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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label historical Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical Jesus. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Yes Jesus Existed: Even Romans Outside the Bible Wrote About Him

It seems that given enough of a shine, any bad idea can gain traction. For most of history, scholars have debated the events of the life of Jesus recorded in the biblical accounts. However, the vast majority of New Testament scholars, both those who are of the faith and those who are critical of it, have held that it as historical fact that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived in first century Palestine, had disciples follow him, and was eventually put to death. While a few fringe elements doubted the idea of a historical Jesus, not even most atheist New Testament scholars believe that Jesus never existed.

But with the advent of the internet and the ability to self-publish, that fringe has grown a much larger following. Now there are very popular atheists who hold that the entire account of Jesus's life, teaching, and death, are simply made up, setting a fictional stage for a fictional tale of a mythical messiah. They claim that if Jesus was such a big deal he would surely have been noticed and written about by more than just the biblical authors.

While that argument isn't valid—in comparison to the events of the Empire in circa 30 A.D., the goings on in Palestine wouldn't be considered newsworthy to those living in Rome—the fact is that Jesus does get mentioned in ancient Roman sources. In his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, Dr. Robert E. Van Voorst pulls together citations from Roman writers such as Thalles, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Tacitus, Mara bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and Celsus, along with Jewish sources such as Josephus and other rabbinic writings. Of his Roman sources, Van Voorst underscores that this is a pretty diverse group:
The famous Roman writers on history and imperial affairs have taken pride of place: Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger. On the other end of the spectrum, the comparatively unknown writers Mara and Thallos have also contributed their voices. Philosophic opponents to Christianity such as Lucian and Celsus have also written about Christ. These writers have a range of opinion: from those perhaps sympathetic to Christ (Mara); through those moderately hostile (Pliny) and those fully hostile but descriptive (Tacitus, Suetonius); to those not interested in description, but who vigorously attack Christianity and in the process attack Christ (Lucian and Celsus). A variety of languages is also notable: Latin, the official language of Rome; Greek, both a common literary language and the language of trade; and Syriac, a main language of the eastern Mediterranean. Together, they speak of a variety of topics about Jesus' teachings, movement, and death. And they know that Jesus is worshiped by Christians, which they relate to his founding of a movement.1
Van Voorst is cautious not to make too much of these mentions, as he notes most of the outside accounts of Jesus's life are coming from Christians who do believe He existed. He even states "by the strictest standards of historical evidence we cannot use them to demonstrate the existence of Jesus. On the other hand, given the nature of the evidence on Jesus from classical authors, neither can one use them as conclusive evidence to disprove the existence of Jesus."2 But these sources cannot be counted out as of no value at all. After all, some of these sources were very hostile to Christianity and they would have motive to point out the fact that such a man as Jesus was mythical. Instead, Van Voorst sees them as secondary sources of historical accounts. After making the above points, he continues:
…Although independent confirmation by contemporary classical writers is excluded, we do gain a later corroboration of certain key elements in the life of Jesus. Corroboration of knowledge is important, in historiography as in the natural sciences. If classical writers had never mentioned Jesus, or especially if they had argued that he was a product of Christian myth­making, then it would be a different matter. They did treat Jesus as a historical person, the founder of his movement, and had no reason to doubt his historicity. It would have been easy (if Jesus never existed) to deliver a strong blow against Christianity by showing that it was based on a myth when it claimed to be based on history. But these writers accepted Jesus as historical, and all but one used the events of his life as arguments against Christianity: he began a movement that they called a pernicious superstition, and he was executed as a criminal.3
Van Voorst concludes that ultimately to do good history, we must do what scholars have done for centuries. We have to take the New Testament accounts themselves as what they are, documents of ancient history. The evidence there is very strong that the New Testament authors were writing in a specific genre of ancient biography, meaning they were writing about a real person. And given that both Jewish antagonists and Roman antagonists argued that the events of the life of Jesus proved he wasn't worthy of worship, it seems a much more reasonable to conclude that Jesus was a real person rather than that he never existed at all.


1. Robert E. Van Voorst. Jesus Outside the New Testament: an Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000. 68.
2. Van Voorst. 73.
3. Ibid.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why the Gospels are History (podcast)

As we approach Easter, Christians will get inundated with media specials trying to proclaim the "lost" story of the real Jesus. But they have it wrong. Listen in to all four parts of this new podcast series  as we examine why the Gospel accounts are completely trustworthy as reliable sources of ancient history.

Subscribe to Come Reason's Podcast via iTunes or RSS feed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jesus Didn't Become God; the Earliest Christians Believed Him to Be Divine

In his excellent new book, God Among Sages, Kenneth Samples has done a wonderful job in combining an apologetic showing the Gospel accounts reflect the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth and how the Jesus of the Gospels is markedly different from the founders of Eastern religions, such as Krishna, who was also thought to be a god taking on human form.

The comparison is interesting, especially considering the charge made by many modern skeptics that the Christian belief of Jesus as God incarnate was foreign to Jesus's first followers and only grew as a later addition to the new religion. Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God is one such challenge. Samples answers it well when he writes:
But just what did the earliest Christians believe about the nature and person of Jesus Christ? A major textual breakthrough over the last couple of decades has al1owed scholars to see more dearly what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus Christ, particularly as expressed in their church services.

Biblical scholarship (in this case, a type of form criticism) has discovered primitive Jewish-Christian creeds, confessions, and hymns woven into Scripture. The early Christians in their worship services used these compact confessions of faith long before the New Testament was written. As New Testament scholar Ralph Martin explains, "The church of the New Testament is already a believing, preaching, and confessing community of men and women. This implies the existence and influence of a body of authoritative doctrine ... which was the given and shared possession of those who formed the nascent Christian communities in the world of the Roman Empire."1
I've written before on the creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and how it shows the resurrection account existed as a foundational belief from the earliest moments of Christianity. Here, Samples is arguing that there are other early creeds recorded within the pages of the New Testament showing a very early belief in the divinity of Jesus. Some of these passages are actually central to the case of understanding Jesus as the God-man.

Philippians 2:6-11, a key passage discussing how Jesus existed in the form of God, but humbled himself and became man, is the first example. Because of differences in its language and its poetic approach separate it from the rest of the epistle lead scholars to believe this was an early Christian hymn.2 Paul wrote the epistle to the Philippians around AD 62, which means a hymn exalting the incarnation of God in the man of Jesus was well established within thirty years of Jesus's crucifixion.

