Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Skeptical Response to the Resurrection: The Empty Tomb

View ImageThe resurrection of Jesus is supported by three pillars: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the birth and growth of the church in the face of severe persecution. In order to undermine the historical support for the resurrection, a naturalistic theory has to explain all three in a way that is scientifically and psychologically viable and not excessively ad hoc.

A greater assortment of sledge hammers have been taken to the empty tomb than either of the other two pillars, but even so, most critical scholars accept its historicity. Jewish scholar Geza Vermez concludes: "But in the end, when every argument has been considered and weighed, the only conclusion acceptable to the historian must be that the opinions of the orthodox, the liberal sympathizer and the critical agnostic alike . . . are simply interpretations of the one disconcerting fact: namely that the women who set out to pay their last respects to Jesus found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb."

But some skeptics try to characterize the story of the empty tomb as legend, so I will start by addressing the historicity of the empty tomb.

Is the empty tomb a legend? Skeptics argue that, unlike 1 Corinthians, the Gospels were written by anonymous authors at least thirty years after the death of Jesus, so enough time passed for legendary embellishment to develop. But there are three major reasons why the empty tomb is not a legend:

First, according to the late historian of ancient Rome and fellow at Oxford, A. N. Sherwin-White, "even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition." And with respect to historical reconstruction, he says that "we are seldom in the happy position of dealing at only one remove with a contemporary source." But the first Gospel was written while many of the original eyewitnesses were probably still alive. So that is not enough time for legend to have replaced the historical core of the stories of which the Gospels are composed.

Sherwin-White is one of a number of historians who have confirmed the historicity of the book of Acts "even in matters of detail." And he concludes that the reason why the "degree of confirmation in Graeco-Roman terms is less for the Gospels than for Acts is due, as these lectures have tried to show, to the differences in their regional setting. As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem, the confirmation begins. For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming" (italics added). So because of the regional setting of most of the Gospel stories, we cannot directly confirm their basic historicity in the way that we can the book of Acts. But since Acts is by all appearances "no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions," there is no reason to think that the Gospels are less historical.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul recites a creedal formula which most scholars, including skeptics like Gerd Lüdemann, date to within a couple of years of the death of Jesus, and in it he says, "and that [Jesus] was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4). Paul's statement (and by extension, the statement of his predecessors shortly after the death of Jesus) that Jesus was raised on the third day implies that the tomb was empty because otherwise the creed could not have said that Jesus was raised on the third day. If a body remained in the tomb or rotted in a common grave, the day of his resurrection would have been unknown.

The words "according to the Scriptures" do not help here because Hosea 6:2, the Old Testament reference, would be too subtle unless Paul knew of the empty grave on the third day. Hosea 6:2 says "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him." Unless the early church knew that the tomb was found empty on the third day, it would be too much of a stretch to say that this verse is a Scriptural reference to the day of the resurrection.

This further undermines the theory that the empty tomb was a legend, since the early Christians would have preached it from the very beginning.

Third, critical scholars employ historical criteria to determine whether parts of the Bible are true, and two of them are the criterion of multiple attestation and the criterion of embarrassment. The criterion of multiple attestation is met because the story of women finding the tomb empty is told in each of the four Gospels. (And of course they were not originally part of a compilation labeled the "New Testament." They were the earliest and most reliable documents about Jesus.)

The criterion of embarrassment is met because the male disciples fled in fear after Jesus was arrested, while women, who had virtually no status in first century Palestine, and were not considered reliable witnesses, stayed and went to pay their last respects to Jesus. They were the star witnesses to the empty tomb, something that the authors would be very unlikely to fabricate.

Someone suggested in a previous thread that Mark invented the empty tomb to fill in a gap in his story of what happened to Jesus, and that 16:8 was Mark's way of explaining why the story of the empty tomb had not been told earlier. ("They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.") That is, the "unreliable" women who said nothing were a later invention. However, the context indicates that the women were only silent temporarily because they were terrorized by their experience. In Mark 16:7 the angel tells them to go tell Peter and the other disciples, and in Matthew, Luke, and John they do exactly that. Most likely Mark just left that part out and instead focused on the women's state of mind immediately after their encounter with the angel.

