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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.
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Monday, January 08, 2018
One of the first popular apologetics books released was Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict in 1972. But much has changed in the forty-five years since that initial publishing. Now, Sean McDowell has partnered with his father to release a completely updated and revised Evidence for the 21st century. In this interview, Lenny and Sean discuss how the new content and contributions from dozens of the latest scholars make this a new staple in apologetics reference books for years to come.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
As it is Easter season, skeptic Michael Shermer has an article in appearing in Scientific American entitled, "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Shermer writes that as a skeptic, there are propositions he can accept as true, such as the number of pages in a magazine, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the origin of the universe by a big bang. Unsurprisingly however, Shermer can think of nothing that would count as enough evidence for the resurrection for that particular proposition to be considered true. He claims this is due to the "principle of proportionality," something that "demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find." 1
So, Shermer has fallen back to the old canard that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But what does he mean "extraordinary evidence?" The phrase sounds good, but is truly fuzzy when one thinks about it. As I've stated before, evidence is either strong or weak; categories like extraordinary don't really fit here. But it isn't as though we have no evidence. Shermer himself brings up eyewitness testimony, quickly dismissing them as possibly being superstitious or seeing "what they wanted to see." But what evidence has Shermer offered for those motivations? He's offered nothing except the claims "The principle of proportionality also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over less probable ones, which these alternatives surely are."2
Extraordinary claims don't only deal with miraclesOne problem with Shermer's use of the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" trope is he is inconsistent in using it himself. Remember I said that Shermer holds to the universe as having a beginning. But ask him who was ultimately responsible for that beginning, and Shermer dismisses the idea of God out of hand. In a previous article, he wrote, "For millennia humans simply said, ‘God did it': a creator existed before the universe and brought it into existence out of nothing. But this just begs the question of what created God—and if God does not need a creator, logic dictates that neither does the universe."3
Here Shermer makes an obvious category error, one that has been brought to his attention several times in debates with Christians. Yet, he persists in believing the universe (or possibly some kind of universe-generating machine) has come into existence from nothing. But isn't this an equally extraordinary claim? If his statement "Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find" is the criteria for an extraordinary claim, then the universe beginning from nothing is surely even more extraordinary. In all of human history, there has never even once been anyone who has observed something coming into existence from nothing at all. Not once. Even quantum fluctuation/quantum foam is not nothing, for it has specific attributes and potentials. None of those 100 billion people Shermer points to will bolster his claim for an uncaused universe. Yet, he isn't skeptical about that proposition. In fact, he prefers it.
If the principle of proportionality were to be applied consistently, Shermer would have to admit that the evidence for a personal cause for the origin of the universe is much more probable than an uncaused universe popping into existence out of nothing. Is Shermer guilty of what he claims about the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Is he only seeing what he wants to see or perhaps superstitious or credulous? I don't think he would admit to any of these. But if Shermer's principle of proportionality fails here, then perhaps it isn't the last word on how to discern the truth for events like the resurrection, either.
2. Shermer, 2017.
3. Shermer, Michael. "Much Ado about Nothing." Michael Shermer. Michael Shermer, May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2017. http://www.michaelshermer.com/2012/05/much-ado-about-nothing/.
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
It has become more and more obvious that Christians need to be able to answer questions about their beliefs. Students face challenges to the faith everywhere. Apologetics ministries like Come Reason have been busy training students and congregations on just how to answer objections to Christianity in a smart yet understandable way, leading to an explosion of apologetics content for the believer. It's one reason why Lee Strobel characterized today as a "golden era of apologetics."
Not only are apologetics materials increasing, so is their level of sophistication. This means most are targeted for adult or young adult audiences. But it isn't only the adults that need to defend their faith! I've received many requests from parents looking to find quality apologetics materials for their younger children. That's why I'm excited at the release of J. Warner Wallace's new book Cold Case Christianity for Kids: Investigate Jesus with a Real Detective.
