Resurrection: case dismissed?
A guest post by Ray Ternes. Ray has been a lawyer in Victoria for over five years and in October 2014 will commence as a barrister.
It is an oft-repeated claim is that there is no admissible evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.1 I’d like to put this claim to the test, and then follow where the evidence leads.
In order to test the claim, it is convenient to set up a mock trial. The setting: the Supreme Court of Victoria. The case: the plaintiff seeks declaratory relief that Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, the plaintiff seeks the court’s endorsement that the resurrection of Jesus was historical reality, not fiction.
It is necessary to deal with two preliminary issues. Firstly, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. This means that the onus lies with the plaintiff to convince the jury. Secondly, the standard of proof is the degree to which the plaintiff’s case must be proven in order for the plaintiff to succeed. This is a civil case; therefore, the applicable standard is on the balance of probabilities.2 The plaintiff will succeed in this case if they satisfy the jury that the resurrection of Jesus was more likely than not.3
So, to begin:
The plaintiff opens the case with reports from three pre-eminent historians and scholars. These are Geza Vermes, Jewish, Gerd Ludemann, atheist, and Gary Habermas, a Christian.4 This is opinion evidence, and is admissible under section 79 of the Evidence Act 2008 (the Act). That provision allows evidence of opinions to be given if the opinion is based wholly or substantially on the person’s specialised knowledge, and that specialised knowledge is based on the person’s training, study or experience.
Vermes, Ludemann and Habermas are undisputed experts; no objection is made by the defence to the qualifications of these scholars. They were all professors of theology and/or history at distinguished universities5 and between them authored or co-authored about 50 books.
The plaintiff’s aim in adducing6 these reports is the introduction of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is not weaker or lesser evidence; it’s simply indirect. An example is proving motive in a murder case — the probative value of the evidence depends on the cogency of alternative explanations. ‘Alternative explanations’ in this context mean an explanation of the evidence other than that Jesus rose from the dead.
Vermes, Ludemann and Habermas agree on three points:7
- That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the ruling Romans in or about AD30;
- That Jesus’ followers sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead; and
- That Jesus’ tomb was empty — that is, that his body was not found in the tomb where he was laid.
One of the prime reasons for consensus on the third point is that the movement now known as Christianity could have been aborted in its infancy if the body of Jesus was produced. However, it was not, and the Sadducees, the Jewish ruling party at the time, instead claimed that the disciples stole the body. This is a claim that Vermes describes as not standing up to stringent scrutiny.8
The plaintiff submits that the best explanation, the most rational sense that can be made out of these three pieces of circumstantial evidence, is that Jesus rose from the dead.
The defence is quick to point out that these facts don’t establish the resurrection. There are alternative explanations. If there were not, presumably Vermes and Ludemann would have returned to the Christian faith they once professed but later turned away from. One such alternative explanation, dismissed by Vermes, is that the wrong tomb was visited. The impetus to, but ultimate failure of, the Sadduces to produce Jesus’ body to quell Christianity’s burgeoning growth renders this explanation unlikely. More plausible explanations are by reference to apparition type experiences (Vermes) or self-deception by way of unconscious hallucinatory experiences in the context of grief (Ludemann).
The plaintiff next adduces three eyewitness accounts as evidence that Jesus was seen, in physical form, after his resurrection. Specifically, these are recorded by Matthew and John in the Gospels, and more briefly by Peter in his letters.9 10 It is worth extracting John’s eyewitness account:11
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
The plaintiff points out that these three men knew Jesus very well before he died, and wrote down that they saw a resurrected Jesus.12
The defence will take immediate objection to this evidence, on the basis that it is inadmissible by reason of being hearsay evidence, citing section 59 of the Act. Hearsay evidence is:
Evidence of a previous representation made by a person is not admissible to prove the existence of a fact that it can reasonably be supposed that the person intended to assert by the representation.
An illustration is apposite at this point to explain hearsay evidence. A person, X, is seen running away from what turns out to be a murder scene yelling ‘I did it, I did it’. X was overheard, but not seen by Y, nor did Y witness the death. Unless an exception to the hearsay rule applies, Y can’t give evidence of what they heard in order to prove that X committed the murder.
The representations made by Matthew, John and Peter were that Jesus rose from the dead. They are hearsay evidence if they are tendered to prove that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. However, the common law (and now statute) recognised that much good evidence would be excluded from evidence if the hearsay rule was applied strictly. In response, the law developed a number of exceptions to the rule.
The plaintiff will rely on section 63 of the Act, which creates an exception to the hearsay rule in civil proceedings. The exception applies if the maker of the previous representation is not available, and they saw, heard or otherwise perceived the representation. Quite obviously, Matthew, John and Peter are not available to give evidence, having long since passed away. All three witnesses claimed to have directly seen and heard Jesus; this is first-hand hearsay.13
The defence will raise an obvious objection, which is that the papyrus scrolls upon which Matthew, John and Peter wrote have not survived. Given the absence of original documentary evidence, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving accurate transmission. New Testament scholar F F Bruce wrote that ‘there is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament’. Professor Bruce considered that if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would be regarded as beyond doubt.14
In view of the expert evidence in support of accurate transmission of the testimonies of Matthew, John and Peter, it is submitted that their evidence is likely to be admitted into evidence.
