JESUS? CHRIST?- Gospels are Legends

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Burial Stories
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http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman#section_1

William Lane Craig

1. Jesus’ burial is multiply attested in early, independent sources.

We have four biographies of Jesus, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which have been collected into the New Testament, along with various letters of the apostle Paul. Now the burial account is part of Mark’s source material for the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and which the commentator Rudolf Pesch dates to within seven years of the crucifixion. Moreover, Paul also cites an extremely early source for Jesus’ burial which most scholars date to within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Independent testimony to Jesus’ burial by Joseph is also found in the sources behind Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, not to mention the extra-biblical Gospel of Peter. Thus, we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extraordinarily early.

2. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. 1

For these and other reasons, most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”



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The historical Jesus – a bare minimum

[Taken from Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a figure in history, pp.21-22,117,153]

 

Norman Perrin: A list of sayings that are undoubtably authentic:

 

1. Kingdom sayings

the kingdom has come:                         Luke 11:20

the kingdom is among you:                   Luke 17:20-21

the kingdom suffers violence:                Matt. 11:12

 

2. The Lord’s Prayer:                           Luke 11:2-4

 

3. Proverbial sayings

binding the strong man:                          Mark 3:27

a kingdom divided:                                Mark 3:24-26

those who want to save their life:            Mark 8:35

a hand to the plow:                                Luke 9:62

wealth and the kingdom:                        Mark 10:23b,25

let the dead bury the dead:                   Luke 9:60a

the narrow gate:                                   Matt. 7:13-14

the first will be last:                               Mark 10:31

what truly defiles:                                  Mark 7:15

receiving the kingdom as a child:           Mark 10:15

those who exalt themselves:                   Luke 14:11 (cp. 16:15)

turning the other cheek:                          Matt. 5:39b-41

love your enemies:                                 Matt. 5:44-48

 

4. Parables

hidden treasure and pearl:                      Matt. 13:44-46

lost sheep, coin, son:                              Luke 15:3-32

great supper:                                         Matt 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24; Thomas 92:10-35

unjust steward:                                       Luke 16:1-9

workers in the vineyard:                          Matt. 20:1-16

two sons:                                                Matt. 21:28-32

children in the marketplace:                     Matt.11:16-19

Pharisee and tax collector:                       Luke 18:9-14

good Samaritan:                                      Luke 10:29-37

unmerciful servant:                                   Matt. 18:23-35

tower builder & king going to war:           Luke 14:28-32

friend at midnight:                                   Luke 11:5-8

unjust judge:                                            Luke 18:1-8

leaven:                                                     Luke 13:20-21; Thomas 97:2-6

mustard seed:                                          Mark 4:30-32; Thomas 85:15-19

seed growing by itself:                             Mark 4:26-29; Thomas 85:15-19

sower:                                                     Mark 4:3-8; Thomas 82:3-13

wicked tenants:                                       Mark 12:1-12; Thomas 93:1-18

 

 

NOTE: Perrin’s book is available on-line at http://www.religion-online.org. Take a look at it, and at the sayings above, and try to apply the criteria of authenticity to them. See if you can figure out on what basis Perrin considered these an ‘irreducible core’ of authentic sayings.

 

 

E. P. Sanders: A list of ‘almost indisputable facts’ about Jesus

 


Jesus & Judaism (1985)

  

 

 

 

Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.

 

Jesus confined his activity to Israel.

  

Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.

 

Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.

 

 

 

 Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.

 

 

After his death, his followers continued as an identifiable movement.

 

 

 

At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement.

 

 

The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993)

 Jesus was born c.4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great;

He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;

He was baptized by John the Baptist;

He called disciples;

 

 He taught in the towns, villages, and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);

 

He preached “the kingdom of God”;

Around the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;

 

He created a disturbance in the temple area;

He had a final meal with the disciples;

He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;

He was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate;

His disciples at first fled;

 

They saw him (in what sense is uncertain) after his death;

As a consequence they believed he would return to found the kingdom;

They formed a community to await his return and sought to win others to faith in him as God’s Messiah.

 

 

 


 

 

Again, in the case of Sanders’ lists above, try to determine why he feels that the events mentioned above should be singled out as those most reliable and certain.

 

 

N. T. Wright’s list of historical facts about Jesus:

- Born in 4 B.C.E.