Numerous theories have been put forth over the years of natural explanations for the empty tomb, and I will briefly mention the major ones:

Did the disciples steal the body? Matthew 28:11-15 says that a story of the disciples stealing the body of Jesus circulated among the Jews. Although we don't have independent corroboration that first century Jews made this arguments (but I'm aware of modern Jews who have been given that explanation growing up in Jewish schools), it is unlikely that Matthew invented this, since he brought it up for the purpose of refuting it. If another argument had been widespread among the Jews at the time, why did he not focus on that on instead?

This argument concedes the empty tomb because if there was some way of denying that the tomb was empty in the first place, the detractors of Christianity would have taken that approach. They could have produced a body, argued that the body was one of many in a common grave, or claimed that the story of the empty tomb was invented later. But instead of denying the empty grave, they chose to explain it away.

The stolen body hypothesis has been rejected by modern critics because the disciples would not have been willing to die for a known lie. Something changed the followers of Jesus from doubting cowards to courageous proclaimers of the Gospel who were willing to die for their faith.

Did Jesus not really die? This was a popular hypothesis around the beginning of the nineteenth century, but like the stolen body theory, it has been almost completely abandoned by modern scholars. It states that Jesus did not fully die on the cross and recovered in the tomb. This hypothesis has major problems. First, since Jesus was at least severely wounded from the crucifixion, there is no way He could have removed the stone covering the entrance to the tomb, so the apparent death theory has to be in part conspiracy theory. Second, as the very liberal scholar David Strauss argued, how did a half-dead Jesus stumble into a meeting of His doubting and fearful disciples and encourage them with the news that He had conquered death and someday they would have a body just like His? Third, numerous studies show that medically there is no way He could have survived the crucifixion. Skeptical Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan has stated that the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion is as sure as any fact could ever be.

Did the women visit the wrong tomb? This hypothesis, put forth in the early twentieth century, says that the women lost their way to the tomb and ended up at one that was unoccupied. A caretaker said to them, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here," and the women were so unnerved that they ran off without hearing the rest of the explanation. When the disciples started talking about appearances of the risen Christ, the women embellished the story into the account found in Mark.

This hypothesis never took off in large part because it cherry picks certain parts of the Gospel account and dismisses others without giving good justification. And it doesn't explain why nobody, including the Jewish leaders, ever set the record straight.

Did Joseph of Arimathea remove the body from his tomb? One hypothesis states that Joseph was not a follower of Jesus, but that Joseph placed Jesus in his rock-hewn tomb in observance of the Jewish laws that a body had to be buried within 24-hours and that burial was prohibited on the Sabbath. Since Jesus died shortly before the start of the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday), there was no time to dig a grave. Joseph temporarily stored the body in his tomb, and then removed it after the Sabbath. The women later discovered the tomb empty.

There are several problems with this explanation: First, since Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and a devout Jew, why did he not announce what he had done when the early Christians began proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead? He could have done much to nip the movement in the bud. Second, if Joseph had taken the body, there is no reason to think that the followers of Jesus would have concluded that He had risen. According to John 20:2, Mary Magdalene immediately assumed that someone had taken the body of Jesus. Third, Joseph must have removed the body after sundown on Saturday and before dawn on Sunday, which is when the Gospels tell us the women arrived. Why did he not wait until daylight before he removed the body? If he was not sympathetic to Jesus, it seems reasonable that he would remove the body, but it makes no sense that he did it after dark and that he failed to later announce what he had done.

Every naturalistic explanation of the empty tomb has serious problems, and even if they can be overcome, another major hurdle remains: the appearances of Jesus as the risen Christ in such a convincing way that his followers--including those who started out as skeptics--were willing to sacrifice their lives for their faith. The subject of my next post will be the skeptical response to the appearances of Jesus.

66 comments:

Vinny said...

Did Sherwin-White ever say anything about the empty tomb being a part of that historical core? Didn't he a acknowledge that a "deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the events"? Did he suggest any criteria by which it could be determined that the empty tomb was a part of the historical core rather than the distortion?

Anette Acker said...

Did Sherwin-White ever say anything about the empty tomb being a part of that historical core?

He does not specifically mention the empty tomb, but he says, "Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the basic historicity of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting."

So he is referring to the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed. The empty tomb is a major story, so that should certainly qualify.

Didn't he a acknowledge that a "deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the events"?

Yes, he did say that, but you have to put that quote in context. The paragraph starts out, "What to an ancient historian is most surprising in the basic assumptions of form-criticism of the extremer sort, is the presumed tempo of the development of the didactic myths--if one may use that term to sum up the matter." And he goes on to say that "the agnostic type of form-criticism" would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time.