There remains a final piece of evidence, which is widely regarded by scholars as the earliest, and accordingly, of significant evidential value. There is broad agreement among scholars, Vermes included, that the creed recorded by Paul was in circulation within five years of Jesus’ death.15 In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul recorded what scholars regard as an early creed, as follows:16
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
The defence will make objection to this evidence, as it is hearsay evidence. It also cannot fall under the exception of section 63 of the Act, as Paul does not claim to have witnessed the appearance of Jesus first-hand.17 Arguably, the plaintiff can rely on section 60 of the Act, which allows hearsay evidence if the evidence is relevant and admissible for another purpose. In this instance, the evidence may be admissible to rebut the allegation of late invention or myth. In other words, if the defence claim that the resurrection of Jesus developed as a legend, a story embellished over many years, the plaintiff can use this excerpt from Paul’s writings in rebuttal.
There closes our experiment in the courtroom. The exercise will have demonstrated that I am convinced there is admissible evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus is answered the first of our two questions. The second was examining where the evidence leads.
Before presenting a view on the second question, I wish to address a difficulty with this exercise, and indeed, topic. I am not yet persuaded that the courtroom is the proper place for this discussion. The usual business of courts is the adjudication of disputes between parties that have arisen within the last 2-5 years. In rarer cases, the subject matter may be 20-30 years old, or in extreme cases, 70-80 years old. The point is that courts and the rules of evidence are not equipped to deal with questions of extraordinary events that allegedly occurred 2000 years ago. This is the business of historians.
That is why I find particularly persuasive the opinions of historians on these topics, although I concede that lawyers are well placed to test the credibility of historians’ opinions.
Historian and Christian minister Dr John Dickson has described there being a ‘resurrection-shaped dent’ in the historical record.18
My own judgement, for what it is worth, is that there are excellent reasons for accepting that Jesus rose from the dead. I would find for the plaintiff and grant the declaratory relief sought: it is more likely than not that Jesus rose from the dead.
 See for example: http://thebibleisnotholy.wordpress.com/resurrection/the-man-with-no-heart-miracles-and-evidence/, accessed 26 August 2014; http://infidels.org/kiosk/article/does-the-claim-of-jesus-resurrection-prevail-under-the-federal-rules-of-evidence-212.html, accessed 26 August 2014
 Section 140 of the Evidence Act 2008.
 Astute readers will have noticed that I have opted to use the civil standard of proof rather than the criminal standard of proof (the criminal standard, generally speaking, being higher and therefore more difficult to admit evidence). In my view this is largely irrelevant, which I hope will become obvious as the article progresses.
 In case there is any suspicion that I have chosen three experts somehow sympathetic to Christianity, let it be known that Ludemann’s stated aim in his professional work is to prove the non-historicity of the resurrection of Jesus and thereby persuade Christians to change their faith.
 Geza Vermes passed away in May 2013.
 To ‘adduce’ evidence is a legal term simply meaning to ‘introduce’ evidence; to seek to have the court formally admit the material into evidence
 Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. IVP Academic. 2010.
 See Matthew 28, and 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21, 2 Peter 1:16
 I have excluded the Gospel of Mark, because it is simply not necessary to delve into the controversies surrounding the ‘longer ending’ of Mark 16:9-20. My reasons for excluding the Gospel of Luke will become obvious.
 John 20:19-20, New International Version
 I acknowledge that Peter did not spell this out explicitly, but it is clear by implication. See also Acts 2:32.
 This should explain why I have omitted the Gospel of Luke; it is not first-hand hearsay. I note in passing that it is arguably expert opinion evidence under section 79 of the Act given Luke’s study referred to in Luke 1:3.
 F F Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible, (2nd Ed.; London: Pickering & Inglis, 1953), p170.
 Charles Foster, The Jesus Inquest (Oxford, Monarch Books, 2006) pp156-159, 172-176.
 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, New International Version
 At least not in the flesh (I have left aside Paul’s road to Damascus claimed experience).
 http://anglicanchurchnoosa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Article-re-the-resurrection-by-John-Dickson.pdf. Accessed 26 August 2014.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels
For footnote , let us suppose the chosen path would be a criminal case. My understanding is that it requires evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. What strikes me is the mistrial of Jesus Christ, because he was sentenced to death but not found guilty by Roman authority, Jewish authority in Galilee, and also not found guilty by Sanhedrin due to evidence beyond reasonable doubt for the accusation of falsehood affirmation on that Jesus is the Christ. The claim of the resurrection in the criminal case should accept the testimonies of the experiences of those who have met Jesus Christ alive and recently. Why would not these testimonies be accepted in the court of law?
Regarding note  there are authors who consider the writing of Luke as being that of eyewitnesses, even if he himself may or may not have been one, but has rendered in writing an eyewitness account. Richard Bauckham in "The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts" I think points out that Luke's gospel is the only one having a preface mentioning his sources 'those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning'. So dismissing the gospel of Luke may be unnecessary.
Thanks for the comment. You're absolutely right that the trials of Jesus were a farce, in the sense that he was found not guilty and then punished anyway.
Your first question was about whether the eyewitness testimonies would be accepted if the trial was a criminal one. There's a strong argument that Matthew, John and Peter's evidence would be admissible in a criminal trial. Section 65 of the Evidence Act 2008 deals with an exception to the hearsay rule for first-hand hearsay in the criminal context. I think one of the exceptions in s65(2) apply, which mean that their evidence is admissible (specifically, s65(2)(c) or (d)).