In Wallace's first book, Cold Case Christianity, he drew upon his many years as a detective to demonstrate why believing in the resurrection is the most reasonable position one can take when looking at the evidence. The combination of personal anecdotes on past crime scenes with a clear argument for the truth of the resurrection made that book a best seller. This version has the basics of that book rewritten in a form young people can better understand. This includes simplifying the arguments a bit and creating a "mystery" the main characters in the book work on solving. I would place the reading level at 7th or 8th grade level, though with a bit of help, younger audiences would enjoy it, too.
There are many things to like about the book. The writing is clear and simple. The addition of characters and the puzzle of the skateboard offer continuity from chapter to chapter. There are more illustrations, definitions, and assignments so the book can be used as a homeschool text or in a family study. Further, Wallace has additional materials, including worksheets and videos for each chapter at the book's accompanying web site.
As for criticisms, the first is the material moves fast—really fast. If one were to give this to a seventh grader and asked him or her to simply read it, the student would be faced with terms such as "naturalism", "inference," and "abductive reasoning." Each term is defined in a side bar, but the student must understand the concepts behind the terms well for the arguments to be effective. I'm sure some of this was to keep the book short for modern attention spans while still offering the same solid reasoning that gives the adult's version its power. I think it's laudable to not dumb down the arguments, but a few of them may be difficult for kids to grasp without some help. It may be a quibble since I don't believe talking down to kids is the right way to go. Just know up front that your child may have some questions for you as she reads it!
In all, we need more works like this. There are very few resources Christian parents can draw upon to help build their children's faith and show the reasons for why we believe what we believe. Cold Case Christianity for Kids is an important addition to the Christian parents' arsenal. Clear, well-written, and smart, with a detective story to boot, it does an excellent job presenting Christianity as an intelligent belief.
Monday, October 03, 2016
A lot of believers shy away from theology and worldview discussions. They all seem so heady and boring. A lot of people don't feel "smart enough" to engage in wrestling with issues of theology. Others feel the whole thing is too abstract. That's why it should come as no surprise how researchers from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research found evangelical Christians hold to some heretical beliefs. In a recent study, 70% of those who would be defined as evangelical agreed with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God.1 That's a heresy that separates Christians from non-Christian sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.
So, yes, theology is a big deal. But sometimes it isn't the concept that's difficult or boring; I find a lot of people are interested once we're in a conversation about theological issues. It may be the presentation that's problematic. If we added a bit of fun into our question, it may become more engaging.
Would Nightcrawler be blue in Heaven?As a recent example, I offer a question a friend asked me the other day on Twitter: "in his glorified body, would Marvel's Nightcrawler still be fuzzy & blue?" For those unfamiliar, Nightcrawler is a character from the Marvel X-Men franchise, all of which are defined as genetic mutants that give them super abilities. One byproduct of Nightcrawler's (his given name is Kurt Wagner) mutation is his decidedly unhuman-like appearance: blue fur, three digits on each hand, and a tail among other things.
Here's the thing, though. When we start thinking through the question, we begin to learn something about what it means to be made in the image of God. For example, if Kurt's mutation is a genetic defect, either natural like the skeletal dysplasia that causes dwarfism or environmental, like the damage thalidomide inflicted on developing babies, then one may assume it is a consequence of sin. When the heavens and earth are renewed (2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1), those consequences will be removed (Rom. 8:21). I believe one can infer from these passages that thalidomide babies or those suffering from dwarfism will have perfectly healthy bodies as they would have been without their afflictions.
Of course, one of the benefits of the new creation is that people won't be so shallow as to judge others by their physical appearance first. We will relate to one another in perfect relational love (John 17:20-21) and we will be "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We will see one another much more like the way God sees us.
The question isn't as strange as it first appears. In the comics, Wagner is actually a Roman Catholic priest and holds to orthodox positions on salvation and redemption. Making the connection from Wagner reading "I am the Resurrection and the Life" to "what kind of resurrection body would this individual have if he really existed" is a small step.