- Grew up in Nazareth in Galilee

- Spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and probably Greek.

- Was initially associated with John the Baptist, but emerged as a public figure in his own right around 28 C.E.

- Summoned people to repent.

- Used parables to announce the reign of Israel’s god.

- Conducted itinerant ministry throughout villages of Galilee.

- Effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as enactments of his message.

- Shared in table fellowship with a socioculturally diverse group.

- Called a close group of disciples and gave twelve of them a special status.

- Performed a dramatic action in the temple.

- Incurred the wrath of some elements in Judaism, especially among the high priestly establishment.

- Was handed over by this powerful Jewish element to the Romans to be crucified as an insurrectionist.

- Was reported by his followers to have been raised from the dead.

 

Wright’s working principle is to ‘do justice to as much of the existing material and information as possible’ rather than necessarily focusing on hypotheses regarding the Synoptic problem and discerning earliest strata of tradition. Do you think this makes his conclusions about the core historical facts significantly different from that of other scholars?

http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/jesus/minimum.htm



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Gary Habermas explains the earliest source of resurrection facts

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Free Canuckistan! Did you know that Binks is a web elf? It’s true!

UPDATE: Western Experience has video of Gary Habermas in action here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Stand to Reason! Thanks for the link, Melinda!

Do you just skim right over 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 when you read your Bible? Did you know that this passage is the best passage in the entire Bible when it comes to defending the resurrection? Let’s take a look at a lecture where historian Gary Habermas explains the importance of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7for defending the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.

Recall that there are certain criteria for deciding what passages of the New Testament writings are historically reliable. Here is a great article from Gary Habermas that explains all of the criteria. Below, I’ll list some of the criteria from that article.

Early attestation

Early sources include: 1) 7 of the 13 Pauline books that are unanimously accepted as being authored by Paul, 2) the “Q” passages which are shared by Matthew and Luke, but that are not in Mark, and 3) certain short creedal passages from the book of Acts. The 7 reliable Pauline epistles are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philipians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians and Philemon.

Habermas writes:

With regard to the historical Jesus, any material between 30 and 50 AD would be exemplary, a time period highly preferred by scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar.

Reports from such an early date would actually predate the written Gospels. A famous example is the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD. Other examples are supplied by the brief creedal statements that many scholars find embedded within the Book of Acts, which Gerald O’Collins dates to the 30s AD. From the so-called “Q” material in the first and third Gospels, another instance is the statement of high Christology found in Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22. Further, Paul’s earliest epistles date from the 50s AD.

Eyewitness testimony

Habermas writes:

Whenever these early sources are also derived from eyewitnesses who actually participated in some of the events, this provides one of the strongest evidences possible. Historian David Hackett Fischer dubs this “the rule of immediacy” and terms it “the best relevant evidence.” When scholars have ancient sources that are both very early and based on eyewitness testimony, they have a combination that is very difficult to dismiss.

In our previous example, one reason critical scholars take Paul’s testimony so seriously is that his writings provide both a very early date as well as eyewitness testimony to what Paul believed was a resurrection appearance of Jesus. This is even conceded by atheist scholar Michael Martin. Other crucial instances would concern any eyewitness testimony that can be located in the Gospel accounts.

Multiple attestation

Habermas writes:

Independent attestation of a report by more than one source is another chief indication that that a particular claim may be factual. Ancient historian Paul Maier asserts that: “Many facts from antiquity rest on just one ancient source, while two or three sources in agreement generally render the fact unimpeachable.” The Jesus Seminar emphasizes items “attested in two or more independent sources.”

Several important examples might be provided. Of the five sources often recognized in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ miracles are reported in all five, with some specific occurrences reported in more than one. Jesus’ crucial “Son of Man” sayings are also attested in all five Gospel sources. And the empty tomb is reported in at least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources. This helps to understand why these items are taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars.

Timeline of New Testament sources

You can only use the data that pass these criteria when you are constructing historical hypotheses in a debate setting. But the passage of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is special, because it has the markings on an ancient creed. As Habermas explains, Paul received this creed within five years of the crucifixion. Paul verified this creed twice with eyewitnesses, Peter, John and James, in Galatians 1:11-24 and Galatians 2:1-10.

