue” occur, communicating a falsehood or misleading idea the communicator did not intend. If something is true because someone intended it to be true, then all sincere statements ever uttered are true—even those that are patently absurd. Sincere people are often sincerely wrong.

A Comprehensive Test:

Another idea is that the view that explains the most data is true. The comprehensive test is very relevant to developing a worldview. Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

•Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
•Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
•Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
•Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
•History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
•Death: What happens to a person at death?
•Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
•Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
•Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world?

Certainly a true worldview will be comprehensive. However, this is only a negative test of whether it is true. The affirmations of that view must still correspond with the real state of affairs. If a view was true simply because it was more encyclopedic, then a comprehensive statement of error would be true and a digested presentation of truth automatically would be in error. Not all long-winded presentations are true and concise ones are not all false. One can have a comprehensive view of what is false or a superficial or incomplete view of what is true.

An Existential Test:

Following Soren Kierkegaard and other existential philosophers, some have insisted that truth is what is relevant to our existence or life and false if it is not. Truth is not simply propositional but personal as well. While an existential test is very relevant, there are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical. But if truth by its very nature is found only subjectively in existential relevance, then none of these could be truth. What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true nor the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.

The Subjectivism Test:

The popular subjective view is that truth gives a satisfying feeling, and error feels bad. Truth is found in our subjective feelings. Many mystics and new age enthusiasts hold versions of this faulty view, though it also has a strong influence among some experientially oriented Christian groups. It is evident that bad news can be true. But if what feels good is always true, then we would not have to believe anything unpleasant. Bad report cards do not make a student feel good, but the student refuses to believe them at his or her academic peril. They are true. Feelings are also relevant to individual personalities. What feels good to one may feel bad to another. If so, then truth would be highly relative. But, as will be seen in some detail in the next article, truth cannot be relative.Even if truth makes us feel good—at least in the long run—this does not mean that what feels good is true. The nature of truth does not depend on the result of truth.

The Correspondence Test:

The correspondence theory of truth has dominated most of Western philosophy for quite some time. It is also the way the majority of people live their lives on a daily basis. This happens to match up with the Biblical data as well. Both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony.

Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as actual ones. There are mathematical truths. There are also truths about ideas. In each case there is a reality, and truth accurately expresses it. Falsehood, then is what does not correspond. It tells it like it is not, misrepresenting the way things are. The intent behind the statement is irrelevant. If it lacks proper correspondence, it is false.

For example, in John 14:6, when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” there is a correspondence to reality. Since He is the full revelation of God, Jesus is showing us who God is in actual reality.

Conclusion:
The nature of truth is absolute. However, there are many tests for truth. They all have some strengths and weaknesses. The Christian worldview does pass a comprehensive test. It is able to answer several of the worldview questions. Because it is true, in a pragmatic sense, it does work. But most importantly, it corresponds to reality. I have no problem if the Church wants to talk about the pragmatic aspects of the faith. But first and foremost we should teach why Christianity is true. If we don’t do that, the issues that Wallace mentions will continue! Wake up Church!

Sources:

Some of the material here was adapted from Norman L. Geisler’s Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2007, as well as J.P. Moreland’s and W.L. Craig’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132. I have added a few points of my own.

A Look at Jewish Messianism: A Crucified Messiah: What An Embarrassment!

A few things shall be mentioned here. If you want to study these topics further, there are other articles on this website that are helpful. However, these are my starting points in talking about whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

1.The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2.The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique convergence of miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

The Jewish Messiah

When it comes to talking to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15).

Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that Jesus’ death automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel.

One word of advice: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. Messianism is a concept study. While it can be seen that the word “Messiah” means “Anointed One” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone,” it must be remembered that “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. This is why the reader must not assume every time they read where a priest, prophet, king, or even Cyrus in Isa. 45:1 is annointed, this automatically means the individual is “The Messiah.” Furthermore, other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include “Son of David,” “ Son of God,” “ Son of Man,” “ Prophet,” “Elect One,” “Servant,” “ Prince,” “ Branch,” “Root,” “Scepter,” “Star,” “Chosen One,” and “ Coming One.”

Traditional Jewish Expectations

One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace. Part of the Messiah’s mission is to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16 ;14:9). Another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

Even in the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus thought there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). (1)

The Davidic Messiah

The term “messiah” which means “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. While this term was used for those who were of Davidic kings (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37).

The Messiah was called to defeat the oppressive enemies of Israel and enable the Jewish people to help “set up an earthly kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). The prophets spoke of a Davidic King who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5). Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a prince and a king to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). This king’s function would help restore the Davidic dynasty after the exile.

