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Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Jesus

Last week I wrote a post here on David Hume, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. Some of the commenters took issue with my claim that "all the alternatives to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than the miracle." I'd like to elaborate on that here.

Christians claim that the historical human being Jesus of Nazareth was executed then physically rose from the dead and stayed alive. He was seen by many people and then was seen to vanish into the invisible realm. Here we have the most revolutionary and radical question of human history. Did it really happen?

There are only three plausible options: that Jesus rose from the dead as Christians contend; that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t really die; or that he died, but that somehow his body disappeared and his disciples came to believe that he rose from the dead. The first question therefore is, did Jesus really die?

Alternative #1: Jesus Didn't Die

 
After his trial, Jesus of Nazareth was tortured by flogging. The punishment was not only severe, it was public. The Romans flogged a criminal with whips that had pieces of glass, pottery, and metal tied into the cords. Not only was Jesus flogged to within an inch of his life, but his executioners were professionals whose jobs depended on them doing a thorough job. His flogging was public and so was his execution. He was taken through the city streets and crucified in a public place.

Furthermore, his enemies themselves were present to make sure the job was done. This is recorded in the gospels, but the basic facts match what we know of Roman customs of the time and there is no reason why they should be doubted.

Using David Hume’s idea that we must believe that option which is easiest to believe, saying that Jesus was killed is certainly easier to believe than saying he was not killed on that dark afternoon. If he was not killed, then the disciples made up the story of his execution, but why would devotees of a religious preacher make up the story that he was executed as a criminal, especially since it was a public event? Many people saw it take place. We must conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died.

Nevertheless, some people, including many Muslims, theorize that it wasn’t really Jesus who died. It was perhaps his brother James who resembled him, or it was Judas, or a celebrity lookalike who stood in for Jesus. Again, it takes more faith to believe in these theories than the simple truth. The reason Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was to confirm his identity. Also, Peter was certain who he was denying and the crowd before Pilate knew who they were accusing. The scribes and Pharisees were intent on Jesus' death and interrogated him personally. Are we to believe that an impostor fooled them all? Was the man killed a stand in? Surely when things became deadly the patsy would have denied that he was Jesus of Nazareth.

Other non-Christians theorize that it was Jesus on the cross, but he didn’t really die. Perhaps he was drugged with painkillers and simply passed out. The gospel says a soldier offered him a painkiller, but he refused it. If Jesus only passed out we must believe that the man was flogged so that the torture ripped great chunks of flesh from his body. After dragging the heavy cross through the city streets, he was nailed to it by professional executioners who, instead of breaking his legs to hasten his death, stabbed him with a spear through the heart. Water and blood came from the wound and modern medical experts testify that this only happens after death.

But we’re to believe that he only passed out or went into a coma? Again, this is more difficult to believe than the reported story. But if we go with this theory, as the story progresses it gets even more difficult to believe.

Let us just suppose that Jesus did somehow survive the flogging, the crucifixion, and the thrust of the spear. After he was taken down he was buried. Now we have to believe that he woke up in a freezing tomb on a chilly Spring morning. Having suffered a huge blood loss, horrific wounds, a spear in the side and terrible shock and trauma. Despite all this he stops to unwrap his own tightly wound shroud and head cloth and he takes care to fold them neatly at the foot of his bed. Then (from the inside) he rolls back a stone on the outside of the tomb that weighs a couple of tons.

He then stumbles out, totally naked, and limps up to the disciples on his bloody feet, with his back looking like a butcher shop. His head is covered with puncture wounds and contusions. His side has a gaping wound. He shows the disciples his hands, and gasps out a greeting. What would you have done? You would have shrieked in horror and realized that your friend had somehow survived a most terrible ordeal, then you would take him home, call the doctor and put him to bed.

Instead we are supposed to believe that the disciples said, “He is risen! Alleluia! Let’s start a new religion!”

Again, it takes more faith to believe such an outrageous theory than to accept the simple events as they were related. Hume was right. We must believe the option which is most probable.

Alternative #2: Jesus Died, But Didn't Rise Again

 
That brings us to the next category of resurrection deniers who say Jesus really did die, but something else happened to his body. Consequently his disciples came to believe that he had risen from the dead.

Was his body hurriedly abandoned and thrown on the dump to be devoured by dogs? We know from other evidence that the Jews were very careful about burying the bodies of their loved ones, and the details of the story are there in the gospels. His friends took the body to bury it. If the body had not been buried why did Jesus’ enemies ask Pilate for guards for the tomb?

Maybe the disciples stole the body. Shall we believe that the eleven men who fled in terror when their friend was arrested suddenly got back together and planned a heist worthy of a "Mission Impossible" film? Why would they do that? They were as surprised as everyone else by the resurrection. Would they really plan such a heist to perpetrate a hoax? Is this the sort of hoax anyone would believe? No. You only plan a hoax if the hoax is something people might just fall for. A hoax to make people believe someone had risen from the dead?

Did they perpetrate the hoax to start a new religion? Why would they do that? What was in it for them? There was no such thing as starting a religion to be a prosperity preacher back then. As history proved, the only thing they got out of it was the loss of all their worldly goods, persecution, imprisonment, torture, homelessness, and eventually slow torture and martyrdom. They welcomed all that for a hoax?

Perhaps, some propose, the disciples went to the wrong tomb. But if they had, would they have drawn the conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead? No. They would have said, “Whoops, wrong tomb. Hey, we messed up again!” Had Jesus been in another tomb all his enemies would have produced the body and pointed out the disciples’ foolish mistake. Once again, to believe the alternative theory is more difficult than to believe the traditional account.

Then we have the modernist theologian’s answer. For the modernist Christian, the resurrection was not a “crudely physical” event, but a “spiritual reality”. In other words, in some sort of wonderful way the teachings and example of Jesus continued to live in the hearts and minds of his followers and this, if you like, is what resurrection is really all about.

The problem here is that the simple meaning of the word “resurrection” is that a body that was dead came back to life again. There are spiritual meanings to be derived from this fact to be sure, but if there were no physical fact, then the spiritual meanings would be meaningless. Saying that the resurrection was not physical but a “spiritual event” is like a woman on her wedding night denying her husband the consummation of their marriage by saying, “We needn’t be quite so crudely physical as to have sexual intercourse. Marriage is, after all, simply a beautiful spiritual idea!”

The modernist theologian’s reductionist explanation doesn’t account for the simple facts of the whole story. Shall we believe that the apostles went on to follow lives of hardship, suffering, and deprivation, finally being tortured and killed for what was merely a “spiritual meaning” or a “beautiful theological idea”? I don’t think so.

When faced with the slow torture of crucifixion or being flayed or boiled alive don’t you think they would have said, “Hold on! All that resurrection Son of God stuff? You misunderstood! It didn’t really happen! It was only a spiritual meaning! It was a metaphor! It was a theological construct!”

Finally, we have the Biblical scholars’ theory that St. Paul and the gospel writers made up all the resurrection stories to bolster their new religion. There are too many implausible details to go into at this point, but the main obstacle to this conspiracy theory is that St. Paul died only thirty years after the death of Jesus himself, and he reported that the stories he had about the resurrection were facts he himself had received from eyewitnesses. If St. Paul or the gospel writers had made it all up, there were still plenty of eyewitnesses alive who would have corrected them—not least the murderous enemies of the new religion.

The fact of the resurrection is a good starting point for the debates about God’s existence. Arguments between Catholics and atheists can move forward in an intriguing way because the arguments surrounding the resurrection are more concrete and literal than philosophical arguments. They bring the argument about God down to earth...which is what the Christian religion is all about in the first place.
 
 
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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  • Eriktb

    It never takes more faith to accept people would be willing to die for something they believe to be true whether it is or isn't than it does to believe in an unverifiable story that relies entirely on supernatural phenomenon. I say this because people actually do this all the time. Many of them have let themselves die, or committed suicide, for the most outlandish beliefs you could imagine.

    On a side note, I like how when the resurrection is discussed people tend to forget about all the other dead folks that apparently rose from the dead. Or that there are four different versions whose specifics are fairly meaningful. Let's just forget about all that and pretend extraordinary claims are reasonable.

    • Phil

      Hey Eriktb,

      It never takes more faith to accept people would be willing to die for something they believe to be true whether it is or isn't than it does to believe in an unverifiable story that relies entirely on supernatural phenomenon. Many of them have let themselves die, or committed suicide, for the most outlandish beliefs you could imagine.

      But for 2000 years? And even today with all our scientific advances? That's what makes this so unique. People continue to die for the Christian faith to this day.

      On a side note, I like how when the resurrection is discussed people
      tend to forget about all the other dead folks that apparently rose from
      the dead.

      Actually that is one thing that makes the Christian claim so unique. They do not have thousands of people dying horrible deaths to witness to the fact of Jesus, his resurrection, and his Church over the centuries. They have not led to the sudden "creation" of an institution that, 2000 years, is still around and is the largest charitable organization in the world and has continued to outlive every society since.

      In the end, the Christian claim is so unique and captivating for many because of all the evidence from so many different areas that point towards the possible reasonableness and truth of it all. Of course, it will always include some "leap of trust" until the time that Jesus comes in glory and all see him as he truly is.

  • Michael Murray

    It's hard to have a conversation about things like the resurrection with someone who believes that what is in the Bible is more or less an accurate historical account. This is not the position of much biblical scholarships as I understand it. Bart Ehrman for example isn't sure there was a tomb let alone an empty one:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/19/do-we-know-if-there-was-an-empty-tomb.html

    If you are going to persuade atheists rather than Catholics though you need to work harder than this:

    The fact of the resurrection is a good starting point for the debates about God’s existence.

    Nice try but I'm not starting from where you want to finish.

    • Weird piece by Ehrman. He says he used to hold this position. Then he changed his mind. Why? Because that position helps Christian apologists! He gives not actual reason. Just that he does not like holding positions that Christian apologists are likely to quote. Good to know where he is coming from.

      He also admits no amount of evidence would ever convince him of a miracle. That is fine. It is one philosophical position to take. At least we know that. It does follow that anyone who uses his opinions as a reason to reject Christianity is arguing in a circle. He starts with the premise that Christianity is false.

      • Michael Murray

        You would have to read the book to get the whole argument. I don't see him saying that he has rejected belief in the tomb because it helps Christian Apologists.

        He also admits no amount of evidence would ever convince him of a miracle. That is fine. It is one philosophical position to take.