Jesus Seen As God Very Early

Pointing to Craig Blomberg's work, Samples highlights two other passages (Colossians 1:15-20 and 1 Peter 3:18-22), also written around AD 62. He then notes "the hymnal and creedal portions of those letters date much earlier, possibly back to the Jewish expressions of Christianity in the 40s or even earlier in the 30s."3 These early dates make it impossible for the deity of Christ to be ascribed to either later legend or Gentile influence. It places the central theology of the Trinity at the very beginning of Christianity itself! This is all the more remarkable given that as Jesus first followers were Jews, they would've strongly resisted any claims to divinity that would impeach Yahweh as the one and only God. Remember, this is exactly why Paul sought to kill Christians to begin with.

The early creedal statements within the epistles written by both Peter and Paul—two key founders of the Christian church—show that the incarnation, like the resurrection, was a formative doctrine of Christianity. Jesus didn't "become God" as Ehrman puts it, but was always seen as God. What could have made such a scandalous claim seem palatable to the first Jewish Christians? Nothing other than a resurrection, I believe.

I highly recommend you grab a copy of God Among Sages for yourself. There are so many good things here Samples has given us, this being just one nugget. It's a fresh approach to the question of the historical Jesus and how he compares to other religions' founders.


1. Samples, Kenneth Richard. God Among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017. 71. Print.
2. Samples, 2017. 72.
3. Samples, 2017. 73.
Image courtesy Lawrence OP and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bill Maher Whores out the Horus Myth Against Jesus

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. That aphorism is no truer than within the new atheism where people become instant experts because they read something that sounded plausible and agreed with their biases.

Take the charge that the accounts of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection were not only not history, but they are simply a retread of the dying and rising God myths, such as the Egyptian myths concerning Horus. In his movie Religulous, prominent atheist Bill Maher confidently tells some Christians that "the Jesus story wasn't original." The film then moves to a series of texts making the following claims:
Written in 1280 BC, the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a god, Horus… Horus is the son if the god Osirus born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert… healed the sick… the blind… cast out demons… and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. "Asar" translates to "Lasarus." Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days two women announced Horus the savior of humanity had been resurrected.1
Each of these claims is overlaid on top of a movie clip where Jesus is paralleling the detail.

Which Horus is Maher Talking About?

However, there seems to be something missing from Maher's little tutorial; he offers no citations of the sources from which he's drawing his data. We're left to believe all one needs to do is pick up a translation of one Egyptian Book of the Dead and we'll have everything laid out in front of us. That's the assumption you get from what was presented, right?

You'd be incredibly wrong. Egyptian mythology isn't so neatly unpacked. Much of what was written about Horus in a systematic manner doesn't come from the Egyptians at all, but from Plutarch who wrote them some 30-60 years after the Gospels were composed. Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge explains:
Plutarch, as a learned man and a student of comparative religion and mythology was most anxious to understand the history of Isis and Osiris, which Greek and Roman scholars talked about freely, and which none of them comprehended, and he made enquiries of priests and others, and examined critically such information as he could obtain, believing and hoping that he would penetrate the mystery in which these gods were wrapped. As a result of his labours he collected a number of facts about the form of the Legend of Isis and Osiris as it was known to the learned men of his day, but there is no evidence that he had the slightest knowledge of the details of the original African Legend of these gods as it was known to the Egyptians, say, under the VIth Dynasty. Moreover, he never realized that the characteristics and attributes of both Isis and Osiris changed several times during the long history of Egypt, and that a thousand years before he lived the Egyptians themselves had forgotten what the original form of the legend was.2
Not only have the myths changed, but they've been mixed together, even among the Egyptian texts. John Gwyn Griffiths, in explaining some of the Horus mythology, writes "Little consistency, however, is shown with regard to the genealogy of Horus. He is described as the son of Nut, the son of Geb, and once perhaps as the son of Hathor. Sethe sees Hathor as the original mother of Horus in the Horus-nome of Damanhur-Momemphis, where she is later replaced by Isis who assumes her bovine headdress." 3 Griffiths goees on, but just in that section it sounds like Maher will have an incredibly difficult time demonstrating the December 25 birth date, the born of a virgin claim, or that he was the son of Osirus.

Just before all those assertions that Horus had the original Gospel story some 1300 years before Jesus's birth, Maher authoritatively tells his Christian interviewees how many gods of that era were bor4n on December 25 and they should really "study the religions of the Mediterranean region from a thousand years before." He seems to say they need to shed their naiveté. It is obvious, though, that Maher hasn't studied Horus at all if he thinks a quick read of the Book of the Dead will give you a 1280 BC parallel of the Gospels. You can try it yourself here.

Next time I'll look at Plutarch's version of the Horus myth to counteract any final appeals there. But I think Maher (as well as all those Internet atheists who like to parade these claims) needs to take a bit of his own advice. Perhaps he should at least look into the Horus myth before going off half-cocked with wild-eyed speculations on parallels that don't exist.


1. Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher. Thousand Words, 2008. Ill Maher - Jesus, Horus, Mithra, Krishna - Religulous ( 2 Mins ). YouTube, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.
2. Budge, E. A. Wallis. "IX. The History of Isis and Osiris." Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner &, 1912. Web.
3. Griffiths, J. Gwyn. The Origins of Osiris and His Cult. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980. Print. 15.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Problems with the Shallow Grave Hypothesis

The resurrection of Jesus is the central claim of Christianity. The entire faith hangs upon this one event being historically true. That's one reason why so many skeptics have placed the resurrection in their crosshairs; they actually agree with the Apostle Paul in holding "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless" (1 Cor. 15:17).

Of course, with every challenge to the resurrection of Jesus, there have been responses. One that seems to crop up time and again is that Jesus' body did not rise, but was simply thrown into the shallow grave of a paupers' field and was subsequently devoured by wild animals. Then, as his disciples sought to preach his resurrection, there was no body to prove them wrong.

John Dominic Crossan popularized this explanation. In his book Excavating Jesus, he explains how crucifixion victims were never buried, but left for the carrion. He then goes on to claim:
In the ancient mind, the supreme horror of crucifixion was to lose public mourning, to forfeit proper burial, to lie separate from one's ancestors forever, and to have no place where bones remained, spirits hovered, and descendants came to eat with the dead. That is how Jesus died.1
Crossan has elsewhere asserted that the account of the resurrection were originally invented in Mark and the resurrection of Jesus were interpolations of disciples seeing visions and reinterpreting them into a bodily resurrection2.

I have already explained why it isn't reasonable to see the resurrection narratives as an invention of the Gospel writers to build a following. The charge of intentional fraud fails. But what of this idea that Jesus was probably buried in a shallow grave and his body had been eaten by dogs? The theory has multiple issues against it.