What Does This Mean for Me?These are the kinds of thoughtful discussions one can engage in even starting with a "silly" question. But we don't have to stop even there. Here are few more thoughts given the framework I've laid out above: how does something like plastic surgery fit into one's resurrected body? If surgeries are corrective, then they fall into the former category. That may not be the case if they're simply trying to fit some current standard of beauty, though. Just as I don't believe I'll be six foot tall in heaven, I find it hard to hold that someone's breast augmentation would become a permanent part of their anatomy. As I said, I don't think the physical will be the primary way we judge one another. But then, what does that say for tattoos?
I'll let the reader wrestle with those issues. I do want to encourage you to think about ways you might be able to make theology a bit more fun by asking "silly" questions. You might get a surprisingly good conversation out of it!
Wednesday, July 06, 2016
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.1Crossan 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 historiansFor 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.3Given 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 tombAnother 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 explanationThe 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.
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
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
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.
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.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.
Problems with Charging the Resurrection as FraudSome charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).
First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1
Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).
What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?
Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).
If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?
Where's the Alternative?To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.
How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
This week is Holy Week, where Christians mark the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No matter if you're a believer or not, it is clear that Easter changed history. Christianity was the most radically transforming movement in human history; and something started that cascade of transformation.
If we are to understand the transforming nature of Easter, we need to look no further than the very beginnings of the faith. Jesus's followers were Jewish and they held to standard Jewish beliefs. They expected a Messiah, a savior, to be a political or military leader who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and restore the glory of David's throne. They expected to observe the Jewish Levitical laws unto death and that resurrection was an event reserved for the end of time.
All those beliefs changed the day Jesus rose from the dead. As N.T. Wright explains, his resurrection was a paradigm shift for both Jesus's followers and even Paul, who would consider himself an adversary:
The first and most obvious conclusion which the disciples would have drawn, as soon as they came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead, was that he was indeed the prophet mighty in word and deed, and that he was, more particularly, Israel's Messiah. This would not be because they had already believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be raised from the dead, but because the Jesus they knew had been tried and executed as Messiah, and this extraordinary and unexpected event (as it seemed to them) had apparently reversed the verdicts of both the Jewish and the Roman courts. We can see at several points in the New Testament, not least in Paul and Acts, the way in which the church scrambled to pull together biblical texts to make the connection between Messiah and resurrection, a connection which nobody had thought necessary before but which suddenly became the key move in early Christology. The texts strongly suggest both that this was a new connection and that it was the first vital link in the chain.The paradigm shifting nature of the Resurrection coupled with its quick adoption by thousands of Jewish converts argues against its story being fabricated. It is simply much harder to believe that a Jewish culture so steeped in monotheism and Jewish tradition would give up their beliefs so easily had there not been more than the tales of a few rural fishermen. Paul's conversion screams the loudest against fabrication.
From that point on, our best early evidence is Paul. He had, in the senses we have explored, a different kind of meeting with Jesus, but he quickly came to the conclusion which the others, too, had arrived at: that in this Jesus, now demonstrated to have been Israel's Messiah all along, Israel's one true god had been not merely speaking, as though through an intermediary, but personally present. 
The Resurrection has been changing minds and hearts ever since that first Easter morning. Its power rests in its truth.
Monday, February 01, 2016
Since Christianity's inception, it has been common for Christian faith-defenders to offer evidence supporting their belief in the risen Jesus. From Paul's testimony in 1 Corinthians 15, the claim of eyewitnesses to support the resurrection of Christ has been integral to Christianity. Many people point to the fact that Jesus's apostles died without ever recanting their belief in him as evidence of the truthfulness of their testimony.
But is this as strong a piece of evidence as we've been led to believe? How do we know the apostles were actually martyred, and does dying for one's faith prove anything other than loyalty to a belief system? These are the questions Dr. Sean McDowell takes up in his new book The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (Ashgate, 2015). In The Fate of the Apostles, McDowell traces the historical evidence for the deaths of each of the Twelve and offers an objective rubric for weighing the probability of their martyrdoms.