        He talks about this in his books on a number of occasions. It's a philosophical position about what the role of historians is. His position is that a historian has to develop the most plausible explanation of what might have happened given the available facts. He himself acknowledges that this doesn't have to be what actually happened. Implausible things sometimes happen and, as in this case, the facts are often scanty. Given that position he makes the further argument that there are always more plausible explanations than supernatural miracles.

        He starts with the premise that Christianity is false.

        No he starts with the premise that you can't deduce a miracle as an explanation for past events if you are a historian. That is a different thing. There are other ways to believe Christianity is true such as personal revelation and experiences.

        • No he starts with the premise that you can't deduce a miracle as an explanation for past events if you are a historian. That is a different thing. There are other ways to believe Christianity is true such as personal revelation and experiences.

          Actually it is not a different thing. Christianity is an historical religion. If you don't believe in historical miracles, especially the resurrection, then you are not a Christian. So if you rule out miracles you have ruled out Christianity.

          • Michael Murray

            No you have ruled out miracles as the most plausible explanation of some particular historical events. If you have some other reason to believe Jesus was divine then that will enter into you evidence for what might have happened after his death.

          • William Davis

            That's for clearing that misinformation up.

          • picklefactory

            Sometimes I think it sure would be nice to have some non-Catholic Christians come by this site so that the atheists didn't have to do all the work dismantling these strange notions presented as if no theist could possibly disagree with you. It sure would amuse me to watch you type "you are not a Christian" at one of them.

          • What is a Christianity is a hard question for non-Catholic Christians. Still almost all would say believing in the essential truth of the gospels is required. The ones that don't are likely to have a definition of Christianity that is almost meaningless. I would be happy to tell them that.

          • Doug Shaver

            What is a Christianity is a hard question for non-Catholic Christians.

            That would be roughly half of all the people who call themselves Christians.

            Still almost all would say believing in the essential truth of the gospels is required. The ones that don't are likely to have a definition of Christianity that is almost meaningless. I would be happy to tell them that.

            Words are defined by usage, not by anyone's fiat. The only way for me to find out what a Christian is, is to ask people who call themselves Christians. If those people don't agree among themselves, then I as a non-Christian am in no position to adjudicate their dispute.

            You do make a point that is well taken, though probably not the way you intended it to be taken. The word is indeed practically meaningless insofar as, if someone tells me they are a Christian and I know nothing else about them, then I know practically nothing about their religious beliefs except that they think there was something special about Jesus of Nazareth.

      • Michael Murray

        A bit more on his blog below but he wants you to buy the book :-)

        http://ehrmanblog.org/women-at-the-tomb/

        I changed my mind. Most of my change came from my investigation of Roman practices of crucifixion. As it turns out, standard policy appears to have been to have left the bodies of corpses on the crosses to decompose, as part of their punishment. Decent burials were not allowed. I go into this matter at length in the book – at greater length than I want to excerpt here.

      • William Davis

        You greatly misrepresent him, He has consistently only changed positions only in light of historical evidence. He does not say no amount of evidence would ever convince him of a miracle. What he does say that since a miracle is highly improbable, by its very definition, that most evidence has a much more probable definition. Probable things happen much more often than extremely improbable things don't they? It is a highly rational position which you choose to misrepresent yet again. I would like to see an answer to why Paul never mentions the empty tomb in all of his letters. He speaks of the resurrection, of course, but never an empty tomb. Chronologically that came later on. I recommend his books, or even better, his audio lectures. Read them if you are interested in learning more about Christian history. Don't read them if you are afraid of what you might learn.
        By future of the fact you are intentionally misrepresenting him, he arguments must be upsetting you. The only way that could happen is if there is a rational part of your brain that realizes he makes sense. I emplore you do not squelch this part of your mind, use it. One can still appreciate they great beauty in the Christian religion, and realize it was made by men, over time through theological selection. The world has not seen the like since. It is an amazing history, and Erhman is not negative about it at all.

        • I am not sure what you think I misrepresented. He does not say a miracle is highly improbable. He says a miracle would defy all probability. That is a different philosophical category from highly improbable.

          Did you read the part about apologists having a field day? You don't wonder why that should count as a reason to reject a position?

          Thanks for all the psycho-analysis. I could say the same about you. That you are obviously subconsciously finding Christianity quite appealing.

          • William Davis

            "Defy all probability" and highly improbable are quite close. Defy all probability means that something happened in spite of the probabilities. If you just google the expression, you'll see tons of hits where sports teams "defied all probabilities" and won. Saying the two are in different philosophical categories is a bit ridiculous (and the issue is semantic, not philosophical.

            You say Erhman changed his mind because of Apologists, that simply isn't the case. He changed his mind because of a newer understanding of the standard procedure after a crucifixion, which was to allow the body to rot on the cross which is part of the punishment. There are other reasons, but this is the biggest, besides the fact that no tomb is mentioned in the earliest Christian traditions. No mention in the Pauline letters is a pretty big deal, especially considering how much Paul talks about (personally I'm a fan of Paul as a person, he seems to be very compelled by his beliefs and the promises of Jesus, and reasons quite well for a person of his time). He mentioned apologists having a field day, but never once says that is a reason he changed his mind, it is just convenient when dealing with apologists. I'll quote:

            "Christian apologists often argue that the discovery of the empty tomb is one of the most secure historical data from the history of the early Christian movement. I used to think so myself. But it simply isn’t true. Given our suspicions about the burial tradition, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the discovery of an empty tomb."

            Apparently your mind added that supposition that he is being "anti-christian". Being deep in Christianity can introduce a false dichotomy into your psyche, the idea that there are only the forces of good and evil, there is nothing in between. Such ideas are nice for stories, but reality is infinitely complex.

            You are welcome for the psychoanalysis, and you are right I find Christianity appealing. It's moral code is more advanced in many ways than anything before it (except for maybe Buddhism, but that is a very different creature). I like the way Christianity compels full devotion, none of the Pagan religions of the Greek era were nearly as compelling. The way doctrines evolved and competed with each other, all but the winner being selected out, has lent it strength. There are problems with Christian morality (such as self loathing) depending on the era, but that's a different topic.

            So yes, you misrepresented him, though you may have done it subconsciously. Thanks for at least responding. Do you have a good explanation for why Paul doesn't mention the tomb? I'd be interested to hear it.

          • A resurrection would be a miracle and as such would defy all “probability.” Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a miracle. To say that an event that defies probability is more probable than something that is simply improbable is to fly in the face of anything that involves probability.

            These are his words. He does put "defies probability" and "highly improbable" in different categories. Any number of highly improbable events is more likely than one even that defies probability.

            Why doesn't St Paul mention the empty tomb? He met the resurrected Jesus. That was his evidence. Besides, he never wrote to a Jerusalem audience. In Jerusalem the empty tomb would have been something you could check. Someone in Corinth or Phillipi might not find it nearly as convincing.

          • William Davis

            I concede defy all probability is a different category than highly improbable, but it is also in a different category than your original statement "He also admits no amount of evidence would ever convince him of a miracle." Pretty close, however I have to admit, but I suppose we are both exaggerating a bit to make our point.
            I only took issue because most (not all) Christian criticisms have been fraught with character attacks, which I find to be childish and unprofessional. The man was originally an evangelical Christian who lost his faith through studying the Bible historically. Give him some credit, though he certainly is wrong on some points (everyone is), he puts together a compelling explanation of many things in christian history using historical methods that have been standardized and applied to all aspects of history. If historians start accepting miracles, then they would have to behave as if all of the mythologies of all religions and peoples are true. As you can see, historical record would quickly become a quagmire. If Christians want to convince others of their faith, they need to present an impeccable character, and answer scholarship with scholarship. In some ways we are touching on an inherent incompatibility of the superstition in religion and rationality. Belief in that superstition, however is the essence of religious faith.
            I was raised in a protestant Christian environment, only went to Christian schools until college. One thing that always bothered me (when I actually believed) was why did God make everything so that it looked like he doesn't exist. No more miracles anymore (I do not give any credit to backwater, snake charming healers), he doesn't appear to people any more...nothing. So much never made sense, and the older I became, the clearer it became that the whole thing was man made. For a while I resentful, feeling like I had been lied to, but as I've grown in understanding, I believe religion, of some type or other, to be necessary for most people to make sense of things, and I have become to appreciate it as a form of art (and it has created so much art).
            As you can see, my story is a bit like Bart's, so in some sense I see personal attacks on him as personal attacks on me (as Christians see attacks on other Christians). Disagree, and argue all you want, but leave the character attacks and accusations of bias out, and I'll be a perfectly happy camper. Thanks for conversing.

  • David Nickol

    Fr. Longenecker says:

    If the body had not been buried why did Jesus’ enemies ask Pilate for guards for the tomb?

    Why indeed? Fr. Longenecker goes on to say:

    Shall we believe that the eleven men who fled in terror when their friend was arrested suddenly got back together and planned a heist worthy of a "Mission Impossible" film? Why would they do that? They were as surprised as everyone else by the resurrection. Would they really plan such a heist to perpetrate a hoax? Is this the sort of hoax anyone would believe? No. You only plan a hoax if the hoax is something people might just fall for. A hoax to make people believe someone had risen from the dead?

    What an absolutely preposterous idea that anyone would even dream of stealing the body and claiming Jesus had risen!

    But Matthew 27:62-66 says:

    The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’ Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “The guard is yours;* go secure it as best you can.” So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

    So the idea of the followers of Jesus would steal the body is preposterous. Yet the chief priests and the Pharisees are so concerned that the followers of Jesus will pull off a ridiculous hoax and steal the body that they ask Pilate to have the tomb guarded, and Pilate agrees! He doesn't make Fr. Longenecker's argument that the idea of stealing the body of Jesus is preposterous and no guards are necessary. He doesn't say, "Do you honestly believe they would steal the body? And if they want to, then let them! Who would ever believe an executed criminal, or anyone else, could rise from the dead?" Pilate takes the chief priests and Pharisees seriously and supplies the guards. Or he does so in the Gospel of Matthew, but there is no mention of the tomb being guarded in the other three Gospels.

    It seems more than a little self-contradictory to me for Fr. Longenecker to use story about guarding the tomb as evidence that there really was a body in the tomb, and then turn around and say how incredibly farfetched the idea of stealing the body was, when the whole point of the guards was to make sure the followers of Jesus didn't steal the body! Obviously the high priests, Pharisees, and Pilate (in Matthew's account) took the idea of stealing the body seriously, even if Fr. Longenecker can't.

    • David Nickol

      The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says of Matthew 27:62-66, which I quoted above: "This and its companion piece (28:11-15) are peculiarly Matthean passages motivated by late apologetics. . . . . "

  • Steven Dillon

    I'm not sure we can do justice to how unclear it is that Fr. Longenecker's claims are supported by the evidence. To illustrate what I mean, let's take a look at one, rather innocent looking claim, to see how messy things can get.