1. An empty tomb is accepted by historians

For the shallow grave/carrion theory to be true, Crossan must deny that Jesus's body had a proper burial. However, this conflicts with the findings of other secular historians. Michael Grant writes:
Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition [recorded in Mark's resurrection account] as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was found empty.3
Given that Grant does not believe in the resurrection. Still, he holds there was a tomb and it was found empty, which as Michael Licona points out is the most popular view by historians who study this area.4

2. Christianity's detractors assumed an empty tomb

Another point we must note is that the earliest detractors of the resurrection didn't claim that Jesus's body was cast off to suffer the ignomy of being eaten by scavengers. Matthew 28:11-15 explains:
Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
Notice the phrase "and is to this day," which shows that explanation was what the Jews were using to counter the Christians' resurrection claims. They never pointed to a shallow grave, even when Peter was declaring the resurrectionin Jerusalem where the audience would be intimately familiar with such practices and locations.

3. No source material for this explanation

The shallow grave theory that Crossan explains suffers from the Gospel accounts in another significant way. While conflicting accounts in different documents may lead historians to argue with one another about which theory is correct, it is the record within the document itself that gives a evidential basis for the argument. In the case of the shallow grave, there is no testimony in any document from antiquity that this is what happened to Jesus's body. This is a theory made up in contradiction to written accounts (the Gospels) with no counter-testimony at all. Why should we give it equal weight in such a circumstance?

Certainly, some would side with Crossan saying there's historical evidence that this was the most common way Romans treated their victims, but that doesn't mean it is universally applicable. In fact, while trying to make the point, Crossan himself highlights the archaeological find of a man whose right ankle bone still held the bent nail of his crucifixion. IT was found in an ossuary, or Jewish burial box, which means his body was buried in accordance with Jewish custom of the day. The discovery proves not every crucifixion ended with an abandoned corpse.

In all, there's much greater evidence to believe that Jesus was buried in a tomb and not abandoned to the elements and carrion. It makes assumptions but doesn't offer any evidence as support. That the tomb was empty cries out for an explanation, and the resurrection fits that explanation the best.


1. Crossan, John Dominic; Reed, Jonathan L.. Excavating Jesus (Kindle Locations 5415-5416). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. See Michael Licona's summary of Crossan's view in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity, 2010. 523-527. Print.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print. 176.
4. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 461-463.
Image courtesy Rama, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Ignoring the Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection

Is the resurrection account of Jesus true? Skeptic will say no. They hold the resurrection of Christ is fiction, created either by intentional fabrication or through an accumulation of legends, mistakes, and misunderstandings (or some combination of the two). I've recently looked again at why the resurrection could not be an intentional fraud, but what about the possibility of legend?

There are several reasons that place the legend theory in doubt. First of all, it is a concept that runs contrary to the Jewish mindset of that day, yet Jews were the first to accept and spread the belief. Why would such a legend develop if it bucks the expected conventions of the very people who are supposedly falling for it? Secondly, the resurrection accounts themselves appear pretty early after the time the resurrection was said to take place.

There's another point that I don't hear much about in these discussions, though. Even before the Gospel accounts were relatively early, there is a source of information that connects the events as they happen to the Gospel writers' pens. That is the testimony of Jesus's very closest disciples, known in the Gospels as "the Twelve."

In his article "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist During Jesus' Public Ministry?" John P. Meier argues that this circle of twelve people who made up Jesus's most entrusted followers could not be a later invention or legendary. Meier offers several lines of evidence for his view:
  • Unlike the term apostle (meaning "one who is sent") that is applied to Paul, Barnabas, and others in the epistles, the use of the term "the Twelve" is very specific and is used by the Gospel writers, especially Mark and John, to very specifically to refer to those disciples who were closest to Jesus.1 This means from a historical standpoint, attestation of the Twelve exists across multiple sources; it has a stronger level of support.

  • The list of names of the Twelve is remarkable consistent across the different gospels, not only are eleven of the twelve names identical, but even the grouping of the names are always displayed in three sets of four. The only name that has some question behind it is Thaddeus who is called Jude of James in Luke's gospel.2 Meier sees this as evidence for an oral tradition for the Twelve that pre-dates the written accounts of the Gospels.

  • Meier places special emphasis on the Gospel of John's mention of the Twelve: "The fact that the Twelve are mentioned in John is all the more weighty because John has no special interest in the group called the Twelve. The Johannine tradition names important disciples or supporters of Jesus (e.g., Nathaniel and Lazarus) who are not listed in the Synoptic catalogues of the Twelve; and the anonymous "disciple whom Jesus loved," the model of all discipleship, does no apparently belong to the Twelve. The few references to the Twelve that occur in John thus have the air of being relics or fossils embedded in primitive Johannine tradition."3

  • The presence of Judas as Jesus's betrayer also argues for the existence of the Twelve for how else does one explain his betrayal? Without the existence of the Twelve, Judas's appearance is out of place, disjointed. But as Meier notes, the fact that Judas was numbered among the Twelve and the fact that he handed Jesus over to the authorities is multiply attested. Further, it's highly embarrassing for Jesus to be betrayed not simply by a follower, but by one of his own inner circle, the very one with whom he entrusted the ministry finances.4

  • Lastly, emphasis on the Twelve is much more prevalent in the period during Jesus's earthly ministry than it is in the first generation of Christians after Jesus's ascension. Meier writes, "In his epistles, Paul alludes to his interaction with or compares himself to other church leaders… What is glaringly absent in Paul's letters is any mention of the Twelve" with the exception of the 1 Corinthians 15:5, which is a Christian creed formulated within a few years of the resurrection itself.5
It seems that Jesus really did have a circle of Twelve disciples he kept especially close. This inner circle was in a unique position to be the primary source material for the accounts of the Gospels that record their exploits. If the Resurrection accounts are legendary, why would this circle of Twelve develop? How does it fit, especially if the concept of the Twelve is glaringly absent in the other writings of the New Testament authors?

As Richard Bauckham has developed in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, it is the members of the Twelve who provide the link between Jesus, his ministry and resurrection, and the gospel accounts. It is a chain of custody establishing that eyewitness testimony is the thing establishing the resurrection accounts. Because legends cannot explain the existence of the Twelve, they also cannot explain the testimony of the resurrection eyewitnesses.


1. Meier, John P.. "The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist During Jesus' Public Ministry?". Journal of Biblical Literature 116.4 (1997): 638. Web.
2. Meier, John P., 1997. 647.
3. Meier, John P., 1997. 652.
4. Meier, John P., 1997. 665-670.
5. Meier, John P., 1997. 670.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

History is a Problem for Those Who Doubt Jesus Was Real

There are plenty of people who deny the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus. They may hold that there was a sage teacher of morality named Jesus who lived in the first century who was eventually executed by the Romans. Usually, the story goes that his followers taught others about his exploits, embellishing them with legendary acts and miraculous flourishes until we have the accounts of his life we read in the Bible today. These claims have been with us for centuries.

