Friday, November 5, 2010

Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus


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In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis wrote:
Early in 1926 [when Lewis was still an atheist] the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. "Rum thing," he went on. "All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once."
What does it mean to say that there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? It means that historians agree on facts about Jesus that strongly point to His resurrection from the dead. It does not, however, mean that the majority of scholars conclude that Jesus was raised from the dead. They would be at least nominally Christian if they believed that. (And in spite of his off-hand comment, Lewis' friend never since showed any interest in Christianity.)

Over the years, critical scholars have not so much disputed the facts as sought naturalistic explanations, like the swoon theory, the stolen body theory, and the mass hallucination theory. But as we will see in the next post, none of these theories are medically or psychologically plausible, nor do they explain all the facts. Only the bodily resurrection of Jesus explains all the known facts.

These key facts are:

First, Jesus was buried in Jerusalem, in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin.

Second, the disciples lost hope when Jesus was arrested.

Third, the tomb was found empty by a group of Jesus's female followers on the morning of the third day after He was crucified.

Fourth, over a period of time a variety of people had experiences where Jesus appeared to them postmortem, including James, the skeptical brother of Jesus and Paul, the Pharisee who persecuted the church.

Fifth, the resurrection was the central message from the very beginning, and the disciples courageously preached it in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified, willing to forfeit even their lives.

Why do most historians agree on these facts?

The "honorable burial" by Joseph of Arimathea in Jerusalem. Most historians agree that the Gospel accounts are correct about the honorable burial for the following reasons: First, the burial is independently attested in several early sources. Skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman acknowledges that "the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it's relatively reliable that that's what happened."

Second, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which means that he was a celebrity at the time. The authors of the Gospels could not have made this up and not been called on it because many people would have known, at the time when the Gospels were written, whether or not it was true. And the Jewish leaders certainly would have set everyone straight if this had been fabricated.

Third, it seems unlikely that the Christians would have made this up. The Jewish leaders are the villains in the Gospel accounts, and the early Christians blamed them for Jesus's death (Acts 7). So how likely is it that the Gospel authors would all agree to fabricate this ironic twist--that a good and honorable Jewish leader would bury Jesus in his own tomb?

The historicity of this fact is significant because it tells us that Jesus was buried in Jerusalem, in the very city where the message of the resurrection was initially proclaimed. So if any body remained in the tomb, the authorities could have produced it and the message would have been disproved immediately. But there is no evidence of any body having been produced. Gary Habermas says, "We certainly would expect to have heard from Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, if Jesus' corpse had been produced. When he wrote against Jesus' resurrection, it would have been to his advantage to include this damaging information, had it been available." But neither he nor any of the Christian apologists of the second or third centuries mentioned it.

The disciples' initial doubt and fear. One of the criteria Bible historians use to determine whether an event in the life of Jesus really took place is the criterion of embarrassment. That is, if it is embarrassing and still included, it is most likely true because why would someone fabricate something to make a significant person in the early church look bad? Well, Peter's denial of Jesus makes him look really bad. First we have the initial bravado: "I'll never deny you, even if I have to die for you!" Then after Jesus was arrested, we have the cowardly denial to a servant girl who recognized him. And when they didn't accept his denials, the future St. Peter the great church leader started cursing and swearing: "I do not know the man!"

This story clearly qualifies under the criterion of embarrassment, and it tells us that the budding ministry started to collapse when their Leader died. As Peter demonstrates, the disciples were stricken with fear and began to doubt everything they had seen and experienced. And this incident is told in all four Gospels so it also qualifies under the criterion of multiple attestation.

The discovery of the empty tomb by female disciples. Was the tomb really empty? This is probably the most controversial fact of the five, and even so, William Lane Craig says: "According to Jacob Kremer, a New Testament critic who has specialized in the study of the resurrection: 'By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.' In fact in a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Habermas found that 75 percent of scholars accepted the historicity of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb. The evidence is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus' tomb was found empty." And Bart Ehrman admits, "We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later."

The main reason why most scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb is because each Gospel account insists that women were the chief witnesses. It is not strictly true that they were not permitted to testify, but they were never called upon as witnesses in important matters. So if the story of the empty tomb was legendary, the male disciples would have almost certainly have been the ones to discover it. There is simply no reason to fabricate such a detail.

Some critical scholars, like Gerd Lüdemann, believe that the account of the empty tomb is a legend, but the canonical passion story is too unembellished to read like a legend. Contrast the understated passion story of the Gospel of Mark to the dramatic non-canonical Gospel of Peter, where a gigantic Jesus emerges from the tomb before a vast crowd of witnesses, including the villainous Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders. Two enormous shining men carry Jesus off in glory as a talking cross follows them. A voice from heaven proclaims: "Thou hast preached to them that sleep, and from the cross there was heard the answer, Yea" (10:41-42). Now that's a legend for you!

A variety of people had experiences, at different times and in different ways, in which Jesus appeared to them postmortem. Scholars are virtually unanimous in their acceptance of this fact. Gerd Lüdemann, an eminent atheistic scholar who has written a book seeking to prove that the resurrection did not take place, has said, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." As I will discuss in the next post, Lüdemann contends that everybody who thought they saw him actually hallucinated. However, for now it is significant that just about all scholars accept this fact, including those who are strongly biased against Christianity.

Why would an opponent of Christianity say that this is historically certain? In the first letter to the Corinthians, written by Paul around 55AD, he says: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

So at the time when Paul wrote this, there were hundreds of people still alive claiming to have seen the risen Christ and willing to testify as witnesses. Were they all friendly witnesses? No, James the brother of Jesus was a skeptic until He saw Jesus postmortem, and that is when he was converted and became one of the leaders of early church. And, according to Josephus, James and some companions were stoned to death by the Sanhedrin of judges in 62 BC (Antiquities of the Jews 20:200).

Paul himself was certainly no friendly witness. Until his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Pharisee who violently persecuted the church, having been commissioned by the Sanhedrin. "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions" (Galatians 1:13-14).

So Paul was well-respected among the very people who sought to destroy the Christian movement, but he gave that all up after Jesus appeared to him. Instead of prestige and money, he chose ridicule, imprisonment, and poverty for the sake of the Gospel. Why did he do that? If he had really seen Jesus, he did it for the hope of his own resurrection and the resurrection of others. But if the incident on the road to Damascus never happened, what then could possibly have motivated him?

The resurrection of Christ was the central message of Christianity from the very beginning, and the disciples courageously preached it in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul sets forth the creed that he received, "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This is an early creedal formula that most critical scholars believe Paul received in 35 AD, during his visit to see Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). So within five years of the resurrection, the beliefs of the early church had been formulated into a creed and passed on to Paul. German historian Hans von Campenhausen says of the dating of the creedal formula: "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text." However, this does not mean that the creed was formulated as late as 35 AD; it simply means that it already existed at that time.

It is well established that the early church flourished in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified and buried. If the tomb had not been empty and the Sanhedrin had produced a body--any body--it would have significantly weakened the movement if not disproved the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But the early Christians boldly proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem, willingly facing torture and death for their conviction.

Those historical facts have stood immutable as a rock in spite of many attempts to explain them away. Did Jesus not really die? Did the disciples steal the body and conspire to deceive? Did everybody who thought they saw the resurrected Christ hallucinate? Were people in first century Palestine so superstitious and ignorant of science that they readily believed that someone could be raised bodily from the dead?

The last point was raised in the comments to the prior post, so I'll reply to that here. In The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright said that the idea of a bodily resurrection was considered impossible among the pagans. They might not have been very scientific (and they may have believed in ghosts), but they knew that dead people stayed dead. Wright says: "Not even in myth was it permitted. When Apollo tried to raise a child from the dead, Zeus punished them both with a thunderbolt." In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says that the Gospel is foolishness to the Gentiles, and that is probably because they had no belief in the possibility of a bodily resurrection of the dead. In Acts 26:24, the Roman governor Festus accuses Paul of being out of his mind when he tells King Agrippa about the resurrection. The Jews, on the other hand, believed only in a resurrection at the end of time, and they had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah.

The skeptic who rejects the resurrection will have to propose an alternative explanation for the evidence, and I will elaborate on some of them  in the next post. Lüdemann has argued that those who believed they saw Jesus really hallucinated, a problematic hypothesis given the nature of hallucinations. Bart Ehrman relies on David Hume's argument that the supernatural is inherently the least probable explanation, but that argument has been refuted using Bayes' Theorem. And Anthony Flew admitted, in a debate with Gary Habermas in 1993, that he had an almost invincible unbelief in the resurrection because it seemed to him so "wildly inconsistent with everything else that happens in the universe."

Flew is right that the resurrection is wildly inconsistent with everything we know; people have always known that dead people stay dead. But that is precisely why it would be logical for the Creator of this ordered universe to reveal Himself to us in that way, as a miracle within His original miracle--creation itself.

113 comments:

clamflats said...

It is well established that the early church flourished in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified and buried.

What do you mean by "flourished"? If the fact of Jesus' resurrection is so apparent to you nearly two thousand years after the event, wouldn't it have been even more so to his contemporaries? Shouldn't we expect that the vast majority of Jerusalem's residents would have accepted the resurrection as they had direct access to the evidence and eyewitnesses?

Anette Acker said...

What do you mean by "flourished"?

By that I mean that it grew and people were well aware of its presence. By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion of the civilized world. So it certainly did flourish, and it started in Jerusalem--that is where the first Christian church was born.

If the fact of Jesus' resurrection is so apparent to you nearly two thousand years after the event, wouldn't it have been even more so to his contemporaries? Shouldn't we expect that the vast majority of Jerusalem's residents would have accepted the resurrection as they had direct access to the evidence and eyewitnesses?

If most people simply followed the evidence in formulating their opinions, then you would be absolutely right. But people are governed by will and emotions at least as much as intellect. Why would the vast majority of Jerusalem's residents want to be persecuted and possibly killed? Once Christianity became more socially accepted, as I said before, it began to dominate the civilized world.

You might find the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman interesting. Ehrman is a Bible scholar who started out as a fundamentalist Christian and is now an atheist. I think his deconversion was precipitated by discovering minor factual discrepancies in the Bible, and since inerrancy was such a central doctrine to him, everything fell apart.

Well, factual inerrancy is not a central doctrine--the resurrection of Christ is. And, as I will discuss in a future post (and Craig explains well), his only defense against Craig's arguments was Hume's argument that the supernatural is always the least likely explanation. And that has been refuted by Bayes' Theorem.

So how do you think Ehrman reacted when he was blindsided with Bayes' Theorem, and his one defense was gone? Do you think he went home after that debate and decided that he would become a Christian again? No, he is still an atheist.

And I know how he reacted during the debate. He either tried to mischaracterize what Craig was doing or he genuinely didn't understand. He focused on the Old Reliable--the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts. He tried to make it seem like Christians just have blind faith and he condescendingly said that he respects that. He denied having ever in writing admitted to the four facts Craig gave and he accused him of taking things out of context, but he never explained how. (If somebody dishonestly took me out of context, the first thing I would do would be to set the record straight.)

There were a lot of passionate and indignant words, but the one thing he never did was to refute Craig's arguments.

My point of all this is to say that people believe what they want to believe regardless of what is true. This is typical human nature.

You are one of the more intellectually honest people on Atheist Central because you seem to be following the evidence and trying to arrive at the truth. There are a lot of people whose positions have hardened and are impervious to evidence. And generally what they say is "there is no evidence [for evolution/the existence of God]!" But what they mean is that they either don't like the evidence or they don't care about evidence.

So what you would expect if people were always intellectually honest is not necessarily true given that people are often not.

Y=X said it very well in a comment here: "A person can be intellectually dishonest in a more subtle way. Suppose you have a reasoned argument for proposition A. Your reasoning follows a syllogism. Let's call this syllogism B. If you reject B for arguments whose conclusions you don't like then you are being intellectually dishonest."

He is right that it is a subtle form of intellectual honesty, but because it is so subtle, we often don't see it in ourselves.

Wolfgang said...

Anette said...
N. T. Wright said that the idea of a bodily resurrection was considered impossible among the pagans. They might not have been very scientific (and they may have believed in ghosts), but they knew that dead people stayed dead. Wright says: "Not even in myth was it permitted. When Apollo tried to raise a child from the dead, Zeus punished them both with a thunderbolt."

Previously, you spoke of intellectual honesty and presuppositions. I don't think it is intellectually honest to hold the position that 2000 years ago, people believed all sorts of outlandish things, but the idea of a bodily resurrection was impossible for them to believe.

Even if the Jews believed it would happen at the end of time, the fact remains that they did have a belief in a resurrection, so the concept wasn't foreign to them.

BTW, I find it curious that the Old Testament did not predict one of the most important events of the Messiah.

I am not sure of the exact myth that Wright is referring to, but one cannot show what pagans thought impossible by pointing to one myth anyway.

I am familiar with the story that Apollo had a son, Asclepius, that brought some men back to life. Zeus killed Asclepius for doing so, but the idea of the resurrection is there in that story. The idea is also there in other myths such as Osiris and the phoenix.

One final and obvious point, people that never saw the resurrected Christ believed he rose from the dead. So how can it be impossible to believe if people can be convinced without ever witnessing it?

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Previously, you spoke of intellectual honesty and presuppositions. I don't think it is intellectually honest to hold the position that 2000 years ago, people believed all sorts of outlandish things, but the idea of a bodily resurrection was impossible for them to believe.

They believed in particular types of things, like curses, ghosts, and sorcery, and they did not have scientific explanations for a lot of things like we do. So they gave supernatural explanations to those things. But they knew that when somebody died, that person was not going to come back to life in the flesh. In one sense that was more of an outlandish idea to them than to us, since we are all used to the Easter story.

I have already given you quotes to demonstrate how people at the time regarded the idea of resurrection from the dead. Festus thought Paul was crazy and Tacitus referred to Christianity as "a most mischievous superstition."

Wright says that "insofar as the ancient non-Jewish world had a Bible, its OT is Homer. And in so far as Homer had anything to say about resurrection, he is quite blunt: it doesn't happen. He gives several quotes from Homer."

He also said that a lot of educated people at the time did not believe in any kind of afterlife. They believed that the only thing that would live on after they died would be their fame or other impact on the living.

Paul was a Roman citizen and a very well-educated person and he became convinced that he had seen Jesus and that others had seen him in the flesh.

Even if the Jews believed it would happen at the end of time, the fact remains that they did have a belief in a resurrection, so the concept wasn't foreign to them.

The concept of one person being resurrected before the end of time was foreign to them. And besides, many non-Jews believed as well.

BTW, I find it curious that the Old Testament did not predict one of the most important events of the Messiah.

Colossians 1:26 refers to it as "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but now has been manifested to His saints." But Daniel 9:24-26 does hint at it when it predicts the timing of the Messiah being "cut off and have nothing."

I am not sure of the exact myth that Wright is referring to, but one cannot show what pagans thought impossible by pointing to one myth anyway.

I am not relying on that incident anyway; I gave quotes from real people at the time.

One final and obvious point, people that never saw the resurrected Christ believed he rose from the dead. So how can it be impossible to believe if people can be convinced without ever witnessing it?

It was not impossible to believe. It was just a very different concept. But Paul and the other apostles persuaded people that it really happened and the eyewitnesses certainly lived as if they believed it, by giving up their lives before they would deny Christ. So that was probably convincing to the people who wanted to know if it was true.

Anette Acker said...

Correction:

Wright says that "insofar as the ancient non-Jewish world had a Bible, its OT is Homer. And in so far as Homer had anything to say about resurrection, he is quite blunt: it doesn't happen. He gives several quotes from Homer."

The end quote should be after "it doesn't happen."

Y = X said...

Anette Acker wrote:

....Christianity had become the dominant religion of the civilized world.

A reporter once asked Ghandi what he thought of western civilization. He said, "I think it's a good idea."

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

That's a great quote!

Speaking of Gandhi, did you know that Jesus was his role model, and he learned his policy of peaceful resistance from reading the Gospels? He called Jesus, "a beautiful example of the perfect Man," and one of the few items Gandhi owned when he died was a copy of the Gospel of John. But of course Gandhi was not a Christian.

I wrote two blog posts on Gandhi and Christianity, and one of them is the most read post on my blog (but zero comments).

Y = X said...

And that has been refuted by Bayes' Theorem.

I doubt very much that Baye's Theorem can refute any such thing. I believe that almost every application to Baye's Theorem in philosophy is incorrect. For starters, what's the sample space? You need one to talk about probabilities. Whats the random variable? How does one conclude that that sum of the measures of the sets equals 1?

I'd like to see a link to this.

About the resurrection. I hear Mormons talk about their evidence of the gold plates and whatnot. I disregard it. I hear Muslims talk about Mohammed ascending to heaven and I disregard it. Buddhists talk about Siddartha attaining enlightenment and I disregard it. People tell me that they have experienced ghosts. I disregard it. I have the same reaction to talk about the resurrection.

I can't check out all these different spiritual claims. I simply don't believe that there is a god or gods.

I reject Christianity on the simple grounds that very, very few people their life as if it really were true. Apparently god has done a very bad job of engineering our minds to be amenable to the truth. Maybe he should intervene in our lives in the same way he did for Paul. That is, physically interact with us in such a way that we can't deny his existence.