    Fr. Longenecker says "His friends took the body to bury it."

    But, Acts 13:27-29 says: "The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb."

    Who "took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb"? The ones who who "found no proper ground for a death sentence" and "asked Pilate to have him executed". These were not Jesus' friends.

    If Acts is correct, Jesus' buriers would not have been "secret disciples", and thus would have given Jesus a dishonorable burial, in accord with his condemnation as a blasphemer. Among other things, this would've involved laying Jesus in a tomb with multiple other criminals.

    But, this completely discredits the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb, because every criminal body would have had to vacate the tomb for it to be empty. We obviously don't want to say they were all resurrected, and the minute we say someone tampered with the bodies (perhaps discarding everyone's but Jesus', or just removing Jesus'), we all but proclaim the Hoax Hypothesis.

    As such, the empty tomb stories can be seen to stand or fall on whether Jesus was buried by friends or foes, and determining that issue can be extremely complicated. There are primary texts and heavy weight scholars on either side.

    • "Who "took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb"? The ones who who "found no proper ground for a death sentence" and "asked Pilate to have him executed". These were not Jesus' friends."

      Steven, are you aware of Mark 15? I'm surprised you would challenge Fr. Longenecker's unsurprising statement without even mentioning that passage. It clearly explains the "friends" Fr. Longenecker referred to:

      "When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath,

      Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

      Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died.

      And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.

      Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.

      Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid."

      There's no contradiction between Mark 15 and the passage you quoted from Acts 13.

      You misread that passage. The first line refers to "the people of Jerusalem and their rulers", and that broad group is the operating agent for the rest of the passage (i.e., what "they" refers to.)

      "As such, the empty tomb stories can be seen to stand or fall on whether Jesus was buried by friends or foes, and determining that issue can be extremely complicated. There are primary texts and heavy weight scholars on either side."

      I'm not sure I agree with the first sentence. After all, Jesus could have been buried in a single tomb by a foe. Yet bracketing that question, your last sentence seem, at least to me, a huge misrepresentation. Almost all mainstream biblical scholars accept the reality of the empty tomb. Even Bart Ehrman, perhaps the most skeptical New Testament critic, agrees that Jesus' tomb was discovered empty.

      Painting the debate as though it were an unsettled struggle with equal evidence on each side is to either seriously misunderstand or seriously misrepresent the state of contemporary biblical scholarship on this issue.

      • Steven Dillon

        Why do you think Mark 15 casts Jesus' buriers as "friends" when it only describes Joseph as waiting for the kingdom of God? And what difference would it make if it did? Mark needn't agree with Acts.

        Moreover, while Acts 13:27-29 identifies Jesus' buriers as the people and rulers of Jerusalem in v. 27, it also identifies them as ones who condemned Jesus (v. 27) and asked Pilate to execute him (v. 28).

        Finally, I never suggested there was widespread disagreement over the empty tomb accounts (though I think apologetics have exaggerated the unity). I suggested there was widespread academic disagreement on who buried Jesus, and that's true.

  • NowHereThis

    I think it is easier to believe that a few disciples had visionary experiences of Jesus that were then embellished theologically through reflection and controversy with Jews and other Christians. And yes, I do think people would be willing to die for their side in theological controversy, as an alternative to living in disgrace as a coward and an outcast.

    • "I think it is easier to believe that a few disciples had visionary experiences of Jesus that were then embellished theologically through reflection and controversy with Jews and other Christians."

      But it wasn't just a few disciples. It was hundreds of disciples, including sworn enemies of the earliest Christians. Do you find this at all plausible?

      Also, the experiences weren't just "visionary". Jesus interacted physically with those he encountered. He ate with them and talked with them. He cooked fish and invited them to examine his wounds. This wasn't a visual hallucination--it was an encounter with a physical person.

      "And yes, I do think people would be willing to die for their side in theological controversy, as an alternative to living in disgrace as a coward and an outcast. Throughout history, people have died for their religious views, regardless of whether they were personally in a position to know whether those views were true."

      Notice here that you're switching gears. In your first sentence you claimed to embrace the hallucination idea, but just one sentence later your defending the "intentional lie" hypothesis, which would presumably come without visual hallucinations.

      Regardless, the simple reply to your assertion is that while people die for positions they believe to be true, like Muslims flying planes into buildings to attain 72 virgins in the afterlife, nobody dies for something they know to be false. And if your hypothesis is true, the disciples, having made up Jesus' resurrection, would have all died for an obvious lie.

      Do you really think all twelve disciples--and thousands of others after them--would have given their lives for the sake of a known lie? What would they gain from such illogical behavior?

      • NowHereThis

        But it wasn't just a few disciples. It was hundreds of disciples, including sworn enemies of the earliest Christians. Do you find this at all plausible?"

        By hundreds, I assume you're referring to the five hundred Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 15:6. We aren't told what the nature of their experiences is, and nobody else sees fit to mention this appearance. So it's not clear that this is as consequential as you are making it out to be. And what other "sworn enemies" do you mean besides Paul? As intense as Paul was, his obsession with Christians could conjure up a vision of their leader, who he was focusing on, leading him to be just as intense for the other side.

        Also, the experiences weren't just "visionary". Jesus interacted physically with those he encountered. He ate with them and talked with them. He cooked fish and invited them to examine his wounds. This wasn't a visual hallucination--it was an encounter with a physical person.

        That doesn't happen at all in Mark. In Matthew, the only physical touch is the women grabbing his feet (but Matthew's account is suspect because of what he reports Jesus as saying. To the women, he merely repeats what the angel already said. To the twelve, he gives a baptismal formula found nowhere else in the New Testament. These appearances smell of invention for that reason). In Luke, we get Jesus's argument concerning his physicality and his eating. And in John, we get an extra appearance (when he should have already ascended according to Luke) specifically for Thomas, and another for pastoral direction for Peter. The whole thing gets more and more invented as time goes on, recalling what I said about reflection and controversy.

        Notice here that you're switching gears. In your first sentence you claimed to embrace the hallucination idea, but just one sentence later your defending the "intentional lie" hypothesis, which would presumably come without visual hallucinations.

        I'm switching gears because I think both apply. Yes, they had visions, but the theological commitment part applies to their interpretation of said visions. And it would also apply to those who did not have visions, but believed those who did.

        Regardless, the simple reply to your assertion is that while people die for positions they believe to be true, like Muslims flying planes into buildings to attain 72 virgins in the afterlife, nobody dies for something they know to be false. And if your hypothesis is true, the disciples, having made up Jesus' resurrection, would have all died for an obvious lie.

        Do you really think all twelve disciples--and thousands of others after
        them--would have given their lives for the sake of a known lie? What
        would they gain from such illogical behavior

        Why would the disciples think their interpretations of their visions were a lie? They would believe it was true just like Muhammad and his followers believed that their interpretation of his experiences was true.

        • Thanks for the reply. There's a lot here--more than I can respond to in a single comment. However, perhaps I can drill down to the core:

          You seem committed to the "hallucination" theory, which suffers many devastating flaws. The most significant is its explanatory scope. The theory does not explain:

          1. The physical interactions between Jesus and his disciples. You casually dismiss these as "smelling of invention" in your comment above, but give no strong support. There are multiple, independent attestations of Jesus' post-mortem physical interaction with his disciples--you can't dismiss all of those with a wave of the hand.

          2. The empty tomb. If the disciples merely hallucinated the risen Jesus, why didn't their opponents simply point back to the tomb or reproduce the body? This, to me, is the largest flaw in the theory.

          3. The collective visions. Again, hundreds of first-century witnesses claim to have encountered the risen Jesus. We have no record in history, nor any reason to believe, that mass hallucinations of this sort--namely a physical encounter with a previously dead human being--are possible, much less likely.

          For these reasons and more, the "hallucination" theory is one of the poorest alternatives to the resurrection hypothesis. It fails to explain several facts that most mainstream historians, believer and non-believer alike, agree on, and therefore comes up way short in its explanatory power.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            1. The physical interactions between Jesus and his disciples. You
            casually dismiss these as "smelling of invention" in your comment above,
            but give no strong support. There are multiple, independent
            attestations of Jesus' post-mortem physical interaction with his
            disciples--you can't dismiss all of those with a wave of the hand.

            Mark, the earliest of the Gospels does not have any interactions between Jesus and his Disciples after Jesus rose from the dead (unless you count the passage at the end, which is considered to be a later addition). It is quite possible that the post-resurrection events were added at a later date, as the oral tradition grew.

            Aside from Mathew, Luke, and John do you consider any other passages to be indicative of a post-mortem physical interaction?

            2. The empty tomb. If the disciples merely hallucinated the risen Jesus,
            why didn't their opponents simply point back to the tomb or reproduce
            the body? This, to me, is the largest flaw in the theory.

            This assumes that Jesus was put into a tomb, which is not agreed on by a majority of biblical historians. Furthermore, I don't think Christianity was noteworthy enough at this time, for their to be this loyal opposition to Christianity. Who would these opponents be who would look for the actual tomb, and would they know where to find it?

            3. The collective visions. Again, hundreds of first-century witnesses
            claim to have encountered the risen Jesus. We have no record in history,
            nor any reason to believe, that mass hallucinations of this
            sort--namely a physical encounter with a previously dead human
            being--are possible, much less likely.

            Who are these hundreds of witnesses?

            Perhaps Jesus was a fairly popular Rabbi, whose followers continued to follow his teachings after his death and felt that Jesus was with them in a spiritual way. They grew within Judaism and then separated from Judaism when Jerusalem fell. As the years passed, the mythology of Jesus grew to include things such as a physical resurrection. Finally, not all early Christians believed in a physical resurrection - Gnosticism for instance.

          • NowHereThis

            1. The physical interactions between Jesus and his disciples. You
            casually dismiss these as "smelling of invention" in your comment above,
            but give no strong support. There are multiple, independent
            attestations of Jesus' post-mortem physical interaction with his
            disciples--you can't dismiss all of those with a wave of the hand.

            I don't have to prove what actually happened, I only have to raise an alternative more plausible than a tortured, crucified corpse returning to life after more than a day. My support for my conclusion is that neither Mark nor Paul has any discussion of physical interaction by Jesus during his appearances, and they are widely considered to be the earliest available sources. So when we see a continually increasing line of argument for physical interaction that only begins to show up in Matthew, an inference of invention between the authorship of Mark and Matthew is raised. That's not a wave of the hand, it's a reasonable hypothesis, and exactly what I need to fulfill my burden of a plausible alternative.

