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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 3 - Eyewitnesses

The last few days we've been studying the resurrection of Jesus as history. Of course, the resurrection is the most compelling evidence we have to show that it is the Christian God to whom we refer when we speak of God's existence. It validates Jesus' teaching and His claims of deity.



We've already shown how the resurrection accounts read more like history than myth, and how the written accounts are so close to the proximity of the events they record that any myths or legends creeping into them is highly improbable. Today, I'd like to more closely examine the idea of eyewitness testimony and how it also supports the resurrection as a matter of historic fact.

Eyewitness Testimony From Live Witnesses

The four gospels are believed to be written by eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection (Matthew and John) or by people who spoke directly with eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke). The gospels themselves contain reports of Jesus appearing to many different people in the forty days after He was raised from the dead.

Some skeptics believe that the gospel writers fabricated the resurrection in order to help them establish their new religion. Others claim that the witnesses were suffering from some type of mass-hysteria or communal hallucination. But a careful study of the gospels shows why these theories don't make sense.

Because the gospels were written approximately 30 to 50 years after the events they record, many of the people who are offered as witnesses to the resurrection were still alive when they were circulated. This means that as people heard or read about the resurrection, they weren't left to "just take the matter by faith." Anyone who had reason to doubt the resurrection could ask the witnesses themselves if the events recorded in the gospels were true. Because the many different witnesses were available to corroborate the testimony of the gospels, any hallucination or wishful thinking would be quickly pointed out and the claims made by the apostles would be dismissed.

Now, because the testimonies by Jesus' disciples agree doesn't make that testimony unimpeachable. It doesn't rule out the idea of a conspiracy to lie about the resurrection. However there exists an even more compelling argument that answers this objection - the existence of hostile witnesses.

The Existence of Antagonistic Eyewitnesses

Because Christianity represented a danger to the power structures of the Sanhedrin, the leaders and chief priests did everything they could to extinguish this new movement within Judaism. They were vehement in stopping the apostles from spreading tales of the resurrection. They beat and imprisoned Peter and John and stoned Steven to death.

However, the easiest way to quash this new religious movement would have been to demonstrate that the apostles were lying when they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead - by producing a corpse! The Sanhedrin could easily counter the testimony of the eyewitnesses by saying "Look, you know that we took the body and put it in a potter's grave" or "here is the tomb where Jesus' body lies." They said nothing of the kind. They admitted that His body was no longer in the tomb when they created the story of the apostles' stealing it. (There are many reasons why this is implausible which we will cover in an upcoming post.) By claiming that Jesus' body was stolen they corroborate the fact that Jesus' tomb was indeed empty.

In fact, any discrepancy or inaccuracy from Jesus' disciples would have been immediately exploited by the Jewish leaders of the day as proof that the tales told by the believers were false. Considering that not only were these leaders intimately involved with the crucifixion and its resulting events, but they had every opportunity to counter the claims of Jesus' followers and offered nothing tangible in their defense, the truth of the resurrection is compelling.

Appeal to the Facts

The last group of witnesses we will examine are the multitudes in Jerusalem. Jesus attracted many disciples, most of whom did not continue to follow Him after His death. He also was known by many more of the general public. His crucifixion, a public execution before a high feast-day, would have been a very visible spectacle.

If the disciples were playing fast and loose with the truth, the people they were preaching to would have objected, knowing that their tale was fictional. However in Acts 2:22 we see something completely different. The disciples appealed to the knowledge of the crowd in order to support their claims of resurrection. Peter used the phrase "as you yourselves know" when speaking at Pentecost. He knew what he was saying was true and the facts were on his side. Even more telling was that the people listening responded to his claims by being "pricked in their hearts" and repenting, not by contradicting them.

The fact that we have many first-hand accounts of Jesus' resurrection makes the argument for the resurrection credible. The fact that these eyewitnesses were giving testimony while facing a hostile audience makes it stronger. The fact that the enemies of the apostles could offer no evidence to contradict their testimony makes it beyond merely reasonable to hold the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection becomes as trustworthy a piece of history as any other. Next time, we'll look at how the changed lives of the disciples also bolster our case. God bless until then

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 2 - Too Soon for Fables

Last time we studied how the resurrection accounts read like history. But another reason to believe in the resurrection of Christ is how close the records we have were to the actual events they record.



In the game of telephone, a message is told from person to person until it eventually becomes unrecognizable to its initiator. There is less chance the message has been corrupted the closer a person is to the originator. This is one of the ways scholars studying ancient historical events judge a record's accuracy.

Most conservative scholars date the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection from between A.D. 50 to A.D. 80. If we are to assume Jesus died somewhere near 30 A.D., then these historical records would be between 20 to 50 years after the events they record. Not only are these dates very close to the actual events by historical standards, but that also implies that the Gospels were circulated when the apostles were still alive to be questioned by skeptics and detractors.

Now there are other scholars who would prefer a late dating of the Gospels, from the middle of the first century to perhaps as late as the beginning of the second. But late-dating the Gospels doesn't put the historicity of the resurrection in doubt, because a record exists that is older still than any of the Gospel accounts.

In 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3-8 the Apostle Paul writes "For I delivered unto you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time... then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as one untimely born, He appeared to me also."