Did he suggest any criteria by which it could be determined that the empty tomb was a part of the historical core rather than the distortion?

No, he did not mention it specifically, but it is a major story, and he is talking about the historical core of the stories of which the Gospels are composed.

But since most scholars accept the empty tomb and there is very little reason to reject it on historical grounds, most likely he would say it's part of the historical core. His point is that the Bible should be treated like any other set of historical documents and that it often not.

He talks about making sense of what happened given the discrepancies between the four Gospels, comparing that to the four sources that discuss Tiberius Caesar, that "disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion." He then goes on to say, "The divergences between the synoptic gospels, or between them and the Fourth Gospel, and no worse than the contradictions in the Tiberius material." So he is clearly understating his case, since the Gospels do not come close to disagreeing amongst themselves in the the wildest possible fashion. (Therefore, I think some of your quotes are out of context because he is just being careful to qualify his words.)

In any event, since all four Gospels describe women arriving at an empty tomb on the third day, he would have no reason to reject the story, based on what he has said.

Vinny said...

According to Gary Habermas, most of the scholars in his survey were theologians or New Testament Scholars rather than historians. Even among that group, there was a substantial minority who rejected the historicity of the empty tomb.

I can’t help but wonder whether the historical claims of Mormonism and Islam aren’t affirmed by the majority of scholars who study them as well.

Anette Acker said...

According to Gary Habermas, most of the scholars in his survey were theologians or New Testament Scholars rather than historians.

What gives you the idea that most New Testament scholars are orthodox? That seems to me like a patently false assumption.

NT scholars have concluded that the Gospels and Acts were written after 70 AD. Why? Mainly because Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem, and NT scholars assume naturalism, which means that prophecy is impossible. Therefore, the Gospels had to have been written after 70 AD, and by extension, Acts--Part 2 of the Gospel of Luke--had to be written after 70 AD.

But it's interesting how the Acts of the Apostles says nothing about the deaths of most of the apostles, isn't it? According to Josephus, James, the brother of Jesus, was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin in 62 AD, but the Book of Acts says nothing about this. However, it does mention Stephen being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin--the first martyr, and James the brother of John being put to death by Herod. Why do we never hear about how James the brother of Jesus died--or Peter and Paul, for that matter?

And why does Acts not mention anything about the fall of Jerusalem, a major event? Why does it just end with Paul's stay in Rome? If Luke wrote to Theophilus after 70 AD, the Book of Acts would have been like a book on modern history that is published in 2010 but omits important historical events of recent years.

My point is that NT scholars are quite content to ignore these logical problems in favor of their naturalistic bias.

I'm surprised that you think NT scholars are biased in favor of Christian orthodoxy. Didn't Bart Ehrman lose his faith at Princeton Divinity School?

I went to a Lutheran college where the religion department was in the basement of the chapel, so the students used to joke that the chapel was divided into two parts: heaven on the top floor (a beautiful sanctuary where services were held every day) and hell on the bottom floor (where the Bible was torn to shreds--I'm pretty sure that the one religion class I took was taught by an atheist). And that was a Christian college. Presumably the religion departments at secular universities around the world are no more orthodox in their teachings.

Anette Acker said...

I'm curious, Vinny, how much have you changed your mind during the years that you have discussed the subject of the resurrection with Christians? If they make a good point, do you modify your position? That is the sign that someone is not biased and is simply seeking the truth. The scientific method requires that scientists modify their theory to accommodate all the data. This means that scientific theories are always being fine-tuned, even if they are well-established. And they can be falsified. That is how scientists seek the truth, and it is a good approach for anyone interested in the truth.

I'm sure you'll turn that question back on me so I'll answer it: Most of the conversations I've had with non-Christians in the past year have taught me something and have therefore modified my perspective somewhat (although they have strengthen my faith in the Bible, but that would be expected if it is the truth). For example, you made the point that I should not just take the word of even someone like William Lane Craig without checking. And you are right about that. There are quotes I could have used in this blog post that I refrained from using because I have no way of checking them.