However, today there seems to be a growing subset of people who hold that not only did Jesus of Nazareth not do the miraculous deeds recorded in the Gospel accounts, but he never existed at all. The entire account of Jesus of Nazareth is mythical; it's an invention of people looking for a messiah-figure. These "Jesus-Mythicists" have gained traction primarily because of their presence on Internet. Even hyper-skeptic Bart Ehrman has noted that no New Testament scholar or historian, including the most skeptical, would hold such a view.1

The Problem of Association

One big reason the Jesus-myth scenario is rejected by scholars is the incredible hole it creates in explaining history. How could the story of Jesus gain traction so quickly if he didn't exist? Thomas Cooper, in his book The Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time, explains the problem well:
Who can ponder on Paul's history without feeling that it must be regarded as part of the evidence for the truth of Christianity? Paul's existence and course of life, and the writing of his letters to the Christian Churches are held to be facts by all the German and French schools of skepticism; and that "Reverend" Robert Taylor that I mentioned to you who some fifty years ago was a favourite of the London freethinkers holds by the same facts But what a puzzling contradiction it seems for men to acknowledge the reality of the life and recorded acts of Paul as facts and yet to deny the truth of Christianity.

What! Paul a real man and Christ a myth? Paul a real existence; Paul, who wrote so much about Christ so soon after his death and resurrection; Paul a real existing man, and Christ's existence a fable? Paul, who held the clothes of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, while they stoned him to death? Then Stephen was also a real existing man, who died praying "Lord Jesus! receive my spirit!" Paul, the glorious half-missionary, half-mechanic, who crossed the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, and visited so many shores preaching Christ, and yet there never was any Christ to preach? Paul, a real living man, who had seen and conversed with Peter, and James, and John? Then they were all real living men. How came they to say what they did about Christ if He never existed? How came they to speak of His miracles to the people who must have seen Christ's wondrous acts, if ever He performed them? Must they not have expected the people to say, "You are impostors! no such miracles were ever performed!" Yet no one said this. Even the worst enemies of Christ did not deny His miracles, though they attributed them to Satanic agency.2
This problem of explaining events such as the conversion of Paul and his self-identification as one who martyred Christians immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus, the quick dissemination of Christianity by Jesus's original followers throughout the Roman Empire, along with the appeal over and over again to eyewitnesses becomes hopelessly strained and convoluted if Jesus wasn't a real, living person. All attempts to reconcile a real Paul with a mythical Jesus hold less explanatory scope, less explanatory power, and rely on ad-hoc assumptions when attempting to make any sense at all. Cooper saw this when writing in 1871!

If Paul was real, then his life and his conversion need to be explained. The most cogent way to do that is by believing what he himself testified: he had seen the Risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:8).

I want to offer a special thanks to Dr. Timothy McGrew for collecting Thomas Cooper's book and others at his site All the titles are in the public domain and free to everyone.


1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 July 2015.
2. Cooper, Thomas. The Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time a Popular View of the Historical Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1874. Print. 154-155.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Has Archaeology Proven the Gospel of John?

Charisma News published a web article last week with the bold headline "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." It opens with the claim "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true," then references both Eric Metaxas and a Los Angeles Times article that quoted Princeton New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth. The claim is irresponsible.

Before we go too far, let me first say that the discovery of the pool of Slioam is a significant find for biblical archaeology. Discovered in 2004, it offers additional evidence that the author of John's gospel had first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, just as the discovery of the pool of Bethsaida (the setting of the healing in John 5) was found with its five porticoes, just as John described them. Since the 5th century, Christians had thought Siloam was the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel, but this discovery shows a much larger, grander pool, according to the Biblical Archaeological Society.1 As Charlesworth stated in a Los Angeles Times interview which was cited by Charisma News, "Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit… Now we have found the Pool of Siloam ... exactly where John said it was."2

Both Metaxas in his commentary and Charlesworth are correct to say the discovery lends credence to the level of historical reliability the Gospel of John holds. But that is a completely different claim than the one leading the Charisma News article. Both the article and the headline trumpeted "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true." Proves? It proves the truth of the entire Gospel? That's a troubling oversimplification that is actually dangerous to the message of the Gospel, as we can see by looking at a parallel story in the Los Angeles Times.

Are You Willing to Believe in Greek Gods?

The well-developed pantheon of gods in Greek mythology is familiar to most people. Much of that familiarity comes from the required reading of Homer's epic The Illiad. It is Homer's tale that provides the narrative of Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships"), Achilles and his heel, the Trojan War and the accompanying Trojan horse. We read how the Greek gods work for or against the story's heroes and for or against each other.

Of course, Troy and Sparta are real places, but many scholars also held the Trojan War references in The Iliad were just as mythical as the references of the Greek gods. Troy was considered at first to be "entirely mythical."3 But in 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported "Archeologists have uncovered strong evidence that the Trojan War described by the poet Homer in 'The Iliad,' one of the first and most important books in Western literature, actually occurred."4

The article then reports the archaeological advancements at Troy:
In the 1870s, German merchant Heinrich Schliemann identified what he believed to be its site, a large mound on the Anatolian Peninsula about 15 miles from the modern city of Canakkale. The mound, about 600 feet long, 450 feet wide and more than 100 feet tall, is called Hisarlik (Place of Fortresses) and is accepted as the site of Troy…

But archeologists from Blegen's generation and later ones argued that the citadel was too small to be the Homeric Troy. "People believed there was a kernel of truth in the (Homeric) story, but the citadel was too small to be an important place," Korfmann said. 5
In the 1990s, when excavations resumed after a fifty year hiatus, archaeologist can now show the Trojan War was not merely possible, but maybe even probable.

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander

Given this, does archaeology prove Homer's Iliad is true? Would any Christian claim such? Of course not. It shows Homer was familiar with the area of Troy. In fact, the article quotes archaeologist Korfmann postulating "Homer might have written down his story while viewing this ruins of this city. The ruins available in this landscape could have been the stage for an epic."6

Similarly, the archaeological evidence for the Siloam Pool demonstrates it is implausible to believe the Gospel of John was wholly invented in Asia well after the fall of Jerusalem by someone who has never visited the city. It adds credence to the claim that John was an eyewitness to Jesus' miracles at the Pool of Siloam or Bethsaida. But one cannot claim it proves the Gospel of John. Otherwise, a well-informed atheist can simply ask why you don't also believe in Achilles, and the Greek gods, since archaeology has proven the Iliad in exactly the same manner.

There are many things archaeology can tell us and many things archaeology cannot tell us about the Bible. But let's be careful in how much we assume.