I would love to believe there is a god. But I don't. It would be very comforting to say that this isn't all there is.

Vinny said...

"The payoff is this: We don’t know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have
are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and it’s
not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story." Bart Ehrman in his debate with William Lane Craig.

Where did you find the quote in which Ehrman affirms the honorable burial?

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

You cannot show all people considered that a resurrection was impossible by pointing to specific people held the position that the dead stay dead. Opposing beliefs are held by all sorts of people including illogical beliefs.

It may be that you don't see what I find obvious, but I don't understand how a Christian can think no one would have believed a bodily resurrection possible before Jesus allegedly rose from the dead.

I don't believe Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, but you accept that as fact, don't you?
Matthew 27:63 shows that the Pharisees were aware that Jesus said he would rise again in three days. The Gospels record times Jesus talked about being killed and rising again.

But your saying that no one thought Jesus might actually be resurrected? No one had the slightest expectation that the man that was believed to have brought the dead back to life, healed the sick, and done many other miracles (or sorcery) would actually come back from the dead three days later as he predicted. Is that your position?

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

I doubt very much that Baye's Theorem can refute any such thing. I believe that almost every application to Baye's Theorem in philosophy is incorrect. For starters, what's the sample space? You need one to talk about probabilities. Whats the random variable? How does one conclude that that sum of the measures of the sets equals 1?

It is not necessary to arrive at an actual probability of the resurrection. Bayes' Theorem is simply used to demonstrate that Hume was wrong in saying that the supernatural is always the least likely explanation. John Earman (an agnostic) originally wrote the book Hume's Abject Failure, where he demonstrates, using probability theory, that Hume's argument is fallacious.

For a link to an explanation of how probability theory applies here just scroll up to my response to clamflats, where I link to the Craig/Ehrman debate. Craig explains it.

Hume/Ehman made the claim that the resurrection is always the least likely occurrence, while probability theory takes into consideration the evidence supporting the resurrection as well as the plausibility of naturalistic explanations.

I can't check out all these different spiritual claims. I simply don't believe that there is a god or gods.

You can't just hand wave the evidence away like that. If there is no historical evidence for what you said about Islam and Mormonism, then you can dismiss it, but there is historical evidence supporting the resurrection, so you have to actually engage with the evidence. Especially if you want to believe in God. :)

I reject Christianity on the simple grounds that very, very few people their life as if it really were true. Apparently god has done a very bad job of engineering our minds to be amenable to the truth. Maybe he should intervene in our lives in the same way he did for Paul. That is, physically interact with us in such a way that we can't deny his existence.

I know that you've told me that you've had bad experiences with Christians, and I'm sorry to hear that. Most of the Christians I know are wonderful and really live out their faith, but let's say for the sake of argument that a very low number of Christians--say 5%--are really saved.

If that's the case, then it simply confirms the words of Jesus that the road is narrow that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:14). He also says that many who call Him "Lord" will be turned away on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:23). So this does not disprove Christianity at all--it is very consistent with its teachings.

But even if the percentage of real Christians at any given time is that low, if you combine them all together at the end of time, you will get a fulfillment of Revelation 7:9: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."

As far as God's engineering job is concerned, I think He did a remarkable job in creating creatures who have the power to choose. It would have been much easier to create puppets.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Vinny. Thanks for stopping by.

Where did you find the quote in which Ehrman affirms the honorable burial?

It's from the 2003 audio "From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity." This is out of print, so I have only been able to find quotes from it. But Ehrman admits in the debate that he wrote it, claiming only that Craig took it out of context. This is what he says:

"I should point out that in some of Bill’s writings, he’s quoted a lot of my writings, and he’s taken them out of context, as I’ll show in a few minutes, because what he’s saying I’ve changed my mind to, I don’t agree with."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but he never showed that Craig took him out of context. This is the whole quote from Reasonable Faith, and it is pretty self-contained. I don't see how it could be out of context:

"Some scholars have argued that it’s more plausible that in fact Jesus was placed in a common burial plot, which sometimes happened, or was, as many other crucified people, simply left to be eaten by scavenging animals (which also happened commonly for crucified persons in the Roman Empire). But the accounts are fairly unanimous in saying (the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying) that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that that’s what happened."

What could this possibly mean other than what it says?

And the reason why I trust Craig over Ehrman is not because Craig is a Christian (there are definitely Christian apologists that I don't trust), but because Ehrman has a history of contradicting himself when it's convenient.

For example, atheist Luke Muehlhauser did a review of Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus, and said: "What is Ehrman’s fault is how astonishingly misleading his book is." He then goes on to label a section "Ehrman vs. Ehrman" and compares his bestseller Misquoting Jesus with a quote from his scholarly work.

Craig said the same thing about Ehrman (this is another quote from Muehlhauser):

"Craig begins by saying there are two Bart Ehrmans: the scholarly Ehrman and the popular Ehrman. The scholarly Ehrman knows the text of the New Testament has been established to 99% accuracy, and with greater certainty than any other ancient document, but the popular Ehrman gives the impression that important Christian doctrines are up in the air because we are uncertain about which of the early textual variants for particular verses reflect the original text. I roughly agree with this criticism, and said so a long time ago."

Vinny said...

Here is what Ehrman says in his 1999 book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium pp. 224-25:

In several independent accounts we are told that Jesus’ body was buried by an influential but secret follower, Joseph of Arimathea. Some scholars have called this tradition into question on the grounds of contextual credibility. Crucified criminals were normally not allowed a decent burial, but were either left on the crosses to rot and be devoured by scavengers or tossed into a common grave. This was part of the humiliation. At least one recent scholar, otherwise known for his serious scholarship, has made a rather sensationalist suggestion that Jesus’ body was in fact eaten by dogs. One must admit that this is possible but there is really no way to know.

In any event, it seems improbable that Jesus’ corpse was simply left hanging on the cross. If it had been, his followers would presumably have seen it there later and been somewhat less inclined to maintain that it had been raised from the dead on the third day following. We can at least say then that Jesus’ body was probably buried somewhere by someone, either by the soldiers in a common tomb or, as the tradition itself says, by someone other than his family or closest followers.


I have not listened to that particular series of lectures by Ehrman, but my local has a copy and I will see if I cannot get over there this evening to borrow it. (BTW, it is in print and can be purchased from The Teaching Company.) I am willing to bet that Ehrman was comparing the theory that Jesus was buried to the theory that his body was left to rot on the cross. I am also willing to bet that the entire context will make it clear that, as in the book, Ehrman thinks it likely that Jesus’ body was buried but does not believe that the evidence is sufficient to establish all the other details of the gospel accounts.

In any case, Ehrman plainly states in his debate with Craig that he does not acknowledge the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea. If you wish to accept Craig’s interpretation of a statement Ehrman made in a lecture (which unlike a statement in a book is not subject to proof reading and editing to eliminate ambiguities), then the best you can claim is that he has flip-flopped on the question. You cannot claim that he supports a position when he says he does not.

Vinny said...

I find it interesting that Craig draws that quote from From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, a series of lectures in which the entire subject of the historical Jesus is addressed in a single thirty-minute lecture. Ehrman also produced a series of lectures for The Teaching Company titled The Historical Jesus, in which he devoted twelve hours to that subject.

Is it possible that Ehrman did not make his position on Joseph of Arimathea as clear when giving a brief overview as he did when discussing the question in more detail? Is it possible that Craig was familiar with the more detailed discussions in Ehrman's books and other lectures and knew perfectly well that he was quoting something that did not fairly represent Ehrman's position?

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

You cannot show all people considered that a resurrection was impossible by pointing to specific people held the position that the dead stay dead. Opposing beliefs are held by all sorts of people including illogical beliefs.

It may be that you don't see what I find obvious, but I don't understand how a Christian can think no one would have believed a bodily resurrection possible before Jesus allegedly rose from the dead.


I did not say that it was impossible for them to believe in the possibility of a bodily resurrection. Of course those who became Christians came to believe it, both Jews and Gentiles. I said that the Gentiles at the time believed that it was impossible. Those are two different statements. My point was that the culture at the time said that a bodily resurrection from the dead was impossible, but that does not mean that individuals could not change their minds about that.

I don't believe Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, but you accept that as fact, don't you?
Matthew 27:63 shows that the Pharisees were aware that Jesus said he would rise again in three days. The Gospels record times Jesus talked about being killed and rising again.


Yes, Jesus did repeatedly say that, but the Gospels indicate that His disciples did not really believe it after He died. This also demonstrates what a difficult concept resurrection from the dead was for them.

But your saying that no one thought Jesus might actually be resurrected? No one had the slightest expectation that the man that was believed to have brought the dead back to life, healed the sick, and done many other miracles (or sorcery) would actually come back from the dead three days later as he predicted. Is that your position?

No, that is not my position.

I was responding to your claim that people believed all sorts of outlandish things back then so why wouldn't they believe in the resurrection from the dead?

And this is my response: They were superstitious because they did not have scientific explanations for things, so they often gave supernatural explanations for things that have natural explanations. For example, when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, they may be prone to hallucinations of that person. But back in those days they knew nothing of hallucinations so they might claim that they saw the ghost of the person.
And they also knew nothing of neurological disorders, so they may have considered them demonic.

In other words, they were seeking explanations for phenomena that they had experience with but didn't understand.

However, they did not have experiences with people physically coming back from the dead. When Jesus appeared to them they thought they saw a ghost (Luke 24:37). So they were giving a familiar explanation (vision of a ghost) to a very unfamiliar experience--a bodily resurrection.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I have not listened to that particular series of lectures by Ehrman, but my local has a copy and I will see if I cannot get over there this evening to borrow it.

That would be great.

In any case, Ehrman plainly states in his debate with Craig that he does not acknowledge the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea. If you wish to accept Craig’s interpretation of a statement Ehrman made in a lecture (which unlike a statement in a book is not subject to proof reading and editing to eliminate ambiguities), then the best you can claim is that he has flip-flopped on the question. You cannot claim that he supports a position when he says he does not.

Normally I would agree with you, but Ehrman doesn't so much flip-flop as he says different things depending on whether he speaks in his scholarly or his popular capacity. And his statement in 2003 is consistent with the prevailing scholarly opinion. I quoted is him saying that "it is relatively reliable" that he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Maybe it is "relatively reliable" that it happened, but Ehrman doesn't personally believe it--I don't know. But we're not looking for his personal feelings anyway; we're trying to decide whether this event is likely historical. What matter is that he said that it is relatively reliable (and most scholars agree with him).

I find it interesting that Craig draws that quote from From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, a series of lectures in which the entire subject of the historical Jesus is addressed in a single thirty-minute lecture. Ehrman also produced a series of lectures for The Teaching Company titled The Historical Jesus, in which he devoted twelve hours to that subject.

Craig refers to both From Jesus to Constantine (2003) and The Historical Jesus (1999), which is why he applauds Ehrman for reversing himself. Ehrman then denies having reversed himself, but he never explains how Craig took him out of context, does he? It seems that he would have had a perfect opportunity to do so during the debate.

Is it possible that Craig was familiar with the more detailed discussions in Ehrman's books and other lectures and knew perfectly well that he was quoting something that did not fairly represent Ehrman's position?

I have never once caught Craig in a half-truth, but that doesn't mean I trust him implicitly. He gave Ehrman a chance to explain himself, and Ehrman never did.

BTW, you seem to be familiar with Ehrman's writings. What are your thoughts about Luke Muehlhauser and Craig's assessment of the scholarly Ehrman versus popular Ehrman? To mislead a popular audience this way is dishonest and it means that he knows certain things as a scholar that he denies when it's convenient.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Ehrman promised us that he would explain how Craig took him out of context, and I went back to the debate to see if I had missed his explanation. This is the closest he comes to an explanation:

"We don’t know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and it’s not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story. We don’t know if his tomb was empty three days later. We don’t know if he was physically seen by his followers afterwards. Bill’s going to come up here and tell me now that I’ve contradicted myself. But I want to point out that earlier he praised me for changing my mind!"

It's like he's saying: "Well, I've changed my mind again, but that's a good thing, eh Bill?" And technically he's not lying because we don't know that Joseph buried Jesus. All we know is that it's "relatively reliable."

Vinny said...

At the debate, Craig merely asserted that Ehrman had changed his position without providing any evidence, it was more than sufficient for Ehrman to explain why he held the position that he had always held. It would have been silly for Ehrman to start addressing passages from lectures that Craig hadn't cited at the debate.

The point is that you and I are not bound by tactical decisions that Ehrman and Craig made during the debate. We can look to the sources to see whether Ehrman has maintained a consistent position on the question or not.

Anette Acker said...

In the debate, Craig did cite snippets of the quotes he has used on his site. If Ehrman was in a position to accuse Craig of taking him out of context on his site, he knew exactly what Craig was referring to. And if Ehrman had set Craig straight, and demonstrated that he was dishonest, he could have effectively won the debate. But he made no attempt to do so.

Anyway, I'm glad that you have access to From Jesus to Constantine so we can check what Ehrman actually said and what the context was. You are right that a person's writings are more indicative of his or her views than tactical decisions in a debate.

Y = X said...

Anette,

Regarding Baye's theorem, whenever one says 'least likely' or some such thing it requires there to be a probability space and a random variable. The sum of the measures of the events must be 1. It simply isn't possible - ever - to say that the probability of god or of a resurrection is greater than (something else). The existence of the probability of the event has to be established. Ill take a look at the one reference you mentioned.

With regard to people living as if they really believe, I mean this in a very fundamental way. No one lives their life as if they really believe in heaven. Almost all Christians that I know believe that when a child dies it goes to heaven. Provided it is before the age of accountability. Yet, such people are all saddened when their child dies.

Only a born person can possibly go to hell - according to most Christian theologies - and yet people oppose abortion. Almost no one lives their life as if they really are going to heaven.

With regard to historical evidence, the explanation is quite simple. Jesus wasn't buried in the tomb he was supposed to have been buried. People lie. People make mistakes. Joseph said that Jesus could be buried in his tomb. Maybe he changed his mind. Or the body was accidentally put in another tomb. Or people raided the tomb secretly and removed the body. That is much more plausible than believing he was raised from the dead.

People are buried in the wrong tomb sometimes. People have their graves robbed sometimes. People sometime lie about seeing things. People sometimes claim they monitored a place all night when in fact they slept a bit. All of these sorts of things are common. So it's more plausible to me that this is what happened than Jesus was resurrected.

I personally have the ability to check out the evidence for Mohammed ascending to heaven, for Siddartha attaining enlightenment, etc. A very large majority of all humans who have lived have not had this ability. Such a small percentage of humans have had this ability that this must not be the path that god had in mind. Unless he's bad at engineering things.

I strongly disagree with the notion that god did "a remarkable job in creating creatures who have the power to choose"

People overeat when they don't want to. People want to exercise but can't make that choice to do so. We are easily manipulated by advertisers. We easily succumb to the mob mentality and the need to fit in. We are rarely rational. Our subconscious overwhelms us too easily and too frequently. We are not in control - for the most part - of ourselves.

Wolfgang said...

Anette said...
A variety of people had experiences, at different times and in different ways, in which Jesus appeared to them postmortem. Scholars are virtually unanimous in their acceptance of this fact.

I am no scholar, and I am unfamiliar with their virtually unanimous claims of acceptance. Regardless of the alleged sightings, relatively few people encountered the resurrected Jesus.

And the recorded appearances made by Jesus are just odd to me. He makes brief appearances then vanishes, and then it is all over after 40 days. It is as if the stories serve to say, Jesus rose again just like he said he would, but he isn't around anymore. He'll be back again someday though.

And you think that it is logical for the Creator to reveal Himself to us in this way?

So at the time when Paul wrote this, there were hundreds of people still alive claiming to have seen the risen Christ and willing to testify as witnesses.

You are basing this on one statement by Paul, but I don't know what Paul is basing it on.

Did one person share with Paul that Jesus appeared to him and 500 other people? When Paul asked to speak with the others, did the man claim that some of the witnesses have died, and others are not around?

I just don't know what event Paul is referring to or how he knows the event took place.

Much is made of being able to talk to witnesses, but some people might lie about seeing the resurrected Jesus because they would have been special amongst their brethren.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

The story of Jesus and Thomas is also strange to me. I wouldn't have expected Jesus to have marks on his hands or side. I would have expected Jesus to be perfectly healed.

It is as if the story was invented to try to give some additional evidence. But a red flag goes up every time I read John 20:29 "Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'"

Vinny said...

When I was in Catholic grade school, the nuns told me stories about the appearances of the Virgin Mary at Fatima to thousands of people. At that time (the mid-1960’s), the nuns could have reasonably believed that some of those people were still alive. Nevertheless, I have no reason to think that any of those nuns had ever talked to any of those people personally. Rather, I think it much more likely that they had heard the story from some other nun.

By the same token, I have no reason to doubt that Paul heard a story about a miraculous event that he believed to be true. That cannot be considered very strong evidence.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

Regarding Baye's theorem, whenever one says 'least likely' or some such thing it requires there to be a probability space and a random variable. The sum of the measures of the events must be 1. It simply isn't possible - ever - to say that the probability of god or of a resurrection is greater than (something else). The existence of the probability of the event has to be established. Ill take a look at the one reference you mentioned.