Clarifying What They Died ForMartyrdom is a heady concept. Across the theological spectrum, there are many people who give up their comfort for their beliefs. There are fewer who may subject themselves to pain or abuse because of their faith, and fewer still who die for a religious belief. But all religious traditions can probably point to someone who qualifies as a martyr for their particular faith. So, how to approach the apostles' martyrdom, if they truly were martyred, encompasses the first four chapters of the book. McDowell keenly clarifies his goal is not to show the apostles were steadfast unto death not simply in their refusal to give up Christianity, but they very specifically refused to deny seeing the risen Christ.
This is a key point and one that must be emphasized again and again to detractors who would liken the apostles' fate to suicide bombers or some other modern contrivance. There would be a difference between sincerely holding to the faith in which one was raised and groomed versus the threat of death for testifying you've seen an executed enemy of your childhood faith (and Rome) walking around. McDowell makes the point right off in his book by underscoring the distinction:
The deaths of others for their religious causes in no way undermines the evidential significance of the fate of the apostles. Second, the apostles' willingness to die for their beliefs does not demonstrate the inherent truth of the Christian message, but that the apostles really believed that Jesus had risen from the grave. The apostles could have been mistaken, but their willingness to die as martyrs establishes their unmistakable sincerity.1
Outlining the Fate of Each ApostleIn the book, McDowell spends the first four chapters outlining the nature and understanding of what martyrdom is, how it would have been understood to the first generation of Christians, and how it would fit within their newly forming belief system. He then devotes a chapter to each of the apostles, including Paul and Jesus's brother James. As would be expected, the historical evidence shrinks when lesser-known apostles such as Simon the Zealot or Matthias are considered. Still, McDowell does a great job showing that even with some apostles' fate in question, there is ample evidence of apostles who did in fact die for their testimony of the risen Jesus and there exists not a shred of evidence that any apostle recanted their belief. Given each would have been considered an eyewitness testifying on first-hand knowledge, this is impressive and does the heavy lifting in setting up the historical bedrock that the disciples did have some kind of experience that needs explaining.
ReadabilityWhile the book is written and priced for an academic audience (Amazon is offering the hardback at a pricey $118), McDowell's style is open and easily enough read to be handled by a sophisticated high school student. The footnotes throughout offer good support for his claims within the text and his openings and conclusions of each chapter gives the reader a nice, concise guide to the evidence more fully developed between them.
The Fate of the Apostles takes on a historical question that no one else to my knowledge has done in such a complete manner. McDowell has truly done us a favor in his research and publishing, investigating claims that were assumed but not demonstrated in a systematic way. We now have a go-to source that should advance the discussion for the evidence of the resurrection. For anyone interested in church history, apologetics, or the origin of Christianity, I highly recommend this book.
Friday, January 15, 2016
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 GroupthinkBecause 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.3Grant 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.
2. Licona, 2010.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Scribner, 1977. 176. Print.
Friday, October 30, 2015
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 BurialI 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 TombOf 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.
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. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods/.
7. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print. 326.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Yesterday, I was part of a panel answering questions at the local college. A member of the Secular Students Alliance approached us and asked about the historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus. As I explained to him, the vast majority of New Testament scholars from the most conservative to the most skeptical (think Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and other Jesus Seminar scholars) hold to certain central facts about Jesus, namely his death by Roman crucifixion, his followers truly believed he rose from the dead, the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul from church persecutor to Christian evangelist, and even how most hold to Jesus's tomb being empty. 1 These count as evidence towards his resurrection.
However, the student kept rejecting the Biblical accounts as legitimate sources of knowledge. He waved off the accounts as "a single source" from "a religious book." But his dismissal is simply wrong for a couple of reasons, both of which should be clear to anyone who wishes to approach the evidence thoughtfully.