Your second question was about the use of Luke's gospel. I think Luke's gospel is quite rightly regarded as reliable, partly because of the preface that you mentioned. However, Luke himself didn't see the events that he describes in his account; he has based his gospel on the eyewitness accounts of others. Therefore, it's not 'first-hand' hearsay as described in the article above, and the exceptions in law allowing the evidence don't apply. As I mentioned in the article, the gospel shouldn't be dismissed, as it is arguably admissible as expert evidence. Also, it is important from a historical point of view, if not a legal perspective.
I'm not so sure about this, Ray. I can't help but agree with Carl Sagan's view that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim of someone coming back to life is an extraordinary one and to accept that it happened based on a few non-contemporaneous and second-hand accounts just doesn't cut it for me. I feel as though I would have to suspend my powers of rational thought in order to believe that Jesus was turned into a zombie. I also think the notion that God intended that his son be tortured and killed in a horrible way (in order to 'save' mankind from our sins) really is an exceptionally unpleasant one. Ultimately, I think a lot of Christians today don't really need to believe that Jesus was resurrected in order to be inspired by his teachings and to call themselves Christians.
George, thanks for your comment.
It's interesting that you quote Carl Sagan on evidence. As a champion of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) he is a remarkable example of a man who believed in a great idea but without any evidence. He certainly did the right thing, and inspired people to search for that evidence. But to this day, the idea behind SETI is held by many without evidence. It remains a plausible idea, and worth investigating further.
For historians, it's not a matter of waiting for extraordinary evidence, but of processing the evidence that is available.
The cartoon you shared is a bit of fun, but it's a joke, not an argument. It's point only works if we assume that the Bible is a work of fiction. Yet the three historians referred to by Ray treat the gospels as historical documents, and draw the conclusion the tomb was empty. The cartoon also assumes that there is only one story, yet the gospels and Paul's writings are independent accounts that lead to the same conclusion.
In your final remark, you seem not to appreciate the centrality of the resurrection to Christian thinking. We don't feel that we need inspiring teaching, but rather that we need a saviour. We understand that salvation occurred in history when Jesus died, and our new life now participates in Jesus' resurrection life. So our inspiration is the resurrection, and Jesus' teaching has relevance because he is alive.
I was also reminded of this cartoon when I read your piece: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/12/24/tomb2/
Paul never claims to have been an eyewitness to the Resurrection. His claim of seeing "the Christ" was based on a "heavenly vision", as he describes it, in Acts chapter 26, in which he briefly sees a bright light that speaks to him on the Road to Damascus.
Therefore, it seems that most of Christianity's "eye-witness" evidence is based on the writings of the authors of the Gospels.
Who wrote the Gospels?
For every other alleged historical event we determine its historicity by examining contemporaneous, corroborating, independent testimony from two or more known sources along with any available archaeological evidence.
The Resurrection of Jesus has no such supporting evidence. To believe that this supernatural event occurred, one must suspend belief in the laws of nature and in the rules of evidence to believe it.
This alleged event can only be believed by faith.
I think that the standard of proof that you're applying here is broadly appropriate for modern history (for a few centuries now we have been in a written age), but problematic for ancient history. For example, if we required 'contemporaneous, corroborating, independent testimony from two or more known sources', we'd need to remove everything we know about Alexander the Great, and King Leonidas' Battle of Thermopylae from the history books.
An open mind would examine the evidence that we have, and consider which way it points. I'm not suggesting that faith plays no role, but it is not blind faith.
Thanks for the comment Gary. The short answer to 'who wrote the Gospels' is that we think it was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but we're not sure. The long answer would fill a reasonable-sized library. Also, don't forget Peter, who didn't write a gospel/narrative account, but penned a couple of letters (referred to in the blog).
Are our pastors telling us the truth?
Are Christian pastors honest with their congregations regarding the evidence for the Resurrection? Is there really a "mountain of evidence" for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?
You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:
-A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the Resurrection-
(copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)
Irrespective of whether or not there is a 'mountain of evidence' supporting the resurrection, there's certainly some very good evidence. My aim in the article was to touch on some of the evidence, in a legal context.
What pastors say to their congregation was not the point of the article, though one hopes that pastors tell their congregations the truth!
I am not a lawyer, but as a non-lawyer, I see several weakness in your argument. First, you seem to assume that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and beyond that, assume that they were written by "Matthew", "John Mark", "Luke, the physician", and "John, son of Zebedee". The problem is that the majority of scholars today do not believe that this is the case. The majority of scholars/experts in the field believe that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses, in distant lands, many decades after the alleged events, based on oral stories about Jesus circulating at the time. So how strong would the following testimony be in a court of law:
Attorney: Your Honor, I would like to present four eyewitness statements to the court that describe in detail the event in question (the resurrection/reanimation of a dead corpse).
Judge: Ok. What are the names of the persons who have signed these statements?
Attorney: Uh, well, I'm sorry, your Honor, but experts are not sure who signed/wrote these statements (the gospels). They are unsigned.
Judge: Then how on earth do you know that they are eyewitness accounts of this resurrection?