One of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information about the messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

“Taught by G-d, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

” Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30)

Even though divine sonship appears in the Hebrew Bible with regards to persons or people groups of people such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Messiah are the kings. It is the king who has a special relationship to God and is called or elected to a specific task as well.

As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David.” Jesus is God’s chosen vessel to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16). Therefore, the fulfillment reached its completion in the Messiah, both son of David and the one greater than David ( Psalm 110:1-4). As it says in Luke 1:32-33, “He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.” In this sense, Jesus is not simply a son of David, but instead, the Son of David.

The Priestly/Prophetic Messiah

There were other figures in the Bible that were anointed such as priests and prophets. There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14). (2) The priest was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).

However, Jesus’ role as a priest goes beyond the function of the priest in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation. Given that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), it is no surprise to see Jesus’ current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1 Jn. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). Christians hold the position that Jesus’ death put an end for further sacrifice (Heb. 7:27-28; 9:23-26). During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He displayed a priestly element in His authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:7).

Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9;) and it was something that was done only in the Temple. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’

The prophet was to listen to God and then speak God’s words to the people. In His role as a prophet, Jesus did not use the trademark formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, He spoke in His own authority.

Therefore, it is misguided to limit the role of the Messiah to only one aspect, such as a ruling king. In the words of Craig Evans,

“If we understand “messiah” to mean one who believes himself to be anointed by God in order to play a leading role in the restoration of Israel, a restoration which may or may not involve a Davidic monarchy, then it is correct to speak of anointed kings, anointed prophets, and anointed priests.” (3)

Crucifixion

So in regards to Evans comment, we see in the first century that the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic.To read more about this issue, click here. Within the Gospel of John, it can be observed that there is confusion about a crucified Messiah. It says in John 12:34, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?” It is evident that from this verse that Jesus’ audience thought the Messiah was not supposed to die.

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

Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar even says the following:

“Jesus death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if not follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (4)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.” (5)

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God.

A Dead Messiah and Sheol

It also must also be noted that in light of what Jewish people knew about Sheol (the realm of the dead), a dead Messiah was an absurdity. In the Hebrew Bible, the pictures of the fate of the wicked are presented as consciously suffering in Sheol, or the grave. It is also described as the place that both the righteous and the unrighteous are expected to go upon death (Ps. 89:48). God does no wonders for those that are in Sheol; those that are there cannot praise God. Let’s look at some of these passages:

1. “For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (Ps. 6:5).

2. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9).

3. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Ps. 88:10-11).

4. “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).

5. “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (Isa. 38:18).” (6)

It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.

The question still remains as to whether Jesus’ first followers knew He was going to die. After all, within Judaism, had there even been any belief in a suffering, or atoning Messiah? There are several texts that speak to the possibility of a suffering Messiah (Zech 13:7; Dan 9:26;Tg.Isa.53;T.Benj.3:8;4Q521frgs.9, 24;4Q285 5.4;4 Ezra 7:29-30;2 Bar.30:1). As it says in Isaiah 53:10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. In order for the Servant to make full expiation, he made his soul an “asham” i.e.,” a propitiatory victim for sin on which the guilt and penalty being laid, ceases to be imputed to us.

Even in The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary that was composed long after the time of Jesus states the following about Isaiah 53:

” They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries].”  (Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original).

There are also several expressions of the belief that the death of the righteous will benefit, or even save, God’s people (1 Macc: 6:26-28 17:20-22; T Moses 9-10). But if it is so obvious that Jesus’ mission was to die, then we are left to ponder this comment by Michael Bird: “If there was a well-known tradition about a suffering or dying Messiah, how could the hopes of the disciples be shattered after Good Friday?” (7)

How has a dying Messiah been received by the Jewish community throughout history? Perhaps a couple of comments can shed some light on this issue:

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

“We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521 (8)

The Principle of Embarrassment

In light of the crucifixion it is important to note that within New Testament scholarship there is what is called The Principle of Embarrassment. The Principle of Embarrassment is a test that has been put forth by John P. Meier in his A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1.

This criteria seeks out material in the Gospels that would have been would create awkwardness or difficulty for the early church. This type of material would most likely have not been created by the early church because it would have been provided material useful for the early church’s opponents.

But let me go ahead and give an example: All four Gospels attest to Jesus’ baptism by John at the very beginning of his ministry. Would the Gospel authors make up such a tradition? In the Jewish culture, it was understood that the one who was being baptized was spiritually inferior to the baptizer himself. Despite the fact the messianic expectation was quite diverse in the first century, it still seems the dominant messianic expectation was the Davidic Messiah view (see Acts 1:6). It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, as I just said, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.

Another Messiah?