1. Staff. "The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Healed the Blind Man." Bible History Daily. Biblical Archaeological Society, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.
2. Justice, Jessilyn. "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." Charisma News. Charisma Media, 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
3. Maugh II, Thomas H. "Archeological Evidence of Homer's Trojan War Found : History: Researchers Show That City Was Large Enough to Withstand the Epic Battle Described in 'The Iliad.'" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 1993. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.
4. Maugh, 1993.
5. Maugh, 1993.
6. Maugh, 1993.
Image courtesy Ian Scott (Pool of Siloam) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 15, 2016

Was Jesus' Tomb Really Empty?

The empty tomb is a huge part of the evidence arguing for the resurrection of Jesus. We know that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, from the very liberal to the very conservative, hold that Jesus's followers believed they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. "It is an indisputable historical datum that sometime, somehow, the disciples came to believe they had seen the risen Jesus,"1 claims New Testament scholar Alexander J. M. Wedderburn, cited by Michael Licona in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

Licona points to other scholars as well and highlights the work of Dr Gary Habermas who "cataloged the opinions of hundreds of scholars writing on the subject of Jesus' resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. His database divides the opinions into more than one hundred categories pertaining to the questions and subquestions related to the resurrection of Jesus. He comments 'As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus' death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord.'" 2

Dismissing Hallucinations and Groupthink

Because it's clear that Jesus' followers had some kind of experience they believed was seeing him after he rose from the dead, one must ascribe some kind of cause for their experience. Skeptics have tried to dismiss these as sincere but mistaken experiences. They've offered some kind of hallucination theory, cases of mistaken identity, a kind of "groupthink" (e.g. "I can see him, can't you see him, too?"), or dismissing these as spiritual visions instead of physical ones.

Any of the above scenarios must have happened rather quickly after the crucifixion. The gospels and Acts place Jesus' appearances no later than forty days after Easter Sunday excluding Paul's Damascus road experience. Thus, Jesus' corpse could have been produced by Jesus' foes to defeat any such claims. Yet, the corpse seems to not be available to them. In fact, it is the Jewish Sanhedrin who were worried about that very issue and asked Pilate if the tomb could be secured, a request that was granted. Even then, though, they could not counter the resurrection charge. Their claim was "the disciples came and stole the body."

There is only one reason why that story persisted and Jesus' disciples became more confident instead of less so: there was no body in the tomb. As historian Michael Grant states:
Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition [of the angelic messenger in Mark] as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.3
Grant concludes that there must have been someone who had taken the body, though he doesn't know who. Still, Grant is right to say if the criteria one employ's for ancient history is leveraged, then we are left with the real historical fact that the tomb was indeed empty.

Adding the empty tomb to the knowledge that the disciples had real, sincere experiences they identified as seeing the risen Jesus, we have a much stronger case for Jesus' resurrection. The claims of hallucinations, groupthink, or spiritual visions become much less plausible since none of those can explain where Jesus' body actually went. The evidence leads to a resurrection.


1. Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove,Il.: InterVarsity, 2010. 373. Print.
2. Licona, 2010.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Scribner, 1977. 176. Print.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why Don't We Sing "Joseph, Did You Know?"

One of the more popular modern Christmas songs is "Mary Did You Know?" which reflects upon the ministry, miracles, suffering and sacrifice of Jesus by asking his mother if she understood just who it is she had birthed. It's touching with a tinge of sadness as the joy of a new birth is contrasted with her certain future heartache (ref. Luke 2:35). Those of us who have children of our own can especially feel the poignancy of the vulnerable baby in your arms and the dangers she faces from the world.

However, I often wonder why we don't pause to reflect more on the understanding of Joseph during this holiday season. Joseph, according to Craig Keener, was probably between the ages of eighteen to twenty years old and had the marriage arranged by his and her parents. When Joseph and Mary were betrothed, it would have been in front of two witnesses whereby Joseph declared his intent to marry the girl. This was a legally binding relationship which opened up a year-long waiting period before the wedding. 1 Keener explains:
Betrothal provided most of the legal rights of marriage, but intercourse was forbidden; Joseph is courageous to take his pregnant betrothed with him, even if (as is possible) she is also a Bethlehemite who has to return to that town. Although tax laws in most of the empire required only the head of a household to appear, the province of Syria (then including Palestine) also taxed women; but this would apply only if she owned immoveable property. Joseph may simply wished to avoid leaving her alone this late in pregnancy, especially if the circumstances of her pregnancy may have deprived her of other friends.2
The scandal of Mary's pregnancy would most likely lead people to speculate whether Mary and Joseph were improperly intimate prior to marriage or whether Mary was unfaithful to Joseph completely. Either way, it didn't make things easy for him.

Matthew reports:
Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:19-21, ESV).
Joseph's faithfulness to respond to that dream is truly courageous. I think most people would assume his desire to still marry his pregnant fiancé would imply that it was he who acted improperly and got her pregnant to begin with. The level of scandal and shame such an act would spark should not be underestimated. While Mary was faithful to the call of God, she was also visited by the angel Gabriel, given some instruction on what will happen, and even given a sign as to the truth of these things as her relative Elizabeth was pregnant even though she was past the age of childbearing. Matthew tells us that Joseph had only the dream, and his entire future was riding upon what he did with that.

Has anyone thought about what an eighteen or twenty year old male would be facing in a similar situation? Most young men this age are dreaming of a particular type of future: independent, stable, with a wife who loves him and children of his own. Add to that the fact that Joseph came from the royal line of David, he should have been in a position of comfort and power. That wasn't to be, but knowing how young men think, I'm sure he had dreams of creating a good, stable life for himself and his family.

However, given that Mary's first child would not be his progeny and she became pregnant even before marriage, his future is on a decidedly different track. He took Mary with him on the journey to Bethlehem, possibly to protect her and help her since the odds were out of her favor in the town where they both lived. A stigma of immorality would continue throughout their lives, even following Jesus as the Pharisees alluded to his illegitimacy (John 8:41). Yet, Joseph took the road of self-denial and self-sacrifice. This young man exemplified true virtue in standing beside Mary.

We don't know when and how Joseph died. Given Jesus's charge of his mother to the apostle John in John 19:26, it is assumed that Joseph has already passed away. We read no more about him after the birth narratives. But it would do us well to reflect upon Joseph's stand. This is a model of what a virtuous man looks like. We need to underscore it for the young people in our churches today. Would there be more Josephs in the world.


1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. Print. 48.
2. Keener, 185.
Image courtesy Gabriel Sozzi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 30, 2015

Was Jesus Buried in a Tomb?

It's clear that Christianity lives or dies by the resurrection of Jesus. A central part of the resurrection account is that Jesus was buried in a tomb which was found empty on Easter morning by some of his women followers. But just how strong is the evidence for this claim?