Attorney: Well, because a well-known second century mystic named Papias, a man known for his wild tales, even about Jesus, living in what is now modern Turkey, in approximately 130 AD (one hundred years after the death of Jesus), claimed that someone told him, that someone had told him, that John Mark had written a gospel in which he recorded the sermons of Peter and that the apostle Matthew had written a gospel in Hebrew.
Judge: That's it? Is that all the proof that you have that the Apostles or companions of the Apostles wrote these books: a vague statement by an unreliable non-eyewitness living 100 years after the event in question??? Do you have statements from any Christian, Jew, or Roman in the one hundred years prior to 130 AD which attribute authorship of these four testimonies (books) to the apostles or their companions?
Attorney: No, your Honor.
Ray said the following: "New Testament scholar F F Bruce wrote that ‘there is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament’. Professor Bruce considered that if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would be regarded as beyond doubt.14 In view of the expert evidence in support of accurate transmission of the testimonies of Matthew, John and Peter, it is submitted that their evidence is likely to be admitted into evidence."
It is very true that the Bible has a very good record of accurate transmission (with a couple of exceptions), But if the original story was not told by an eyewitness, just someone who heard a story which he BELIEVED was true, the story that was then recopied thousands of times up until the invention of the printing press, and whose transmission was mostly accurately passed down, does not in any way shape, or form mean that the original story was eyewitness information or even true!
Ray said, " In other words, if the defence claim that the resurrection of Jesus developed as a legend, a story embellished over many years, the plaintiff can use this excerpt from Paul’s writings (the Creed in First Corinthians 15) in rebuttal."
If we accept the claim that the Creed in First Corinthians 15 developed very early after Jesus' death, what does this prove? Answer: Only that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead! That's it. It doesn't prove that there was an empty brand-new, hand-hewn tomb, owned by a guy named Joseph of Arimethea. Paul never mentions an empty tomb in this epistle or in ANY of his epistles! Does this Creed prove the gospels' story that women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection? No. There is no mention of women as eyewitnesses in this Creed. Is there any mention in the Creed that confirms the Gospels' claim that Jesus appeared to the Eleven in the Upper Room on the same day as the Resurrection? No. Is there any mention of Jesus appearing to the Ten on one occasion and then to the Eleven (this time including Thomas) one week later? No. Is there any mention of Jesus appearing on the Emmaus Road or cooking breakfast for the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius? No. Is there any mention of Jesus giving the Great Commission on a mountain in Galilee (or Bethany)? No. Is there any mention of the Eleven witnessing Jesus ascend into the clouds? No.
No, no, no, no.
The only thing the Creed tells us is that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had died; that Jesus had been buried; and that Jesus had risen from the dead on the third day, and, that he then appeared to the members of the (male) leadership of the church and to some unspecified group of five hundred people, whom for all we know, Paul had only heard of by second hand information (and in the same manner, his statement that most of them were still living. We can't be sure that this is information that Paul knew as fact by first hand knowledge or something he had heard and assumed to be true.)
For all we know, Jesus' body had been tossed into an unmarked, common grave/hole in the ground, as was the Roman custom; the location known only to a few Roman guards who soon forgot its location. Several days, weeks, or months later, Jesus' demoralized, emotionally traumatized friends and family begin having vivid dreams, trances, and visions of Jesus...just as tens of thousands of grieving family and friends, for thousands of years, have "seen" their dead loved ones visit them...and the Resurrection story is born.
By the time that the author of Mark writes his story in circa 70 AD, in Rome, or some other distant location, all of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus could very well have been dead. So no one was alive who could read the first gospel and say, "Hey. That isn't how it happened!"
You can come up with all kinds of reasons why you don't believe that this scenario is what actually happened, but my point is this: you can't prove that this or some other very natural, non-supernatural explanation is the basis for the Resurrection belief, and by simple statistics based on cumulative human history and experience, a natural explanation such as what I have just given is much more probable that your supernatural laden explanation. The only way you can wiggle out of this corner is to pull out your "get out of jail free card" by saying: A supernatural God can do anything, therefore statistics and probability based on human history and experience are irrelevant.
And then you must prove that Yahweh/Jesus is the Creator God...and I don't think you can do that without proving the Resurrection...which I just demonstrated, is much less probable than a natural explanation.
One last point: The Epistle of Second Peter is a known work of fraud. The overwhelming majority of NT scholars do NOT believe that Peter the fisherman and disciple of Jesus wrote this book. As far as the Epistle of First Peter, I would encourage you to investigate the scholarly position for this book's authorship. I think you will find that only a minority of NT scholars believe that Peter wrote this book.
Here is one scholar's statement regarding the authorship of First Peter:
Eric Eve writes: "Despite 1 Pet 1:1, the author is unlikely to have been the apostle Peter. The cultured Greek of the epistle makes it perhaps the most literary composition in the NT. The apostle Peter probably knew some Greek, but 1 Peter does not look like the product of an unlettered (Acts 4:13) Galilean fisherman. It employs a sophisticated vocabulary incorporating several NT hapax legomena, and its author appears to have some command of the techniques of Hellenistic rhetoric. He is also intimately acquainted with the OT in the LXX, whereas we should have expected the Galilean Peter to have been more familiar with an Aramaic Targum or the Hebrew." (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 1263)
Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.
But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.
How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?
I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.
If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?
Dear Readers: You do not need to be a scholar to disbelieve resurrection claims.