            The empty tomb. If the disciples merely hallucinated the risen Jesus,
            why didn't their opponents simply point back to the tomb or reproduce
            the body? This, to me, is the largest flaw in the theory.

            Two possibilities here. First, that there was no empty tomb. Evidence: Paul never cites the empty tomb, even when it would have been to his advantage to do so. In 1 Cor. 15, he could have told the Corinthians who were disputing the resurrection exactly what you just told me. That raises an inference that he didn't know of it, and that could be because it appeared in the tradition between Paul and the writing of Mark.

            Second possibility: there was an empty tomb, but it was empty because Joseph of Arimathea, a devout adherent to Jewish law, wanted the convicted criminal's body out of his tomb and into a mass grave (where it would be unrecoverable) as soon as Jewish law would permit (between the ending the sabbath and the arrival of the women on Sunday morning). He would have only put it in there to obey Deuteronomy 21:23, which required crucified victims to be buried the same day, if there was no other grave handy.

            Either of those two possibilities plausibly answers your objection without requiring a tortured, crucified corpse to come back to life after more than a day.

            The collective visions. Again, hundreds of first-century witnesses claim
            to have encountered the risen Jesus. We have no record in history, nor
            any reason to believe, that mass hallucinations of this sort--namely a
            physical encounter with a previously dead human being--are possible,
            much less likely.

            You're begging the question by assuming that their encounters were physical in nature. Paul doesn't say that. He just says that Jesus "appeared" to 500 witnesses without any comment on physicality. And as for the nature of that appearance, consider how many people have claimed to see Jesus in various patterns on toast, clouds, shadows, etc. It could easily have been something of that sort, absent any further information to go on.

          • William Davis

            Excellent comment.

  • David Nickol

    To echo a bit what Michael Murray has said, for those who take the Gospels to be accurate historical records and quote them as such, of course Jesus rose from the dead. It says so right in the Gospels. There's nothing to argue about. The problem for people such as Fr. Longenecker is that most biblical scholars, including most Catholic biblical scholars, don't look upon the Gospels as accurate historical records. Even official Vatican documents don't claim that the Gospels are accurately reported history and biography.

    • Michael Murray

      It would be interesting to have a discussion here about the Catholic position (if there is one) on the historicity of the Bible. It seems to have been a bone of contention in the past when I think you have raised particular bible quotes and others have disputed whether that is a good translation etc.

      I'm thinking of an article rather than trying to drag this one off-topic although either would be good.

      • Great suggestion, Michael! Can you flesh that out a little more? I think you're hitting on a great discussion topic--maybe for a back-and-forth series--but we'd probably need a narrower focus.

        As I'm sure you know, the "historicity of the Bible" is not really a single category for most Catholics. We assign different parts of the Bible different levels of historical value.

        • Michael Murray

          Great suggestion, Michael! Can you flesh that out a little more? I think you're hitting on a great discussion topic--maybe for a back-and-forth series--but we'd probably need a narrower focus.

          As I'm sure you know, the "historicity of the Bible" is not really a single category for most Catholics. We assign different parts of the Bible different levels of historical value.

          I was thinking New Testament I guess. I suppose there is the whole interesting question of the level of archeological support for the Old Testament but that seems a different issue. So New Testament would narrow the focus. But something more general than just an argument about whether Jesus was a complete myth. How do Catholic's see the Bible and what do they think about the historical approach to analysing it? Is there some kind of agreed position or do various groups of Catholic's agree to disagree? That sort of thing. Bart Ehrman disputes the honourable burial in the tomb for example in your list to David Nickol. Is he just a bit of an outlier from the Catholic perspective ?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Well, the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome might be a good place to start:

            On the other hand, there is no reason to deny that the apostles passed on to their listeners what was really said and done by the Lord with that fuller understanding which they enjoyed,[14] having been instructed by the glorious events of the Christ and taught by the light of the Spirit of Truth.[15] So, just as Jesus Himself after His resurrection "interpreted to them"[16] the words of the Old Testament as well as His own,[17] they too interpreted His words and deeds according to the needs of their listeners. "Devoting themselves to the ministry of the word,"[18] they preached and made use of various modes of speaking which were suited to their own purpose and the mentality of their listeners. For they were debtors[19] "to Greeks and barbarians, to the wise and the foolish."[20] But these modes of speaking with which the preachers proclaimed Christ must be distinguished and (properly) assessed: catecheses, stories, testimonia, hymns, doxologies, prayers--and other literary forms of this sort which were in Sacred Scripture and were accustomed to be used by men of that time.

            IX. This primitive instruction, which was at first passed on by word of mouth and then in writing--for it soon happened that many tried "to compile a narrative of the things"[21] which concerned the Lord Jesus--was committed to writing by the sacred authors in four Gospels for the benefit of the churches, with a method suited to the peculiar purpose which each (author) set for himself. From the many things handed down they selected some things, reduced others to a synthesis, (still) others they explicated as they kept in mind the situation of the churches. With every (possible) means they sought that their readers might become aware of the reliability[22] of those words by which they had been instructed. Indeed, from what they had received the sacred writers above all selected the things which were suited to the various situations of the faithful and to the purpose which they had in mind, and adapted their narration of them to the same situations and purpose. Since the meaning of a statement also depends on the sequence, the Evangelists, in passing on the words and deeds of our Saviour, explained these now in one context, now in another, depending on (their) usefulness to the readers. Consequently, let the exegete seek out the meaning intended by the Evangelist in narrating a saying or a deed in a certain way or in placing it in a certain context. For the truth of the story is not at all affected by the fact that the Evangelists relate the words and deeds of the Lord in a different order,[23] and express his sayings not literally but differently, while preserving (their) sense.[24] For, as St. Augustine says, "It is quite probable that each Evangelist believed it to have been his duty to recount what he had to in that order in which it pleased God to suggest it to his memory in those things at least in which the order, whether it be this or that, detracts in nothing from the truth and authority of the Gospel. But why the Holy Spirit, who apportions individually to each one as He wills,[25] and who therefore undoubtedly also governed and ruled the minds of the holy (writers) in recalling what they were to write because of the pre-eminent authority which the books were to enjoy, permitted one to compile his narrative in this way, and another in that, anyone with pious diligence may seek the reason and with divine aid will be able to find it."[26]

            X. Unless the exegete pays attention to all these things which pertain to the origin and composition of the Gospels and makes proper use of all the laudable achievements of recent research, he will not fulfil his task of probing into what the sacred writers intended and what they really said.

            The full text.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks.

          • "How do Catholic's see the Bible and what do they think about the historical approach to analysing it? Is there some kind of agreed position or do various groups of Catholic's agree to disagree? What is the plausible timeline of Biblical events ? What documents are we basing the Gospel on ? When were they written and by whom ? That sort of thing."

            Very good questions. I'll see if I can track down a Catholic biblical scholar to comment on this. Thanks!

    • "The problem for people such as Fr. Longenecker is that most biblical scholars, including most Catholic biblical scholars, don't look upon the Gospels as accurate historical records. Even official Vatican documents don't claim that the Gospels are accurately reported history and biography."

      Thanks for the comment, David. It appears you've fallen into an unfortunately flawed, albeit common assumption, namely the binary view of historical documents that categorized them as either "accurate historical records" or else, presumably, completely flawed.

      Yet every qualified historian knows that just because a document is flawed in one part, or in some respects, doesn't mean the whole account is thereby invalidated. This is a basic principle of historical scholarship.

      (And most historians will point out that, especially for ancient documents, we have no accounts that are completely and undeniably accurate!)

      As William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, and others have shown with great detail, the overwhelming number of biblical historians--believers and non-believers alike--agree on at least six key facts concerning Jesus, such as:

      1. Jesus was a real historical figure.
      2. Jesus was executed by Roman crucifixion.
      3. Jesus was honorably buried by Joseph of Arimathea
      4. Jesus' tomb was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion.
      5. Multiple people, including skeptical enemies of Christianity, claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus.
      6. Jesus' disciples experienced an astounding transformation on that Sunday, from dejected, fearful followers of a failed messiah to vigorous, unshakable proponents of Jesus' resurrection, a fact they were willing to die for.

      Nearly every biblical historian agrees on those six facts, although they differ in which theory they believe best explains those six facts.

      Fr. Longenecker assumed those six facts not because he presumes the Bible is unquestionably inerrant but because they are virtually undisputed in mainstream scholarship.

      All that matters for this discussion is whether those six facts are accurately attested to in the historical records. And most agree they are.

      Thus to defend your contentions, I would invite you to:

      1. Provide reasons to doubt those six widely-accepted facts about Jesus.

      2. Support your assertion, preferably with data, that "most Catholic biblical scholars don't look upon the Gospels as accurate historical records."

      3. Explain what documents are you referencing when you say, "Even official Vatican documents don't claim that the Gospels are accurately reported history and biography."

      4. Clarify how are you defining "history" and "biography" in the above sentence.

      Thanks again, David!

      • David Nickol

        It appears you've fallen into a flawed, albeit common assumption, namely the binary view of historical documents that categorizes them as either "accurate historical records" or else, presumably, completely flawed.

        No, my primary interest is the historical Jesus. If I were to dismiss the Gospels as "completely flawed," there would be no such field of study.

        If you saw my other message, you would see that my explicit criticism of Fr. Longenecker so far has been for this sentence: "If the body had not been buried why did Jesus’ enemies ask Pilate for guards for the tomb?" Let me go out on a limb here and say for anyone who is serious about the historicity of the Gospels (that is, who thinks the historical-critical method has merit) Fr. Longenecker's implied argument is extremely weak to the point of being humorous. Whatever a particular exegete's own conclusion might be about the historicity of the request for guards at the tomb of Jesus, he or she would certainly acknowledge the probability that a detail such as that, with such obvious apologetic implications, and attested to in only one Gospel, is not going to be accepted as historical evidence in an argument with a skeptic!

        As for your point 1, I am not a mythicist. I have no doubt that Jesus lived, preached, and was executed by the Romans. I have no doubt that something after his death galvanized some of those who had been his followers in life. Whether or not it was the bodily resurrection of Jesus and appearances to significant numbers of people, I do not pretend to know, but I would love to be convinced one way or the other. I will try to deal with your points 2 to 4 as this discussion continues.

        • Thanks for the reply, David. First of all, per our commenting policy, there's no need to describe someone's serious argument as "extremely weak to the point of being humorous." That's simply a cheap shot meant to mock. There's no need for it here.