I plan to do a post where I discuss this in greater detail, but it's not even necessary to appeal to probability theory to conclude that Hume's argument (the miraculous is always the least likely explanation) is fallacious. This is particularly true with respect to the resurrection because it is a theologically significant event in that it answers the question: "Does God exist, and if so, what religion is true?" Hume's argument would require you to approach that question with a closed mind, or with an unfalsifiable unbelief. Clearly that is fallacious.

Craig says is that Hume only looks at the intrinsic probability of a resurrection from the dead given our knowledge of the world. But he should take into consideration the evidence for the resurrection as well as the plausibility of naturalistic explanations.

If you want to know Craig's equation and how he arrives at it you'll have to click through to the debate because I can't copy it onto here. The equation is too long.

With regard to people living as if they really believe, I mean this in a very fundamental way. No one lives their life as if they really believe in heaven. Almost all Christians that I know believe that when a child dies it goes to heaven. Provided it is before the age of accountability. Yet, such people are all saddened when their child dies.

The Bible characterizes death as an enemy, and it is particularly tragic when a child dies. John 11:35 simply says, "Jesus wept," and it is how He reacted after Lazarus died, even though He knew He would raise him from the dead.

Also, living our lives as if we believe in heaven doesn't mean wanting to die young. It means making the most of this life by doing God's will. This life is our prelude to heaven and it should not be wasted.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

With regard to historical evidence, the explanation is quite simple. Jesus wasn't buried in the tomb he was supposed to have been buried. People lie. People make mistakes. Joseph said that Jesus could be buried in his tomb. Maybe he changed his mind. Or the body was accidentally put in another tomb. Or people raided the tomb secretly and removed the body. That is much more plausible than believing he was raised from the dead.

I'm going to do my next post on alternative explanations.

People overeat when they don't want to. People want to exercise but can't make that choice to do so. We are easily manipulated by advertisers. We easily succumb to the mob mentality and the need to fit in. We are rarely rational. Our subconscious overwhelms us too easily and too frequently. We are not in control - for the most part - of ourselves.

But these problems are usually the result of choices. The person who indulges in rich food will become addicted to that kind of food, whereas the person with healthy habits wants to eat well and exercise. Romans 6:16 says: "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?"

So the more we make good choices, the easier it becomes. If you've never smoked, you're not going to start thinking, "Man, I could really use a cigarette!" at the end of a hard day.

But salvation is a gift whereby God takes a person who is a slave to sin and sets him or her free. No matter how bad our habits are, He is willing to give us a hand and yank us out of that quicksand. He will by His Spirit change us on the inside so that we want to do the right thing and are no longer at war with ourselves.

Y = X said...

Craig says is that Hume only looks at the intrinsic probability of a resurrection from the dead given our knowledge of the world.

I suspect that Craig is not a mathematician. There is no reason to believe that there is an intrinsic probability of a resurrection or even how one can operate with it. There's no reason to believe that it is meaningful to talk about a probability of someone being resurrected and no reason to believe that if even it were meaningful to talk about such a thing that it is nonzero.

We won't agree on this.

Y = X said...

I just read Craig's use of Baye's Theorem. He clearly knows nothing about probability theory and how to correctly apply it. His argument is very, very bad.

He write:

Letting R = Jesus’ resurrection, E = the specific evidence for that event, and B = our background knowledge apart from the specific evidence, Bayes’ Theorem states:

R, E, and B are not events of a sample space. It's not meaningful to talk about their probabilities in the sense of Baye's Theorem.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

And the recorded appearances made by Jesus are just odd to me. He makes brief appearances then vanishes, and then it is all over after 40 days. It is as if the stories serve to say, Jesus rose again just like he said he would, but he isn't around anymore. He'll be back again someday though.

And you think that it is logical for the Creator to reveal Himself to us in this way?


Yes, I think it's very logical, in part because it provides evidence of His existence, as we have discussed, but it is also logical because Jesus wasn't just raised from the dead like Lazarus was; He received a resurrection body like the redeemed will receive when Jesus comes again. Jesus was the "firstborn of many brothers" (Romans 8:29).

And the body Jesus received was imperishable and would never die, so after the forty days He ascended to heaven. He had finished what He came to do. But He sent His Spirit to work through His followers.

A lot more was done after He went to heaven than when He was on earth. By 300 AD there were 4 million Christians in the world.

So although Jesus physically left this earth when He finished what He set out to do, He is still with us spiritually, and He can be everywhere at once.

Did one person share with Paul that Jesus appeared to him and 500 other people? When Paul asked to speak with the others, did the man claim that some of the witnesses have died, and others are not around?

He probably heard it from many sources, but Paul himself saw Jesus, and so did Peter and James. Paul and James were both skeptics so their testimony counts for a lot. Why would they be willing to give up everything (in the event of James, we have outside corroboration that he was stoned to death) for their faith unless they were very certain? Especially since they were naturally inclined to not believe.

The story of Jesus and Thomas is also strange to me. I wouldn't have expected Jesus to have marks on his hands or side. I would have expected Jesus to be perfectly healed.

Jesus had a resurrection body which could things that our bodies can't; He did not just get His old body back. So it would have been possible for Him to have been fully healed and still retain the marks of His sacrifice.

It is as if the story was invented to try to give some additional evidence. But a red flag goes up every time I read John 20:29 "Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'"

The story about Thomas doesn't give additional evidence because it is only of theological, not historical, significance. That is, this is not a passage that Bible critics have identified as historical, like the five facts (and others) that I mentioned in my post. That doesn't mean it didn't happen; it just means that this event has to be accepted on faith. But it is not significant in an evidentiary sense.

Why do the words of Jesus send up red flags? Don't you think that Thomas, who worked closely with Jesus for three years, saw all His miracles, and heard Him say that He would rise from the dead on the third day, should have believed? Like the other disciples, he experienced all of this and should have trusted Jesus, but his heart was hardened.

And even so, Jesus gave him exactly the proof he was looking for, so He never demanded blind faith.

Y = X said...

I think it makes no sense for god to want us to believe in him (I know this is not sufficient for salvation but it is necessary for salvation) without providing each and every human concrete proof of his existence. Concrete in the following sense. I know apples exist. There's no argument anyone can give me to dissuade me from this belief. God ought to make himself known to me in the same way. That he doesn't is an indication of a bad character on his part or his nonexistence.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

When I was in Catholic grade school, the nuns told me stories about the appearances of the Virgin Mary at Fatima to thousands of people. At that time (the mid-1960’s), the nuns could have reasonably believed that some of those people were still alive. Nevertheless, I have no reason to think that any of those nuns had ever talked to any of those people personally. Rather, I think it much more likely that they had heard the story from some other nun.

By the same token, I have no reason to doubt that Paul heard a story about a miraculous event that he believed to be true. That cannot be considered very strong evidence.


The reason why critics take Paul's testimony in his letters so seriously is because he is a very strong witness. First, he was a skeptic (a persecutor of the church) until he had the vision of Jesus. He would have been today's equivalent of a highly intelligent, well-educated, anti-Christian atheist. This was in no way confirmation bias. (The same cannot be said of your average Catholic nun.)

Second, although he received the message as a revelation from God, he was almost obsessive about confirming it with the original apostles/eyewitnesses. The letter to the Galatians says that he traveled to Jerusalem twice to make sure that he had everything right (and they confirmed that they did). So I think that Paul would have received the information about the five hundred from Peter or James, who probably would have known about it first hand.

Third, Paul's acceptance of the truth of the resurrection made him willing to give up prestige and money and probably even his life. We know that he was imprisoned for his faith, and Christian tradition says that he was beheaded by the Roman government.

We don't need to focus on the five hundred, because in addition to Paul, James was another skeptic who was converted after seeing Jesus. And according to Josephus, he was martyred for his faith.

So 1 Corinthians 15 just indicates that Jesus appeared numerous times in many different ways to different people, sometimes to skeptics and sometimes to a large group of people.

The evidence supporting the resurrection is different from the Marian appearances because of all the checks and balances. Also, the resurrection has great theological significance--because Jesus has risen and defeated death, we have the hope of eternal life.

The appearances of Mary and the "miracle of the sun" seem very random. What is the purpose of the sun spinning? Why is Mary drawing attention to her "Immaculate Heart" rather than glorifying God? In the Bible, the saints make a point of detracting attention away from themselves and drawing attention to God. So even if it could be proven that something supernatural happened at Fatima, I would still have questions about the theological aspects.

That is not to say that my mind is closed to Catholicism. I know people that I really respect who have seriously considered Catholicism, but I don't find their arguments persuasive. I think it is very appropriate to be skeptical of supernatural events, even if one believes in the possibility of miracles. Credulity in this area is extremely dangerous. I am also skeptical of the claims of Charismatic Christians.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

My point is just because Paul says there was an event with over 500 witnesses, doesn't make it so. Vinny brought up Our Lady of Fatima, which points to another possible explanation.

If the 500 witnesses are discounted, how many people are recorded to have seen the resurrected Jesus? A couple dozen?

Even if the 500 witnesses are included, relatively few people witnessed what is purported to be one of the most significant and most unbelievable events of mankind.

You believe the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, but you dismiss the appearances of the Virgin Mary.

I do not find your evidence of the resurrection convincing in the same way you do not find the evidence for Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Guadalupe convincing.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,
It is true that Peter, James, and Paul were very certain of their beliefs, but that doesn't necessarily make their beliefs true.

People are certain of many things. I know a man that is absolutely certain that he had telepathic sex with an alien on the roof of his house. It sounds like a dream to me, but he claims it didn't feel like any dream he ever had. It was the most amazing experience of his life and very real.

I know a woman that when she was a child, she repeatedly saw ghosts in a house she lived in. She had a sleep over with her friends when a ghost appeared before all of them. After that incident, no one slept over at her house again.

The moment I became a skeptic was the moment I realized that just because people are certain of something, it doesn't mean they are correct in their assertion. Our senses are not completely reliable, and we can be fooled. In addition, we misremember and misinterpret experiences.

Vinny said...

Second, although he received the message as a revelation from God, he was almost obsessive about confirming it with the original apostles/eyewitnesses. The letter to the Galatians says that he traveled to Jerusalem twice to make sure that he had everything right (and they confirmed that they did).

I would say that the exact opposite is true. Paul makes it quite clear to the Galatians that the apostles in Jerusalem contributed nothing to his understanding of the gospel. “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” When Paul set his gospel before them, it seems quite sure that he did so to determine whether they were preaching the wrong message. Nothing in Galatians suggests that Paul ever had any doubts that he had things wrong.

My guess would be that Paul heard the story of the appearance to the 500 during the time that he was persecuting the church.

From what I hear, skeptics convert to Christianity every day of the week without any miraculous confirmation of the truth of the stories they have been told. I heard a story recently about a Muslim Imam converting without any miracles even though he had formerly had Christians put to death. I don’t see how Paul’s conversion proves that anything supernatural occurred.

As far as James goes, the New Testament tells us nothing whatsoever about the circumstances under which he came to believe in Jesus. For all we know, it could have happened before the crucifixion. While it is true that Josephus records the execution of someone named James, he says nothing about his religious beliefs having anything to do with the event.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

The story of Thomas isn't additional evidence for us; it was intended as additional evidence for skeptics at the time.

It was likely created for the multitude that had not seen the resurrected Jesus, which is why the resurrected Jesus' words sends up a red flag. His words are a way of getting around the lack of proof. Afterall, one is blessed for believing without seeing.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

I suspect that Craig is not a mathematician. There is no reason to believe that there is an intrinsic probability of a resurrection or even how one can operate with it. There's no reason to believe that it is meaningful to talk about a probability of someone being resurrected and no reason to believe that if even it were meaningful to talk about such a thing that it is nonzero.

We won't agree on this.


John Earman, who wrote Hume's Abject Failure, is a philosopher of physics, so I can guarantee you that he knows what he is talking about. He is also an agnostic, so he has no bias against Hume's position. Craig is simply restating his argument in the debate.

But there is no need to plug in numbers for this to make sense conceptually. Hume has made an argument about the probability of a miracle, saying that it is always lower than any natural explanation. So it is appropriate to respond to this argument using probability theory.

Craig says:

"[Ehrman] says,
'Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred.'

"In other words, in calculating the probability of Jesus’ resurrection, the only factor he considers
is the intrinsic probability of the resurrection alone [Pr(R/B)]. He just ignores all of the other factors. And that’s just mathematically fallacious. The probability of the resurrection could still be very high even though the Pr(R/B) alone is terribly low. Specifically, Dr. Ehrman just ignores the crucial factors of the probability of the naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection [Pr(not-R/B) × Pr(E/B& not-R)]. If these are sufficiently low, they outbalance any intrinsic improbability of the resurrection hypothesis."

So Craig is responding to an argument about the probability of an event by saying that this is an oversimplification. Other factors also have to be taken into account.

But it is not necessary to plug in numbers, because as you said, it is impossible to know the probability of certain events. However, this is not an attempt to establish a certain probability for the resurrection--it is a refutation of Hume and Ehrman's argument about the probability of a miracle.

Just to be clear on your position, are you saying that you agree with Hume and Ehrman? If so, why?

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

I think it makes no sense for god to want us to believe in him (I know this is not sufficient for salvation but it is necessary for salvation) without providing each and every human concrete proof of his existence. Concrete in the following sense. I know apples exist. There's no argument anyone can give me to dissuade me from this belief. God ought to make himself known to me in the same way. That he doesn't is an indication of a bad character on his part or his nonexistence.

How do you know apples exist? You know it through your senses, but they are fallible. You know it because other people believe in apples, but look at what Wolfgang said about his friend who had a sleepover and they all saw a ghost. We could all be wrong about apples.

But it is reasonable to have a basic belief that the objects we perceive with our senses really exist even though we can't prove that to be true. That is, we trust our experience, especially since other people have the same experience. And it is better for us to believe in apples and other foods than to deny their existence.

The spiritual rebirth is that kind of an experience where we suddenly know that God exists, so God does reveal himself to us in exactly the way you think He should. Christians in different cultures, different denominations, and in different times have the same experience if they are led by the Holy Spirit. In fact, one of my favorite books is The Practice of the Presence of God, a collection of letters by Brother Lawrence, a Catholic lay brother.

Since God is spiritual and not natural, we have to be born of the Spirit to know Him. And the more we are led by the Spirit, the more we understand about God. But we are to also use our reason and listen to the experiences of other people.

And if we actually live by the teachings of the Bible, it will certainly enrich and improve our lives. (The first three fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace.) So it is better for us to live by the teachings of the Bible than not.

Y = X said...

John Earman, who wrote Hume's Abject Failure, is a philosopher of physics, so I can guarantee you that he knows what he is talking about.

Your guarantee is not worth much in this case. His use of Baye's Theorem is wrong and indicates that he knows nothing about probability theory. In his argument he's talking about the probability of things that aren't even events. You have to have a sample space and you can only use Baye's Theorem on events of the same sample space.

His use of Baye's Theorem is completely and totally incorrect. He talking about probabilities of things that aren't even events!

E and B aren't events. It's ridiculous to talk about Baye's Theorem when one isn't talking about events of a sample space.

Y = X said...

By the way I'm a mathematician. I did my graduate work at Purdue University. My emphasis was not probability theory though. It was in commutative algebra and algebraic geometry. Philosopher of physics....in my experience this signifies nothing about his mathematical knowledge.

Y = X said...

How do you know apples exist?

I don't know this in the sense that I can prove it to you. I know it in the sense that there is nothing you can possibly tell me to make me doubt the existence of apples. God ought to make his existence known to each person in the same way that I know apples exist. This is especially so given that belief in his existence is so important.

He's allowed me to know that apples exist but not that he exists. It sounds a bit foolish that this is so since believing that apples exist is quite meaningless but believing that he exists isn't meaningless, allegedly.

Y = X said...

Just to be clear on your position, are you saying that you agree with Hume and Ehrman? If so, why?

Anyone who uses Baye's Theorem on things that aren't events of a sample space is using it incorrectly. Anyone who invokes Bay'es Theorem to talk about the probability of something being a miracle or not is nuts. Hume can be forgiven if he used Baye's Theorem since probability theory was not put on a firm foundation until Kolmogorov did this in the 1930s.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

Anyone who uses Baye's Theorem on things that aren't events of a sample space is using it incorrectly. Anyone who invokes Bay'es Theorem to talk about the probability of something being a miracle or not is nuts. Hume can be forgiven if he used Baye's Theorem since probability theory was not put on a firm foundation until Kolmogorov did this in the 1930s.

I realize that I'm responding to this comment out of order, but I just want to quickly reply to this. Neither Craig nor John Earman used the words "Bayes' Theorem." Other people have, in discussing Earman's and Craig's arguments, said that they use Bayes' Theorem. However, they simply talked about using probability theory. But since I will admit to being completely ignorant of most things mathematical, I don't know for sure if that is the same thing.

And even if it is, could we please forget about Bayes' Theorem and focus on the underlying logic? Let's pretend I never said anything about Bayes' Theorem because it is distracting us from the actual point.

Even if we agree, for the sake of argument, that Bayes' Theorem is incorrectly used here, it is still fallacious of Hume to say that the miraculous is always the least likely explanation.

Just look at this conceptually, and forget about the sample space.

Craig defines the letters as follows:

B = Background knowledge
E = Specific evidence (empty tomb, post-
mortem appearances, etc.)
R = Resurrection of Jesus
Pr (R/B & E) = ?