Two thousand years ago, hundreds of millions of people on earth believed in a god named Zeus who lived on top of Mount Olympus in Greece who performed many fantastical supernatural deeds. The existence of Zeus and the historicity of his alleged deeds have never been disproven.
Approximately 1300 years ago, a man named Mohammad claimed to have received a visit from a supernatural being who gave him the true word of the creator of the universe and who enabled him to fly on a winged horse into the heavens. Hundreds of millions of people today believe in the historicity of these claims. These claims have never been disproven.
Approximately 200 years ago, a man named Joseph Smith claimed to have received golden plates from a supernatural being containing the true, updated, word of the creator of the universe. Millions of people today believe that this claim is historical fact. This claim has never been disproven.
Since these claims have never been disproven, should we believe them? Should we believe these fantastical, extra-ordinary claims that defy the established laws of nature? The proponents of the above claims would say that the possible/probable existence of a Creator greatly increases the probability of these claims being true. But is that really correct? Doesn't the evidence seem to suggest that if a Creator exists, he/she/they/it have chosen to operate, at least within our universe, within the natural laws? How often have experts confirmed that established natural laws have been violated?
I would therefore suggest that the possible existence of a Creator can in no way be assumed to increase the probability of un-natural events occurring within our universe. We have no confirmed evidence to suggest that a Creator routinely or even sporadically violates the laws of nature. We have no evidence to believe that gods live on Greek mountains; that celestial beings enable humans to ride on winged horses; or that persons in upstate New York receive plates of gold from angels.
So when another large group of people living today tells you their fantastical, extra-ordinary claim that two thousand years ago a three-day-dead corpse was suddenly reanimated back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, broke out of his sealed tomb, ate a fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and then levitated into the clouds, I suggest that we consider this claim to be just as probable as the three claims above.
And unlike what you have been told, dear friend, you do NOT need to be a scholar to disbelieve all four of these supernatural claims. Why? Answer: Because the onus of proof is NOT on you, the skeptic. In western, educated society the onus is always on the person making the fantastical, extra-ordinary claim, not on those who doubt it.
Therefore, the onus is on the proponents of these four supernatural tales to prove their veracity, and so far, the evidence presented by these groups of believers is dismal to pathetic. That is why no public university history textbook in the western world lists any of these four claims as even "probable" historical events.
You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains, prophets flying in the air on winged horses, upstate New Yorkers receiving heavenly messages in cow pastures, or reanimated dead guys flying off into outer space. Don't let the proponents of these tall tales convince you otherwise.
Almost every conservative Christian argument for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus begins with a big assumption: that the Gospels are primary source documents written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. The problem for conservative Christians is that the majority of Bible scholars say that this assumption is FALSE. Here is a link to a list of scholars, including conservative Christian scholar Richard Bauckham, confirming this majority consensus position:
Without confirmed eyewitness testimony, the alleged detailed appearance stories of a resurrected Jesus as found in the Gospels are nothing more than unconfirmed hearsay. The strength of the evidence for this supernatural event is indeed very, very weak.
Gary, Thanks for the comment. I would disagree that the argument for the bodily resurrection of Jesus begins with the Gospels as the primary source. I would argue that the best source is 1 Cor 15 which provides the earliest evidence for the resurrection. You could still affirm the resurrection of Jesus from this passage alone - without reference to any of the Gospels. This considerably weakens your objection. Thanks for commenting.
The Early Creed does not provide any details regarding what these eyewitnesses allegedly "saw" appear to them. Maybe what they all saw was just a bright light which they mistook for an appearance of Jesus. Without the Gospels as eyewitness sources, you Counselor, are left with appearance claims completely devoid of any description of anyone seeing a walking/talking/broiled-fish eating corpse!
The creed says that they saw Jesus alive. What would convince them to think that he was alive when he really wasn't?
Please quote the part of the Early Creed in which even one of the eyewitnesses say that they saw Jesus "alive".
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
-that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
-and that he was buried,
-and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
-and that he appeared to Cephas,
-then to the twelve.
-Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
-Then he appeared to James,
-then to all the apostles.
- Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
I'm not quite sure I follow. The part here: "that he was raised on the third day" could be interpreted in no other way by Jews.
Similarly: that he appeared to Cephas,
-then to the twelve.
-Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive.
It is true that some Jews in the first century believed in a bodily resurrection, but not all Jews. The question is: What did the earliest (Jewish) Christians, the ones who claimed to have received an appearance from Jesus, believe?
We know from the writings of Paul that the concept of resurrection was still in dispute during his time. If all Christians at that time believed in Paul's concept of "bodily resurrection", Paul would not have had to have spent so much time in his epistles explaining it.
The bottom line is this: We have no idea what the earliest Christians saw nor what they believed about what had happened to Jesus. All we know is that they believed that Jesus had appeared to them.
...All we know is that they believed that Jesus had appeared to them...in some fashion.
The author of Acts says that all Paul saw was a bright light. He never says that Paul saw a body. But the fact is, we really have no idea what Paul saw because Paul never tells us in his own epistles what exactly he "saw" when he says, "Have I not seen the Christ".
For the last two thousand years, thousands of Christians have seen bright lights and believed it to be Jesus, so why couldn't this have been the case with the original "eyewitnesses"?