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

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

So what if Jesus was a failure? Maybe there was another Messiah who would come that would restore the Jewish people to self- rule. Out of the all the messianic movements within Judaism, I will mention some that I believe are rather significant.

Simon bar Giora of Geresa (as mentioned above)

According to Josephus, Simon led a rebellion against the Romans in the spring of 69 C.E. (J.W. 4.9.12 §577). Among the leaders of the rebellion “Simon in particular was regarded with reverence and awe . . . each was quite prepared to take his very own life had he given the order” (J.W. 5.7.3 §309). Finally defeated and for a time in hiding, Simon, dressed in white tunics and a purple mantle, made a dramatic appearance before the Romans on the very spot where the Temple had stood (J.W. 7.1.2 §29). He was placed in chains (J.W. 7.2.2 §36), sent to Italy (J.W. 7.5.3 §118), put on display as part of the victory celebration in Rome (J.W. 7.5.6 §154), and was finally executed (J.W. 7.5.6 §155). (9)

Simon Bar Kochba

Simon Bar Kochba made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Justin Martyr even noted that Bar Kokhba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6) Unfortunately, the revolt led by Bar Kochba failed and as a result and both he and rabbi Akiba were slain. Even though it is said that Rabbi Akiba hailed Bar Kokhba as the Messiah, (cf. y. Ta‘an. 4:5), the slaying of Bar Kokhba had nothing to do with any accusation of blasphemy. He did not make the same messianic claims of Jesus by asserting His authority to be the Son of Man, nor did he ever claim to have the authority to forgive sins. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. The war ended in 135 CE. Simon was subsequently remembered as Simon ben-Kozebah (“son of the lie”). (10)

Sabbatai Sevi

Another messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi. Sevi was a seventeenth-century Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and was heralded by a contemporary named Nathan. It is said after Sevi’s death in 1676 that his brother found his tomb empty but full of light. If anything, the Sevi story sounds like it was borrowed from the resurrection story about Jesus.The Sevi story has little historical backing. In contrast to the resurrection claim of Sevi, in the case of Jesus, there are multiple eyewitness appearances after his resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). What is more ironic is that Sevi later left the Jewish faith for Islam.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Within Judaism, there is a sect called Hasidic Judaism. Within Hasidic Judaism, there are leaders who are called a “tzaddik” which is Hebrew for “righteous men.” A tzaddik is sometimes viewed as a Rebbe which means master, teacher. By the way, in the book of Acts, it was during Stephen’s famous speech that he refers to Jesus as a tzaddik : “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

Such an example of a present day tzaddik was seen in Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1951-1994), the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. Some of the followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson think He is the Messiah and that He will come back from the dead (Schneerson died in 1994). Some in the Lubavitcher movement have even asserted that Isaiah 53 can be used as a proof text that the Messiah will rise from the dead. Of course, this has led to great controversy. Some in the Orthodox community have complained that the attempt to portray Schneerson as one who will rise from the dead and return a second time has too much in common with the Christian claim about Jesus.

So after glancing at these issues, what needs to asked is the following:

1. Would there be a Christianity today apart from the resurrection of Jesus? Sure, just because a new religious movement grows doesn’t make a faith true. But given the negative views of crucifixion and a dying Messiah, it seems that the early Christian movement (pre-70 A.D.) should of ended very quickly.

Hence, in light of all the varied messianic expectations and given the failure of messianic revolts, the Christian can echo the comments by scholar C. F.D., Moule in his book, The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Moule affirmed that the actual existence of the Nazarenes, which is an event, called for an explanation. Moule went onto say that the phenomenon was brought about by ‘a most powerful and original mind and a tremendous confirmatory event.’ (11)

In the words of N.T. Wright:
“ 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.” (12)

2. What led to the a very high Christology pre-70 AD?

 

Sources:
1. Michael F. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35. Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
2. Ibid, 40.
3. Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings And New Testament Interpretation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.1992, 239.
4. J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45. While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus, 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).
5. See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).
6. Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2006), 17-18.
7. Bird, Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 148-160.
8. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.
9. Evans, Noncanonical Writings And The New Testament Interpretation. Peabody Massachusetts. 1992, 244-245.
10. Ibid.
11. C.F.D. Moule, The Phenomena of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1967, 3, 17) ; cited in Paul W. Barnett. Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 18-19.
12. John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2006), 71.