          Second, responding to your comment. You say:

          "Whatever a particular exegete's own conclusion might be about the historicity of the request for guards at the tomb of Jesus, he or she would certainly acknowledge the probability that a detail such as that, with such obvious apologetic implications, and attested to in only one Gospel, is not going to be accepted as historical evidence in an argument with a skeptic!"

          Then I'm afraid this is a problem on the part of the skeptic. An unbiased skeptic would not dismiss a historical anecdote, from an otherwise reliable source, simply because it seems to support a conclusion he refuses to hold. That's a textbook case of confirmation bias.

          An open-minded skeptic would affirm that we have no good reason to doubt the anecdote about the Jewish leaders requesting guards for the tomb.

          But even if you were right, and that anecdote was a later accretion added for apologetic value, it doesn't change the six facts I listed (or the reliability of the four Gospel texts regarding those facts) or the strength of the resurrection hypothesis as the most plausible explanation of them.

          "I have no doubt that something after his death galvanized some of those who had been his followers in life. Whether or not it was the bodily resurrection of Jesus and appearances to significant numbers of people, I do not pretend to know, but I would love to be convinced one way or the other."

          And that convincing is my aim! :)

          In all seriousness, what do you think is the most plausible explanation of the "something" occurring after Jesus' death that galvanized his followers.

          • David Nickol

            An unbiased skeptic would not dismiss a historical anecdote, from an otherwise reliable source, simply because it seems to support a conclusion he refuses to hold. That's a textbook case of confirmation bias.

            A historian, or any serious exegete, does not approach the Gospels as if everything stated in them is true unless somehow proven false. And let's remember what we are talking about here—a few verses in the Gospel of Matthew with a story not found anywhere else. Here's footnote 15 from page 830 of James D. G. Dunn's monumental work Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Volume 1:

            . . . The story of the guard is generally regarded as an apologetic addition: the silence of the other Evangelists is hard to explain otherwise: the difficulty of integrating their presence with the earlier account of the women coming to the tomb is obvious in the sequence 28.2-5 (what were the guards doing 28.5-10?); and the reason given for setting the guard (knowledge of Jesus' resurrection prediction and the anticipation disciples' resurrection proclamation: 27.63-64) speaks more of a later apologetic concern—perhaps to counter the alternative explanation (the disciples stole the body) already in circulation and still at play at the time of Matthew (28.15). . . .

            As I have already noted elsewhere, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says of Matthew 27:62-66: "This and its companion piece (28:11-15) are peculiarly Matthean passages motivated by late apologetics. . . . "

            I must somehow be failing to communicate to you what I see as ironic about Fr. Longenecker using Matthew's stories about the guards to argue that the body of Jesus had been buried. You claim as one of your six widely agreed-upon facts the following: "Jesus was honorably buried by Joseph of Arimathea," which is indeed attested to in all four Gospels. From a historical viewpoint, this is much more solidly attested to than Matthew's story of guards at the tomb. If a skeptic does not believe something attested to in all four Gospels (that Jesus was buried in a tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea), why should he or she accept Matthew's account about the guards as evidence that the body of Jesus was in a tomb?

            For those (like me) who accept that the Gospels are not fiction, but are also not historical accounts as we would write history today, you can't prove the historicity of particular events by quoting a few lines (like Matthew's account of guards at the tomb) and declare it historical. You have to look first at the consistency of the account, then at the other three Gospels, and then at what is known about the figures involved and how similar situations were handled. This is what biblical scholars have been doing intensively for the last two centuries or more, and it simply cannot be ignored by those who would like to maintain that the Gospels are historical, biographical, or journalistic accounts.

      • Doug Shaver

        As William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, and others have shown with great detail, the overwhelming number of biblical historians--believers and non-believers alike--agree on at least six key facts concerning Jesus, such as:

        1. Jesus was a real historical figure.
        2. Jesus was executed by Roman crucifixion.
        3. Jesus was honorably buried by Joseph of Arimathea
        4. Jesus' tomb was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion.
        5. Multiple people, including skeptical enemies of Christianity, claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus.
        6. Jesus' disciples experienced an astounding transformation on that Sunday, from dejected, fearful followers of a failed messiah to vigorous, unshakable proponents of Jesus' resurrection, a fact they were willing to die for.

        Nearly every biblical historian agrees on those six facts, although they differ in which theory they believe best explains those six facts.

        I don't know what criteria are used by Craig, Wright, et al. to decide who qualifies as a "biblical historian," but I'm not ready to take their word for it that an "overwhelming number" of scholars with relevant credentials will sign on to all six of those propositions.

        they are virtually undisputed in mainstream scholarship.

        I am not as familiar with mainstream scholarship as I would like to be, but if this is so, then I must say: too bad for mainstream scholarship, because it has been hijacked by apologists for Christian orthodoxy.

        I'll stipulate the first two points for the sake of this discussion, but the notion that there can be no reasonable doubt about 3-6 is indefensible except by pure question-begging. If it doesn't presuppose classical inerrantism, it presupposes something pretty similar. Maybe we should call it secular inerrantism: There are no mistakes in the Bible except when it reports supernatural events.

        Yet every qualified historian knows that just because a document is flawed in one part, or in some respects, it doesn't mean the whole account is thereby invalidated. This is a basic principle of historical scholarship.

        Agreed. And I don't, by the way, need to hear it from a "qualified historian." Elementary logic tells me that I cannot infer "all of P is false" from "some of P is false."

        But for any particular claim in any document, ancient or otherwise, neither can I infer "must be true" from "not provably false." Being uncommitted to any Christian orthodoxy, I don't need a reason to disbelieve. I need a reason to believe, and "it wasn't a miracle if it happened" isn't reason enough.

        I have studied some historiography, and I cannot give a presentation here of everything I think I've learned about it, but I can justifiably reject the principle advocated by some apologists that any ancient document must be presumed historically reliable until proven otherwise. Absent some independent evidence for or against its credibility, there should be no presumption one way or the other.

        But that independent evidence must include everything we thought we knew about history before examining the document under discussion. That's what we call background knowledge if we're doing a Bayesian analysis, but it's what competent historians do even if they've never heard of Bayes's Theorem. That background knowledge also must include everything we think we know about human nature in general. We of course have to make allowances for any cultural differences between the modern and ancient worlds, but human diversity is not unlimited. There are some things about us that cannot have changed during the few thousand years of our recorded history.

        So, we have these four books recounting certain events that occurred within a few days after Jesus' death. Should I believe those narratives in their entirety, or parts of them, or none of them -- and if I should believe some parts, which parts?

        I think that before I can start to answer those questions, I need to know something about who wrote the books and why they wrote them. Christian tradition, as recorded in the patristic literature, purports to tell us who and why, but then I must ask where the patristic writers got their information, and as it turns out, they don't say where. Of course, their failure to identify their sources doesn't mean they didn't have good sources, but it doesn't mean they did, either. We cannot know what they didn't tell us. Christians may be obliged to have faith in the early church fathers. The rest of us are not.

        And so, I don't think I'm being unreasonable if I conclude that the gospels are of unknown authorship. And, not knowing who wrote them, I further submit that I have no good reason to believe any particular portion of their narratives, insofar as it is not otherwise attested in the historical record. I need not deny anything in them. To say that I have no good reason to believe X happened is not to say that I have any reason to believe X didn't happen. But it is to say that I have no obligation to explain how X happened.

  • niknac

    If belief in Jesus' virgin birth, miracles, resurrection and ascension into Heaven are necessary to your Christian faith, you are no kind of proper Christian.

    • David Nickol

      Don't "proper Christians" believe what is stated in the Nicene Creed, which would include the virgin birth, resurrection, and ascension?

      • niknac

        We are here to live in faith, love, hope and charity. We are not here to argue supernatural manifestations versus magic tricks. It demeans Christianity.

        • David Nickol

          Does the Nicene Creed demean Christianity? Is believing "we are here to live in faith, love, hope and charity" all there is to Christianity? (The answer to both questions is, "Definitely not!")

          • niknac

            I do not argue that there are great mysteries in life that religion addresses. Cheap sideshow antics demean the splendor of truth. God is enough of a mystery and will always be. If you need smoke and mirrors, pay your nickel to the barkers on the midway but do not fool yourself that it is God's work behind the curtain.

          • David Nickol

            You didn't answer the questions.

            1. Does the Nicene Creed demean Christianity?

            2. Is believing "we are here to live in faith, love, hope and charity" all there is to Christianity?

            Are you saying professing faith in the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection is some kind of distraction from "real" Christianity?

          • niknac

            1) Yes. Anything that reduces Christianity to the huckstering of sideshow barkers and snake oil salesman demeans it. 2) No. There is also prayer and a life of good works. 3) Yes, harping on "I believe in miracles" theology is a cheap grift. I'm not saying miracles don't happen. I'm saying that the kind of people that harp on them are suspect and likely have ulterior motive. God doesn't need them or the money from the wolf tickets they sell. They reduce his presence among us to a base amusement, to be exploited by the nefarious for personal gain. Look to the miracle of God's redemptive and transformative presence in your own life.

            If God want's you to see a miracle he'll show you one. If he want's you to have eternal life in some magic palace in the sky, that's where you will find yourself after you die. He doesn't provide documentary evidence of his doings and there are no travelogs with Anthony Bourdain to show you the delights of Beulahland nor should there be.

  • all the alternatives to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than the miracle

    Thank you for elaborating on your claim. At the end, though, it's all about how you weigh the probabilities. Given my worldview, I give a very low probability to a physical resurrection, about 10^-10^27.4. Let's compare that probability to one of your alternatives. Let's say that Jesus died and the body was stolen, but the disciples somehow came to the belief that Jesus came back from the dead, were firm in their belief, and died for this belief. Let's assume that the only way that the disciples could have come to that belief was insanity. Imagine that there were about 500 disciples, so 500 people simultaneously were overcome with this insanity. Maybe this insanity has the same rate as severe schizophrenia. Roughly one in a thousand have severe schizophrenia in the UK, according to NIMH (and assuming a roughly Gaussian distribution of severity). They'd all suffer from this schizophrenia over the span of a year, an additional one in ten chance per person. The probability is (1/10000)^500 = 10^-10^3. This event is so unlikely, it should never happen in the lifetime of the universe, but it is still far more likely than a physical resurrection.

    There are many more likely explanations for the facts than the physical resurrection, such as simultaneous schizophrenia of Jesus's followers. There's many more likely explanations for the facts than simultaneous schizophrenia. Probably Jesus died, someone was able to steal the body away, most of the disciples never knew. Or maybe they believed in a spiritual resurrection that later, through legend, became a physical resurrection. But almost any answer is more likely than physical resurrection, given our current knowledge of how such a resurrection would come about.