So, let’s set the date of Jesus’ death as being 30 AD. Then ask the question: what sources are closest to the event? We need to have multiple early sources in order to be able to surface minimal facts that can be used when debating skeptics and atheists. Here’s the timeline, using the absolute latest possible dates for the sources:

  • 30 A.D.: Jesus is crucified. (+0)
  • 31 A.D.: The early creed originates around this time
  • 35 A.D.: Paul receives the early creed from Peter, John and James in Jerusalem
  • 55 A.D.: 1 Corinthians (+25)
  • 70 A.D. Mark (+40)
  • 80 A.D. Matthew (+50)
  • 85 A.D. Luke (+55)
  • 95 A.D. John (+65)

My preferred dates on the gospels are at least 5 years ealier than the skeptical dates. So, your earliest source for minimal facts about the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I explained before how to leverage the facts in 1 Cor 15, and other minimal facts, into a case for the resurrection.

Personal application

You really need to be able to talk to your friends and co-workers about the resurrection. That is our obligation as Christians. When you talk to non-Christians, you cannot use the entire Bible on faith. Your opponent is not going to allow you to use the entire text as a source because they don’t assume that it is inerrant. You need to argue from minimal facts that pass the standard historical criteria.

So, you need to learn how to explain how scholars extract the minimal facts from the Biblical sources. You need to list the criteria, explain why they are generally accepted, and then apply them. You need to know the dates and authors of the New Testament writings. You need to know which passages are considered to be minimal facts. And then you can make you case on those facts.

I think the most promising strategy is to argue from a supernatural creator and designer, using some recent scientific discoveries, and then go on from there to historical concerns once the existence of a deistic God has been firmly established.

Further study

First, listen to the 30-minute lecture delivered at California Polytechnic State University in 2008 by Gary Habermas, on 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Then, check out N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection. Then listen to this lecturedelivered at California State University in 2005 by William Lane Craig, on arguing from the minimal facts.

And finally, you can check out some debates on the resurrection. I recommend the debate between William Lane Craig and Roy Hoover. But it is important to read the N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection first! There is a cross-examination section in the debate, so if you’re into that, as I am, then get your fix here.

http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/gary-habermas-explains-the-earliest-source-of-resurrection-facts/



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Early, independent sources for the empty tomb

Bill Craig’s “Question of the Week” feature at Reasonable Faith recently addressed the problem of the number and dating of the earliestindependent sources for the burial and empty tomb stories. I found that my own views were somewhat mistaken, so I thought we would all benefit from a closer look.

Let’s take a look at the independent sources for the empty tomb story.

1) The portion of Mark that recounts the burial is an early source

Mark is the earliest gospel, but even he relies on an earlier source for a portion of his gospel.

The burial account is part of Mark’s source material for the story of Jesus’ Passion. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and dates to within several years of Jesus’ crucifixion.

…The empty tomb story is syntactically tied to the burial story; indeed, they are just one story. 

Bill talks about the dating and significance of this early source:

…Whereas most of Mark’s Gospel consists of short anecdotal stories strung like pearls on a string, when we get to the final week of Jesus’ life we encounter a continuous narrative of events from the Jewish plot during the Feast of Unleavened Bread through Jesus’ burial and empty tomb.

…According to James D. G. Dunn, “The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the tradition process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gospels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them” (J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 2003, pp. 765-6.)

The dominant view among NT scholars is therefore that the Passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony (Mark Allen Powell, JAAR 68 [2000]: 171). Indeed, according to Richard Bauckham, many scholars date Mark’s Passion narrative no later than the 40s (recall that Jesus died in A.D. 30) (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006, p. 243)….

Wow, this independent source is almost as good as 1 Corinthians 15:3-7! What else is a good source?

2) Matthew has an independent source for the empty tomb story

Craig writes:

As for the other Gospels, that Matthew has an independent tradition of the empty tomb is evident not only from the non-Matthean vocabulary (e.g., the words translated “on the next day,” “the preparation day,” “deceiver,” “guard [of soldiers],” “to make secure,” “to seal”; the expression “on the third day” is also non-Matthean, for he everywhere else uses “after three days;” the expression “chief priests and Pharisees” never appears in Mark or Luke and is also unusual for Matthew), but also from Matt. 28.15: “this story has been spread among Jews till this day,” indicative of a tradition history of disputes with Jewish non-Christians.