Interesting question - so then why did the tradition develop differently? i.e. in Acts it is a bright light etc which Paul writes as "appeared" (in 1 Cor), but in the Gospels the "appearances" to Peter and to the disciples are clearly recorded as a physical person. Why the difference if it were the same kind of "appearance"? i.e. why didn't the Gospels record the same kind of bright lights etc to the physical Jesus when he appeared to them?
You also haven't responded to the earlier part of the creed which says that Christ was 'raised'. This is not simply 'appearance', they claimed he had physically been raised from the dead.
Thanks for the interaction.
What did "Jesus was raised" mean to the earliest Christians in the 30's? Are you certain that the earliest Christians, in the early or mid 30's CE believed that Jesus' physical body which had been brain dead for three days and nights in his tomb was reanimated and transformed by God the Father into a "heavenly" body which could teleport between cities and levitate into the sky but was still capable of eating broiled fish and allowing people to poke their fingers into his crucifixion wounds?
Please provide the source. You can't. We have no idea what these people believed when they said "Jesus was raised" nor why they believed it other than a claim of non-descript appearances by multiple people.
Here is a question for you: Must one see a resurrected body to believe that someone has been resurrected?
If we believe the apostle Paul, the answer is no. According to the Book of Acts, many educated, scripture-reading Jews in Asia Minor believed that Jesus had been resurrected based on someone else's claim, not on seeing the resurrected body with their own two eyes. So the earliest Christians could have believed that Jesus had been "resurrected" on the third day, not because they saw a literal resurrected body, but because they experienced SOMETHING that made them believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected...like an illusion...like a bright light.
Why did the tradition develop differently?
Well, there are many possible answers, but one of the most probable is that the Gospel authors took the Early Creed and "fattened it up". The authors of the Gospels were writing Greco-Roman religious biographies, not modern history text books. In Greco-Roman biographies, extensive embellishments of the story were perfectly acceptable. It made for great reading! Read the Early Creed in First Corinthians and compare that resurrection story to the ones in Matthew and John. Which is more interesting reading? Matthew and John, by a long shot! The authors simply made a simple story more interesting. That is why there are so many differences between the four gospel accounts. They aren't errors. They are intentional literary inventions.
Thanks for the long explanation, but unfortunately it reeks a little of special pleading. Where is your evidence that they are intentional literary inventions? Where is your evidence of 'fattening'?
The question which you have failed to answer is where did the creed come from in the first place? The first century Jews understood the concept of resurrection in no other way other than reanimation. Check Tom Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God who has done extensive analysis of source material of the time.
You also miss the point that the author of Luke and Acts were the same - hence you can't pit the bioi against Acts - it is the same genre. Hence you need to explain why the tradition developed differently - i.e. 'appearance' of Jesus to Paul vs 'appearance' of Jesus to Peter.
How much scholarship have you read? I would suggest reading Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown's two volume work, "The Death of the Messiah". The Gospels are not modern history texts. They are Greco-Roman religious biographies. They contain considerable embellishment.
The same author who says that Jesus ascended the same day as his resurrection (in Luke) is the same author who says that Jesus ascended after forty days (Acts). Did he make a mistake? No. He was using multiple sources and simply blended them together. Did he notice the "discrepancy"? Most probably. Did it matter to him? Probably not, Why? Once again, because he was not writing a history text, he was writing a first century Greco-Roman piece of literature for the purpose of evangelization.
I have read quite widely and you distort the scholarship on bioi. Have you read Richard Burridge's work on bioi, What are the Gospels? He concludes:
“If the early church had not been interested in the person and early life of Jesus, it would not have produced a Bioi with their narrative structure and chronological framework, but with discourses of the risen Christ like the ‘Gnostic Gospels’ instead (Richard Burridge, What are the Gospels? p.249)
Similarly Craig Keener wrote:
“Gospels are ancient biography about a recent character for whom many sources remained; they are thus not analogous to collections of mythography or novels." Craig Keener
You also pose a false dilemma, Yes they were writing a first century Greco-Roman piece of literature for the purpose of evangelization. But they were writing about a real historical person - hence using bioi. They were talking about what had happened in the real world e.g. Luke 1:1-4 speaks precisely about this.
I did not say that every story and statement in the Gospels is fiction. But one cannot read the Gospels in the same way that one reads a modern history text book or even a modern biography. In modern biography it would be completely unacceptable in invent stories about the central character. But in Greco-Roman biographies such invention was perfectly acceptable as long as the invented story accurately reflects the character and person of the central character nor does the story change the core historical facts about that person.
All four Gospels adhere to this dictum: All gospels present Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher who calls upon his generation to repent; who develops a reputation as a healer and miracle worker; who irritates the Jewish authorities; who was crucified by the Romans; who was buried; and who after his death, some of his followers believed he appeared to them in some fashion.
By the way, I believe that the empty tomb pericope is probably historical not because of the women as eyewitnesses but because it would be odd for a Christian in the second half of the first century to present a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin in such a positive light. In the second half of the first century a very strong anti-Jewish sentiment is found in Christian writings. In addition, although the author of Mark presents Joseph of Arimathea as solely a devout Jew wanting to prevent a violation of the Law, the later disciples attempt to make J. of A. out to be a follower or at least a sympathizer of Jesus. They seem to be embarrassed by "Mark's" kind treatment of a Sanhedrin member. So both of these factors lead me to believe that the Joseph of Arimathea is quite possibly historical.