Certain skeptics of the resurrection account have doubted that the burial account is historical. 19th century scholar Charles Guignebert claimed, "The truth is we do not know, and in all probability the disciples knew no better, where the body of Jesus had been thrown after it had been removed from the cross, probably by the executioners. It is more likely to have been cast into the pit for the executed than lain in a new tomb."1 Guignebert's conclusion was basically echoed 150 years later by John Dominic Crossan in his book Who Killed Jesus? "In conclusion, what is the historicity of the burial? From Roman expectations, the body of Jesus and many others crucified with him would have been left on the cross as carrion for the crows and for the dogs."2 In pondering whether Jesus's body would've been buried to follow the Jewish commands of Deut. 21:22-23, Crossan remarks, "Even if it was, the soldiers who crucified Jesus probably would have done it, speedily and indifferently, in a necessarily shallow and mounded grave rather than a rock-hewn tomb. That would mean lime, at best, and dogs again, at worst." 3

The Evidence for Jesus's Burial

I find huge problems with dismissals such as these for the burial of Jesus. First, we know that the Jews would demand even criminals be buried. The first century historical Josephus tells us as much in his Wars of the Jews: "Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun."4 Crossan knows of the Josephus passage but dismisses it as something done only "in theory" claiming Jesus's burial is a "maybe, but the barest of maybes."5 Yet we have the additional testimony of the soldier breaking the legs of the other two condemned with Jesus to hasten their death. This point alone shows that there was a concern the criminals would die so their corpses could be removed before sundown.

A second point is there exists archaeological evidence that burying victims of crucifixion is not simply theoretical. In 1968 Jewish archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis excavated a Jewish ossuary, which is a box that was used to keep the remains of dead. Inside he discovered a well-preserved heel bone with a nail still piercing it from crucifixion. The nail could not be removed because the tip had bent.6 Clearly this with the Josephus passage and the command of Moses in Deuteronomy would make burial a very real possibility.

A third point is one that Craig Keener argues by noting of Pilate's wish to accommodate the Jewish leaders in the story. Pilate seems honored their request for execution not because Jesus's actions are offending Roman law, but simply in order to keep the peace. Given Pilate's concern for Jewish sensibilities, their aversion to leaving the dead unburied would've been well understood.7 Add to this that the one requesting the body was Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and I think Crossan's doubts of Jesus receiving a proper burial are on shaky ground.

The Historical Attestation for Burial in a Tomb

Of course the biggest reason why a majority of New Testament scholars believe that Jesus was buried in a rock-hewn tomb is that we have multiple ancient historical sources that attest to the fact. Mark is our earliest gospel and he tells of Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for Jesus's body, having his request granted, and laying t in a rack-hewn tomb. We have the testimony from John that corroborates Mark. We also have the early testimony that Paul recited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 claiming Jesus was buried. While the account in 1 Corinthians doesn't mention a tomb due to its abbreviated nature, the burial account is clearly very early and part of the fabric of the resurrection story.

So, when comparing the evidence for Jesus's burial, we have very early accounts of his burial showing up in multiple independent sources. What is the evidence for Jesus being left on the cross or eaten by dogs? There is none. There isn't one single document that infers such a fate. Even the Jewish leadership didn't say "The dogs must've eaten the body" when the disciples shortly afterwards proclaimed his resurrection. Instead, they claimed the disciples stole the body, which implies that the body was missing from an identifiable location, e.g. a tomb.

Given the evidence, it is much more reasonable to believe that Jesus was buried in a tomb than to believe otherwise. All the evidence we have points in only one direction. To doubt the burial of Jesus, like Crossan and Guignebert have is to read into the account additional details that are not evidence but conjecture. Conjecturing a theory that opposes the facts isn't good history, it's a sign of bias.


1. Guignebert, Charles. Jesus. New York: U, 1956. Print. 500. As cited in Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. San Bernardino, Ca.: Here's Life, 1979. Print.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Print. 187.
3. Crossan, 1995. 188.
4. Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987. Print.679.
5. Crossan, 1995.187.
6. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. "A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods." Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archaeology Society, 22 July 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
7. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 326.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gospel Variations and Ancient Biography

Much gets made by skeptics these days about the supposed contradictory accounts of Jesus's life in the four Gospels.  They ask about the timing of the events (how could it have been three days and three nights), how many women were at the tomb, and other facts that seems to be reported differently by the Gospel authors. Sometimes, the errors are an example of expecting robot reporting or snubbing style to force meaning.

A couple of years ago, I was able to sit down with Dr. Michael Licona and discuss how the accounts of Jesus's life differ and what that actually means. You can view the entire interview on YouTube, but the Baptist Press gave a nice summation of it in their publication. One portion I'd like to focus on particularly is Dr. Licona's work in comparing the Gospel accounts to other ancient biography that was written at the same time:
In an interview with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting, Licona, a former apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board, said it had not necessarily ever bothered him that some facts reported in the Gospels appeared to be contradictions.

"I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also realize that biblical inerrancy is not one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is," Licona told Esposito. "So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren't. So it didn't really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians."

Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.

As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.

Licona focused on Plutarch's biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.

"So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar's assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he's writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language—Greek—to boot," Licona told Esposito.

"As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John," Licona said.1
There's a difference between a contradiction and a stylistic change meant to emphasize one aspect of an event in one account, while another account may stress different aspects of the same event. As I've stated, these differences actually work in favor of the validity of the eyewitness accounts.


1. Roach, Erin. "HBU's Licona Addresses Bible's 'contradictions'" Baptist Press. Baptist Press, Southern Baptist Convention, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Six Errors Jesus Mythicists Repeatedly Make

The fact that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago in Palestine and a following grew out of his teachings is evident. Even Bart Ehrman, as skeptical as the come about the claims of Christianity, has stated that no one should doubt “what virtually every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.”1

Yet, the Jesus-Myth proponents continue to make the charge that Jesus didn't exist or that perhaps someone named Jesus existed, but the Gospel accounts were created out of the whole cloth of dying-and-rising god myths popular in the ancient world. Certainly the Internet has spread their charges beyond what one would reasonably expect. It's much like the villagers in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes; they want to believe these links so badly, that they fail to see the reality that nothing is there. In that vein, I'd like to offer six different ways the fashion statement of mythicism fails.

1. One Size Fits All — Combinationism

This is one of the biggest errors of the Zeitgeist movie and charges like it. It basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D. and blends them together them together, claiming they all had a consistent belief of gods dying and rising again. They argue that this is some kind of an established, coherent overarching set of beliefs from which Christianity borrowed.

However, if anyone bothers to actually read the details of the different faiths mentioned, one will find vast differences in their foundational understanding of life, death, and existence beyond death. Even with in faiths like Mithraism, it had evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span.2 To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one from a religion like Mithraism when those beliefs weren't necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.