If people are interested in the truth, they can't ignore inconvenient contrary evidence, and I see NT scholars often doing just that. Atheological dogma is at least as common as theological dogma. I used the example of the Book of Acts ending abruptly without mentioning the fall of Jerusalem and the deaths of the apostles. What rational justification do NT scholars have for dating it after 70 AD if we assume an agnostic position on the subject of prophecy rather than one that presupposes that it is impossible?

Even among that group, there was a substantial minority who rejected the historicity of the empty tomb.

According to Habermas, 25% of this group rejected the historicity of the empty tomb. But, as we discussed before, even opposition scholar Ehrman said in From Jesus to Constantine:

"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."

I can’t help but wonder whether the historical claims of Mormonism and Islam aren’t affirmed by the majority of scholars who study them as well.

There is no archaeological evidence for any of the claims of Joseph Smith. On the other hand, there is considerable archaeological and historical support for the books of the Bible. And, like the Book of Mormon, the Qu'ran was the spiritual experience of one man. The Bible, on the other hand, is a collection of 66 documents written by over 40 people. And it is based on actual historical events.

Vinny said...

What gives you the idea that most New Testament scholars are orthodox? That seems to me like a patently false assumption.

I get the idea from Habermas. He classified 75% of the publications he surveyed as "moderate conservative Christian" and 25% as skeptical. I suspect that it your assumptions that are mistaken.

I'm curious, Vinny, how much have you changed your mind during the years that you have discussed the subject of the resurrection with Christians? If they make a good point, do you modify your position?

To the extent that it my mind has changed, I believe that there is less evidence for the resurrection than I believed when I first started looking at the question. There have only been a few Christians who have made points that have caused me to rethink arguments. I find that most Christians aren’t very well informed about the sources they cite.

Anette Acker said...

I get the idea from Habermas. He classified 75% of the publications he surveyed as "moderate conservative Christian" and 25% as skeptical. I suspect that it your assumptions that are mistaken.

Fair enough. But Habermas divides the scholars into three categories: skeptical (e.g. Crossan), moderate (e.g. Fuller), and conservative (e.g. Craig), and says that 75% are moderate or conservative. But Fuller, the first example given of a moderate, was neo-orthodox and did not believe in a bodily resurrection. He did not think that the disciples' faith in the resurrection rested on an empty tomb at all. So there is not necessarily any theological reason why the "moderates" would accept the empty tomb.

And in any event, Habermas says that is almost all the writings on the subject since 1975, so he is not cherry picking scholars:

"Since 1975, more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus have appeared. Over the last five years, I have tracked these texts, which were written in German, French, and English. Well over 100 subtopics are addressed in the literature, almost all of which I have examined in detail. Each source appeared from the last quarter of the Twentieth Century to the present, with more being written in the 1990s than in other decades.[1] This contemporary milieu exhibits a number of well-established trends, while others are just becoming recognizable. The interdisciplinary flavor is noteworthy, as well. Most of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars, while a number of philosophers and historians, among other fields, are also included."

He did not omit writings by historians or others if they disagreed with him. He appears to have included just about all the "more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus." So he is showing what the trend is among scholars.

In fact he says that secular historian Michael Grant states that "'the historian . . . cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb' because normally applied historical criteria indicate that, 'the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.'"

Regarding the 25% that found one or more arguments against the empty tomb persuasive, he said, "These tend to center on the lateness of the Gospel reports, Paul's lack of discussion (and perhaps knowledge) of the empty tomb, and that the report served apologetic purposes in Christian preaching."

The first point brings us back to the question of how scholars determine the "lateness of the Gospel reports" unless they are assuming that the Gospels must have been written after the fall of Jerusalem.

To the extent that it my mind has changed, I believe that there is less evidence for the resurrection than I believed when I first started looking at the question. There have only been a few Christians who have made points that have caused me to rethink arguments. I find that most Christians aren’t very well informed about the sources they cite.

I will happily concede that I have more to learn on this subject, which is why I'm glad that you are giving a well-informed skeptical position. So I hope you'll explain how liberal scholars determine that the Gospels and Acts were written after 70 AD, aside from the fact that Jesus mentions the fall of the temple. This is particularly significant in light of the fact that Habermas found that the skeptical 25% cited that as one of the major reasons why they rejected the story of the empty tomb as historical. That, and Paul's failure to explicitly mention the empty tomb, something I have already addressed.

Vinny said...