The Bible Isn't a Single SourceThe first and most flagrant error the student made is to assume the Bible is a single source documenting Jesus's life on earth. This is simply an error of his modern mindset. As I've said, the Bible isn't a single work; it's a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors over a 1500 year span. When counting independent sources that discuss the resurrection, one would count at minimum Mark, John, and Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew and Luke draw from Mark's Gospel so scholars may not count them as independent, but dependent on Mark. However, as Michael Licona in summarizing N.T. Wright notes, "dependence may be also be an illusion resulting from a 'natural overlap' in oral tradition or the presence of terms that would be common even if all four Gospels were completely independent when they included reports of women going to the tomb, discovering it empty and being told by an angel that Jesus has risen from the dead."2
Regardless of whether Matthew and Luke (and even the theoretical "Q") count as independent sources, historians would still agree that we have at least three independent sources that describe the resurrection. Multiple attestation is a huge deal when trying to uncover ancient historical events; it's the best data we have and shouldn't be dismissed so easily. The Biblical accounts of Jesus's resurrection by any measure cannot me seen as a single source.
Bias against Religious TextsThe other reason the secularist dismissed the biblical accounts is because they were what he deemed "a religious work." On this point I tried very hard to make him understand that such a classification is misplaced. As Licona explains, prior to 1990 there were a large segment of New Testament scholars who believed the canonical Gospels fell into a literary genre of their own, a kind of mythical approach to the life of a real person written in order to advance a belief system.3 However, since that time, scholarship has changed dramatically.
In his book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Craig Keener reviews the different literary genres used at the time the Gospels were written and demonstrates that they fit the category of ancient biography especially well. Keener also notes that skeptical scholar Richard Burridge (who sought to disprove the notion that the Gospel accounts are biography) fits the genre better than any other. Keener comments "So forceful is Burridge's work on the gospel genre as biography that one reviewer concludes, 'This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels' biographical character.'"4
It is only because the Gospels are understood as religious texts today that the student's bias has any weight in the mind of others. But using modern glasses to view ancient texts is a poor way to do history. The fact that my interlocutor would not accept my explanations to him concerning the classification of the accounts of Jesus's life says a bit more about his biases than it does the reliability of the Gospels themselves.
2. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. Print. 207.
3. Licona, 2010. 201.
4. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. Print.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
The linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Simply put, the entire belief system hangs on this fact of history; destroy the resurrection and you've destroyed Christianity as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17.
However, there is really good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As William Lane Craig has noted for years, New Testament scholars across the spectrum agree that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, was buried in a tomb and that tomb was later found empty. That means New Testament scholars who are liberal and even those do not themselves identify as Christian themselves will agree that these points are valid history.
Of course the percentage of scholars accepting of each of these points differs a bit. While Jesus's death by crucifixion is nearly unanimous, the number holding to the empty tomb are about 75%.1 This is partially because a reference to the empty tomb doesn't appear in the creedal tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. 1 Corinthians is the earliest of the New Testament books, being written sometime around spring of AD 54.2 But in the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul uses language that denotes it is a creed, saying "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received..." As Paul was converted sometime between 1-5 years after Jesus's crucifixion, and he received this creed early in his instruction, we can know the creed had been in use within a few years after Jesus's death.3
Given all this, scholars place great weight on the creedal passage as being very early and yet the creedal passage doesn't talk about the empty tomb. It mentions the burial of Jesus but not the women finding the tomb empty on Sunday morning. That has led to some skeptics to doubt the empty tomb story entirely. Here's the thing, though. The story of Jesus's death, burial in a tomb and the later discovery of that tomb being empty is a single narrative. It is one story where the goal of telling about Jesus's death is to establish his resurrection.
Rewriting Old YellerStories are a continuum; if the empty tomb isn't part of the story, the whole meaning of the story changes. It reminds me of a popular episode of Friends, entitled "The One Where Old Yeller Died." You can watch a YouTube clip here, but basically in the episode Phoebe comes upon her friends watching the Disney movie Old Yeller and she can't understand why they're crying. She believes it's a happy movie, where Old Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf and all live safely forever. She believes this because her mother would shut off the television before the film's end, where it's revealed that in the act of saving the family, Old Yeller sacrificed himself and contracted rabies. Yeller's owner Travis is forced to shoot the now mad dog.