2. Calling a Kleenex a Kerchief — Equivocation

Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian language to describe a belief - and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. The concept of baptism in Egyptian mythology centers around the Nile's supposed physical power to heal while baptism in Christianity focuses on the sin nature of the individual. This happens over and over, where the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism than what Christian understand it to mean, but it is made to sound similar for impact value.

3. If It's on Your Shoulders, It's a Jacket — Oversimplification

Many critics will find something kind of like a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. For example, Zeitgeist claims that Horus was “crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.” In the actual myth, Horus is a young child who is revived from a scorpion sting by another god that wielded the magic to do so. It's nothing like Jesus' claim to have the power to take his own life up again. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.

4. Invisible Accessories — Misrepresenting Biblical Facts

Horus was born on December 25th? Were they using the Julian calendar system in ancient Egypt? The Gospels themselves don't tell us when Jesus was born. December 25 cam later, and was probably based on a completely different paradigm. Horus' birth was visited by Three Wise men? Where does the Bible say three? There are three gifts mentioned, but no number of wise men is cited. Plus they came up to two years after Jesus' birth. The mythicists misrepresent the Biblical accounts and then try to make the other myths similar.

5. Who's the Designer? — Direction of Influence

Simply because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, it is wrong to assume the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition. This happens many times when the religion's founder lived before Jesus. However, as I said in point #1, these faiths were themselves not static. They picked up a lot of influences across the centuries, especially when they came in contact with competing belief systems. Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions tended to adopt Christian symbols and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. Anthropologists see this by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn't recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated. As Ronald Nash notes concerning Mithraism, “The timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first century Christianity.”3

6. Where's the Designer Label? — Missing Citations/Support

Lastly, one should always ask for support for the claims made by the mythicists of the features of their myths. Who says that these things are true? How do you know Horus was baptized or raised after three days? Have you read the actual myth? What verification do you have that you understood the cult's beliefs accurately? This is one of the most crucial questions to ask, since reading the myths themselves will usually be enough to show that any supposed parallels to the life of Jesus are either minor or non-existent.

The primary message of Christianity is vastly different from the pagan myths that preceded it. As Nash explains:
None of these so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity. Only Jesus died for sin. It is never claimed that any pagan deity died for sin. As Wagner observes, to none of the pagan gods “has the intention of helping men been attributed. That sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting death, self-emasculation, etc.)4


1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 July 2015.
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Did Christianity Steal From Mithraism?" Come Reason Ministries, 01 Nov. 2001. Web. 29 July 2015.
3. Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003. Print.
4. Nash, 2003. 160.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Archaeology and the Bible (podcast)

The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? Listen to this complete series as Lenny explores the relationship between the Bible and archaeology and shows why the Bible can be considered reliable historically.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Does the Story of the Resurrection Have a Flaw?

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of the most well-attested events in antiquity. We have testimony from multiple independent sources that detail the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and we see the impact of his resurrection through the transforming nature of Christianity. I've previously offered several lines of evidence for why the resurrection is a historical reality. However, on an article discussing the evidence of the empty tomb, one commenter claimed that the story of the resurrection has a huge hole in it. He writes:
I had never heard of this until today: How many Christians are aware that Jesus' grave was unguarded AND unsecured the entire first night after his crucifixion??? Isn't that a huge hole in the Christian explanation for the empty tomb?? Notice in this quote from Matthew chapter 27 below that the Pharisees do not ask Pilate for guards to guard the tomb until the next day after Jesus' crucifixion, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb's door, he had not SEALED it shut!

Anyone could have stolen the body during those 12 hours!
The empty tomb "evidence" for the supernatural reanimation/resurrection of Jesus by Yahweh has a HUGE hole in it!

He then quotes Matthew 27:57-65, where we find the following relevant portion:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone."
Matthew thus lays out the timeline that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath). We would understand this as Good Friday. Then, the Jewish leadership went to Pilate and asked that Jesus's tomb be guarded given the claim that he would rise again. Pilate acquiesces, and a guard is dispatched. The commenter then asks:
So when did the guards show up to the tomb? Early the next morning or late in the afternoon? If late in the afternoon, the tomb of Jesus had been unguarded and unsealed for almost TWENTY FOUR hours!
The empty tomb is NOT good evidence for the resurrection claim. The most plausible explanation, based on the Bible itself, is that someone stole or moved the body!

Reading Historical Texts Carefully

Objections like these are interesting because on the surface they sound plausible. However, many times we bring our own assumptions into such a reading without realizing it. I think this is what has happened here.

First, it's important to realize that the source of this exchange is Matthew's Gospel. Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospel accounts and his account of the time of Jesus's crucifixion (Matt. 27:45) reflect the Jewish rather than Roman accounting of time. It is well known that for Jews a new day begins at sundown. This means the term "the next day" doesn't imply a minimum of twelve to twenty-four hours later. In fact, we know that Jesus was buried very close to sundown because the women didn't have enough time to properly prepare his body, which is why they were going back to the tomb on Sunday morning. It's also why Pilate had the legs of the others condemned broken; it would speed their death so they could also be dealt with before the onset of the Sabbath.

Secondly, we know that the Jewish leadership was familiar with Jesus's claim to resurrect in three days, and were so deeply concerned about some manipulation to that end that they approached Pilate on the Sabbath to ask for a guard. Pilate allows them to use their own temple guards to secure the tomb.1 But this would happen rather quickly. The crucifixion is a public event and we know the priests were watching Jesus die. Since Jesus's prediction of resurrection came well before his crucifixion, it must've been on their minds. Why would they have waited until the next morning or afternoon? Haste is necessary to effectively stop any tomb raiding by disciples.

Wouldn't the Guards Have Checked?

Thirdly, we have to think about the charge given to the guard. Are they to simply guard the tomb from that point forward no matter in what condition it currently is found? The guards are dispatched with this very crucial task that is of such concern that it unites the chief priests and the Pharisees in a common goal. They get to the tomb and they must see it in one of two conditions. Either the stone has been sealed over the tomb or the tomb is open. If the stone has been placed over the tomb, then they guard that configuration. But, we read later that the women (who were concerned about moving the stone) found it rolled away on Sunday morning. Who did that? Why would the guard even allow that to happen?

 The second choice is the stone wasn't sealed but the guards sealed it there. Two questions now surface, did the guards bother to look inside the open tomb to make sure that the body was still in there? If the challenge is to keep people for stealing the body, don't you check to make sure the body is still there? If you don't and seal the tomb anyway, the question still remains why did the guards allow someone else to come up and open the tomb at all? Isn't your assignment to not let that happen?