This one was new to me.

3) A source used by Luke and John for the empty tomb story

The inspection of the empty tomb by Peter implies the empty tomb. Craig writes:

Luke and John have the non-Markan story of Peter and another disciple inspecting the tomb, which, given John’s independence of Luke, indicates a separate tradition behind the story. Moreover, we have already seen that John’s independence of Mark shows that he has a separate source for the empty tomb.

This one was also new to me.

4) The early sermons in Acts support the empty tomb

Acts was written by Luke. Craig writes:

The early sermons in Acts are likely not created by Luke out of whole cloth but represent early apostolic preaching. We find the empty tomb implied in the contrast between David’s tomb and Jesus’: “David died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day.” But “this Jesus God has raised up” (2:29-32; cf. 13.36-7).

This one I had heard about before, from Gary Habermas.

5) The creed recited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is an early source

This passage does not explicitly mention the empty tomb, but it does imply the empty tomb. We moderns are not free to re-invent the meaning of the word resurrection. Ancient Jewish theologians who believed in the resurrection had a definite definition of the word: the word means that the body is gone from the tomb.

Craig writes:

…the old tradition handed on by Paul to the Corinthian church, which is among the earliest traditions identifiable in the NT, refers to Jesus’ burial in the second line of the tradition. That this is the same event as the burial described in the Gospels becomes evident by comparing Paul’s tradition with the Passion narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other. The four-line tradition handed on by Paul is a summary of the central events of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, and his appearances to the disciples.

This creed has been dated to within 5 years of the crucifixion, as I mentioned before.

Further study

scholarly-level article where Craig makes the case for the empty tomb is found here. Atheist commenters: be sure and read this article beforecommenting.

I’ll be posting a follow-up later this week on the empty tomb, but I wanted to write about the sources separately.



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Quick overview of N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the linky, Binky!

I thought I would just go over a paper from N.T. Wright, whose multi-volume case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus seems to be getting a lot of respect from the other side, (although I strongly disagree with his economic and political views, which are naive at best).Wright has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Duke, McGill, etc.. He’s published 40 books.

CV excerpt, all degrees are from Oxford University:

  • 2000 D.D.
  • 1981 D.Phil.
  • 1975 M.A.
  • 1973 B.A.(1st class Honours), Theology; Denyer and Johnson Prize (shared) for top first class of year; College Prize
  • 1971 B.A.(1st class Honours), Literae Humaniores; College Prize

Wright seems to get a lot of respect from skeptics like John Dominic Crossan (their debate is here: bookaudio – note: buy the audio, don’t buy the book). I have never heard Crossan concede the empty tomb and the appearances before, but he did against Wright. In his debate (audiobook) against William Lane Craig, he denied all 4 of Craig’s minimal facts.

We have seen elsewhere how to argue for the resurrection using the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts are the handful of facts about Jesus that survive the standard historical criteria used in the evaluation of historical biographies. But Wright has a different approach.

Let’s take a look at a lecture (that link has PDF transcript, audio and movies) that Wright gave on the resurrection.

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissable under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was not a belief in a flying spaceship that was going to come and pick them up if they drank the kool-aid. This was a belief they held based on personal experiences. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

Additional resources

For more debates on the resurrection, see here for William Lane Craig,here for Mike Licona, and here for Gary Habermas. I am a big fan of all these guys, but Craig hasn’t lost any resurrection debates, while Licona tiedagainst Richard Carrier and Habermas lost against Arif Ahmed. In particular, I recommend these 3 debates:

UPDATE: Also, I have a more recent post on the earliest source of historical facts about the resurrection.



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The eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ women followers supports the empty tomb

I wanted to go over this article by William Lane Craig which includes a discussion of the empty tomb, along with the other minimal facts that support the resurrection. The entire paper was also presented orally to the students and faculty at California State University, Fresno in 2005, and a full recording is available here. The paper covers all of Craig’s preferred set of minimal facts, which he uses in debates.

The word resurrection means bodily resurrection

The concept of resurrection in use among the first converts to Christianity was a Jewish concept of resurrection. And that concept of resurrection is unequivocally in favor of a bodily resurrection. The body (soma) that went into the grave is the body (soma) that came out.