In addition, although the author of Mark presents Joseph of Arimathea as solely a devout Jew wanting to prevent a violation of the Law, the later GOSPEL AUTHORS attempt to make J. of A. out to be a follower or at least a sympathizer of Jesus.
Thanks for your reflection. I appreciated that and it sounds like you (like many before you) are on a quest to find the historical Jesus.
My question to you is how methodologically can you determine the difference? It seems that much of your determination depends on prior assumptions, which means that you can pretty much say what you want and that any theory you propose is unassailable because there is no methodological way of overcoming your theory.
My response is based on Luke 1:1-4 that the authors of the Gospels are trying to record what really happened in the Ancient World - much like what bioi were trying to do. I think you oversatate the non-historical nature of bioi.
Thanks for the conversation.
You and I are non-experts in these matters. I believe that educated people should listen to the experts in the field in question and the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars believe that there are embellishments in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. And it is not just liberal and atheist scholars who say this.
NT Wright believes that there is embellishment present in the story in the Book of Acts regarding Paul's Damascus Road experience. He questions the historicity of Paul's traveling companions hearing/seeing something. Wright believes that these details are a literary technique inserted into the story to spur the interest of the reader in the story. So in reality, there are no eyewitnesses to Paul's "vision". We only have the word of Paul.
I mentioned evangelical Christian scholar Mike Licona's view that the story of dead saints walking out of their tombs on the day of the resurrection of Jesus is a literary embellishment.
Even very conservative Christian scholar Richard Bauckham believes that there are embellishments in the Gospels. Bauckham believes that the non-eyewitness author of the Gospel of Matthew invented the calling of Matthew the tax-collector, copying the calling of another disciple as found in the Gospel of Mark.
So Bible scholars across the spectrum agree that the New Testament writings contain fictional stories and details. So if the overwhelming majority of scholars believe that there are fictional stories in the Gospels and in Acts, and, they believe that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, just how certain can we be of the historicity of the detailed post-resurrection appearances of Jesus???
And without those detailed appearances, the entire Resurrection story could be based on people seeing bright lights, unusual cloud formations, shadows on a hill, or other illusions...and believing that they have seen the resurrected Jesus...just like many devout (Roman Catholic and Pentecostal) Christians experience today.
Perhaps you're not an expert, but my honours level study at theological college covered some of this material - hence I have done higher level thinking on this topic.
Again - I don't think that Licona, Bauckham and Wright would agree with the way you have quoted their work. I disagree that they would think that they are 'embellishments'. There are literary constructions, but I would argue that this is not contrary or inconsistent with historical accuracy. I think they would disagree that they contain 'fictional stories and details'. Bauckham's entire thesis is that the Gospels are eyewitness testimony!
Again, I would dispute that first Century Jews would ever assume bright lights = resurrection. They understood resurrection in no other way than reanimation of a physical body. Hence it appears that your a priori assumptions are clouding your reading of the actual evidence. Again I refer to Luke 1:1-4 to see what caused the writers to write in the first place. And again, your explanations of why the 'bright lights' in Acts are deemed the same as physical body in Luke 24 reeks of special pleading.
I think that there are very good reasons to believe that a physical and real resurrection actually happened.
“…the identification of Matthew with Levi the son of Alphaeus—a traditional case of harmonizing the Gospels in view of the parallel passages Matt. 9:9 (about Matthew) and Mark 2:14 (about Levi) must, on the same grounds of the onomastic evidence available, be judged implausible. Mark tells the story of the call of Levi the son of Alphaeus to be a disciple of Jesus in 2:14 (followed by Luke 5:27 where the man is called simply Levi) and lists Matthew, with no further qualification, in his list of the Twelve. It is clear that Mark did not himself consider these two the same person. In view of the other details Mark does include in his list of the Twelve, he would surely have pointed out Matthew’s identity with Levi there had he known it.” --Richard Bauckham in "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", p.108
The most plausible explanation of the occurrence of the name Matthew in 9:9 is that the author of this Gospel, knowing that Matthew was a tax collector and wishing to narrate the call of Matthew in the Gospel that was associated with him, but not knowing a story of Matthew’s call, transferred Mark’s story of Levi to Matthew. The story, after all, is so brief and general it might well be thought appropriate to any tax collector called by Jesus to follow him as a disciple. There is one feature of Matthew’s text that helps to make this explanation probable. In Mark, the story of Levi’s call is followed by a scene in which Jesus dines with tax-collectors (Mark 2:15-17). Mark sets this scene in “his house”, which some scholars take to mean Jesus’ house, but could certainly appropriately refer to Levi’s house. In Matthew’s Gospel, the same passage follows the narrative of the call of Matthew, but the scene is set simply in “the house” (Matthew 9:10). Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house. He has appropriated for Matthew only as much of Mark’s story of Levi as he needed.” (bolding, Gary’s) --Richard Bauckham, p.111
“If this explanation of the name Matthew in Matt. 9:9 is correct, it has one significant implication: that the author of Matthew’s Gospel intended to associate the Gospel with the apostle Matthew but was not himself the apostle Matthew. Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi’s call.” --Richard Bauckham, p.112
Gary: DOUBLE WOW!!!
The apostle Matthew did not write the Gospel of Matthew??? The author of the Gospel of Matthew INVENTED stories using Mark’s original stories as a template??? Wow!!! One must then ask: What ELSE did the author of Matthew invent?