    It would be exceedingly more likely that Jesus never existed than that he resurrected. And you know what I think about the Jesus myth idea!

    • "I give a very low probability to a physical resurrection, about 10^-10^27.4."

      There are so many wild assumptions behind that calculation that the resulting probability is essentially meaningless. For example, the author assumes a specific volume of Jesus' tomb, but on what basis? How does he know? He also assumes that three days after Jesus has died, his body has been "reduced to what can be approximated as an ideal gas." This is absurd.

      The biggest problem though--which is so glaringly obvious--is that this man attempts to calculate the probability of Jesus rising naturally from the dead:

      "In order for this to be likely to happen by the known laws of nature, we would have to wait 10^{26} times longer than the age of the universe.

      Virtually any explanation is more likely than that Jesus came back from the dead through the known laws of nature." (emphasis added)

      Christians would happily agree with the author that it is extremely improbable--in fact, nearly impossible--that Jesus would have rose naturally from the dead, without any outside intervention.

      But that's not what Christians claim. We claim God the Father raised Jesus from the dead supernaturally.

      • I'm the author of that particular article. And it's true, I do assume a particular volume for the tomb. You could make the volume quite a bit smaller. You could even make it almost exactly the size of Jesus, and you would get similar probabilities.

        It is quite an approximation to say that the body of Jesus was reduced to an ideal gas, but assuming that it's some non-ideal gas/liquid/solid mixture (which it would be) will only make the probability go down, since it will reduce the diffusion coefficients for certain parts of Jesus's volume.

        One thing that could increase the probability would be to try to approximate how much of the body-material of the resurrected Jesus is not part of Jesus's original body. This could help increase the probability significantly.

        The central assumption my calculation makes is that only the known laws of physics are allowed. If Jesus were to resurrect by known means, then this is the probability. Of course, if God chooses to intervene specially, then the probability changes entirely. But there's no good evidence that God does intervene specially to resurrect people today, and sadly no way to find out how this affects the probabilities.

        This is the estimate that I go with, given my current knowledge of the universe and how God works in the universe (God's activity in the world seems to me to manifest as laws of physics). Therefore, I could believe in a spiritual resurrection, but not a bodily resurrection. It would violate what I know about God from the behaviour of his creation.

        But that's not what Christians claim. We claim God the Father raised Jesus from the dead supernaturally.

        Agreed, and those who believe in supernatural events will calculate the probabilities very differently. Supernatural events violate my metaphysics, and no amount of historical evidence would be sufficient to cause me to abandon my metaphysics (unless the evidence were so overwhelming, it eclipsed the probability of Jesus returning via wholly natural means).

        I hope this makes sense.

        • "Of course, if God chooses to intervene specially, then the probability changes entirely."

          And this is the key point. If God existed, and if Jesus was who he claimed to me--all relevant background information not accounted for in your calculation--the probability rises significantly that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

          Your calculation ignores the possibility of God supernaturally raising Jesus from the dead, presuming (without basis) that such a probability is zero. So, in other words, you've presumed naturalism in order to disprove supernaturalism. It's circular.

          "But there's no good evidence that God does intervene specially to resurrect people today..."

          You're insinuating a non sequitur. Even if this statement were true (I don't think it is), how would that affect the probability of God raising Jesus from the dead? There's no good evidence that dinosaurs walk the earth today, but that affect the probability that they walked the earth in the Mesozoic Era.

          "This is the estimate that I go with, given my current knowledge of the universe and how God works in the universe (God's activity in the world seems to me to manifest as laws of physics)."

          So again, you're assuming "God" is akin to the natural laws of physics (which no Christian would agree with.) This is to rig the calculation from the get go by rejecting supernatural intervention, and again, it renders your "probability of resurrection" meaningless to more open-minded folks who don't presume naturalism before running it.

          "Agreed, and those who believe in supernatural events will calculate the probabilities very differently. "

          And so we agree! Although I would add that you don't have to believe in supernatural events to arrive at a totally different probability calculation. You just have to be open to the possibility of them, as I hope any open-minded person would be.

          "Supernatural events violate my metaphysics, and no amount of historical evidence would be sufficient to cause me to abandon my metaphysics (unless the evidence were so overwhelming, it eclipsed the probability of Jesus returning via wholly natural means)."

          This is an interesting statement. If Jesus was really supernaturally raised from the dead, and no natural explanation is found plausible, much less sufficient, I would hope that would lead you to second guess your metaphysical bias against miracles.

          But Christians don't hold metaphysical views that allow miracles simply on the basis of historical data. We are led to that belief through philosophical reflection. If an all-powerful, transcendent God created the entire cosmos, it seems possible (and, for other reasons, likely) that he would interact with his creation.

          • Probability (I'm not an expert on probability, but this is my understanding of it, anyway) can only deal with known unknowns. It can't deal with unknown unknowns. I have no idea how God would supernaturally raise people from the dead. I'm not sure if it's ever happened, and if it has, how to determine the chances of it happening in any particular case. Once I know those chances, then I can try to find out the chances of Jesus being one of those cases. I can only deal with the known knowns and the known unknowns, and I calculate a probability.

            History isn't enough to change my mind. It's too murky. Too uncertain. I'd need something else, something either a metaphysical argument for the existence of a miracle-working God, or some present evidence of miracles like this, for example, maybe sometimes in the lab it could be witnessed that gasses move in a way that could best be explained by some intelligence having manipulated that gas. The best case would be if God raises people from the dead now, in well established present cases. For example, Fred was dead three days ago, cremated, and then physically returned by God. Then you could take the number of people this has happened to, divide by the total number of people, and get a reasonable prior probability for Jesus being one of those people. At that time, you could consider the historical evidence, which may well outweigh this sort of prior probability.

            Currently, the number of people I think have been physically raised from the dead is zero. Doesn't mean it couldn't have happened 2000 years ago. It's just that, if I figure out the probabilities using frequencies, I get that there's a 0% chance of it. If I use Bayes's theorem, I start with the prior probability of a thermodynamic miracle, and I'd need historical evidence enough to outweigh that thermodynamic miracle, in order to consider seriously an historical claim of a supernatural physical resurrection 2000 years ago. I'm not sure if that's even possible for me.

            If Jesus was really supernaturally raised from the dead, and no natural explanation is found plausible, much less sufficient, I would hope that would lead you to second guess your metaphysical bias against miracles.

            If somehow I could know that Jesus was raised from the dead, I would reconsider my metaphysical position on miracles. Currently, based on the historical evidence and the probability for resurrections (based on my own naturalist metaphysics), I conclude that it is more likely Jesus didn't even exist than that he came back from the dead physically.

            But Christians don't hold metaphysical views that allow miracles simply on the basis of historical data. We are led to that belief through philosophical reflection.

            That's the sort of evidence I would have to consider first. The historical case will have no traction with me unless I change my metaphysics.

            This last point is critical. I haven't ruled out miracles a priori. I just wouldn't consider historical evidence sufficient to establish a miracle, unless it the evidence was overwhelming. For example, if there were documented physical resurrections taking place at the rate of one every 100 years, witnessed by a hundred people each time. The chances of a thermodynamic miracle would overwhelm the chances of all these people lying of having lost their minds, prima facia, and so this sort of occurrence would quickly convince me to change my metaphysics.

            More likely, the change will come, if it comes at all, on the basis of philosophical arguments and/or personal religious experience.

          • "If somehow I could know that Jesus was raised from the dead, I would reconsider my metaphysical position on miracles."

            This is the heart of the problem: you've assumed Jesus cannot have been raised from the dead--your metaphysics precludes it--and you will not change your metaphysics until you're convinced Jesus was raised from the dead!

            It's an endless circle and regrettably closed-minded.

          • That's wrong. You completely misunderstand my position.

            There is an infinity of difference between a small number (even a cosmically small number) and zero.

            There is no endless circle. Many things could change my metaphysics. Not just the resurrection of Jesus. Admittedly, if the resurrection of Jesus was the only miracle, and the only argument for the possibility of miracles, then there's probably no way to really know it happened, and so it would probably never convince me. But you don't believe that. I know, because you said you don't believe that in one of the earlier replies.

            It's just that historical evidence isn't good enough for me. I need something here and now, either something that's always been there (some philosophical argument, either against my metaphysics or for a different metaphysics), or something that is here now that can inform what happened in the past.

          • I almost forgot the easiest most obvious way for me to be persuaded of Jesus's physical resurrection:

            If Jesus stuck around on Earth for the past 2000 years.

            That would do it right there. If Jesus stuck around for the 2000 years, then there would be virtually no doubt in my mind that the resurrection happened.

          • David Nickol

            It's an endless circle and regrettably closed-minded.

            Are you considering the position "miracles don't happen" to be closed minded and the position "miracles do happen" to be open minded? Because it seems to me that the truly open minded position would be, "On the one hand, it's possible that miracles do happen; on the other hand, it's possible that they don't."

          • Doug Shaver

            This is the heart of the problem: you've assumed Jesus cannot have been raised from the dead--your metaphysics precludes it--and you will not change your metaphysics until you're convinced Jesus was raised from the dead!

            You make a good point. A proper Bayesian analysis would assign a nonzero prior probability to the resurrection. What do you think would be a reasonable probability to assume?

  • Elliott Hoopes

    Did they perpetrate the hoax to start a new religion? Why would they do that? What was in it for them? There was no such thing as starting a religion to be a prosperity preacher back then.

    I guess we can believe all holy books circa this era and the non canonical gospels too, because no one had a reason to lie back then.

  • Mike

    What a strange way to start a religion: lying about a loser with no money or power who got himself crucified and didn't rise from the dead....that makes no sense unless it actually happened or if it didn't it represents the most unlikely sequence of events ever.

    • Doug Shaver

      What a strange way to start a religion: lying about a loser with no money or power who got himself crucified

      Strange indeed. I've never believed it for a moment. I've always been convinced that, no matter how Christianity got started, the people who started it were not lying.

      • Mike

        Exactly! Thanks.

    • Michael Murray

      What a strange way to start a religion: lying about a loser with no money or power who got himself crucified and didn't rise from the dead....that makes no sense unless it actually happened or if it didn't it represents the most unlikely sequence of events ever.

      The same argument of "so unlikely it has to be true" would seem to apply to

      According to Latter Day Saint belief, the golden plates (also called the gold plates or in some 19th-century literature, the golden Bible)[1] are the source from which Joseph Smith said he translated the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the faith. Some witnesses described the plates as weighing from 30 to 60 pounds (14 to 27 kg),[2] being golden in color, and being composed of thin metallic pages engraved on both sides and bound with three D-shaped rings.