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at the question of dating and what I have looked at is confusing. The strongest evidence would be an unambiguous external reference. If Paul were to quote directly from Mark’s gospel in Galatians and name Mark as his source, then there wouldn’t be much doubt that Mark was written earlier than Galatians. Unfortunately, we don’t have those kinds of references in Paul and we don’t have them in any other first century Christian writings. For example, 1 Clement is generally dated around 95 A.D. and tradition holds that Clement knew both Peter and Paul personally, but his letter doesn’t demonstrate familiarity with the writings that are attributed to Luke and Mark who are supposed to have been their companions.

It is hard to establish the existence of the gospels based on external references until well into the second century. Dating the gospels based on internal factors is always going to be subject to much less certainty than dating based on external references. Moreover, external references also tell us when the gospel was in general circulation and generally accepted. Suppose for example that Mark was written in 50 A.D. but not generally circulated and accepted until closer to 100 A.D. That would mean that it was written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses but not generally accepted until the eyewitnesses were gone.

As I say, I haven’t looked at the question all that closely, but it seems to me that dating the New Testament documents is a very complicated proposition that cannot be reduced simply to a question of the possibility of supernatural prophecy. For example, you point to the lack of reference to how the other apostles died. Unfortunately if you look for the earliest references to those stories in other Christian literature, I don’t think you’ll find much before the end of the second century and often you won’t find much before Eusebius. That the book of Acts doesn’t tell stories that weren’t generally known until sometime during the third century doesn’t help to narrow down the date of its composition.

Vinny said...

I have never suggested that Habermas cherry picked anything, but the fact is that the resurrection attracts much more attention from Christian theologians and New Testament scholars than it does from secular historians, just as the historical claims of other religions tend to attract more attention from scholars who are members of those religions than from non-members.

Anette Acker said...

I know you did not say that Habermas cherry picked his scholars, but my point was that he included everyone who had written in scholarly journals about the resurrection, so I was correct in my statement that most scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb. And I do not think that most NT scholars are biased in favor of orthodoxy. In fact, many of those that Habermas lumped into the moderate conservative group do not believe in a bodily resurrection, so there is no reason why they would affirm the historicity of the empty tomb for theological reasons. Therefore, they are most likely using historical criteria in determining that the tomb was empty.

As I said before, according to Habermas, secular historian Michael Grant said, "the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty" (italics added).

Anette Acker said...

It is hard to establish the existence of the gospels based on external references until well into the second century.

There is no reason to think that the four Gospels that are part of the canon would have been well-known in the first century. According to Luke, many had "undertaken to compile an account" of the things that had happened.

But there are good reasons to think that Acts and the Gospels were written earlier. James died in 62, and yet there is no mention of this in the Book of Acts. The great fire of Rome that led to extreme persecution of Christians by Nero happened in 64 and again, no mention of this. (Paul is believed to have died during this time.) And the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem happened in 70 and that is not mentioned or alluded to at all in the Book of Acts.

This means that the Book of Acts would most likely have been written before 62 and the Gospel of Luke before that. The Gospel of Mark would have been written even earlier.

So if the 25% who reject the historicity of the empty tomb do so mainly because of the lateness of the Gospels, they seem to be building their case on a rather flimsy foundation. The Gospel of Mark may well have been written earlier than 1 Corinthians.

Vinny said...

To the best of my knowledge, James the brother of Jesus is never even mentioned in either Luke or Acts. Why would we expect the author of these books to say anything about his death if he never noticed the fact that he was alive in the first place?

While it is believed that Paul was beheaded during Nero’s persecution in 64 A.D., the earliest evidence we have for this tradition is the apocryphal Acts of Paul which dates to sometime later in the second century. It is also believed that Peter was crucified around this time, but the earliest source for that story is the apocryphal Acts of Peter. For the deaths of the rests of the apostles, the earliest sources are even later. In order to date Acts, it is not enough to know when the church believed that the apostles died; we also have to know when the church first believed that it knew when the apostles died.

The fall of Jerusalem is a well documented historical fact that was widely known at the time. As such, it provides a valid reference point for someone trying to date the composition of an ancient document. However, as apologists always argue with respect to Paul’s failure to mention the empty tomb, the fact that a writer doesn’t mention a particular event doesn’t prove that the writer didn’t know about it.

The deaths of the apostles are not well documented events and there is little to no evidence that the stories were known at any time that would be relevant to dating Acts. As such, they do not give us any reason, much less a good one.

Vinny said...