Nearly all scholars, those both sympathetic to Christianity and skeptical of it, believe that First Corinthians was written by Paul and was written about 55 or 56. However, scholarship also shows that the above passage is considered an ancient tradition that Paul received from others in the early church when he first became a convert to Christianity. This means that the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 dates from somewhere between two to eight years after Jesus' death!

That early dating means that it is virtually impossible for the resurrection account to be a myth that gradually grew into the church tradition. It had to be accounts from eyewitnesses who saw the events themselves, otherwise too many people would be around to contradict the events in question.

Because this evidence is so convincing, there are those doubters who feel that the resurrection account was a deliberate fraud made up by the apostles to continue their movement. In our next post, we'll look at those claims and show why this couldn't be so. (If you'd like a preview of some of the things we'll discuss then, you can read our article "Is Eyewitness Testimony Reliable?")

For a modern day example to this, think of someone telling you that John F. Kennedy didn't die in November of 1963. He is still alive and in hiding because the CIA wanted to remove him from office. The government made the whole assassination up for their benefit. The problem with such a story is that there are too many people still alive who remember the event and can contradict your assertion.

The more we study the documents testifying to the resurrection of Jesus, the more we can understand why it is called "the most well-attested fact of ancient history." I hope these discussions bolster your faith in Christ and Him being raised from the dead. Comment below and let us know what you think!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 1 - Resurrection as History

The resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. If it really happened, then it affects your entire worldview. If Jesus really rose from the dead it means He had power that no one else had. And since He claimed to be God's Son, then it means there really is a God. And if there really is a God - the type of God Jesus talked about - then we will really be held accountable for our actions in this life.



You can see why the resurrection is such a target to the skeptic. If he cannot dismiss this event, then all that follows makes him accountable to God. He must find a way to reject its truth.

The most common way people reject the resurrection is to say that it was a myth created by disciples who wanted to give their new religion credence. If you've ever read any of the Iliad or the Odyssey, you'll be familiar with myth. The ancient Greeks used myth as a way of explaining the world around them and getting some type of understanding.

However, when one reads the New Testament accounts of the resurrection, a careful reader should pick up on something else - these accounts aren't written like myths but like historical reports to an actual event. There are numerous passing comments and inferences that, unless they really happened, make no sense for a writer to invent.

Things such as all the disciples abandoning Jesus when He was arrested, James and John's mother asking for her sons' favor from the Lord, and the women at the tomb. This last idea is very compelling, as women were looked down upon drastically in this society. Women were considered more property than persons, with any excuse serving as grounds for divorce and their testimony wasn't considered solely reliable in a Jewish court of law.

In this light, having women being the first ones to find the empty tomb and the first ones to believe that Jesus was resurrected rings as true history rather than something made-up to justify some created religion. In fact, Josh McDowell quotes Oxford ancient history scholar Thomas Arnold who said:

"I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."[1]

Now, most Biblical scholars, whether conservative or liberal, agree that Jesus did really live and He really was crucified. Most liberal scholars, however, doubt the resurrection as history. But any explanation that liberal scholarship offers to explain away the resurrection must be manufactured out of thin air. This is because there is no evidence of any kind that can be offered to counter the resurrection story! So, if we are to make judgments about historical reliability, an honest approach would be to base the claims on the evidence that exists. To manufacture a counter story because you want to disprove the evidence is faulty logic.

The resurrection accounts are the best evidence we have as to what happened to Jesus Christ on Sunday morning. This is one part of the proof that Jesus rose from the dead and because of that we know God exists. Next time we'll look at how the proximity of the recorded accounts to the events themselves lends even more credence to our argument. God bless until then.

1. Mc Dowell, Josh A Ready Defense Here's Life Publishers 1991 pg.216

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Saint Patrick's Day Thoughts

As we recognize the anniversary of Saint Patrick's death, I think it's important to learn a bit from this great man of God.

1. Patrick showed the love of Christ towards his enemies

Many people don't realize that Patrick was not Irish, but an English Christian.' His autobiography Confessio explains that he was taken captive by a band of Irish marauders, and held as a slave in Ireland.1 During that time, as he tended flocks, his faith in God grew stronger.' After six years, he escaped as made his way back to his parents' home.' However, God called him back to evangelize the Irish via a dream:
And after a few years I was again in Britain with my parents [kinsfolk], and they welcomed me as a son, and asked me, in faith, that after the great tribulations I had endured I should not go anywhere else away from them. And, of course, there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish'; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.' And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry."2

2. Patrick was steadfast in the face of opposition

The Druids saw Patrick as not only a foreigner who upset their ways but a crazy person with a peculiar look and a more peculiar message.  He was most likely beaten and put in chains. A seventh century poem criticizes him by saying:3
Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head, his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head. He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house; all his people will answer: "so be it, so be it."

3. Patrick's Heart for God and Service

Below is a traditional Irish prayer attributed to St. Patrick.  Whether Patrick genuinely wrote this or not, it does show his heart toward his God and the service to which he was called.4


I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

References

1. "Kidnapped by Pirates at Age 16" The Confessions of St. Patrick. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.ii.html (accessed March 17, 2010).
2. Ibid. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.vi.html
3. Lydon, James F. The making of Ireland: from ancient times to the present.
(New York:Routledge,1998) p.6
See the book page here.
4. "St. Patrick" New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11554a.htm (accessed March 17, 2010).
Image courtesy Andreas F. Borchert and licensed via the CC BY-SA 3.0 de license.
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