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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Christian Response #A-1: Jesus' Resurrection

As mentioned, MrFreeThinker has accepted my challenge to Christians to convince me of Christianity. I am posting below his original submission for preservation. The original can be found here.

I will evaluate the submission in posts to come and what I think about it. I invite everyone else to post or comment on it as they please.


I have recently taken it upon myself to respond to a challenge here for Christians.

“What reason is there to believe in the authenticity of the Bible, its message, and/or Christianity?”

My post will be focusing on the Resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.

Before I actually address this issue I will explain what I will not be doing and what I will attempt to do and what responses I will not accept lest I be misunderstood.

What I will be doing

  1. I will be using facts accepted by the majority of historians (at least 75%) and that are multiply attested.
  2. I will be using historical criteria like the criterion of embarrassment , earlyness and multiple attestation to lend credence to these facts

What I will not be doing

  1. I am not “using the bible to prove the bible” or appealing to the inerrancy of scripture. I do not argue,” the bible says so -so it was true.”I just appeal to the gospels and epistles of Paul as normal ancient documents and biographies.
  2. I am not using just “the bible as a source”. The New testament documents were a group of ancient documents by different writers.They can be used as multiple attestation.The epistles of Paul and Gospels are different sources

Responses I will not accept

  1. “The resurrection is false and can never happen because resurrections don’t happen”- Don’t question-beg naturalism in your answers.
  2. “Jesus never existed”-This is a fringe and outdated position held by a group of German philosophers in the 18th century and popularised by uncredentialed popular writers like Earl Doherty and Acharya S. No serious historian takes these writers and their Jesus myth thesis seriously.
  3. “The accounts are contradictory so they cannot be used”-Wrong. Even if the accounts of the resurrection were contradictory- historians use cntradictory sources all the time. A good example would be the usage of Polybius and Livy’s accounts of Hannibal’s crossing .


I am sure many readers are familiar with the minimal facts approach used by a certain historian called Gary Habermas (to which I am indebted to for this post). I will be using his material .

The minimal facts approach takes facts accepted by the majority of scholars[1] and multiply attested.

The Facts are:-

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. The tomb was empty
3. Jesus’ disciples were disheartened after he was dead.However they had experiences that led them to believe that Jesus had physically risen from the dead and appeared to them.Thwy were so convinced they suffered and some were martyred for their belief.
4. Paul ,who was a persecutor of Jesus had an experience that led him to convert and believe in the risen Jesus
5. James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, suddenly converted to Christianity.

Fact 1-The crucifixion

We begin with the crucifixion. The crucifixion is multiply attested in and outside the Bible. It is attested by Paul:

(1 Corinthians 1:23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

Mark’s Passion Source (I will provide evidence for the existence of a pre Markan passion source if it is challenged by the negative)

(Mark 15:23-24)

and the other 3 gospels

And for extrabiblical attestation we have:

Flavius Josephus[2]

(Antiquities 18.3.3) And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross

Cornelius Tacitus

(Annals 15.44) Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus

Lucian of Samosata

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine 11-13 (, 49)

The evidence is so strong that even John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar( the most liberal group in historical Jesus studies today) concedes that the crucifixion is an undisputed fact of history .

Fact 2-The empty tomb

This facts is agreed on by 75% of historians. There are many lines of the evidence for the empty tomb.The first is that it is attested to in all 4 gospels. Before I present the other evidence let me discuss the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. There is a gap between the start of Christianity and the first written documents of the New testament. The way historians bridge this gap period is examining the oral creeds that are found in the New testament. Creeds were meant to pass along important information in a manner that would make the information easy to memorize. These creeds would have been recited by Christian communities prior to them being put in written from in the New testament. In the places in the New testament where creed are cited- we can see the syntax and flow of the sentence in Greek written and changes in language. One of the creeds cited in the New testament is the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.

3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received - that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

The phrases Paul uses “I passed on to you…what I also received” were used a way of passing oral tradition is rabbinical literature.Linguistic factors also indicate the creed was probaly translated from Aramaic.The use of non-Pauline words coupled with the Aramaic leads most scholars to believe Paul received the creed from Peter and James in the Jerusalem church during his visit (in Galatians1- 2). If ths is the case- Paul most likely received the creed around 33-35CE( within 5 years of the crucifixion) from 2 eyewitnesses. Even the liberal Jesus seminar concedes that the creed was probaly formulated n the early 30’sCE.