Craig explains what this means with respect to the fast start of Christian belief:

For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms. In the words of E. E. Ellis, “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”

And:

Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was interred in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly.

It’s significant that the belief in the resurrection started off in the city where the tomb was located. Anyone, such as the Romans or Jewish high priests, who wanted to nip the movement in the bud could easily have produced the body to end it all. They did not do so, because they could not do so, although they had every reason to do so.

More on this from N.T. Wright, here.

There are multiple early, eyewitness sources for the empty tomb

Paul’s early creed from 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, dated to within 5 years of the crucifixion, implies the empty tomb.

Craig writes:

In the formula cited by Paul the expression “he was raised” following the phrase “he was buried” implies the empty tomb. A first century Jew could not think otherwise. As E. L. Bode observes, the notion of the occurrence of a spiritual resurrection while the body remained in the tomb is a peculiarity of modern theology. For the Jews it was the remains of the man in the tomb which were raised; hence, they carefully preserved the bones of the dead in ossuaries until the eschatological resurrection. There can be no doubt that both Paul and the early Christian formula he cites pre-suppose the existence of the empty tomb.

The dating of the resurrection as having occurred “on the third day” implies the empty tomb. The date specified for the resurrection would have been the date that the tomb was discovered to be empty.

The phrase “on the third day” probably points to the discovery of the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, the point is that since no one actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, how did Christians come to date it “on the third day?” The most probable answer is that they did so because this was the day of the discovery of the empty tomb by Jesus’ women followers. Hence, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. Thus, in the old Christian formula quoted by Paul we have extremely early evidence for the existence of Jesus’ empty tomb.

The early pre-Markan burial narrative mentions the empty tomb. This source pre-dates Mark, the earliest gospel. The source has been dated by some scholars to the 40s.

The empty tomb story is part of the pre-Markan passion story and is therefore very old. The empty tomb story was probably the end of Mark’s passion source. As Mark is the earliest of our gospels, this source is therefore itself quite old. In fact the commentator R. Pesch contends that it is an incredibly early source. He produces two lines of evidence for this conclusion:

(a) Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23-5 presupposes the Markan account. Since Paul’s own traditions are themselves very old, the Markan source must be yet older.

(b) The pre-Markan passion story never refers to the high priest by name. It is as when I say “The President is hosting a dinner at the White House” and everyone knows whom I am speaking of because it is the man currently in office. Similarly the pre-Markan passion story refers to the “high priest” as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37, this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must come from within seven years after Jesus’ death. This source thus goes back to within the first few years of the Jerusalem fellowship and is therefore an ancient and reliable source of historical information.

Lack of legendary embellishments

The empty tomb narrative in the gospels lacks legendary embellishments, unlike later 2nd century forgeries that originated outside of Jerusalem.

The eyewitness testimony of the women

This is the evidence that has been the most convincing to skeptics, and to me as well.

The tomb was probably discovered empty by women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society.

(a) Woman occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. This is evident in such rabbinic expressions as “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women” and “Happy is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.”

(b) The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. In light of these facts, how remarkable must it seem that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legend would certainly have made the male disciples to discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was worthless, rather than men, are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly accounted for by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the gospels accurately record this.

The earliest response from the Jewish high priests assumes the empty tomb

This report from Matthew 28 fulfills the criteria of enemy attestation, although Matthew is not the earliest source we have. Oh, well.

In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.

Note how careful Craig is not to imply that the guard tradition is historical, because we can’t prove the guard as a “minimal fact“, since it doesn’t pass the standard historical criteria.

Critical responses to the empty tomb

Richard Carrier tried to argue that the testimony of women was accepted, in his debate with Craig, but Craig showed that this was only possible in two cases: 1) if they were testifying about their status as widows, or 2) if no male witnesses were available, e.g. – they had all been killed. Audio of the debate is here. Carrier’s admission of defeat is here, on his blog. Craig’s post-debate response to Carrier is here and here.

Further study

To see a debate betwen Craig and the well-known skeptic Bart Ehrman, click here for the 12 part playlist. The first two parts are embedded below, containing Craig’s entire 20 minute opening speech. The full transcript of the debate is here, so you can follow along.