The point of Old Yeller turns on its sad ending. As film critic Scott Wienberg notes, "by upping the ante and allowing this beloved beast to meet an unpleasant demise, the message is softly-delivered but crystal clear. Death, like love, is an integral and inescapable part of life, so the earlier you learn to accept and embrace both, the quicker you'll be able to appreciate one and deal with the other."4 That message is never communicated to Phoebe who believes its only about "family fun!" The story relies on the ending to make its point. Without the ending, it simply isn't the classic film it has come to be.
Similarly, the empty tomb of Jesus is just as critical to the point the early church was trying to tell. While the creedal passage of 1 Corinthians doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb, it is certainly inferred as the passage contains both Jesus being buried and the resurrection account along with the testimony of Jesus being seen alive by many witnesses. Add to this that all four gospels, including the early Gospel of Mark leverage the empty tomb as part of their narrative and its validity as part of history is not a stretch, especially when the tomb is first discovered empty by women, whose testimony was discounted in that culture.
The empty tomb is part of a larger narrative of Jesus dying, being buried, and being seen alive after his resurrection. To eliminate the empty tomb from the story is akin to jumping up and stopping a movie because you are uncomfortable with the next scene. But that doesn't mean the story isn't reliable. It means that you want to close your eyes to the implications.
2. Wallace, Daniel B. "7. 1 Corinthians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline." Bible.org. Bible.org, 26 June 2004. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. https://bible.org/seriespage/7-1-corinthians-introduction-argument-and-outline#P95_28390.
3. See Gary R. Habermas, "Evidence for the Historical Jesus: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith?" - available free of charge from www.garyhabermas.com/evidence
4. Weinberg, Scott. "Old Yeller 2-Movie Collection." DVD Talk. DVDTalk.com, 13 Nov. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/18680/old-yeller-2-movie-collection.
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
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!The empty tomb "evidence" for the supernatural reanimation/resurrection of Jesus by Yahweh has a HUGE hole in it!
Anyone could have stolen the body during those 12 hours!
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 CarefullyObjections 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.
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.
Sunday, April 05, 2015
Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is unique. It bases its entire existence on a historical event that we can check out for ourselves. In this short introduction, Lenny talks of how the Apostle Paul hangs the entire Christian faith on the single thread of Jesus's resurrection from the dead, and how others have tried to topple the faith, but wound up being converted themselves when they investigated the evidence.
Monday, March 30, 2015
There's No Escaping BiasThe 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 UnreliableEven 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.8The 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.
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. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl2/wl210.htm.
6. Licona, 202.
7. Licona, 203.
8. Licona, 203.
9. Licona, 204.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. If the resurrection isn't true, Paul says "we are of all people to be most pitied." How do the facts of the resurrection stack up against the charges of its critics? Listen in and see why we can be confident that the resurrection is a true historical event.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
The history of the resurrection of Christ is a part of the evidence of Christianity: but I do not know whether the proper strength of this passage of the Christian history, or wherein its peculiar value, as a head of evidence, consists, be generally understood. It is not that, as a miracle, the resurrection ought to be accounted a more decisive proof of supernatural agency than other miracles are; it is not that as it stands in the Gospels, it is better attested than some others; it is not, for either of these reasons, that more weight belongs to it than to other miracles, but for the following, viz. That it is completely certain that the apostles of Christ, and the first teachers of Christianity, asserted the fact. And this would have been certain, if the four Gospels had been lost, or never written. Every piece of Scripture recognizes the resurrection. Every epistle of every apostle, every author contemporary with the apostles, of the age immediately succeeding the apostles, every writing from that age to the present, genuine or spurious, on the side of Christianity or against it, concur in representing the resurrection of Christ as an article of his history, received without doubt or disagreement by all who called themselves Christians, as alleged from the beginning by the propagators of the institution, and alleged as the center of their testimony. Nothing I apprehend which a man does not himself see or hear can be more certain to him than this point. (Emphasis added.)