If Hume's argument looks like this: Pr(R/B) - that is, the probability that the resurrection took place, given our background knowledge of the world (e.g. dead people stay dead), then that is fallacious because the probability is always going to be very low regardless of circumstances.

However, if we say that the calculus looks like this:

Pr (R/ B&E) =

Pr (R/B) × Pr (E/ B & R)
__________________________________________________
[ Pr (R/B) × Pr (E/ B & R) ] + [ Pr (not-R/B) × Pr (E/ B & not-R) ]

then it takes into account the specific evidence for the resurrection as well as the evidence for naturalistic explanations. Hume failed to do that and that is why his argument was logically fallacious.

Think of this as a philosophical argument involving probability, not a mathematical equation. The only purpose it serves here is to refute Hume, not to mathematically prove that the probability of the resurrection is high.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

During the Q&A period of the debate, Craig was asked about how to plug numbers into the equation, and this was his answer:

"Richard Swinburne, who’s a professor at Oxford University, has written a book on incarnation and resurrection in which he actually uses the probability calculus that I have just given. He comes up with an estimate of 0.97 for the resurrection of Jesus in terms of its probability, and you can look at his book for that. I myself don’t use the probability calculus in arguing for resurrection of Jesus. The reason I brought it up
is because of the response to the Humean sort of argument that Dr. Ehrman was offering, which I
think is completely misconceived because he tries to say that the resurrection is improbable simply because of the improbability of the resurrection on the background information alone. In fact, I think that that probability is inscrutable, given that we’re dealing with a free agent. I don’t see how we can assess or assign specific numbers for those. So the way in which I argue for the resurrection is not by using the probability calculus. It’s by using what’s called “inference to the best explanation,” which is the way historians normally work. That is to say, you assess competing historical hypotheses in terms of criteria like: explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, degree of ad hoc-ness, concordance with accepted beliefs, and so on and so forth."

So Craig is conceding that it is impossible to come up with an actual probability, as I think we both agree. But it is still a useful rebuttal to Hume's argument just in terms of the pure logic.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

Hume can be forgiven if he used Baye's Theorem since probability theory was not put on a firm foundation until Kolmogorov did this in the 1930s.

People (like Bart Ehrman) still use Hume's argument. Are you saying that they cannot be forgiven? If so, we agree.

And you didn't think we could ever reach an agreement on this! :)

Y = X said...

People (like Bart Ehrman) still use Hume's argument. Are you saying that they cannot be forgiven? If so, we agree.

I'd say he can't be forgiven for using probability formulas with regard to the resurrection or miracles. I don't care who, what, when, where, or why someone is using probability theory formulas on

B = Background knowledge
E = Specific evidence (empty tomb, post-
mortem appearances, etc.)
R = Resurrection of Jesus


because R, E, and B are not events. So all references to any probability theory equation, formula or concept is bunk.

The mathematician in me cringes when I see people write things like:

Pr(R/B)

with R and B defined as above.

Sorry for delving into this topic. I should have let it go and not remarked upon it. You are an educated and sincere person and maybe hearing the perspective of a mathematician on this line of reasoning may be helpful to you. That is, to view such arguments with suspicion and not to believe them. Regardless of who is using them or why.

I'm being intellectually honest on this point. Anyone who makes such arguments is demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge of probability theory. It does not matter to what end they use such an argument or who they are. It's nonsense.

From reading what Craig wrote, I think he is a charlatan because he speaks about things he doesn't know. If Ehrman uses probability theory concepts in his arguments then he is a charlatan as well. An intelligent person knows their limitations.

I'm not a probabilist. Take what I say with a grain of salt too. I might could be a charlatan too!

Y = X said...

"[Ehrman] says,
'Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred.'


If Ehrman is using the word probably in the sense of probability theory (as it appears he is) and not in the colloquial sense then he can not be forgiven. The dumbness of this statement makes my head want to explode.

I'm going to go flip a quarter until I flip 10,000 heads in a row. After this happens I'll be able to die in peace.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

From reading what Craig wrote, I think he is a charlatan because he speaks about things he doesn't know.

Craig knows the limitations of probability theory. He is just refuting Ehrman's argument, which seems to be a fairly popular one, because I've heard it numerous times. Craig says:

"I myself don’t use the probability calculus in arguing for resurrection of Jesus. The reason I brought it up is because of the response to the Humean sort of argument that Dr. Ehrman was offering, which I think is completely misconceived because he tries to say that the resurrection is improbable simply because of the improbability of the resurrection on the background information alone."

I'm going to go flip a quarter until I flip 10,000 heads in a row. After this happens I'll be able to die in peace.

Is that what mathematicians do for fun? :)

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

You believe the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, but you dismiss the appearances of the Virgin Mary.

Did I say that I dismiss the appearances of the Virgin Mary? I think I said that my mind was not closed to Catholicism, but that I was skeptical of the Marian appearances. To be skeptical is not to dismiss something--it is to think about it critically with an open mind, but not one that is so open that your brain falls out. And it means following the evidence honestly, and not twisting the truth to arrive at a certain conclusion.

If 70,000 people, including skeptics, saw the "miracle of the sun," then that is good reason to believe that something happened (though whether that was Mary is an entirely different question). How does that militate against the resurrection? If anything, it casts doubt on materialism. Maybe there was a naturalistic explanation for what happened at Fatima but I'm not going to grasp at straws to give one.

But I still think the resurrection evidence meets a higher standard of proof for the following reasons:

1. Hostile witnesses were convinced.

2. Christians endured severe persecution and martyrdom for their faith.

3. There were two lines of evidence that Jesus had risen: the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances.

4. Jesus appeared in the body to different people on numerous different occasions, over a period of forty days.

5. The resurrection miracle is a theologically significant event which signifies that Jesus conquered death and that we will also rise from the dead. It is not a random violation of the laws of nature.

I do not find your evidence of the resurrection convincing in the same way you do not find the evidence for Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Guadalupe convincing.

I have no way of knowing if the testimonies at Fatima were true since to my knowledge nobody suffered severe persecution or martyrdom for this experience--instead, the witnesses got positive attention. But if it can be established that the witnesses most likely told the truth, I find the evidence convincing in that I believe something happened. However, I see no compelling reason to believe this had anything to do with Mary.

I'll reply to your other points tomorrow.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

People are certain of many things. I know a man that is absolutely certain that he had telepathic sex with an alien on the roof of his house. It sounds like a dream to me, but he claims it didn't feel like any dream he ever had. It was the most amazing experience of his life and very real.

I know a woman that when she was a child, she repeatedly saw ghosts in a house she lived in. She had a sleep over with her friends when a ghost appeared before all of them. After that incident, no one slept over at her house again.


Wow, you travel in far more interesting circles than I do!

These incidents are not hard to explain psychologically. The first one was the experience of one man--there are many possible psychological factors that could explain that. If he is perfectly sane, then it could also be something he made up for laughs.

As for the woman who saw ghosts as a child, again, how do you know she didn't make this up? And if she didn't, maybe she told her friends that she had seen ghosts in here house, and they got all wound up. Fear and the power of suggestion might then cause them to believe they saw a ghost.

The moment I became a skeptic was the moment I realized that just because people are certain of something, it doesn't mean they are correct in their assertion. Our senses are not completely reliable, and we can be fooled. In addition, we misremember and misinterpret experiences.

I fully agree with this. But sometimes explanations like hallucinations, mass hysteria, and deception don't fit. As I'll discuss later, there is no reason why Paul would have been susceptible to hallucination of mass hysteria, and if the disciples had tried to deceive, there is no way they would have given their lives for their belief in the resurrection.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I would say that the exact opposite is true. Paul makes it quite clear to the Galatians that the apostles in Jerusalem contributed nothing to his understanding of the gospel. “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” When Paul set his gospel before them, it seems quite sure that he did so to determine whether they were preaching the wrong message. Nothing in Galatians suggests that Paul ever had any doubts that he had things wrong.

I disagree on this interpretation because of the context. I think he set the Gospel before them, and they added nothing to his message. Galatians 2:7,8 goes on to say, "But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised . . . James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship."

Paul is essentially saying that he put his message before them to see if they would add anything, and they did not. Galatians 2:2 says that Paul submitted to the Jerusalem apostles the Gospel he preached to the Gentiles for fear that he might be running in vain. So he is making sure he got it right.

From what I hear, skeptics convert to Christianity every day of the week without any miraculous confirmation of the truth of the stories they have been told. I heard a story recently about a Muslim Imam converting without any miracles even though he had formerly had Christians put to death. I don’t see how Paul’s conversion proves that anything supernatural occurred.

Yes, skeptics do convert to Christianity without any miraculous confirmation except the miracle of regeneration. However, Paul said repeatedly that he had the supernatural experience of seeing and hearing Jesus. That was the reason for his conversion. The Muslim who converted probably had a reason as well, although almost certainly not as dramatic as Paul's.

As far as James goes, the New Testament tells us nothing whatsoever about the circumstances under which he came to believe in Jesus. For all we know, it could have happened before the crucifixion. While it is true that Josephus records the execution of someone named James, he says nothing about his religious beliefs having anything to do with the event..

1 Corinthians 15:7 says that Jesus appeared to James, so since the Gospels talk about the family of Jesus being skeptical, we can reasonably infer that he was converted after seeing Jesus.

As for Josephus, he was talking about the James who was the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, so it's pretty clear who he's talking about. Also, he was stoned by the Sanhedrin, the organization that crucified Jesus and hired Saul of Tarsus to destroy the church. So given that we have extra-biblical evidence that Christians were martyred, we can reasonably infer that James was martyred by stoning. What other likely explanation could there be for why James, who taught such a lofty ethic, should be stoned by the Sanhedrin?

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

The story of Thomas isn't additional evidence for us; it was intended as additional evidence for skeptics at the time.

It was intended as evidence to Thomas that Jesus had risen from the dead in the flesh. In Luke 24:39, Jesus shows the disciples that He was not a ghost by telling them to touch His hands and feet.

Along with other passages, it tells us that the postmortem appearances of Jesus (except the appearance to Paul) were bodily. He did not just appear as a vision.

It was likely created for the multitude that had not seen the resurrected Jesus, which is why the resurrected Jesus' words sends up a red flag. His words are a way of getting around the lack of proof. Afterall, one is blessed for believing without seeing.

It is not necessary to have seen something to believe it. In a court of law, witnesses testify about events, and if they are credible, the jury will believe that the events happened.

And the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were credible, not because we have any reason to trust people who lived 2000 years ago, but because unless the event had really happened, they would have acted against their interests in ways that would be very hard to explain.

James and the other brothers of Jesus became leaders of the early church, and in the Gospel accounts they thought He was crazy. Since 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus appeared to James, that is a good explanation for his change of mind and his willingness to die for his faith.

As for believing without seeing, Jesus said that to one of His close friends and disciples. Yes, it is a virtue for those who know Christ to trust Him. But that doesn't mean that Christianity teaches gullibility. We are to have discernment.

Vinny said...

I listened to the relevant sections of From Jesus to Constantine last night. Even if you had nothing else to go on, I don’t think that you could conclude that Ehrman intended to unequivocally affirm the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea.

As I guessed, the quote in question occurs in a discussion of whether Jesus was buried at all or whether his body was left on the cross to rot. Ehrman also discusses the possibility that Jesus’ body was buried in a common grave for executed criminals. Within a sentence of the section quoted, Ehrman says “I think we can say that after Jesus’ death, probably with some certainty that he was buried, possibly by this fellow Joseph of Arimathea . . . .”

I would also note that this specific issue arises in the context of a broader discussion of the kind of things that historians can say based on the sources available. Ehrman contrasted details upon which the gospels were consistent, such as the burial, with details upon which they varied such as whether Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem or in Galilee. He also contrasted normal historical events, such as the burial, with supernatural events such as the resurrection. Neither of these contrasts would have mandated a more detailed discussion of the specific questions of the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea.

For anyone who is familiar with Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium or anywhere else that Ehrman has discussed Joseph of Arimathea in detail, I don’t think it could reasonably be maintained that From Jesus to Constantine reflected a change in Ehrman’s position. Within the context of the debate, I don’t have any real problem with Craig using that quote in an effort to put Ehrman on the defensive, but if he is making the claim in his books, I think that it reflects a want of intellectual integrity.

I will concede, however, that you might get a skewed picture of Ehrman’s position on the historicity of the women finding the empty tomb if the only thing you had to go on was From Jesus to Constantine. Once again, it occurs within the context of drawing contrasts between points on which the gospel are consistent and those on which they are inconsistent and contrasts between natural events and supernatural events. Nevertheless, he does not hedge himself on that question as clearly as he does on Joseph of Arimathea and if you were not familiar with his other works, you might not notice that he was doing so.

Vinny said...

I agree that assigning actual numeric probabilities to supernatural events does not make any sense, but I still go along with Hume and Ehrman.

If I was standing outside on a dark night and I felt water falling on my head, I would conclude that it was raining rather than that I was under attack by a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns. This is because rain is common ordinary occurrence that is thoroughly supported by my knowledge and experience. On the other hand, a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns would be completely unprecedented. It really wouldn’t matter whether I thought that the CIA had the capacity to arm a drone with squirt guns or not. I would still prefer the explanation that was consonant with ordinary experiences.

When faced with stories about supernatural events, I reason in the same way. My knowledge and experience contains many examples of people who attribute natural events to supernatural causes and gullible people who accept and pass on such stories uncritically. My knowledge and experience include no examples of reliable or verifiable supernatural events. Just as I am compelled to conclude that the CIA predator drone is the least likely explanation for water falling on my head, I am compelled to conclude that an actual miracle is the least likely explanation for a miracle story.

I can conceive of circumstances in which I might consider the CIA drone to be the most likely explanation. It could well be that there are sounds and smells associated with the predator drone. If these were present combined with other factors that made rain particularly unlikely, I might conclude that the unprecedented explanation was the best. I can’t imagine that the same reasoning could ever lead me to embrace a supernatural explanation because I cannot imagine any circumstances that I could know to be unique to a supernatural event.

Vinny said...

Paul is essentially saying that he put his message before them to see if they would add anything, and they did not. Galatians 2:2 says that Paul submitted to the Jerusalem apostles the Gospel he preached to the Gentiles for fear that he might be running in vain. So he is making sure he got it right.

Paul makes it quite clear in Galatians 1:16-17, that he did not need to verify anything that had been revealed to him. He did not submit his gospel to the apostles in Jerusalem for seventeen years and he only did so then because he was concerned that they were responsible for the false brethren that were infiltrating his churches. He was afraid that they were screwing up the work he had been doing in his churches, thereby making his work “in vain.”

However, Paul said repeatedly that he had the supernatural experience of seeing and hearing Jesus.

Actually, Paul never says any such thing. He never gives any details of the experience of the appearance and he only mentions it once in his writings. He doesn’t even say that the appearance was the occasion for his conversion. For all Paul tells us, the appearance might have occurred after he converted.

1 Corinthians 15:7 says that Jesus appeared to James, so since the Gospels talk about the family of Jesus being skeptical, we can reasonably infer that he was converted after seeing Jesus.

This is just wishful thinking. Everyone else that Paul mentions, except perhaps himself, was a believer before Jesus appeared to them. By the way, when do you figure Jesus’ mother converted? Isn’t she described as being skeptical in Mark?

Vinny said...

But if it can be established that the witnesses most likely told the truth, I find the evidence convincing in that I believe something happened. However, I see no compelling reason to believe this had anything to do with Mary.

What reason do you have for doubting it? If people can be mistaken about the nature of supernatural apparitions, what basis do we have for thinking that Paul accurately understood what he had experienced?

As I'll discuss later, there is no reason why Paul would have been susceptible to hallucination of mass hysteria, and if the disciples had tried to deceive, there is no way they would have given their lives for their belief in the resurrection.

I am not aware of any research in the field of psychology that establishes criteria by which we can determine that any particular person is either susceptible or resistant to hallucinations or mass hysteria. Should such criteria exist, I am skeptical that it could be applied to someone who lived two thousand years ago based on a handful of letters he wrote.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I listened to the relevant sections of From Jesus to Constantine last night. Even if you had nothing else to go on, I don’t think that you could conclude that Ehrman intended to unequivocally affirm the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea.

I never said that Ehrman unequivocally affirmed the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea. In the quote I used, he said that it's "relatively reliable" that Jesus was buried in Joseph's tomb.

And there is no objectively good reason for Ehrman to deny the honorable burial considering the fact that it meets at last two of the criteria he uses for determining historicity: multiple attestation and dissimilarity.

All four Gospels mention Joseph so it easily satisfies the criterion of multiple attestation. And Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which meets the criterion of dissimilarity. As Craig says: "For given the hostility in the early Church toward the Jewish leaders, who had, in Christian eyes, engineered a judicial murder of Jesus, the figure of Joseph is startlingly dissimilar to the prevailing attitude in the Church toward the Sanhedrin. Therefore, Joseph is unlikely to have been a fictional creation of the early Church."

As I guessed, the quote in question occurs in a discussion of whether Jesus was buried at all or whether his body was left on the cross to rot. Ehrman also discusses the possibility that Jesus’ body was buried in a common grave for executed criminals. Within a sentence of the section quoted, Ehrman says “I think we can say that after Jesus’ death, probably with some certainty that he was buried, possibly by this fellow Joseph of Arimathea . . . .”