      Smith said he found the plates on September 22, 1823, at a hill near his home in Manchester, New York, after an angel directed him to a buried stone box. Smith said the angel at first prevented him from taking the plates, but instructed him to return to the same location in a year. In September 1827, on his fourth annual attempt to retrieve the plates, Smith returned home with a heavy object wrapped in a frock, which he then put in a box. Though he allowed others to heft the box, he said that the angel had forbidden him to show the plates to anyone until they had been translated from their original "reformed Egyptian" language. Smith dictated the text of the Book of Mormon over the next several years, claiming that it was a translation of the plates. He did this by using a seer stone, which he placed in the bottom of a hat and then placed the hat over his face to view the words written within the stone.[3] Smith published the translation in 1830 as theBook of Mormon.

      Smith eventually obtained testimonies from eleven men, known as the Book of Mormon witnesses, who said they had seen the plates.[4] After the translation was complete, Smith said he returned the plates to the angel Moroni. Therefore the plates cannot now be examined. Latter Day Saints believe the account of the golden plates as a matter of faith, while critics often assert that either Smith manufactured the plates himself[5] or that the Book of Mormon witnesses based their testimony on visions rather than physical experience.

      Then there are the alien souls trapped on earth ...

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It is interesting to note that Mormonism is rejected as patently false prima facie by Christians, for reasons that are strongly objected to when they are applied to Christianity.

        Then there are the alien souls trapped on earth ...

        It seems founding a religion is more profitable than writing pulp science fiction.

      • Mike

        I don't see how they are analogous to 2,000 years of continuous history.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Why is 2,000 years of history important? Islam has around 1400 and both Judaism and Hinduism are much older.
          In 1800 years, Mormonism will possibly have 2,000 years of continuous history.

          • Mike

            Islam worships a real god so i don't understand your confusion. Hinduism also worships a real aspect of the supernatural so i am not sure why that is surprising. Mormonism also worships a real god namely the god of the bible. I am not sure what your examples have to do with Christianity being started on such utterly weak grounds.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Do you consider the grounds of Islam, Mormonism, and Hinduism strong?

          • Mike

            For the supernatural YES! for God for islam and mormon YES! but that's obvious.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why does the Resurrection have better grounding than the miracle claims of Islam or Mormonism?

          • Mike

            I don't know i haven't examined the historical evidence of Mormonism or of islam.

            But christian claims are part of the historical record of real places like judea, rome, etc. etc. But i don't know if mormons or muslims actually do claim that their miracles are part of history or not.

            Anyone is free to claim miracles/supernatural events/ interventions MOST by a huge margin of human civilization has believed in one "god"or another; "atheism" whatever it actually means is a very very new kid on the block.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But christian claims are part of the historical record of real places
            like judea, rome, etc. etc.

            What historical record? The only record of Christian claims are Christian Scriptures.

            But i don't know if mormons or muslims
            actually do claim that their miracles are part of history or not.

            They do.

            Anyone is free to claim miracles/supernatural events/ interventions MOST
            by a huge margin of human civilization has believed in one "god"or
            another; "atheism" whatever it actually means is a very very new kid on
            the block

            Atheism is as old as philosophy (systematic reasoning). Protagoras for instance.

          • Mike

            Christian scriptures are historical documents; in addition you have archaeology, other historical writers, oh geez pretty much the entire ancient world if full of christian symbols, carvings customs that all of a sudden burst on to the Roman world stage...it begers belief how fast this "fake" story took off.

            Protagoras may have been an atheist but 99% of greeks were believers.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This is no different from Islam or Hinduism. Islam burst onto the stage rather quickly as well.

            No one is questioning the existence of the religion, which is what the "symbols, carvings and customs" prove. What we are questioning is the resurrection of Jesus.

          • Mike

            Islam was a military conquest christ had no money no status no power nothing; his followers were fisherman and workers with no power no connections nothing; they didn't kill they got killed.

            You can and should q his resurrection; i hope it happened i can believe it happened but i like you like thomas can not prove it nor refute all objections to it; there is too much evil for there to be no hope of ultimate justice for the millions of ppl who never get a chance to live our comfy western indulgent lives; i keep the faith for justice and i think you should too; but if you like logical "proofs" check out Godel and what probably the most logical math genius of the 20 th century thought about the possibility of an afterlife.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Islam was a military conquest christ had no money no status no power nothing; his followers were fisherman and workers with no power no connections nothing; they didn't kill they got killed.

            Constantine

          • Mike

            300 years.

          • Mike

            PS if you define atheism as "reasoning" or "logic" then i am atheist too and so is the pope and so was christ himself. ;)

        • Michael Murray

          I don't see where the 2000 years comes into this ? You said

          What a strange way to start a religion: lying about a loser with no money or power who got himself crucified and didn't rise from the dead....that makes no sense unless it actually happened or if it didn't it represents the most unlikely sequence of events ever.

          The implication is that a religion can't start with a lie. I gave you an example of a religion that started with a lie.

          Did you mean to say it can't start with a lie and then last 2000 years ? I don't see why not. Once it gets going and you move further away from the lie I would have thought it is more and more likely to persist. Particularly once it gains followers, political power and starts to pass from parents to children.

          • Mike

            I don't understand why you think that lies have that much power? Personal exp alone is enough to refute the belief i think.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not saying anything about the power lies do or don't have. You asserted that the only way a religion could start is if the stories it began with were true. I gave the Church of the Latter Day Saints as a counter example.

          • Mike

            you seem to be saying that lies have the power to turn a lie into 2,000 years of civilization the scientific revolution and millions of churchs paintings sculptures etc. etc. and still going strong...that's a might claim.

            PS my claim was only that christianity's beginning doesn't make sense barring resurrection.

  • David Nickol

    Did they perpetrate the hoax to start a new religion?

    Why should there be any suggestion that the earliest believers in the resurrection of Jesus intended to "start a new religion"? They were Jews, and they remained Jews. Jesus himself said (Matthew 15:24), "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The question of whether those who wished to be followers of Jesus had to "convert to Judaism" was not addressed until twenty years after Jesus died, and it was not the Apostles who advocated acceptance of non-Jewish "Christians."

    • "They were Jews, and they remained Jews."

      Culturally, but not religiously. In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus dramatically altered the way they worshipped, most notably by moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Those who denied Jesus was the messiah openly chastised him and his followers for not abiding by the Jewish religious laws. To suggest they "remained" in their same religion after Jesus' resurrection is thus indefensible.

      • David Nickol

        In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus dramatically altered the way they worshipped, most notably by moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

        The earliest followers of Jesus, including Peter and all the Apostles, were practicing Jews and did not abandon Judaism after the resurrection. Jesus was, in their eyes, the Jewish Messiah. Why would they cease to become Jews? It was never a Jewish belief that the Messiah would come and found a new religion!

        The earliest converts to the Jesus movement after Pentecost were also Jews who did not abandon Judaism. They kept the Sabbath, and if they held celebrations in remembrance of Jesus on Sundays, they did it in addition to keeping the Sabbath, not instead of keeping the Sabbath.

        The Sabbath was not "moved." Catholics today do not observe the Sabbath. As Gentile Christians more and more outnumbered Jewish Christians, the practice of observing the Sabbath was abandoned. Here is what the Catechism says:

        2175 Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ:

        Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord's Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death. [St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Magn. 9,1:SCh 10,88.]

        2176 The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship "as a sign of his universal beneficence to all. "Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

        The Sabbath is considered by Catholics to have been part of "the Law" given to the Jews, in much the same category as the requirement for circumcision. Gentile Christians, it was decided early on (Council of Jerusalem) were not to be bound by "the Law."

        • Thanks for the reply, David! Perhaps "moved" was the wrong word, but I think you understand (and agree) with the point I was making:

          While religious Jews worshipped on Saturday, and held that day sacrosanct, the earliest followers of Jesus moved that day to Sunday. That alone presents a dramatic departure from the Jewish religion (as first-century Jews knew it then, and as we know it today.) But then you add the eschewing of the dietary laws, the cessation of Temple worship, etc. and the gap widens even more.

          Moving past these weeds back to our original point, it's seems undeniable, in my view, that Jesus' early disciples proposed something radically new--a new "Way" as they described it--that significantly departed from the accepted Jewish religious practice. You're right that these disciples saw Christianity as a fulfillment, and thus a continuation, of this religion, but you're wrong to insinuate they didn't aim to launch a radical new form of religious faith.

          Nevertheless, the question remains:

          Why would the earliest disciples of Jesus make these radical changes? And which hypothesis most plausibly and completely accounts for these changes, whether they qualify as starting a new religion or not?

          The resurrection hypothesis remains the best answer.

          • David Nickol

            While religious Jews worshipped on Saturday, and held that day sacrosanct, the earliest followers of Jesus moved that day to Sunday.

            I am saying this is not correct. The earliest followers of Jesus, who were Jews, went to the Temple to worship on the Sabbath (if they were in Jerusalem) or went to synagogues to worship on the Sabbath if they were outside of Jerusalem. In addition, many of them gathered to share a communal meal on Sunday.

            I am not too eager to use Wikipedia as a source, but my own library is limited (and some important volumes are buried too deep to consult!), so here is something I consider reliable:

            Alister McGrath, former Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, claims that the 1st century "Jewish Christians" were totally faithful religious Jews. They differed from other contemporary Jews only in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.

            [Footnote] McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1-4051-0899-1. Page 174: "In effect, they [Jewish Christians] seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. Unless males were circumcised, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1)."

          • David Nickol

            Why would the earliest disciples of Jesus make these radical changes? And which hypothesis most plausibly and completely accounts for these changes, whether they qualify as starting a new religion or not?

            I don't quite see the "radical changes" you are talking about. As I said, the followers of Jesus during his lifetime and their Jewish converts did not abandon their own Judaism. They were Jews who believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. In addition to the practice of Judaism, they added the practice of "the Lord's Supper" on Sundays (almost certainly on Sundays because observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays would have made gathering with fellow Jewish-Christians for a meal impossible).

            According to Acts 15, a decision was made (in about the year 50, about 20 years after the crucifixion) to allow Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus to do so without converting to Judaism (that is, not to undergo circumcision or be bound by Jewish Law). As an ever increasing number of Christian converts were Gentiles, Jewish Christians ceased to exist. This, of course, radically changed the nature of Christian practice, from a Jewish sect to a new religion, but it happened over generations.