William Paley, quoted in A New Edition of Archdeacon Paley's View Of The Evidences Of Christianity Comprising The Text Of Paley, Verbatim. Cambridge: W. Metcalfe, 1831. 339-340.e-book available at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdid=book-Dx1eAAAAcAAJ&rdot=1
Thursday, August 21, 2014
The Jesus-Mythers are growing. For the uninitiated, the Jesus-Mythers are a small but growing group of atheists who don't merely doubt the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but hold that he never really existed at all. They believe he was a complete fabrication by the various Gospel writers, who used a standard formula of a dying and rising messiah to attract others to their newly-forged faith. In his book Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus, Earl Doherty opens with this claim:
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.Here, Doherty makes clear the basic outline of how he believes the Jesus story began. But there are problems with this view, not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us he was a Pharisee and full of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:5-6), so much so he actively persecuted Christians (Phil 3:6,1 Corinthians 15:9). But Paul writes that he was changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells the story of Jesus dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. Paul writes that Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles such as Peter and the church leader James, but Jesus also appeared directly to him.
We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence.
Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed, almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years.1
Here's the problem for Doherty: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before the Gospel of Mark was written. 1 Corinthians is recognized to have been written between AD 53 and AD 55—only twenty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross—while Mark may be dated anywhere from the late 50s to the early 60s. Also, Paul says the story preceded him ("I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" v. 3), so the account of Jesus as a resurrected Messiah must be much older than Mark.
The Forrest Gump ConnectionI've written before about how the time element makes it unlikely that the resurrection story could have grown as myth. But let's say the Mythers just got their timetable wrong and someone intentionally created the Jesus myth just around 30 AD, the time He was supposed to be crucified. Then let's say that they added historical details, such as Pilate's prefectorate or Caiaphas's priesthood to add legitimacy to the story. Couldn't that have happened?
Well, no. For a modern day equivalent, we can look at the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was made in 1994, some twenty years ago and the same time span that exists between the resurrection and 1 Corinthians. In Forrest Gump, the filmmaker tells the story of modern American culture by placing the fictitious character played by Tom Hanks in real world scenarios and events. He gets details right, like the jogging trend, the way the president would greet college champions, and so forth.
Now, imagine a high-ranking militant who fought to establish the Taliban's rule and is passionate about establishing Islamic Sharia law the world over. He sacrificed himself for the mujahedeen, and is convinced that every belief other than Islam is blasphemy. The Taliban member sees the movie Forrest Gump, sees that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants exist and knows enough of the history of the US to know that the film reflects history in some way. Maybe he even believes that Forrest Gump did exist somewhere. Would any of that make him renounce his affinity to Islam and the Taliban and become an active crusader for Forrest Gump and the American way? Does anyone think such a carefully crafted tale would reverse everything the Taliban official holds to be true?
Such a conclusion lacks credibility. Why would Paul convert unless he had a deep, life-changing experience that shook him to his core? That's what he claimed happened; Paul tells us that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him directly. The book of Acts fills in some details, but Paul was compelled to change his beliefs not because of a tale told to him, but because he had a real experience with the risen Jesus.
In order to believe that Jesus is a myth, one must indulge in a tale more fantastic than Hollywood. Because of Paul's conversion and his early recording of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jesus-Mythers are on extremely flimsy ground. Paul and his authorship of 1 Corinthians are undisputed by scholars. Even skeptic John Dominic Crossan says that "we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul" and lists 1 Corinthians and Philippians among them.2 This is why New Testament scholar and critic of Christianity Bart Ehrman said "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology."3For a skeptic of Christianity, that's pretty conclusive.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. "The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?" The Huffington Post. 5 July 2011. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/apostle-paul-letters_b_890387.html
3. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. 20 March 2012. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html
Photo Credit: Ricknightcrawler via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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