What you're saying doesn't undermine the quote. In fact, Craig himself provides the same context on his website:

"We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum. As so I think we can say that after Jesus' death, with some (probably with some) certainty, that he was buried, possibly by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and that three days later he appeared not to have been in his tomb" (Bart Ehrman, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Lecture 4: "Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus" [The Teaching Company, 2003].)

And if Ehrman concedes that Jesus received a proper burial, why would he dispute the detail about Joseph? And in From Jesus to Constantine he doesn't dispute it. He has somewhere said that some scholars dispute it, but I think he means the highly skeptical Jesus Seminar founder John Dominic Crossan. Not even Ludemann outright denies the honorable burial. And John A. T. Robinson said: "The view that we can know nothing about the body of Jesus, because as the corpse of a condemned criminal it would have been thrown into a lime-pit, is sheer dogmatic scepticism, flying in the face of all the evidence that, contrary to what might have been expected, it met no such fate." He also said that the tomb burial is "one of the best attested of all historical facts about [Jesus}."

Anette Acker said...

Within the context of the debate, I don’t have any real problem with Craig using that quote in an effort to put Ehrman on the defensive, but if he is making the claim in his books, I think that it reflects a want of intellectual integrity.

I don't think Craig used the quotes to put Ehrman on the defensive. He congratulated him on having the intellectual honesty to change his mind if the evidence warrants it. I think Craig was completely sincere, and aside from denying having changed his mind, Ehrman did not explain what his position was on the historicity of the women at the empty tomb and the honorable burial. To say that we don't know these facts to be true is not inconsistent with his prior statement that "it's relatively reliable that that's what happened." So even after the debate, we are left with what he said in From Jesus to Constantine.

You said that we should focus on Ehrman's writings and not his debate tactics and I agreed with you. And his most recent scholarly statement says that it is "relatively reliable" that Jesus was buried in Joseph's tomb. The fact that he didn't want to admit to that during the debate could have just been a strategic decision. And he did not blatantly deny it.

Vinny said...

If you wish to know why Ehrman disputes the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea, you can go to Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium or the lecture series The Historical Jesus, or any of a number of other sources where he discusses the question in detail. If, like Craig, you are more interested in finding statements that you can characterize as contradictions than in dealing with the substance of the position that he actually holds, you can continue to focus on From Jesus to Constantine.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I agree that assigning actual numeric probabilities to supernatural events does not make any sense, but I still go along with Hume and Ehrman.

I plan to discuss this in the next post.

Paul makes it quite clear in Galatians 1:16-17, that he did not need to verify anything that had been revealed to him. He did not submit his gospel to the apostles in Jerusalem for seventeen years and he only did so then because he was concerned that they were responsible for the false brethren that were infiltrating his churches. He was afraid that they were screwing up the work he had been doing in his churches, thereby making his work “in vain.”

Whether your interpretation is correct or mine is doesn't matter because either way it tells us something about Paul: He was zealous about the truth. But I do think that he also wanted to check to make sure they were teaching the same Gospel.

The first time he went to Jerusalem he certainly went to get the facts straight and to confirm his doctrine; the vast majority of scholars believe that is when he received the creed mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. So the apostles Paul and James would have also told him about the appearances.

Actually, Paul never says any such thing. He never gives any details of the experience of the appearance and he only mentions it once in his writings. He doesn’t even say that the appearance was the occasion for his conversion. For all Paul tells us, the appearance might have occurred after he converted.

The story is told three times in the book of Acts and Paul repeatedly talks about how he used to persecute the church in his epistles. In Galatians 1:15 he says that God was pleased to reveal His Son to him and that is the transition between Paul's discussion of his old life and what he did right after his conversion. I see no reason why you would question this.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

If you wish to know why Ehrman disputes the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea, you can go to Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium or the lecture series The Historical Jesus, or any of a number of other sources where he discusses the question in detail.

Can you summarize why he disputes it?

Anette Acker said...

This is just wishful thinking. Everyone else that Paul mentions, except perhaps himself, was a believer before Jesus appeared to them.

Why do you say that James was a believer before Jesus appeared to him? He is portrayed as a skeptic in the Gospels.

By the way, when do you figure Jesus’ mother converted? Isn’t she described as being skeptical in Mark?

Yes, the Gospels indicate that Mary was skeptical of Jesus before His resurrection, but by Acts 1:14 she was a believer. It is possible that Jesus appeared to her when He was appearing to everyone else. Paul does not mention Mary Magdalene or any women, so his list was not exclusive. In fact, the context is the creed that scholars think he received from Peter and James, so that is probably why the only individuals mentioned by name are Peter and James.

What reason do you have for doubting [that Mary appeared and spoke to the children at Fatima]? If people can be mistaken about the nature of supernatural apparitions, what basis do we have for thinking that Paul accurately understood what he had experienced?

My theological position is sola scriptura, so I base all my theological views on my best interpretation of the Bible. Although I find the interpretations of other Christians useful, I prefer to go to the primary source.

And within this framework, I have no scriptural basis for believing that Mary would have told anyone that "[Jesus] wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart." There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that Mary was sinless. As you pointed out, she appears skeptical of Jesus being the Son of God in the book of Mark. I think her Magnificat was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but beyond that the Gospels portray her as an ordinary woman and really do not mention her much.

On the other hand, Paul's doctrine that he received through direct revelation was completely consistent with the Gospel preached by the apostles in Jerusalem. For this, and other reasons, I believe he had an actual vision of Jesus.

Vinny said...

I think his main point would be that the story of Joseph of Arimathea is inconsistent with we know to have been the common Roman practice. The bodies of crucified criminals were usually left to rot on the cross as a warning to others. When executed criminals were buried, they were thrown into an unmarked common grave. There isn't any evidence that the Romans ever allowed crucified criminals to be buried honorably.

I don't think Ehrman would say that this proves that it did not happen, but it is enough to put it into the category of things about which historians cannot be certain.

Vinny said...

Why do you say that James was a believer before Jesus appeared to him? He is portrayed as a skeptic in the Gospels.

I don't say that he was or wasn't. It is a point to which the New Testament does not speak. We can say that at some point he came to believe in Jesus, but we cannot claim to know how that came to pass.

If even his mother was at some point skeptical, it is logical to assume that everyone who came to believe in Jesus started out being skeptical and yet it appears that everyone other than Paul to whom Jesus appeared had believed in him prior to the appearance.

Vinny said...

The first time he went to Jerusalem he certainly went to get the facts straight and to confirm his doctrine; the vast majority of scholars believe that is when he received the creed mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. So the apostles Paul and James would have also told him about the appearances.

"I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days."

I cannot see any way that passage can be read as Paul feeling any need to check facts or doctrine with the apostles in Jerusalem.

Y = X said...

But I still think the resurrection evidence meets a higher standard of proof for the following reasons:

1. Hostile witnesses were convinced.

2. Christians endured severe persecution and martyrdom for their faith.

3. There were two lines of evidence that Jesus had risen: the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances.

4. Jesus appeared in the body to different people on numerous different occasions, over a period of forty days.

5. The resurrection miracle is a theologically significant event which signifies that Jesus conquered death and that we will also rise from the dead. It is not a random violation of the laws of nature.


An empty tomb is not evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. If so then you must think that all empty tombs are evidence that the people who were supposed to have been buried there have risen from the dead. I'm guessing you don't see other empty tombs as evidence that the alleged occupants have risen from the dead.

When people channel spirits of dead people do you consider this evidence of being risen from the dead? I'm guessing you don't consider this evidence.

When a person hostile of belief A later in life follows belief A is that evidence that it is correct? I'm guessing that you can come up with lots of examples of where it isn't evidence of the veracity of A.

Some years ago people joined a cult where one of the main beliefs was that there really isn't supposed to be a male-female distinction. Male members had themselves castrated. I'm guessing that before joining the cult they were mostly hostile to the notion of self castration. These people also killed themselves when a comet entered the solar system. They thought it was a spaceship. Such dedication failed to convince of the veracity of their beliefs.

What you are engaging in is a sort of ex post facto reasoning. You have concluded that the resurrection occurred. If you are like most people you came to this conclusion before looking at all the so called evidence. You have this belief and what you see as evidence is confirmation bias.

You see empty tomb and proclaim it is evidence of a resurrection. I doubt you will say as much of any other empty tomb. You get the idea.

Anette Acker said...

I think his main point would be that the story of Joseph of Arimathea is inconsistent with we know to have been the common Roman practice. The bodies of crucified criminals were usually left to rot on the cross as a warning to others. When executed criminals were buried, they were thrown into an unmarked common grave. There isn't any evidence that the Romans ever allowed crucified criminals to be buried honorably.

I don't think Ehrman would say that this proves that it did not happen, but it is enough to put it into the category of things about which historians cannot be certain.


According to John Dominic Crossan, a skeptical revisionist who is in the minority camp that rejects the honorable burial, it was possible but extremely rare (Who Killed Jesus?):

"However it was managed, be it through bribery, mercy, or indifference, a crucified person could receive honorable burial in the family tomb in the early or middle first-century Jewish homeland. Second, with all those thousands of people crucified around Jerusalem in the first century alone, we have so far found only a single crucified skeleton, and that, of course, preserved in an ossuary. Was burial, then, the exception rather than the rule, the extraordinary rather than the ordinary case?"

Most of the other Jesus Seminar scholars accept the burial because the 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 creed says Jesus was "buried" and most of them believe that Paul received that creed in Jerusalem three years after his conversion.

Jesus Seminar scholar Bruce Chilton says in Rabbi Jesus: "A straightforward reading of the Gospels' portrait of the burial has been challenged by revisionist scholars, who theorize that Jesus died in a mass crucifixion: the body was thrown into a common, shallow trench, to become carrion for vultures and scavenging dogs. This makes for vivid drama but implausible history. Pilate, after all, had been forced in the face of Jewish opposition to withdraw his military shields from public view in the city when he first acceded to power. What likelihood was there, especially after Sejanus' death, that he would get away with flagrantly exposing the corpse of an executed Jew beyond the interval permitted by the Torah, and encouraging its mutilation by scavengers just outside Jerusalem?"

As for Ehrman's position, if he has always fallen somewhere on the continuum between not rejecting the honorable burial and not unequivocally affirming it, then the quote I used in my original post accurately represents his position, because he uses the words "relatively reliable." Unlike Crossan and John Shelby Sprong, he doesn't reject it, but neither does he go so far as to agree with the majority position as represented by John A. T. Robinson, who said that the burial was one of the best attested of all historical facts about Jesus. (And Robinson was a liberal theologian.)

Vinny said...

As I understand Ehrman's position, he thinks it more likely than not that Jesus was buried because our earliest source, Paul, reports it. Paul does not indicate that there was anything out of the ordinary about the burial, however, so Ehrman thinks that we have to allow for the possibility that the tradition of an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea arose later.


What are your grounds for saying that most of the Jesus Seminar scholars "believe that Paul received that creed in Jerusalem three years after his conversion"? I don't recall seeing any of them address this point.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I don't say that [James] was or wasn't [a believer when he saw Jesus]. It is a point to which the New Testament does not speak. We can say that at some point he came to believe in Jesus, but we cannot claim to know how that came to pass.

It doesn't directly tell us, but it is easy to make the inference that James, and possibly his whole family, were skeptical until they saw Jesus as the resurrected Christ. Mark 3:21 tells us that they thought Jesus had lost his mind and they wanted to have Him committed. And by Acts 1 they were all believers. 1 Corinthians 15:7 says that Jesus appeared to James. So it's not difficult to connect the dots.

If even his mother was at some point skeptical, it is logical to assume that everyone who came to believe in Jesus started out being skeptical and yet it appears that everyone other than Paul to whom Jesus appeared had believed in him prior to the appearance.

That is incorrect. Everyone "believed" in Him, in the sense that they believed that He existed, including Paul. But Paul was hostile to Christianity, James and the rest of his family were skeptical, and Peter merely doubted when Jesus was arrested. Peter was already a follower of Jesus before he saw Him as the resurrected Christ, but the others were not.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

"I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days."

I cannot see any way that passage can be read as Paul feeling any need to check facts or doctrine with the apostles in Jerusalem.


Most critical scholars believe that Paul received the creedal formula of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 from Peter and James during his visit to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. He spent fifteen days with them and presumably those days were not spent sightseeing--the Jerusalem apostles who were original eyewitnesses probably had a lot of information to give Paul. And there is in fact a very close correspondence between 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and Galatians 1:18-19 in that Paul says he had "received" the creedal formula, and he only mentions Peter and James by name, even though he says that Jesus appeared to all the disciples and all the apostles.

I think that during both of Paul's visits it was important to his to confirm that the Gospel was taught accurately, whether by him or by the other apostles. Paul was by nature a very zealous man--initially a zealous Pharisee hellbent on destroying the church, and then later a zealous defender of the Gospel who was willing to confront Peter to his face. Paul was greatly concerned about the truth and accurate doctrine, and Peter says about Paul that he had been given "great wisdom" but that some of his teachings are hard to understand and the "unstable and untaught" distort them (2 Peter 3:16).

What are your grounds for saying that most of the Jesus Seminar scholars "believe that Paul received that creed in Jerusalem three years after his conversion"? I don't recall seeing any of them address this point.

Robert Funk says in The Five Gospels speaking on behalf of the Jesus Seminar that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is "the earliest version of the oral gospel preserved for us" and that Paul received it from his predecessors. However, he says nothing about Paul receiving it in Jerusalem three years after his conversion, so I'm going to retract that statement (although most critical scholars do believe that). Ludemann likewise says in The Resurrection of Jesus that: "the elements in the tradition [of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7] are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus." Reginald Fuller concludes: "It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition."

So given the fact that most scholars (including the skeptical ones) consider 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 to be an early creedal formula, this means that from the very beginning, the church stated that Jesus was buried. And those skeptical scholars who conclude that he was left to rot on the cross or tossed into a common grave are basing that entirely on the fact that most victims of crucifixion suffered that fate. All the historical evidence we have indicates that He was buried.

Vinny said...

In Galatians 1, Paul says he received the gospel by revelation and then went out and preached for three years before going to meet Cephas. In 1 Corinthians 15, when he says that he passed on what he received, I think he was referring to the gospel that he received by divine revelation rather than a particular creedal formulation that he received from men three years later. This is why I would like to know the basis for your assertion that “[m]ost critical scholars believe that Paul received the creedal formula of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 from Peter and James during his visit to Jerusalem three years after his conversion.” I have only seen conservative apologists make this assertion.

Ludeman says that the elements of the tradition go back to within two years of the crucifixion but he does not claim that the particular formula used by Paul in 1 Corinthian 15 goes back that far. That particular creedal formula might be something that was created later.

In any case, 1 Cor. 15 does not tell us the circumstances under which Jesus’ body was buried. That is why scholars like Erhman have confidence that the body was buried, but less confidence that it was an honorable burial rather than a common grave.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

An empty tomb is not evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. If so then you must think that all empty tombs are evidence that the people who were supposed to have been buried there have risen from the dead. I'm guessing you don't see other empty tombs as evidence that the alleged occupants have risen from the dead.

The empty tomb is evidence because of the circumstances surrounding it and because it is reinforced by the other facts.

For example, skeptical scholar Jeffery Jay Lowder concedes that Jesus was probably buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, but he doesn't believe that Joseph was sympathetic to Jesus. He thinks Joseph was just a devout Jew who wanted the criminals off the cross before the Sabbath/Passover. So Lowder thinks that Joseph later removed Jesus' body from his tomb and tossed Him into a common grave.

But if Joseph was a devout Jew and a Sanhedrinist and not sympathetic to Jesus, why on earth did he never set the record straight? Another skeptical scholar, Richard Carrier, likewise accepts the historicity of Joseph and he hypothesizes that he put Jesus in the criminal's grave on Saturday night and left town. But this is an ad hoc explanation that doesn't solve the problem: He was a member of the Sanhedrin and he permanently left town? And he either never knew anything about the allegations of the tomb being empty or he kept secret about moving the body? If he was a devout Jew who was unsympathetic to Jesus, surely he would have said something, and his words would have counted for a lot.

But even if we were to tip our hats to this brilliant explanation, we are still left with the appearances to numerous different people (including skeptics) at different times and in different situations. And we still have to explain why Paul was willing to give up everything for his faith, why James would have been stoned by the Sanhedrin, and why later extra-biblical sources say that Christians would rather be tortured and killed than renounce Christ.

When people channel spirits of dead people do you consider this evidence of being risen from the dead? I'm guessing you don't consider this evidence.

No, I do not consider that evidence of people being raised from the dead. For one thing, the resurrection of Jesus was bodily. That is, it was in His resurrection body. And I have no reason to believe that it's possible to channel the spirits of dead people.

Some years ago people joined a cult where one of the main beliefs was that there really isn't supposed to be a male-female distinction. Male members had themselves castrated. I'm guessing that before joining the cult they were mostly hostile to the notion of self castration. These people also killed themselves when a comet entered the solar system. They thought it was a spaceship. Such dedication failed to convince of the veracity of their beliefs.

Yes, cults do brainwash people. Do you think that James and Paul were brainwashed? If so, who brainwashed them? I know of no cult that doesn't have a charismatic leader, but the Christians' leader was dead. And James remained skeptical of Him while He was alive. So how did he become brainwashed after Jesus died?