No matter what amount of time transpired between Jesus's death and the guards arriving at the tomb, the question of who moved the stone becomes the undoing of the "disciples stole the body" claim. As Craig Keener notes, "Those who have ever had their beliefs or deep hopes shattered will recognize that Jesus' death should have disillusioned the disciples too much for them to fake a resurrection (which would also be inconsistent if they expected one.) Though the corpse remaining in the tomb would have easily publicly refuted the resurrection claim, had the authorities been able to produce it, an empty tomb in itself would not be self-explanatory."2 IN other words, only in the context of the resurrection does the empty tomb have evidentiary power. Yet, the fact that the tomb was empty is proven by the story, as N.T. Wright notes "The point is that this sort of story could only have any point at all in a community where the empty tomb was an absolute and unquestionable datum." 3

Lastly, the stolen body cannot explain the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who believed the chief priests and sought to exterminate what he considered a blasphemous threat to his beliefs.

So the "hole" in the resurrection story turns out to be evidence for the resurrection itself. Without an open tomb, one cannot claim an empty tomb. But since the tomb as found empty, which is common knowledge as N.T. Wright notes, then it lends credence to the resurrection account.


1. Many have assumed the Jews were asking for a Roman guard, but I think that isn't correct. The fact that the guards don't report back to Pilate, but to the chief priests indicate they were under the Sanhedrin's control. Further, when Roman guards allowed prisons to be violated, such as in Acts 16:27-28, he knew the penalty would be a cruel death and would rather have taken his own life. It makes more sense to read Pilate as saying "You have guards of your own; you can use them to make the tomb secure."
2. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.342.
3. Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003. Print. 638.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scholars Agree: Luke and Acts are History

Among skeptics there's a rather vocal contingent that wishes to classify Jesus as mythical and the events of the Apostles as charades. However, those whose profession it is to understand the documents like the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts hold a much different view.

In his monumental commentary on the book of Acts, Dr. Craig Keener looked at proposals for the book of Acts to be considered within the genre of novel (as a fictional story), of epic (like Homer's Iliad), as a travel narrative, and as a pure biography. Keener then explains that the best understanding of Acts is as a book narrating history. He is not alone in this conclusion, as he writes:
The dominant view today, earlier argued by such Lukan scholars as Martin Dibelius and Henry Cadbury, is that Acts is a work of ancient historiography. As Johnson notes in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, "The reasons for regarding Luke-Acts as a History are obvious and, to most scholars, compelling: One sampling of recent proposals concerning Acts genre is instructive: two proponents for Acts as a novel, two for epic, four for biography, and ten for various kinds of history. More examples could be listed in each category, but the sampling is nevertheless helpful for getting a sense of proportion: even in a list emphasizing the diversity of proposals, history appears five times as often as the novel and, together with biography, seven times as often as the novel. A similar sampling finds history the most common proposal, with eight examples, and biography the second most common, with two examples, and lists five examples of all other genre proposals put together. Many scholars most conversant in ancient historiography would also concur with Hengel and Schwemer that those who deny Acts as acceptable first-century historiography need to read more ancient historiography "and less hypercritical and scholastic secondary literature."1
In the footnote to that last quote, he explains that Hengel and Schwemer complain "most NT scholars cannot handle the primary sources well enough to discern accurate from inaccurate scholarship and that 'it is easier to keep hawking around scholastic clichés and old prejudices pseudo-critically and without closer examination, than to occupy oneself with the varied ancient sources which are often difficult to interpret and remote.'"

The Jesus-myth crowd is actually in worse shape than those that Hengel and Schwemer complain against, since they are hawking around populist, not scholastic, clichés fueled only by their bias and not by the examination of the evidence.


Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.81-82, footnote 10.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How Can the New Testament Be Trusted If the Writers Are Biased?

There are many people who are skeptical of the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. Atheist Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity, asserts "many biblical scholars have argued that the Resurrection story was shaped by the theological aims of the evangelists."1 Basically, Martin holds that the gospel writers were led to construct the resurrection accounts "shaped by the purposes of the evangelists."2 The New Testament writers were obviously writing to sell Christianity to their audience, so why should we believe their accounts?

There's No Escaping Bias

The charge of bias is an easy one to make, but because an author is biased doesn't mean we can't have a certain level of assurance that the events he described did indeed happen. We are all biased in our views; there's no way to escape bias on one type or another.  Mike Licona notes that it is common practice for those who record history to "select data because of their relevance to the particular historian, and these become evidence for the building the historian's case for a particular hypothesis."3 Licona compares such actions with a detective as a crime scene who "survey all of the data and select specific data which become evidence as they are interpreted within the framework of a hypothesis. Data that are irrelevant to that hypothesis are archived or ignored. Historians work in the same manner."4 There's no escaping bias.

Bias Doesn't Mean Unreliable

Even though all ancient historians had a bias, it doesn't mean that their writings are unreliable or useless. Indeed, if we were to reject ancient historical sources because with writers were biased, we would have to reject pretty much all the accounts of history that have been left to us by folks like Josephus, Herodotus, Pliny, Lucian, and every other author from antiquity. The ancient historian Lucian himself complained about the lack of emphasis one person gave to a significant battle in his memoirs. In his The Way to Write History, he levels charges of bias when he complains, "There are some, then, who leave alone, or deal very cursorily with, all that is great and memorable…  and loiter over copious laboured descriptions of the veriest trifles… For instance, I have known a man get through the battle of Europus in less than seven whole lines, and then spend twenty mortal hours on a dull and perfectly irrelevant tale about a Moorish trooper." 5

Because the gospel accounts of Jesus are seen today by most scholars as a subset of the ancient biography genre (known as bioi)6, each Gospel writers would have selected certain accounts of Jesus's life and actions to pursue a particular point. Richard Burridge, whom Licona quotes, states the Gospels "have at least as much in common with Greco-Roman [bioi], as the [bioi] have with each other."7  Licona states that for biographies in antiquity:
Each biographer usually had an agenda in writing. Accordingly, they attempted to persuade readers to a certain way of political, philosophical, moral, or religious thinking about the subject. Just as with many contemporary historical Jesus scholars, persuasion and factual integrity were not viewed as being mutually exclusive. It was not an either/or but a both.8
The question of bias isn't then will any kind of bias will appear in historical narratives, but whether the writers were so biased that they unreasonably or intentionally distort the events they record. Licona sums up the Gospel writers' motives by quoting David Anne, who states: "While the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adopt the Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened."9

 It doesn't follow that just because the authors of the gospels were Christians that they were going to be liars any more than it follows that the man who spent some twenty hours describing a Moorish trooper was lying to Lucian. One who assumes so shows his or her own bias against the Gospel records.


1. Martin, Michael. The Case against Christianity. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1991. Print. 77.
2. Martin,1991. 78.
3. Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 34.
4. Licona, 34.
5. Fowler, H. W., and F. G. Fowler. "The Way to Write History." Works of Lucian, Vol. II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
6. Licona, 202.
7. Licona, 203.
8. Licona, 203.
9. Licona, 204.

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