The Early evidence

The creed clearly says Jesus was buried, and rose. (The word used here in Greek anastasis strongly indicates a physical rising from the dead as seen in its usage in the Septuagaint ,Greek literature and the New testament itself).If Paul says Jesus had physically risen after he was buried-the logical implication would be that his body was no longer in the tomb. The 1 Corinthians 15 creed provides early attestation (within 5 years) of the empty tomb

Enemy Attestation

This is common sense- but it is used in historical methodology too. If your enemy admits something- it is more likely to be true.The fact that the tomb was empty is admitted even by enemies of Christianity. Matthew records that the Jews paid some to say that the disciples had stolen the body (28:12-13). Justin Martyr and Tertullian record the same

So the polemic goes like this:
Jews: The disciples stole the body!
Christians: No, the guards would have prevented that!
Jews: The guards fell asleep!
Christians: You bribed them to say that!

The Jewish polemic presupposes the fact that the tomb was empty. This would not be the case if the tomb was still occupied.

Testimony of women and the criterion of embarassment

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were women, as recorded in all four Gospels . Were the narratives madeup, it is unlikely the made-up testimony would have included women, and certainly not as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb, since women were looked down upon in the cultures of that time.Even Luke 24:11 admits the disciples had a hard time believing the women.The best explaination is that the gospels were just faithfully recording what happened.

The Jerusalem Factor

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was publicly executed on the Roman cross. It is there that He was buried, and there that His resurrection was first proclaimed.Imagine the early disciples telling the Jews that their master who had been shamefully executed had been risen and his tomb was empty.A group of Jews go check it out and find the tomb to be occupied. Christianity would be crushed. Christainity could not have spread in Jerusalem if the tomb was still occupied.

Fact 3:The appearances

The appearances are attested in the early 1 Corinthians 15 creed. They are also recorded in the gospels of Matthew , Luke and John. Testimony is also found in the speeches of the aposles in the book of Acts.

The testimony of the early church fathers( Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatious of Antioch) agrees that the apostles claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ. In many cases, these early church fathers knew the apostles themselves, or knew someone close to the apostles.This can be taken as historically certain.

Some skeptic might conjecture that the apostles were lying. However this is unlikely as the disciples were wiling to be martyred[ 3] for their beliefs. No-one knowingly and willingly dies for a lie.(Note that a comparison with Muslims matyrs would be unwarranted as I never claimed their beliefs were true because of their persecution.I claimed that they were sincere in there beliefs because of their persecution.)

Another theory skeptics will propound is that the appearances were hallucinations.I will address this theory more fully in another post- but I will point out that had the disciples hallucinated -they would not interpret it to be physical experiences of the kind the New testament claims but visions. The hallucination theory also does not account for the fact that Paul and James , who were skeptics and did not want ot see Jesus- did see him.

Fact 4:-Conversion of Paul

22 But I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They were only hearing, “The one who once persecuted us is now proclaiming the good news of the faith he once tried to destroy.”Galatians 1:22-23

Paul’s conversion is attested in his own letters and in Acts.Paul was converted not as a neutral observer, but as an enemy of Christ. What’s more, his conversion was not the result of his friends trying their best to convince him of Christianity, but of what he believed to be a personal encounter with the risen Christ.

Fact 5-the conversion of James

The gospels record that James was skeptical of Jesus during his ministry( this fits under the criterion of embarrassment as it was embarrassing in 1st century Jerusalem for a rabbi’s family to reject his teaching) . However later became Christian after the appearance of thew risen Christ. He was a skeptic.But he eventually was martyred for his strong faith (Josephus(Antiquities 20:200),Hegesippus).

So in summary there are 5 facts. As with all good historical situations we look at theories and see which has the greatest explanatory power. I contend that the resurrection is the best explanation for these 5 facts. The tomb was empty because Jesus was risen and James, Paul and the disciples saw Jesus because he was really there. The documentation for this is in the New testament. Other naturalistic theories fail to account for all of the facts. Once we conclude that Jesus rose from the dead- the most parsimonious explanation is his own deity.

The counter-challenge- Provide a different theory that provides a superior explaination for all the facts and provide documentation for this theory.

For further reading check out “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Mike Lincona.

A video series by Veritas48 and KabaneTheChristian is availible here

[1]Facts 1 and 3-5 are accepted almost unanimously(over 98%) by historians. Facts 2 is accepted by 75% of historians.The figures come from gary Habermas’ survey of more than 1400 scholarly articles on the historical Jesus that were written in English, German and French.

[2]Some scholars question the authenticity of parts of the Testimonium Flavianum.However according to a study done by Louis Feldman- most Josephan scholars will accept the passge as authentic with some minor embellishments.The Tacitus passage is undisputedly authentic.

[3]Clement of Rome indicates that Peter and Paul suffered and died for their beliefs. Ignatius of Antioch, who was also most likely personally acquainted with the apostles reports that the apostles were unafraid of martyrdom in his letter to Smyra, and Polycarp reports in his letter to the Philippians that Paul and all of the apostles suffered. Dionysis of Corinth also reports, (as cited by Eusebius in book 2, chapter 25, verse 8 of Ecclesiastical history) Tertullain reports in Scorpiace chapter 15, and Origen in Contra Celsum .

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