Anette Acker said...

What you are engaging in is a sort of ex post facto reasoning. You have concluded that the resurrection occurred. If you are like most people you came to this conclusion before looking at all the so called evidence. You have this belief and what you see as evidence is confirmation bias.

I will admit that back when I was nineteen and I became a Christian I did not weigh all the evidence and ask whether it was true. But some people do convert to Christianity by following the evidence. Just a couple of people off the top of my head: C. S. Lewis and Anne Rice both converted from atheism to Christianity by following the evidence, and for both it had to do in part with the evidence for the resurrection.

But even if I am biased, it doesn't matter because the people arguing against the resurrection are also biased. Remember what I said in my comment to clamflats upthread: People are governed by will and emotions at least as much as intellect. (And you agree with this because you said that people are rarely rational.) This is true of atheists as well as Christians and everybody else. If you are interested in the truth you have to factor that in and try to look at the facts and the logic in an objective way. If the naturalistic explanations are extremely ad hoc and implausible, and you still favor them, then you have to honestly ask yourself what it would take for you to believe and whether you have an "invincible unbelief" as Anthony Flew put it.

You see empty tomb and proclaim it is evidence of a resurrection. I doubt you will say as much of any other empty tomb. You get the idea.

I say that the details of the historical facts as well as the checks and balances built into them make them strong evidence for the resurrection. An empty tomb in and of itself could be evidence of any number of different things.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

In Galatians 1, Paul says he received the gospel by revelation and then went out and preached for three years before going to meet Cephas. In 1 Corinthians 15, when he says that he passed on what he received, I think he was referring to the gospel that he received by divine revelation rather than a particular creedal formulation that he received from men three years later.

I don't think he was referring to what he received by divine revelation because the creedal formula follows immediately after he says, "what I received," with the transition "that." So the following is what he received. And the language changes, almost as if Paul is stating something in quotes. Just to give you a sample of critical scholars that accept the position that Paul received this creed from his predecessors:

Jewish Bible scholar Geza Vermes says that the words of Paul are "a tradition he has inherited from his seniors in the faith concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus."

A. M. Hunter says, "The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability."

Hans von Campenhausen says: "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text."

I already mentioned Robert Funk, who says that this was an early oral tradition Paul had received from his predecessors, and Gerd Ludemann, who also called it a tradition and dated it to within two years of the death of Jesus.

Reginald Fuller says: "It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition."

And Gary Habermas says: "The most popular view is that Paul received this material during his trip to Jerusalem just three years after his conversion, to visit Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:18-19), both of whose names appear in the appearance list (1 Cor. 15:5; 7). An important hint here is Paul's use of the verb historesai (1:18), a term that indicates the investigation of a topic.[6]"

I realize that Habermas is a conservative scholar, but if the liberal and skeptical scholars concede that this was a tradition that Paul received from his predecessors, dating to within a few years of the death of Jesus, why not conclude that he received it when he traveled to Jerusalem three years after his conversion? This is the most likely conclusion, since we know he didn't receive it via email.

Ludeman says that the elements of the tradition go back to within two years of the crucifixion but he does not claim that the particular formula used by Paul in 1 Corinthian 15 goes back that far. That particular creedal formula might be something that was created later.

The way it is phrased is what makes scholars think that he is citing a creed. Note Fuller's words above: "Paul is citing a tradition" (Italics added). But even if the actual wording came later, what difference does it make? The vast majority of scholars (including skeptical ones) agree that the tradition is very early and Paul received it from his predecessors.

Anette Acker said...

In any case, 1 Cor. 15 does not tell us the circumstances under which Jesus’ body was buried. That is why scholars like Erhman have confidence that the body was buried, but less confidence that it was an honorable burial rather than a common grave.

But as I said before, the story about Joseph meets two of the criteria Ehrman uses for historicity, and there is no reason not to believe it. Also, the idea that he was buried but not by Joseph raises problems: As Crossan said, it was very rare for crucified criminals to be buried. He said:

"However it was managed, be it through bribery, mercy, or indifference, a crucified person could receive honorable burial in the family tomb in the early or middle first-century Jewish homeland. Second, with all those thousands of people crucified around Jerusalem in the first century alone, we have so far found only a single crucified skeleton, and that, of course, preserved in an ossuary. Was burial, then, the exception rather than the rule, the extraordinary rather than the ordinary case?"

If it was so rare for the crucified to be buried, but Joseph did not bury Jesus, why did the early Christians not give credit to the person/people who did bury Him? And why is there no competing burial story?

Vinny said...

I realize that Habermas is a conservative scholar, but if the liberal and skeptical scholars concede that this was a tradition that Paul received from his predecessors, dating to within a few years of the death of Jesus, why not conclude that he received it when he traveled to Jerusalem three years after his conversion?

Because Paul went out and preached for three years before he traveled to Jerusalem. That means that he must have had at least some elements of the tradition prior to that time.

The difference it makes is that we don’t know which predecessors passed the tradition along to Paul. Paul must have known about the crucifixion and resurrection prior to meeting with James and Cephas and I would expect that he knew of some appearances, too. He would have learned about these things when he was persecuting the early believers as heretics.

The view that Paul received the tradition from James and Cephas is popular with conservative apologists like Craig and Habermas because they would like to establish a chain of transmission that links Paul’s message back to the proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem by the original disciples. Unfortunately, Paul’s writings do not corroborate this. It is clear from Paul that his understanding of the gospel preceded his meetings with the apostles in Jerusalem. The only source he cites for this understanding is divine revelation.

That is one of the problems with the story of the appearance to the 500. We don’t know where Paul got it. He no doubt believed it to be true, but we cannot say anything about his sources.

Vinny said...

If it was so rare for the crucified to be buried, but Joseph did not bury Jesus, why did the early Christians not give credit to the person/people who did bury Him? And why is there no competing burial story?

If Jesus’ body had been thrown into a common grave for executed criminals by the Romans, the early Christians wouldn’t have known who buried him.

The point to remember here is that our earliest source doesn’t mention the story of the tomb being found empty. In Paul, the evidence of the resurrection is the appearance of the risen Christ. Paul may well have thought that Jesus’ body was no longer in the grave, but he couldn’t have verified that if no one knew where the body had been buried. Nor is there any reason to think that he would have felt the need to verify it. He would have been satisfied by the revelation that he received.

Of course there would certainly have been people who would have scoffed at the appearance claims as delusions or hallucinations. This would provide strong motivation for someone to invent a story about the tomb being found empty. However, in order to have people find the tomb empty, you need those people to know where Jesus was buried. This naturally requires an honorable burial in a known tomb by someone who had some pull with the Romans. Hence a character like Joseph of Arimathea becomes necessary.

There is no way to prove that this is what did or did not happen. However, it is the kind of logical possibility that makes historians (as opposed to apologists) hesitant to accept the gospel accounts of the burial at face value.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

First, I want to thank you again for joining this discussion. I can tell you're well read on the subject, so it's great to get your perspective.

The view that Paul received the tradition from James and Cephas is popular with conservative apologists like Craig and Habermas because they would like to establish a chain of transmission that links Paul’s message back to the proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem by the original disciples. Unfortunately, Paul’s writings do not corroborate this. It is clear from Paul that his understanding of the gospel preceded his meetings with the apostles in Jerusalem. The only source he cites for this understanding is divine revelation.

Conservative scholars are well aware that Paul taught the Gospel for three years before he traveled to Jerusalem and also that he received his doctrine through divine revelation. However, the tradition is a different matter. A creed or tradition is always something that people agree on in a formalized way. So Paul would have understood the Gospel just as well as the other apostles, but may well have received the creed when he met with the other apostles in Jerusalem. This makes sense because they were his predecessors (Galatians 1:17 says, "nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me") and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 mentions only Peter and James by name even though John was another of the main apostles, but Paul didn't meet him.

And I think you are mistaken in your belief that Craig and Habermas "would like to establish a chain of transmission that links Paul’s message back to the proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem by the original disciples." They have said a fair amount about this creedal formula, but only in the context of wanting to establish that it was early. So neither of them would have a problem with it being earlier than the visit to Jerusalem.

That is one of the problems with the story of the appearance to the 500. We don’t know where Paul got it. He no doubt believed it to be true, but we cannot say anything about his sources.

This has nothing to do with the appearance to the 500 because we don't need to know where Paul learned about it. He says that most of them are still alive but some have fallen asleep, and he could not have said that if he only knew about this second hand from back when he persecuted the church. The words "most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep" indicates that Paul knew of them at the time when he wrote that. Or he might have been given a recent update by Peter, James, or John. Either way, Paul would not have relied on something that he heard back when he persecuted the church.

Anette Acker said...

Of course there would certainly have been people who would have scoffed at the appearance claims as delusions or hallucinations. This would provide strong motivation for someone to invent a story about the tomb being found empty. However, in order to have people find the tomb empty, you need those people to know where Jesus was buried. This naturally requires an honorable burial in a known tomb by someone who had some pull with the Romans. Hence a character like Joseph of Arimathea becomes necessary.

So you think they conspired to invent Joseph so that they could fabricate an empty tomb? You don't think that the Sanhedrin would have any record of its members several decades earlier? It would have been an extremely risky plot to invent a member of the council that sought to destroy them. If they were going to come up with a story about a honorable burial, why not say that an anonymous relative buried Jesus? Instead, you're suggesting that they fabricated a member of the Sanhedrin and even gave him a name? Keep in mind that the Sanhedrin caused the execution of Jesus, stoned Stephen to death, commissioned Paul to go through synagogues in Damascus looking for Christians so he could bring they bound to Jerusalem, and stoned James to death in 62 AD. If the early Christians were going to mess with anyone by making up stories about them, it would not be the Sanhedrin. An anonymous rich benefactor would serve their purposes just fine.

And most scholars do not question the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea--not even the skeptical ones. I've already mentioned that Richard Carrier and Jeffery Jay Lowder accept the burial by Joseph.

And John A. T. Robinson--a revisionist scholar--said that the tomb burial is "one of the best attested of all historical facts about [Jesus]."

There is no way to prove that this is what did or did not happen. However, it is the kind of logical possibility that makes historians (as opposed to apologists) hesitant to accept the gospel accounts of the burial at face value.

Who is saying that we should accept anything at face value? The same standards should be applied to the evidence of the burial and the empty tomb that are used to establish other historical facts.

And I have not been quoting conservative Christian scholars, except Craig and Habermas a few times, and then not to establish that something is historical. Most scholars accept the historical facts we have been discussing; they just don't accept the resurrection.

However, Orthodox Jewish theologian and historian Pinchas Lapide said in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective that based on the evidence, he believed that God raised Jesus from the dead. But he never accepted that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.

Y = X said...

Yes, cults do brainwash people. Do you think that James and Paul were brainwashed? If so, who brainwashed them?

I guess this is a philosophical question. Namely, is it necessary for one to be brainwashed to join a religion? I don't believe so. Though I used the word cult in reference to the group that committed suicide it does not mean the people were brainwashed into joining it.

Their actions were quite rational given their beliefs. If one is convinced by the evidence (sorry, slight joke here) that self castration is the right thing to do then one does it.

Evidence is in the eye of the beholder. I don't think one has to be brainwashed. It happens though but not always.

But even if I am biased, it doesn't matter because the people arguing against the resurrection are also biased.

We are all biased. Mostly in ways we aren't aware of. Humans are highly susceptible to confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

In the present discussion I am biased against believing in a god and in supernatural explanations. It would take an awful lot to convince me that god exists. Personally, it doesn't make sense that god would physically interact with Paul in such a way as to prove to him that he exist but not do it for others. It seems unfair and arbitrary. (We don't need to sidetrack things down this path!) I'd believe if god did to me what he did to Paul.

Vinny said...

A creed or tradition is always something that people agree on in a formalized way.

I don’t think that you can use “creed” and “tradition” interchangeably. The Nicene Creed was formulated in 325 A.D. but the traditions underlying the creed go back much further. If a critical scholar affirms that 1 Corinthians 15 goes back to an early tradition, I would not normally interpret that as an assertion that the creed itself goes back to an early tradition as opposed to the beliefs underlying the creed.

There are two other places that I know of where Paul talks about what he received with respect to theological truths. One of them is Galatians 1:12 where he speaks of what he received by divine revelation. The other is Corinthians 1:11 where he uses almost the exact same words as in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” In both cases, he is describing things he taught which he received from Christ rather than from other men. By the same token, in 1 Corinthians 15:3, I think Paul is saying that he passed on the theological truths that he received from God rather than the particular creedal formulation of those truths that he received from man.

Vinny said...

So you think they conspired to invent Joseph so that they could fabricate an empty tomb?

There is no conspiracy about it. Individuals embellish the stories they are told in order to emphasize important points and these stories are believed by other individuals.

The only first hand account we have of the appearances comes from Paul and he gives us no details about the experience. Nevertheless, he believed that it was a physical resurrected Christ who appeared to him. As this story was retold, it would have been entirely natural for people to add details to the story in order to emphasize that it was a physical appearance.

It would be perfectly natural to add details like the resurrected Christ eating with the disciples, one of the disciples touching the physical body, the tomb being empty, someone finding the empty tomb, and someone arranging the burial. No one is conspiring with anyone else. They are just passing along stories in the way that people pass along stories.

We don't know where the author of Mark wrote his gospel. Some traditions put it in Rome in the late 60's A.D. I doubt that there would have been any members of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in his community with records of who had been on the council thirty years earlier.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

I guess this is a philosophical question. Namely, is it necessary for one to be brainwashed to join a religion? I don't believe so. Though I used the word cult in reference to the group that committed suicide it does not mean the people were brainwashed into joining it.

Brainwashing occurs when one person's (usually the cult leader) will dominates the others and the members do not behave in rational ways. Castrating is not rational behavior. It is self-destructive, as is suicide, obviously.

Christianity, on the other hand, states that we are "called to freedom," and it teaches us to treat ourselves and others with respect. It is the exact opposite of the cults.

Their actions were quite rational given their beliefs. If one is convinced by the evidence (sorry, slight joke here) that self castration is the right thing to do then one does it.

Evidence that self-castration is the right thing to do? What does that even mean?

Evidence is in the eye of the beholder.

As we discussed before, only if one has presuppositions. If we don't have presuppositions, we can just let the evidence lead us closer to the truth.

We are all biased. Mostly in ways we aren't aware of. Humans are highly susceptible to confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.

That's true, but we don't have to be. Having our views challenged helps.

In the present discussion I am biased against believing in a god and in supernatural explanations. It would take an awful lot to convince me that god exists. Personally, it doesn't make sense that god would physically interact with Paul in such a way as to prove to him that he exist but not do it for others. It seems unfair and arbitrary. (We don't need to sidetrack things down this path!) I'd believe if god did to me what he did to Paul.

It's great that you're honest about your bias.

As for the appearance of Jesus to Paul being unfair, think of it this way: The Bible says that to those who are given much, more will be expected. Paul was given much grace--he saw Jesus. But he spent about six years of his ministry either in prison or house arrest, and tradition tells us that he was beheaded by the Roman government. He essentially gave birth to the church. By 300 AD, there were about 4 million Christians and most of them were non-Jews. And that was largely as a result of Paul's ministry of preaching to the Gentiles.

So if you want Jesus to appear to you like He did to Paul, you would be expected to live the life Paul did. All of us are called to just live by the light that we have and not suppress the truth we see.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

By the same token, in 1 Corinthians 15:3, I think Paul is saying that he passed on the theological truths that he received from God rather than the particular creedal formulation of those truths that he received from man.

But the consensus among scholars (including skeptical ones) is that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a creedal formula that was passed on to Paul by his predecessors. I'll just repeat the quotes I used before:

Jewish Bible scholar Geza Vermes says that the words of Paul are "a tradition he has inherited from his seniors in the faith concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus."

A. M. Hunter says, "The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability."

Hans von Campenhausen says: "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text."

Robert Funk said that this was an early oral tradition Paul had received from his predecessors, and Gerd Ludemann called it a tradition and dated it to within two years of the death of Jesus.

Reginald Fuller says: "It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition."

I think Fuller's words here are key, because he would know what the consensus is among his colleagues.

It would be perfectly natural to add details like the resurrected Christ eating with the disciples, one of the disciples touching the physical body, the tomb being empty, someone finding the empty tomb, and someone arranging the burial. No one is conspiring with anyone else. They are just passing along stories in the way that people pass along stories.

If Mark made up those "details" thirty years after the death of Jesus, that would not be a legendary embellishment because the events would have happened during living memory. (It would be outright deception, and no modern scholar believes that the authors conspired to deceive.) Also, actual names are given, like Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea, the Sanhedrinist, who went to talk to Pontius Pilate.

Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is attempting to give an accurate, chronological account of what happened. If he knowingly embellished major facts, he would be a terrible historian. But Sir William Ramsey, one of the archaeologists of all times, who started out questioning the historicity of the Gospels, said: "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense . . . in short, this author should be placed along with the greatest of historians."

But I'm going to talk more about the empty tomb in a future post.

Anette Acker said...

Correction:

But Sir William Ramsey, one of the archaeologists of all times

One of the greatest archaeologists of all time.

Wolfgang said...