“What Do You Mean By That?” A Look At Questioning Evangelism: Responding To Five Common Objections On A College Campus

Ohio State University Faces Outbreak Of Mumps Cases

 

Over the years I have heard hundreds of objections to the Christian faith on a major college campus. In this post, I want to give the top five objections that I have heard on a regular basis. I also want to show how I generally respond to these objections. I employ what is called “Questioning Evangelism?” which happens to be the title of a book. I don’t necessarily respond to people by using the guidelines in the book. But I do ask a lot of questions. Here are five examples:

  1. “There is no evidence or proof for God”:In this case, I always ask what the individual means by ‘proof’ or ‘evidence.’ I also ask them what would convince them God exists. In most cases, they will generally respond three ways. They will say “I have never thought of that before?” Or, they will say they want scientific evidence. We will look at the science issue in point #3. They also may say that they think God should show them some sort of sign that He is real. 

    2. Religious Pluralism: “How do we know which religion is true?” When a student asks me this question, they generally assume it is impossible to navigate through all the different world religions and we simply can’t know if any of them are true. My response to this question is “How would we know any of them are true?” In other words, “What method would we use?” Furthermore, I always ask “If God exists, does it make sense he would speak somewhere within the course of human history?” This last question creates a plausibility condition. If the person says they do think it is plausible that God can reveal his plans and purpose for humanity within the context of human history,  we can go forward and examine the evidence for each religious claim.

    3.Science: I am never surprised to hear students tell me they want scientific evidence for God. In other words, they want what they call ‘observable’ or something they consider to be ‘testable.’ In response to this issue, I simply ask “What is science” and whether modern science is even set up to provide evidence for the existence of God. Allow me to give a definition of science:

    Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm.”(Del Ratzsch,Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 15.

    If we are going by this definition, the nest question is,Is God natural or non natural?”  How would science ‘prove’ or provide evidence against the non-existence of God? For example, if God created the universe from nothing (think, Big Bang), then all naturalistic attempts to explain the universe’s beginning are going to run into problems! Now having said this, I think there there are traces of God’s fingerprints in the natural world.  Can we observe God directly? No!But since science is a search or causes, we can observe the effects in the world and make rational inferences (i.e, is the cause of what we observe the result of natural causation or intelligent causation?) If the person is open to look a the evidence, then we can discuss issues such as biological information, molecular machines, or the universe. But here’s the kicker: even if we do have strong evidence for intelligent causation, that would only allow us to arrive at a deistic God or general theism.

    4. “But there is no evidence Jesus never existed.” Sadly, many college students hear this objection and it still gets thrown around the university. I used to respond to this objection by providing several tests for the historicity of the New Testament. But now I simply ask the individual the following: “If there is good evidence that Jesus existed and rose from the dead, would you follow Him?” In many cases skeptics respond by saying “No!” Hence, I am under no obligation to spend an hour going over the basics  of how we approach history and investigate someone in antiquity such as Jesus.

    5.Pragmatism: The most popular view today seems to be a pragmatic view of truth. I see it everywhere! Many people tell me that all that matters is the benefit of a religious belief. In other words, if it makes a difference and helps someone is the test of truth. So what does this mean for us? Realistically speaking, I suppose Mormons can testify as to why Mormonism helps them have strong families. Black Muslims can testify in prison that Islam has helped them be more responsible. I could go on with more examples. Hence, many people are not asking whether it is objectively true. Comments like “I don’t see what difference Jesus would make in my life” and “I don’t think it is relevant whether God exists or Jesus is the Son of God” are somewhat common.This shouldn’t be surprising given our entire culture is built on pragmatism. After all, people go to college to get a job that will work for them and help them get a good job.

    Furthermore, the Church has been embracing pragmatism for a long time. Not much has changed.  If I see students are lapsing into a pragmatic or subjective view of truth, I simply say “So the first question is whether the Christian story is actually true.” In other words, I just bring the person back around to the issue of objective truth. Believe it or not, many people say tell me that once they think about what I am saying it is clear that it does matter if Christianity is objectively true. How they feel about whether God exists or the resurrection of Jesus won’t change the fact as to whether it is objectively true and corresponds to reality. So I think it is incumbent upon me to explain what objective truth is and how the person can’t avoid it!

    There are many other objections on a college campus. You can see our resource page here. Learning to ask the right questions can be a huge asset in your conversations with people. Press on!

Grounding Human Rights: Which is a Better Fit? Naturalism or Theism? Paul Copan and Angus J.L. Menuge

In my opinion, one of the most pressing worldview/apologetic questions of the day is what makes a human valuable? After all, we live in a day when so many people fight for human rights, equality, and value. It certainly comes up in every election.  But why do humans value each other so much? What is abut humans that compel us to defend their rights and dignity?

Here is an article online called Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success by Paul Copan.

Also, here is a lecture by Angus J.L. Menuge, where he compares naturalism and theism and which worldview can adequately ground human rights.  In your conversations with others, talk to them about this issue. It is a great conversations starter.

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