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How every Christian can learn to explain the resurrection of Jesus to others

Basically, as a Christian, I think we, myself included, all ought to be able to show that there is a case for the resurrection on historical grounds. Even if Christians know that the resurrection is true by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, you cannot use that when persuading and defending it to other people. So you have to make a case using the available evidence and the normal rules of historical investigation. You can’t assume the Bible is inerrant with your co-workers and you can’t focus on Christian-ese or peripheral issues, either. So how can you do it?

Part A: Historical methods

The way I normally start is with the standard rules used by all scholars who analyze ancient biographies. Basically, there is a list of criteria that scholars across the spectrum use for deciding which parts of ancient literary sources are more likely to be true. It’s amazing when you see debates on this because both sides basically agree on the methodology.

And, if you apply the methodology carefully, then both sides actually agree on what facts in the biographies are authentic. I am talking about agreement on authentic facts by atheists and fundamentalists alike!

Here are some of the rules used for analyzing ancient biographies:

1) multiple attestation – if the fact about X is asserted by two or more
sources, then the fact is likely authentic.

2) dissimilarity – if a teaching of X is different from popular teachings
and concepts of that time and place, it is likely authentic.

3) embarassment – if a fact is embarassing to X or X’s community or the
writers of the biography of X, then it is likely authentic.

4) enemy attestation – if a fact about X is corroborated by enemies of X,
or X’s community, then that fact is likely to be authentic.

5) early attestation – if a fact about X is in an early source, then that fact
is likely to be authentic.

And there are others.

So, if you want to talk about the resurrection at work without being laughed at or fired, you can use these criteria to identify historical facts.

Part B: Minimal facts

Using the historical methods above, you won’t be able to recover MOST of what the New Testament writings say about Jesus. For example, the guard at the tomb is only in Matthew, so you cannot use that as a minimal fact. And John is a pretty late gospel, so most of that can’t be used. So what parts can be used?

Well, here is William Lane Craig’s list of facts:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances experienced by various people, including Paul
3) early belief in the resurrection emerged in Jerusalem

And, here is Gary Habermas’ list of facts:

1) death by crucifixion
2) early belief in resurrection
3) appearances experienced by disciples
4) Paul’s appearance and change of heart
5) James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart
6) the empty tomb

Probably the most celebrated defender of the resurrection writing today is N. T. Wright. He makes a bit of a different case where he asks what sort of historical occurrence would be adequate to explain the changes in theology and practice that occurred when 1st century Jews in Jerusalem became Christians. His argument is that the changes (“mutations”) require a historical resurrection. Here is Wright’s list:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances to various people
and 7 mutations (changes) in the way that early Christians changed
their views of the meaning and centrality of the Jewish doctrines of
the Messiah, resurrection, eschatology, etc.

You’ll be surprised to know that few of these facts are disputed by atheistic historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The only one that’s sometimes disputed is the empty tomb, but some guys will give it to you. I just read N.T. Wright’s debate against John Dominic Crossan, who is on the far-left fringe. He gave up the appearances AND said he was “OK” with the empty tomb.

So, once you apply the historical criteria, and you hammer out your list of facts, what comes next?

Part C: Inference to the best explanation

Once you have the list of facts, you need to explain why the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for the facts. This is done by showing that the hypothesis is consistent with all of the available data.

The atheist is likely to jump in at this point with an alternative explanation of the facts. Their explanations will not involve any miracles – instead, they try to account for the facts by proposing a naturalistic hypothesis. Here is a list of a few together with my defense against them.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead
- crucifixion is lethal and you can’t fake being dead
- this doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since
a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about it
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
- it doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted

3) The Jews moved the body and lied about it
- they had no interest in helping a rival sect
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

4) The Romans moved the body and lied about it
- they had no interest in helping a trouble-making sect
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

5) Somebody else moved the body
- it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
- there is no evidence to support the claim

6) The early church hallucinated the appearances
- group hallucinations are impossible
- it doesn’t explain the empty tomb
- it doesn’t explain the theological mutations about “resurrection”, since seeing a ghost does not imply a bodily resurrection

Etc.

Keep in mind that when judging explanations, the simplest explanation is usually the best. If a skeptic has to join together multiple hypotheses, then this weakens the appeal of their explanation, because it’s “ad-hoc”.

I wrote another post on the resurrection here, with some links to debates.  Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. More debates are here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone - and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.



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