I think that re-appropriating is very different to 'invent'. I'm not sure that I agree with everything Bauckham says here, but notice he has re-appropriated using appropriate similarities:
"Thus, this Evangelist has appropriated Mark’s story of the call of Levi, making it a story of Matthew’s call instead, but has not continued this appropriation by setting the following story in Matthew’s house."
I would also suggest that Bauckham would not say that the resurrection falls into the same category of events. To use this argument to argue against the resurrection would be spurious.
Call it what you want but the author of Matthew invented a fictional story about the calling of Matthew. He had no idea how Matthew was called so he simply copied the story about the calling of another tax collector from Mark's gospel and put Matthew into it.
The question is: How much more "inventing" did Matthew do in his gospel?
The bigger question: What parts of the original Jesus Story found in Mark (which Matthew seems to have massively copied, often word for word) are fiction? Answer: We don't know. Therefore, it is highly possible that the detailed appearance stories of the risen Jesus are theological embellishments...fiction!
And here is what NT Wright has to say about Jesus' ALLEGED prophecies that he would be raised from the dead:
What does NT Wright say about these passages? From an article published in Gregorianum, 2002, 83/84, 615-635, reposted on Wright’s website he says this:
“They [Christians] retained the belief in a coming Messiah, but redrew it quite drastically around Jesus himself. Why? The answer the early Christians themselves give for these changes, of course, is that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. It is Jesus’ own resurrection that has given force and new shape to the Christian hope. It was, they insist, Jesus’ own resurrection which constituted him as Messiah, and if Messiah, then Lord of the world. But what exactly did they mean by this, and what brought them to such a belief?
…they really did intend to say that Jesus had been bodily raised, they were not simply using that language to describe something else, a different belief about Jesus or a different experience they had had. Second we must enquire as historians what could have caused them to say such a thing?
It is out of the question, for a start, that the disciples were simply extrapolating from the teachings of Jesus himself. One of the many curious things about Jesus’ teaching is that though resurrection was a well known topic of debate at the time we only have one short comment of his on the subject, in reply to the question from the Sadducees–a comment which is itself notoriously cryptic, like some of its companion pieces in the synoptic tradition. Apart from that, there are the short repeated predictions of Jesus’ passion and resurrection , which many of course assume are vaticinia ex eventu, and two or three other cryptic references."
Gary: Vaticinia ex eventu???
Let’s look that up, shall we:
Vaticinium ex eventu: (“Prophecy from the event”) is a technical theological or historiographical term referring to a prophecy written after the author already had information about the events he was “foretelling”.
Gary: So what NT Wright is saying is that “of course” Jesus never predicted his resurrection! Of course Jesus never told his disciples, for three years, that he would be resurrected after being dead for three days! Of course Jesus never told anyone that he would be resurrected as one individual; resurrected as one individual prior to the general resurrection when every other righteous Jew would be resurrected. Any one who knows anything about Bible scholarship knows that THESE passages are not authentic/inspired/literal…they are scribal alterations…somebody added them…they shouldn’t be there…only fundamentalists believe that Jesus really said them…
So, since Jesus never predicted his resurrection…
….when he did rise from the dead that first Easter Sunday, his resurrection came as a total…out of the blue…absolute…unheard of…shock…to every Jew who saw him!
So the fact that a small minority of first century Jews came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected (the overwhelming majority did not, by the way), this is excellent evidence that the bodily Resurrection of Jesus did occur because no first century Jew would have ever conceived of such a concept…unless of course…Jesus had been preaching just such a concept…to the small minority of Jews who after this death did believe it, based on grief-induced hallucinations, visions, vivid dreams, false sightings, and misperceptions of natural phenomena.
Do you believe in climate change? The overwhelming majority of scientists do. Some conspiracy theorists believe that this majority expert opinion on climate change is due to a bias. These conspiracy theorists believe that the overwhelming majority of scientists are left wing fanatical environmentalists who have "cooked" the evidence. Climate change is not real, they say. It is the invention of biased scientists.
The problem for conspiracy theorists is that not all scientists are left-wing environmentalists. In fact, there are plenty of scientists who are politically conservative. Yet even the majority of politically conservative scientists believe that climate change is real. The fact that the consensus position that climate change is real is held by scientists across the political spectrum is evidence AGAINST the conspiracy theorists' claim that climate change is a left-wing environmentalist lie.
And we find the same situation with the authorship of the Gospels. Many conservative Christians believe that the majority expert consensus position that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses is based on a bias. These conservative Christian Protestants believe that the majority of New Testament scholars are liberals, atheists, and agnostics who are skeptical or deny all supernatural claims. The problem for this argument is that it isn't just liberal, atheist, and agnostic scholars who believe that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses, in lands far away, several generations removed from the alleged events described in the Gospels. The overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic scholars also hold the consensus majority position. Can anyone credibly claim that Roman Catholics have a bias against the supernatural?? No. So, what we find is that a broad range of New Testament scholars reject the traditional/eyewitness/associate of eyewitnesses authorship of the Gospels, including many scholars who very much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This fact speaks against the conservative Protestant claim that the majority position on the authorship of the Gospels is based on a bias.
Everyone in the educated western world demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims...unless the claim involves his or her religion.