            It simply cannot be denied that Jesus, during his lifetime, saw his mission as calling back nonobservant Jews to Judaism as well as calling observant Jews to be better Jews (less harsh, less hypocritical, and so on). Jesus, during his lifetime, was not trying to convert Jews (or Gentiles) to "Christianity."

  • Ignatius Reilly

    When it is claimed that the Early Christians would not have died for a lie, i think an important part of Jewish literary tradition is overlooked. The Jews would write books about past events to give them strength to overcome current events. For instance, Daniel was written during the time of Maccabees. In the same manner, the Christian persecutions in Acts could have been written to give example to the current Christians, who recently witnessed the destruction of the temple and were experiencing a degree of persecution.

  • TomD123

    I actually take issue with two points here. First, it does not take any faith to believe Jesus did not die. And suppose it did take more faith, wouldn't that make it virtuous? If faith is a virtue, why take the route of less faith?

    Second, I think it is a bad idea to start with the Resurrection as proof for God's existence. I mean, for some people maybe an argument for it will work to establish God's existence. Maybe it will play a role in a cumulative case. However, objectively speaking, I think that it is logically posterior to an argument for God's existence. The reason being that if God's existence is established, the Resurrection becomes possible and therby more plausible based on historic evidence.

  • The miracle of the resurrection is not a good starting point for debates, because no miracle is debatable. If one witnesses a miracle, there is no need to convince him by
    argument. If one does not witness a miracle, no argument is sufficient. The miracle of changing water into wine at Cana is a prime example. Jesus’ disciples witnessed the miracle and ‘began to believe in him’. The headwaiter did not witness the miracle and knew exactly what happened. He said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves good wine first, then when the guests have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

  • Estevao Bel

    One thing that has dawned on me recently is the absurd positions
    atheists will take when they are moved to do so by theistic arguments
    and not by any intuition in and of itself. What I mean is that atheists
    will normally be perfectly fine with saying "everything that begins to
    exist has a cause", or that "Such and such historical evidence
    demonstrates that such a person lived and made waves at this point in
    the past" until these simple ideas are tied to God in any way. Then you
    get people who start positing the inability to know anything about the
    past, or thinking that maybe things just pop into existence uncaused out
    of nothing, or that causation is just an illusion à la Hume. It's an
    interesting study in psychology to be sure.

    • David Nickol

      I don't think skepticism about, or disbelief in, the existence of Jesus should be categorized as an atheist position. Nor should disbelief in the resurrection of Jesus be categorized as an atheist position.

      As for arguments about the existence of God, they are philosophical, and once you start making philosophical arguments, you go beyond everyday language and begin to assign very precise or restricted meanings to words you would ordinarily use much more freely.

      What I mean is that atheists will normally be perfectly fine with saying "everything that begins to exist has a cause" . . . .

      When has anyone ever said that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" without it being in an argument for the existence of God? You might, under many circumstances, say something along the lines of, "Everything that happens has a cause." But when arguing about the existence of God, even theists have to avoid that kind of language, since the atheists can ask, "What caused God?"

      It seems to me that saying "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is a contrived premise, since it assumes the existence of God as a being that did not "begin" to exist.

    • Doug Shaver

      One thing that has dawned on me recently is the absurd positions atheists will take when they are moved to do so by theistic arguments and not by any intuition in and of itself.

      Some atheists do take absurd positions. So do some theists. I don't think any of my positions are absurd, but if you'd like to show me why you think they are, we can talk.

  • mriehm

    There's a fourth possibility, too: that Jesus died, and was buried, and that was the end of it. Later, myths arose.

    And a fifth one, a variation on your third option: Jesus died and was buried. His disciples exhumed the body, for whatever reason. Myths arose.

    Myths can arise very, very quickly. Consider UFO abduction theorists, or conspiracy theorists. It doesn't take long for verbal retellings to become strongly embellished.

    • Maxximiliann

      Over the years, skeptics have challenged— and continue to challenge— the Bible’s accuracy regarding the names of people, events and places it mentions. Time and again, though, evidence has shown such skepticism to be unwarranted. The Bible record, therefore, is wholly factual.

      For example, at one time scholars doubted the existence of Assyrian King Sargon, mentioned at Isaiah 20:1. However, in the 1840’s, archaeologists began unearthing the palace of this king. Now, Sargon is one of the best-known Assyrian kings.

      Critics questioned the existence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered Jesus’death. (Matthew 27:1, 22-24) But in 1961 a stone bearing Pilate’s name and rank was discovered near the city of Caesarea in Israel.

      Before 1993, there was no extra-biblical evidence to support the historicity of David, the brave young shepherd who later became king of Israel. That year, however, archaeologists uncovered in northern Israel a basalt stone, dated to the ninth century B.C.E., that experts say bears the words “House of David” and “king of Israel.”

      Until recently, many scholars doubted the accuracy of the Bible’s account of the nation of Edom battling with Israel in the time of David. (2 Samuel 8:13, 14) Edom, they argued, was a simple pastoral society at the time and did not become sufficiently organized or have the might to threaten Israel until much later. However, recent excavations indicate that “Edom was a complex society centuries earlier [than previously thought], as reflected in the Bible,” states an article in the journal Biblical Archaeology Review.

      There were many rulers on the world stage during the 16 centuries that the Bible was being written. When the Bible refers to a ruler, it always uses the proper title. For example, it correctly refers to Herod Antipas as “district ruler” and Gallio as “proconsul.” (Luke 3:1; Acts 18:12) Ezra 5:6 refers to Tattenai, the governor of the Persian province “beyond the River,” the Euphrates River. A coin produced in the fourth century B.C.E. contains a similar description, identifying the Persian governor Mazaeus as ruler of the province “Beyond the River.”

      Regarding the historical accuracy of the Bible, the October 25, 1999, issue of U.S.News & World Report said: “In extraordinary ways, modern archaeology has affirmed the historical core of the Old and New Testaments— corroborating key portions of the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, the Exodus, the Davidic monarchy, and the life and times of Jesus.” While faith in the Bible does not hinge on archaeological discoveries, such historical accuracy is what you would expect of a book inspired by God.

      Even more staggering, however, is the fact that there’s more historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Christ than there is for evolution. In fact, any denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection is comparable to denying the US declared its independence in 1776 or that Columbus landed in America in 1492.

      In his book "The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus", Michael Licona provides a list of scholars who attest to the historicity of Christ’s death and resurrection which includes Brodeur, Collins, Conzelman, Fee, Gundry, Harris, Hayes, Hèring, Hurtado, Johnson, Kistemaker, Lockwood, Martin, Segal, Snyder, Thiselton, Witherington, and Wright.

      Concordantly, British scholar N. T. Wright states, "As a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.” (N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993)), p. 26.

      Even Gert L¸demann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”(Gerd L¸demann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.)

      These are just a minute sampling from the massive throng of scholars whose research attests the historicity of Christ’s resurrection - http://amzn.to/13MQiTE http://bit.ly/18UraA6

      Prominently, in his book, “Justifying Historical Descriptions”, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

      1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.

      2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.

      3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.

      4. It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.

      5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The statement: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.

      6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as an actual, historical resurrection.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I would like to jump to the defense of (some) "modernist theologians" here:

    Shall we believe that the apostles went on to follow lives of hardship, suffering, and deprivation, finally being tortured and killed for what was merely a “spiritual meaning” or a “beautiful theological idea”?

    No, but neither, if we read what they wrote, shall we believe that they underwent those hardships because they were able to conceptualize the event in terms of matter.

    St. Paul, who was as ardent a proponent of the resurrection as anyone, and famously endured hardships to proclaim it, described his own life-reorienting encounter with the Risen Christ in this way:

    whether [I was] in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows

    He did not claim to understand it. He did not claim that it could be mapped to our ordinary categories of material versus non-material. He seemed to have experienced something that transcended those categories. That something called him out of himself and fundamentally reoriented his life. It was the very center of reality. That something understood him, he did not understand it.

    I wonder if it is a particularly modern criticism to claim that an event can only be fundamentally real if we are able to understand it in material terms.

  • I don't accept that supernatural events occur. I would need more than a few non-independant accounts from thousands of years ago to convince me that there was an empty tomb and that the reason it was empty was that someone survived his own death.

    Some interesting scholarship recently from Bart Erhman, talking about what we know about what happened to bodies after death. Part of the crucifixion punishment was leaving the body on the cross to decay for weeks. There were few exceptions, and Jesus does not fall within them.

    I'm prepared to accept that Jesus existed, was crucified, I can even accept, on Erhman's professional word that it is reasonable to accept that people believed they encountered the resurrected Christ. Indeed, I don't think it would be difficult to find many who would claim they met him yesterday.

    The choice is whether you believe something scientifically impossible happened based on the fact that some people said it did, or you believe it is more likely that the testimony is mistaken, misled, fraudulent or corrupted. I accept the latter, but give me your best evidence.

  • mcarey

    Humans are willing to die for all kinds of reasons. Germans died for Hitler and the Reich. Germans gassed innocent people for Hitler and the Reich. Romans died for the Empire. Muslims die for Allah and the promise of virgins in heaven.

  • Jeff Warchal

    The big thing I see here with regard to resurrection is that people prefer the "glass" to be already full rather than to be in the process of filling up. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." - John 11:21 So many times, I hear "if you would've done this, if you would've done that, then this bad thing wouldn't have happened." Yet, the Paschal Mystery is the retelling of such an awesome true story of creation, the revelation of the two trees (The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - Genesis 3 and the Tree of Life - The Crucifix). Since creation is so awesome, why not retell it in original ways. What looks wrong to us is made right by God.

  • The only author in the Bible who mentions anything about guards being at the tomb, Matthew, says that the guards were not posted until the next day after Jesus body had been placed in the tomb, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb, he had not sealed it. So, the tomb of Jesus was left unguarded and unsealed the entire first night, in the darkness, and probably part of the next day. That would provide ample time and ample opportunity for someone to have moved or stolen the body.

    So even if the biblical account of the “guards at the tomb” story is correct, the fact that there is a time period when the tomb was left unguarded, blows a hole in the Christian claim that a resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb and the disciples’ belief that Jesus had been resurrected. For instance, if grave robbers had taken the body, the Jews would say that the disciples took the body and the disciples would say that Jesus had fulfilled his prophecy and had risen from the dead.

    • Andre V.

      Simple. On that version the guards would have arrived at the tomb a day later, would probably have looked inside, and would have raised the alarm themselves, if for no other reason than to absolve themselves of disciplinary action against them. The record does not show such an event.