Anette said...
But I still think the resurrection evidence meets a higher standard of proof for the following reasons:
1. Hostile witnesses were convinced
.

But notably, resurrected Jesus never appeared to those that condemned him. He never showed himself to Pontius Pilate, Herod, or the Pharisees that had seen him before he died.

2. Christians endured severe persecution and martyrdom for their faith.

What effect does persecution and martyrdom have on people's beliefs in general? It seems to me that it makes them cling more tightly to what they believe to be true. This is especially true of Christians who believe there is a better and eternal life waiting for them as long as they don't lose faith.

Do you have any examples of people abandoning their beliefs because of persecution and martyrdom?

3. There were two lines of evidence that Jesus had risen: the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances.

As mentioned by Y = X, the empty tomb means nothing by itself. And I am bothered by how brief the appearances are, and that they basically serve to say Jesus rose from the dead, and he was not a ghost.

I agree that there were people that genuinely believed that they had seen Jesus, but I think the details that people touched him and Jesus ate food are embellished or a dream or something along those lines. Jesus doesn't behave like a real living being.

And going back to Thomas, Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," for Thomas' benefit. That message is meant for those that hear the tale of doubting Thomas.

4. Jesus appeared in the body to different people on numerous different occasions, over a period of forty days.

Why only forty days? Why so few people? Jesus didn't do much to convince the world of his resurrection.

I agree that people took the message of the resurrection and spread it across the world, but that is the way it is with gods. People do the real work.

Vinny said...

I don't see any of those scholars referring to the creedal formula as going back to Paul' predecessors as opposed to the beliefs that have been put into creedal form.

For example, isn't the full quote from Vermes actually "Paul passes along a tradition he has inherited from his seniors in the faith concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus"? Vermes doesn't claim that Paul inherited the words (at least not in that quote). The tradition he is passing along may only be the beliefs themselves, rather than that particular formulation.

Vinny said...

If Mark made up those "details" thirty years after the death of Jesus, that would not be a legendary embellishment because the events would have happened during living memory. (It would be outright deception, and no modern scholar believes that the authors conspired to deceive.)

What makes you think that legends cannot arise during living memory of the events in question?

I don't think that the author of Mark intended to deceive either. I think he wanted to tell a coherent story that conveyed theological truth. In order to accomplish that, he had to piece together a narrative from various stories he had heard. At various points in his narrative, there would have been gaps in his knowledge. He would have filled that gap by figuring out what kind of a thing must have happened in order for the rest of the story to make sense.

Many Christian apologists assert that Ramsay is one of the greatest archeologists of all time, but I have never seen anyone say why. I am left thinking that their high regard for him stems mostly from the fact that Ramsay had high regard for Luke as a historian.

Y = X said...

Evidence that self-castration is the right thing to do? What does that even mean?

It means just what I said. If someone comes to the conclusion that the evidence (I can't possibly supply any because I don't see any) supports the belief that castration is the right thing to do then it is rational to want to be castrated. In the same way, if one concludes that the evidence shows that Jesus rose from the dead then it is rational to suppose that he is god or really, really liked by god. The evidence itself doesn't have to be rational or convincing in an objective way. I'm just stating that when someone concludes something is true then it is rational to act upon it.

It does not require brainwashing to convince someone of unsubstantiated beliefs. From your perspective it's an unsubstantiated belief that Mohammed ascended to heaven. Many people believe that he did without being more brainwashed than you or I.

Everyone has presuppositions. Our perceptions interfere with our belief about what the evidence is and what it means. Our presuppositions interfere with this as well.


As for the appearance of Jesus to Paul being unfair, think of it this way: The Bible says that to those who are given much, more will be expected. Paul was given much grace--he saw Jesus. But he spent about six years of his ministry either in prison or house arrest, and tradition tells us that he was beheaded by the Roman government.


A trials and tribulations for x number of years is nothing in comparison to eternity.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

I realize there are a lot of negative connotations with the word cult. But any new religious movement that promotes an alternative to the mainstream culture can be viewed as a cult.

Would some have considered Christianity a cult in the beginning? Would Peter and/or James been charismatic leaders? Would some have thought the early Christians to have been "brainwashed" or something similar?

I don't know if all mainstream religions were considered cults in their beginning, but I think cults can evolve into mainstream religions. But any new religious movement that castrates members and/or commits mass suicide will not survive. But a new religious movement that promotes circumcision can still procreate and grow. However, circumcision is not rational behavior, though it has become accepted as a mainstream practice in some cultures.

Anette said...
So if you want Jesus to appear to you like He did to Paul, you would be expected to live the life Paul did.

I have never understood this line of reasoning. If God revealed Himself to me, I would endure anything for Him. It would be better to have God reveal Himself than miss eternal life in heaven and (possibly) spend eternity in hell.

BTW, if Jesus had appeared to everyone like he did to Paul, Paul probably wouldn't have been imprisoned and beheaded.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

But notably, resurrected Jesus never appeared to those that condemned him. He never showed himself to Pontius Pilate, Herod, or the Pharisees that had seen him before he died.

How do you know this? Would they have believed if they had seen Him postmortem? The Gospels state that the Pharisees saw Him do miracles and called Him a sorcerer. Celsus, writing in the second century, likewise called Him a sorcerer--in fact, his story is completely consistent with the Talmud, which was written later. Both sources say that Mary had been impregnated by a Roman soldier and that Jesus was a sorcerer.

So if they explained other miracles away, why wouldn't they explain this one away too?

What effect does persecution and martyrdom have on people's beliefs in general? It seems to me that it makes them cling more tightly to what they believe to be true. This is especially true of Christians who believe there is a better and eternal life waiting for them as long as they don't lose faith.

Why does it seem to you that persecution and martyrdom would cause people to cling more tightly to their beliefs? It seems that it would go the other way. Pliny the Younger talks about people being renounced to him as Christians, and he would ask them several times if they were Christians and if they renounced their beliefs and worshipped his gods, he let them go. But if they didn't, he would torture and kill them.

According to Wikipedia, 86% of Americans self-identify as Christians. What percentage of us do you think would stand firm if it cost us our lives or even if it cost us anything? I can think of one person who was put in that situation and that was Columbine victim Rachel Scott, who admitted at gunpoint to being a Christian and was killed. I've read the book made of her journal entries and she was an exceptionally spiritual person--probably one of the very few that would pass such a test.

I strongly disagree that it is human nature to cling more tightly to our beliefs if they cost us something. It is human nature to go with the flow.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Do you have any examples of people abandoning their beliefs because of persecution and martyrdom?

Christians are not really persecuted in the US, so it's a moot point. But I know of Christians being embarrassed to admit to being Christian. And I've heard of atheists not wanting to admit to being atheists, so it is very common to keep quiet about beliefs out of fear of negative consequences.

As mentioned by Y = X, the empty tomb means nothing by itself. And I am bothered by how brief the appearances are, and that they basically serve to say Jesus rose from the dead, and he was not a ghost.

The empty tomb is significant by itself, because the tomb was in Jerusalem, so it would have been evident to everyone that it was empty, and the Jewish authorities never produced a body. But it is even more significant that people also saw Jesus and were transformed from cowardly doubters to people who were willing to be tortured and killed for their faith. Their faith had to be very strong to endure that, and some event changed them, because they started out as scattered, terrified followers of a dead leader.

I agree that there were people that genuinely believed that they had seen Jesus, but I think the details that people touched him and Jesus ate food are embellished or a dream or something along those lines. Jesus doesn't behave like a real living being.

Jesus had a resurrection body, like all believers will receive. His body was not a regular one like we have. There is absolutely no reason, based on the Jewish concept of resurrection and the biblical context, that what you mentioned would be embellishments. Resurrection to the Jews meant a bodily resurrection.

And going back to Thomas, Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," for Thomas' benefit. That message is meant for those that hear the tale of doubting Thomas.

Yes, it is a virtue to trust God, but Jesus still met Thomas where he was and gave him the evidence he was looking for.

Why only forty days? Why so few people? Jesus didn't do much to convince the world of his resurrection.

He had finished His work on earth, but He sent His Spirit to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

Anette Acker said...

Actually, 76% of Americans self-identify as Christians, according to Wikipedia, not 86%. That was a typo.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

I don't see any of those scholars referring to the creedal formula as going back to Paul' predecessors as opposed to the beliefs that have been put into creedal form.

I believe Van Campenhauser is referring directly to the passage in 1 Cor. 15 and the one in Galatians. But I still don't see why this matters to you. The key thing from the perspective of an apologist is to establish that the central teaching of Christianity has a very early origin, and all the critical scholars appear to agree with that. They also seem to agree that Paul is citing a creed. Since Paul mentions Jesus' appearance to Peter and James and he happened to meet with the two of them, it makes sense that Paul received the creed during his first visit to Jerusalem. It is not for sure, but it is the best explanation for the evidence. If he got it from his predecessor and he got it early (and he mentioned only Peter and James by name), he probably got it during the first visit to Jerusalem.

Vinny said...

Since Paul mentions Jesus' appearance to Peter and James and he happened to meet with the two of them, it makes sense that Paul received the creed during his first visit to Jerusalem. It is not for sure, but it is the best explanation for the evidence. If he got it from his predecessor and he got it early (and he mentioned only Peter and James by name), he probably got it during the first visit to Jerusalem.

I agree that it makes sense. I also think it makes sense to think that Paul received the various elements of the creed at different times—probably early—and places and that these elements were formulated into this particular creed sometime later. I don’t think that the text gives us any reason to prefer one explanation over another.

I think that this is a very good illustration of the way that stories get embellished. Paul tells us nothing about what he discussed with Peter and James, but someone fills in details that “make sense” and those details become a permanent part of the story. Because we live in a literate culture, we can go back and see what Paul originally wrote, but if we lived in an oral culture, it would be impossible to tell what was original to the story and what was added in the retelling.

That is why I think it is silly to talk about conspiracies and intent to deceive in the composition of the gospels. The people who add details to stories do so with the best of intentions.

BTW, I have looked around, but I cannot find anyone who quotes more than that single sentence from von Campenhausen so I cannot be sure whether he is referring to the creed itself or the underlying beliefs.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

What makes you think that legends cannot arise during living memory of the events in question?

I don't think that the author of Mark intended to deceive either. I think he wanted to tell a coherent story that conveyed theological truth. In order to accomplish that, he had to piece together a narrative from various stories he had heard. At various points in his narrative, there would have been gaps in his knowledge. He would have filled that gap by figuring out what kind of a thing must have happened in order for the rest of the story to make sense.


If this was legendary embellishment, the author of Mark would then have made up the story about the empty tomb while Mary Magdalene or people who knew her were still alive. If there was no Joseph of Arimathea, he would also have made him up.

And Luke, whose careful historicity in all the details in the book of Acts has been established, would then have accepted these embellishments and passed them off as historical fact to "the excellent Theophilus." How likely is it that he would be that careless unless he was deliberately trying to deceive? He starts out by giving an assurance that he is about to give a careful, chronological, factual account and his reputation is at stake there.

And Luke starts out by saying that "many have undertaken" to give an account of what happened, so the Gospel of Mark was probably not the only one floating around. Luke presumably had numerous sources. In fact, if he relied exclusively on the Markan passion story, he would not have told the story of the women at the tomb slightly differently.

Many Christian apologists assert that Ramsay is one of the greatest archeologists of all time, but I have never seen anyone say why. I am left thinking that their high regard for him stems mostly from the fact that Ramsay had high regard for Luke as a historian.

That thought had occurred to me. But he was knighted for his contributions to archaeology, and he was the first Professor of Classical Archaeology at Oxford University. So obviously he was pretty great apart from his high regard for Luke. :)

I think a more important point, though, is that he set out to prove that Luke's writings were not historical and came to the conclusion that Luke was a historian of the highest rank.

Vinny said...

If this was legendary embellishment, the author of Mark would then have made up the story about the empty tomb while Mary Magdalene or people who knew her were still alive. If there was no Joseph of Arimathea, he would also have made him up.

Maybe Mark was just filling in details that made sense to him. Perhaps he had already heard a story about the tomb being empty. Just as it makes sense to you that Paul received the creed upon it his first visit to Jerusalem, it could have made sense to Mark that someone in a position of importance must have arranged the burial of Jesus. If the story of the empty tomb was new to him, it might have made sense to him that unreliable women had found the tomb empty and run away without telling anyone.

If Mark was writing in Rome, Mary Magdalene may still have been in Palestine if she was alive at all. There is no reason to think that he would have any access to her or anyone who knew her. If he thought that God wanted him to write down Jesus’ story, why would he have any qualms about filling in details that made sense to him?

Let’s not forget John 16:12, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” These were people who thought that they were getting direct revelations from God. If you think that God is telling you something, you don’t worry about being contradicted by human beings.

Vinny said...

And Luke starts out by saying that "many have undertaken" to give an account of what happened, so the Gospel of Mark was probably not the only one floating around. Luke presumably had numerous sources. In fact, if he relied exclusively on the Markan passion story, he would not have told the story of the women at the tomb slightly differently.

If you read the work of other ancient historians, you will find that they regularly discuss their sources. They say where they got their stories. When their sources are in conflict, they address those conflicts and they discuss which story is more likely to be accurate and why.

Luke does not do this. He doesn’t tell us what the problems were with previous accounts that inspired him to write his, nor does he tell us why he resolved those problems in the way that he did. In short, he does not give us any evidence that he made the careful investigation that he claims to have made. The historicity of Acts has been lauded, but that could simply mean that Luke had a good source for that material.

I think a more important point, though, is that he set out to prove that Luke's writings were not historical and came to the conclusion that Luke was a historian of the highest rank.

When Ramsay began his investigation of Paul's journeys, he didn’t think that Acts had much historical value, but he found that it was accurate in many details that he hadn’t expected. I don’t think that it was ever his goal to disprove Acts though.

Anette Acker said...

Y=X,

It means just what I said. If someone comes to the conclusion that the evidence (I can't possibly supply any because I don't see any) supports the belief that castration is the right thing to do then it is rational to want to be castrated. In the same way, if one concludes that the evidence shows that Jesus rose from the dead then it is rational to suppose that he is god or really, really liked by god. The evidence itself doesn't have to be rational or convincing in an objective way.

If you can't think of any rational "evidence" that castration is the right thing to do, then that is probably because no such evidence exists. If all men were castrated it would certainly solve some societal problems, but the human race would die out. So it is objectively not rational.

There is objective evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead, but beyond that, the teachings of Christianity has the impact of enriching one's life. James 3:17 says: "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy." And Galatians 5:23 says, after listing the fruit of the Spirit: "Against such things there is no law." So the teachings of Christianity are not dehumanizing or self-destructive in any way. They have the opposite effect.

I'm just stating that when someone concludes something is true then it is rational to act upon it.

When someone concludes that something false is true, and that conclusion leads to irrational, self-destructive behavior, that is not rational.

It does not require brainwashing to convince someone of unsubstantiated beliefs. From your perspective it's an unsubstantiated belief that Mohammed ascended to heaven. Many people believe that he did without being more brainwashed than you or I.

Brainwashing occurs when someone is convinced of something untrue and it leads to destructive behavior. So terrorists who believe that their suicide mission will take them to Paradise are brainwashed. Muslims who think it is right to treat women in dehumanizing ways are brainwashed. But Muslims who lead normal lives and do the right thing are not brainwashed even though I think they are mistaken about Mohammed.

We are all wrong about something, but when those wrong beliefs lead to destructive behavior (and those beliefs are learned from someone else) I think that is brainwashing.

"As for the appearance of Jesus to Paul being unfair, think of it this way: The Bible says that to those who are given much, more will be expected. Paul was given much grace--he saw Jesus. But he spent about six years of his ministry either in prison or house arrest, and tradition tells us that he was beheaded by the Roman government."

A trials and tribulations for x number of years is nothing in comparison to eternity.


True, which is why it is obvious that Paul had great faith. But not everybody would react to a revelation like Paul had the way Paul did. As I said before, the Pharisees saw the miracles of Jesus and called Him a sorcerer. Some people suppress the truth and others accept it.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I realize there are a lot of negative connotations with the word cult. But any new religious movement that promotes an alternative to the mainstream culture can be viewed as a cult.

Would some have considered Christianity a cult in the beginning? Would Peter and/or James been charismatic leaders? Would some have thought the early Christians to have been "brainwashed" or something similar?


Yes, extra-biblical sources do characterize Christianity as a cult, but they always consider Jesus the leader, not Peter, Paul, James, or John. Lucian said that they worship a man, and Pliny the Younger said: "They declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to refuse to return a deposit upon demand."

So from the very beginning, Christianity has had no leader except Christ, who is the Head, according to the teachings of the Bible. But Christianity was considered a cult because Jesus was a real historical figure, and Christians worshipped Him and said that He rose from the dead and was fully God and fully man. Of course that was an extremely radical teaching at the time.

It's pretty amazing that 300 years after Jesus was crucified as a criminal, there were four million Christians in the world, including the Roman emperor Constantine. I am currently reading a book by an Orthodox Jewish historian who concluded, based on the evidence, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and one of the reasons he gave was the tremendous growth of the monotheism of Judaism worldwide after Christ.

However, circumcision is not rational behavior, though it has become accepted as a mainstream practice in some cultures.

There is a rational reason to perform circumcisions, even though it is no longer routine. But it used to be done routinely in the US to reduce the risk of disease. The risk of disease was significantly higher at the time of the OT, so there would also have been a medical reason for the commandment. The Jews were also told to wash their hands a lot, something else that protected them from disease. A lot of the ceremonial laws in the Mosaic Law have medical benefits.

However, they were also symbolic of Christ and salvation. For example, Genesis 17:11 says: "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you." So it was the sign of the Old Covenant, but the NT says that our hearts are to be circumcised, which means that we are born of the Spirit and have faith in God. It is also symbolized as having the veil removed from our eyes. And that is the sign of the New Covenant in Christ.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I have never understood this line of reasoning. If God revealed Himself to me, I would endure anything for Him. It would be better to have God reveal Himself than miss eternal life in heaven and (possibly) spend eternity in hell.

Even if that is true for you, that is not true for the majority of people because salvation means surrendering our autonomy (but paradoxically it sets us free), and that is something most people resist. C. S. Lewis said in Surprised by Joy:

"Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.' To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat . . . I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?"

He talks as if he was the exception rather than the rule, but I think this is actually more the rule. I don't know who these "amiable agnostics" are--physicist Paul Davies would certainly qualify, and he says in his book The Mind of God:

"I belong to the group of scientists who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level `God' is a matter of taste and definition."

Of course God cannot logically exist and also be a matter of "taste and definition"--if He were, He would be a figment of our imaginations. And the God of the Bible makes demands on us that it is natural for us to want to ignore. That is as true of "amiable agnostics" like Davies and Robert Jastrow as it was of an atheist like Lewis.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Just as it makes sense to you that Paul received the creed upon it his first visit to Jerusalem, it could have made sense to Mark that someone in a position of importance must have arranged the burial of Jesus.

Let me get back to the creed of 1 Corinthians 15, because I saw that you wrote about that on your blog, and I think you accidentally misinterpreted what I said. This is my point: Many critical scholars, including skeptical ones like Gerd Ludemann and Robert Funk, have concluded that the elements of the creed originate from the first few years after the death of Jesus. The question is, how do they know this, and why do they not try to dispute it? Because if they are trying to disprove Christianity (like Ludemann is), they would probably have argued that this is not an early source if they had any basis for doing so. So the only reason why they would concede the early origin of these teachings is probably because Paul talks about going to Jerusalem three years after his conversion.

Wikipedia says: "The antiquity of the creed has been located by many biblical scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community.[2] Concerning this creed, Campenhausen wrote, 'This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text,'[3] whilst A. M. Hunter said, 'The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability.'"
And Wikipedia goes on to discuss alternative views--like the possibility that it was interpolated--so this is an unbiased discussion of the creed of 1 Cor. 15.

This is not just a conclusion that I've drawn because of the writings of Craig and Habermas, and because it "makes sense" to me. It is something critical scholars have concluded by comparing the two letters of Paul and studying the language of the creed. I've twice given you a list of scholars that have stated that this is a very early tradition.

Anette Acker said...

You have never explained to me what interest apologists would have in concluding specifically that Paul received the creed in Jerusalem. As I said before, their only interest is in establishing that it was early and the two letters of Paul aid critical scholars in drawing that conclusion.

I was a little disappointed with the way you summarized our discussion on this subject, basing your entire argument on my use of the words "makes sense," but I'm going to assume that it was unintentional (based on the fact that you are making the same argument here). You did not give my name, so in that sense it doesn't matter to me.

However, my bone of contention is when knowledgeable non-theists give other non-theists the impression that theism is irrational and apologists are dishonest and naive. I have met a number of honest non-believers in the past year who simply do not know that a rational case can be made for Christianity, and if they would believe if the evidence was there, they are being defrauded by people who know better.

And I am not characterizing you in this way. As I said, I have concluded that you honestly misunderstood my point. But this reminds me of the point I raised earlier about Bart Ehrman, and I was wondering if you could tell me if you agree with Luke Muehlhauser's (Common Sense Atheism) point about Ehrman misleading his popular audience about the textual reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. Muehlhauser says at the end of his review of Misquoting Jesus:

"But one impression with which he leaves the reader – that New Testament manuscripts have been changed so badly that we can’t know what the originals said about theologically important matters – is misleading.

"If one wants to undermine the reliability of the New Testament, one better not do it through textual criticism. The New Testament contains by far the best-attested and most reliably reconstructed texts of the ancient world."

I am deeply disturbed that a respected Bible scholar would do such a thing, so I would appreciate your perspective as someone who seems to read a great deal of Ehrman's writings.

Anette Acker said...

I meant "pet peeve," not "bone of contention."

I should probably wake up completely before I write comments in the future. I'm terrible about idioms, so when I'm tired, those are the first to get butchered.

Vinny said...

I was a little disappointed with the way you summarized our discussion on this subject, basing your entire argument on my use of the words "makes sense," but I'm going to assume that it was unintentional (based on the fact that you are making the same argument here). You did not give my name, so in that sense it doesn't matter to me.

My intent was not to summarize our discussion as much as to summarize a number of such discussions that I have had in the blogosphere. I have found that many people simply accept the idea that Paul got the creed on that first visit to Jerusalem without giving much thought to whether Paul says anything to support that conclusion or not, and I think that most of those people seem to believe it more because it “makes sense” than because they can point to any specific evidence that this is what happened. Since I was trying to comment on the arguments that I have generally heard on the topic rather than our specific discussion, I did not think it appropriate to identify you or link to our discussion. However, I think that I should have found a better way to phrase it and I apologize for failing to do so.

Vinny said...

You have never explained to me what interest apologists would have in concluding specifically that Paul received the creed in Jerusalem. As I said before, their only interest is in establishing that it was early and the two letters of Paul aid critical scholars in drawing that conclusion.

There is considerable controversy over the degree of diversity that existed in the early church. For example, many scholars read Galatians as evidence of considerable tension between the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Paul’s gentile converts and that it took a considerable amount of time to reach consensus on the exact meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I think apologists are interested in concluding that Paul received that particular creedal formulation from James and Peter because it would be evidence of a higher degree of unity within the early church than many critical scholars believe there to have been.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

However, I think that I should have found a better way to phrase it and I apologize for failing to do so.

No worries! :)

There is considerable controversy over the degree of diversity that existed in the early church. For example, many scholars read Galatians as evidence of considerable tension between the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Paul’s gentile converts and that it took a considerable amount of time to reach consensus on the exact meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I think apologists are interested in concluding that Paul received that particular creedal formulation from James and Peter because it would be evidence of a higher degree of unity within the early church than many critical scholars believe there to have been.

Actually, apologists have no interest in this at all because it has no impact on what they are trying to prove. Craig is a philosopher, not a theologian, and to my knowledge he has never tried to refute the allegation that there was discord between the early apostles. As I said before, I have read much of what both Craig and Habermas have said on 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1 and 2, and each time their point was that the creed was very early. And that is something critical scholars (except uber-skeptic Robert Price, who thinks it was a later interpolation) have agreed on. And once Craig and Habermas have established that, they are done with 1 Cor. 15:3-7.

However, getting back to the issue of disunity between the apostles, I assume this is related to the point often raised by non-theists that Paul "hijacked" Christianity from Jesus? Is that correct?

The problem with this theory is that if one has a Bible it is very easy to disprove (external sources are scarce and likely less reliable). The Bible indicates unity in the theological teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This has come up in previous discussions I've had with atheists, so I'll just cut and paste the following comparison I've done between the teachings of Jesus and Paul:

Spiritual Rebirth:

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Paul: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).

Repentance:

Jesus: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

Paul: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2).

Anette Acker said...

Justification by Faith:

Jesus: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to life up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).

Paul: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Good fruit:

Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Paul: “But I say, walk by the Spirit . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:16, 22-23).

What is the Law?

Jesus: “’You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Paul: “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

Is the Law abolished or fulfilled?

Jesus: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Paul: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31).

If these critical scholars who think that early Christianity was divided (I know that Ludemann and Funk are among them) are basing this on Galatians, I think they are reading far too much into the text. Galatians 2:9 says that the apostles gave Paul their right hand of fellowship and recognized the grace of God in his life. 2 Peter 3:15-16 refers to Paul as their "beloved brother" and affirms his teachings.

In fact, in 1 Corinthians Paul is talking specifically about unity. In the first chapter, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians not to be divided and say things like "I am of Paul, "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:12). "Has Christ been divided?" he asks rhetorically.

But again, this is not something that apologists like Craig concern themselves with, so I have never seem him (or Habermas) address the issue.

Vinny said...

The problem of course is that the gospels are later sources that Paul's epistles. Since Paul never attributes any of the things he taught to anything that Jesus taught during his earthly ministry, the possibility exists that those teachings actually originated with Paul and were later attributed by the gospel writers to Jesus.

I personally don't know whether it makes sense to say that Paul "hijacked" Christianity because I don't know whether it makes sense to say that Christianity even existed before Paul. Paul is our earliest source and he tells us almost nothing about the beliefs of his predecessors other than that he deemed them sufficiently heretical to justify persecution. I don't think that there is any way to know how much of Paul's message came from his predecessors and how much of it was the product of the revelation he believed he had received.

I think that Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor. 1 tends to support the critical reading of Galatians rather than refute it. Plainly the Corinthians perceived that they were getting different messages from different people and Paul deals with many of those wrong messages throughout the letter.

Vinny said...

But this reminds me of the point I raised earlier about Bart Ehrman, and I was wondering if you could tell me if you agree with Luke Muehlhauser's (Common Sense Atheism) point about Ehrman misleading his popular audience about the textual reliability of the New Testament manuscripts.

I am rather surprised by Luke’s take on Misquoting Jesus. I frequently see the accusation leveled against that Ehrman thinks that we cannot know anything about ancient texts whereas I have always taken his position to be that we can know quite a lot about them, but not as much as is necessary to support the doctrine of inerrancy due to the uncertainties introduced into the text during the copying process. I don’t think readers’ misimpressions result from Ehrman overstating the problems in Misquoting Jesus as much as it is from the unwarranted confidence people had in the texts before they read his book.

In any case, I would dispute the charge that Ehrman is misleading because I think he is extremely careful to fairly lay out the evidence and how he reached his conclusions. You may disagree with him about how big a problem the variants pose for the doctrine of inerrancy, however, if you read his book, I think you will get a very clear and accurate picture of the scope of the problem. I think Ehrman does an excellent job of providing the evidence the reader needs to judge for himself whether his conclusions are justified or not.

One of the unjustified criticisms I frequently see leveled against Ehrman runs along the lines of “Ehrman likes to talk about the huge number of variants, but what he doesn’t tell you is that the vast majority of the variants are trivial copying errors that are easily resolved.” This is just false. Ehrman always says that. He says it in his books and he says it in every lecture and interview that I have ever seen him give on the topic save one, and that was when he appeared on the Colbert Report. However, Stephen Colbert was firing zingers at him so rapidly, that I think Ehrman should be cut a little slack.

I can understand why apologists disagree with Ehrman’s conclusions. In fact, I disagree with him on several points as well. However, I think they are generally grasping at straws when they accuse him of misrepresentations or contradictions. I think he always deals with the evidence fairly and he is circumspect in the conclusions he draws. In fact, the more I read of Ehrman, the less impressed I have become with many other liberal scholars I used to like. For example, I find it hard to read Dominic Crossan any more because I always get the feeling that I am getting a very one-sided picture of the evidence.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

The problem of course is that the gospels are later sources that Paul's epistles. Since Paul never attributes any of the things he taught to anything that Jesus taught during his earthly ministry, the possibility exists that those teachings actually originated with Paul and were later attributed by the gospel writers to Jesus.

Of course anything is possible. It's possible that Mary was telepathically impregnated by aliens and the teachings of Jesus were all about his alien race, but Paul found that uncouth so he completely changed the message of Jesus. But that explanation requires us to make a lot of complex assumptions so it fails Occam's Razor.

The explanation that the words of Jesus were later changed to reflect the teachings of Paul likewise fail Occam's Razor (although admittedly less dramatically). If the teachings of Jesus, as reflected in the Gospels, are consistent with the theology in the letters of Paul, why not conclude that Jesus really did say those things? It is the simplest explanation that fits the evidence we have (the documents of the Bible).

The theology in the book of James is likewise consistent, although he warns against antinomianism, while Paul warns against legalism in the book of Galatians. Both heresies have always threatened the church. However, both apostles teach that we are saved by faith and good works are evidence of faith. Both say that the law is summed up in the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).

I personally don't know whether it makes sense to say that Paul "hijacked" Christianity because I don't know whether it makes sense to say that Christianity even existed before Paul.

The vast majority of scholars (including skeptical ones) would disagree with you about that. The creedal formula of 1 Cor. 15:3-4 is Christianity in a nutshell, and both Ludemann and most Jesus Seminar Fellows believe that the elements originate at least from within a couple of years of the death of Jesus, and Funk says (on behalf of the Jesus Seminar) that Paul received those teachings from his predecessors.

Anette Acker said...

Paul is our earliest source and he tells us almost nothing about the beliefs of his predecessors other than that he deemed them sufficiently heretical to justify persecution.

If you have read through 1 Corinthians recently, I don't think you could ever get the impression that Paul is persecuting the other apostles. He speaks with great humility; for example, in 9:19-23, he talks about having become "all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." And in 1:13-15, he makes it clear that he does not want Christians to consider themselves followers of him.

However, I think that the other apostles were more inclined than Paul to conform to the Jewish dietary laws and circumcision, etc., and Paul resisted this (Galatians 2:11-14). His ministry was to the Gentiles, and if he had not resisted the pressure by Jewish culture against the Christians, it might have remained just a Jewish sect rather than a message of salvation to the world.

But these differences among early Christians were peripheral, as Paul explains in Romans 14. Christians can disagree on peripheral issues and still maintain unity. He puts it in perspective in 14:17: "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and love in the Holy Spirit."

Nevertheless, he was direct when apostles succumbed to legalism, because they would have the power to put other Christians into a straitjacket that goes against the teachings of the Gospel, which is about freedom in Christ.

But there is no evidence that the apostles disagreed at all on doctrine. Peter had the vision of Acts 10 about the dietary laws, so he must have been on board doctrinally even though he might have been intimidated by the Jews.

I think that Paul's exhortation in 1 Cor. 1 tends to support the critical reading of Galatians rather than refute it. Plainly the Corinthians perceived that they were getting different messages from different people and Paul deals with many of those wrong messages throughout the letter.

Disunity between Christians has always existed, and often it occurs because people don't understand Christian doctrine and will communicate it incorrectly. Some people will look at what Jesus taught and what Paul taught (in the Bible) and believe that they taught something different--that Jesus taught salvation by works and Paul taught salvation by faith. But that just means that they don't understand. If they dig deep enough, they will find that the Bible is completely doctrinally consistent.

Peter says in 2 Peter 3:15-16 that Paul (their "beloved brother") has been given great wisdom that can be hard to understand, so the "untaught and unstable" distort his teachings.

Vinny said...

The vast majority of scholars (including skeptical ones) would disagree with you about that. The creedal formula of 1 Cor. 15:3-4 is Christianity in a nutshell, and both Ludemann and most Jesus Seminar Fellows believe that the elements originate at least from within a couple of years of the death of Jesus, and Funk says (on behalf of the Jesus Seminar) that Paul received those teachings from his predecessors.

Among liberal scholars, I don’t think that it is a terribly radical idea that without Paul the Jesus movement would have remained a minor messianic sect within Judaism, and that it was Paul who was responsible for turning the proclamation of Jesus’ message of the coming kingdom of God into a proclamation about Jesus and how his death and resurrection figured into bringing about the kingdom of God. In that sense, Christianity as an independent religion did not exist prior to Paul.

Vinny said...

The explanation that the words of Jesus were later changed to reflect the teachings of Paul likewise fail Occam's Razor (although admittedly less dramatically). If the teachings of Jesus, as reflected in the Gospels, are consistent with the theology in the letters of Paul, why not conclude that Jesus really did say those things? It is the simplest explanation that fits the evidence we have (the documents of the Bible).

The evidence we have in the New Testament is that Paul does not seem to know anything about Jesus being a teacher at all. The source of Paul’s teachings would seem to be the revelation that he got from God. If some of these teachings are attributed to Jesus in a later source, I don’t think it falls afoul of Occam’s razor to suppose that the source is more accurately identified in the earlier document

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

In that sense, Christianity as an independent religion did not exist prior to Paul.

Yes it did, because the Jerusalem apostles likewise preached the death and resurrection of Jesus prior to Paul. According to the book of Acts, they were preaching the Gospel from the very beginning. And as I've said before, liberal scholars affirm this.

The evidence we have in the New Testament is that Paul does not seem to know anything about Jesus being a teacher at all. The source of Paul’s teachings would seem to be the revelation that he got from God. If some of these teachings are attributed to Jesus in a later source, I don’t think it falls afoul of Occam’s razor to suppose that the source is more accurately identified in the earlier document

But since the teachings of Jesus and those of Paul are consistent, this is not an either/or proposition. The simplest explanation that fits the known facts is that the teachings of Jesus were always consistent with Paul's. There is no reason to speculate about disunity among the apostles, because there is no evidence of it. Some may have felt more pressure from the Jews, but the Bible indicates that they all agreed on doctrine.