Arnette,

In our discussions, you have repeatedly referred to what “most scholars” think about a particular issue, however, you seem to have no trouble dismissing the consensus of scholars when it comes to the question of dating.

Another thing that you have done is to point to liberal scholars who agree with your position on a particular issue. In that spirit, I would like to cite what my Catholic Bible says about the composition of Mark: “Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution when destruction loomed over Jerusalem.” Luke and Acts are dated about ten years later, in part, because of Luke’s apparent reliance on Mark. I am quite sure that the Catholic Church does not presuppose the impossibility of prophecy.

I believe that the Catholic Bible is referring to the tradition that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome after the death of Peter. I think this tradition goes back to Papias around 130 A.D., which would be earlier than the traditions regarding the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. As I understand the tradition, when the original apostles were around, there was little motivation to compose written records because the first Christians expected the Second Coming to occur within their own lives. It was only when the first generation began passing from the scene that people realized they better start writing things down because Jesus might not be returning as soon as they thought.

Anette Acker said...

To the best of my knowledge, James the brother of Jesus is never even mentioned in either Luke or Acts.

James is mentioned in Acts 15, where a vigorous debate had been going on between Paul/Barnabas and some that claimed the Gentiles had to be circumcised. The matter was brought before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Peter gave his thoughts on the matter, and "after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying . . ." (Acts 15:13). The title of this passage in my Bible is "James's Judgment." And after he speaks, the debate ends.

When we combine this with Paul's words in Galatians 1:19, "But I did not see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother," it becomes clear that James was an apostle in Jerusalem and an important one.

Luke clearly knew who he was and if he had already been stoned to death by the Sanhedrin at the time Luke wrote Acts, it seems very unlikely that Luke would have mentioned the deaths of Stephen and James the brother of John, but not the death of James the brother of Jesus.

While it is believed that Paul was beheaded during Nero’s persecution in 64 A.D., the earliest evidence we have for this tradition is the apocryphal Acts of Paul which dates to sometime later in the second century.

My statement about the death of Paul was parenthetical, and like you, I said that Paul was believed to have died during Nero's persecution. I recognize that this is based on church tradition. But feel free to scratch my parenthetical statement, because my main argument was that Nero's persecution in 64 AD is not mentioned, or alluded to, in the Book of Acts.

The fall of Jerusalem is a well documented historical fact that was widely known at the time. As such, it provides a valid reference point for someone trying to date the composition of an ancient document. However, as apologists always argue with respect to Paul’s failure to mention the empty tomb, the fact that a writer doesn’t mention a particular event doesn’t prove that the writer didn’t know about it.

The question is whether a particular event should have been mentioned. Paul recites a brief creedal formula of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Although he doesn't explicitly mention the empty tomb, as we discussed earlier, he alludes to it by saying that Jesus was raised on the third day. So the empty tomb is implicit.

It is not at all surprising that he doesn't go into detail in explaining how to women discovered the empty tomb. He probably considered the appearances to himself and others to be more convincing proof. In fact, Paul omits any mention of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, but that doesn't mean he is denying that it happened.

However, it would be unusual, to say the least, for Luke to omit major events like the death of James (one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church) at the hands of the Sanhedrin, the persecution of Christians by Nero, and the destruction of the temple. Especially since he says in the Book of Luke that he has set out to give an account of the events in chronological order. For him to omit major events would be gross negligence as a historian. And he does not even allude to these events.

Paul, on the other hand, wrote letters instructing the churches on doctrine. He never purports to give a factual account of any events, except those outlined in 1 Cor. 15.

The deaths of the apostles are not well documented events and there is little to no evidence that the stories were known at any time that would be relevant to dating Acts. As such, they do not give us any reason, much less a good one.

The death of James, a major apostle, is recorded in The Antiquities of the Jews, which was written in the first century. I am not basing my argument on the deaths of any of the other apostles.

Anette Acker said...

In our discussions, you have repeatedly referred to what “most scholars” think about a particular issue, however, you seem to have no trouble dismissing the consensus of scholars when it comes to the question of dating.

I never rely on the consensus of scholars. All along, I have given my own arguments, and if the scholarly consensus supports my conclusion, I mention that--particularly if those with a bias against my position concede a particular point.

But the fact that the majority of scholars say something doesn't mean that I will accept it as true, unless their arguments are compelling to me. Even if most of those on my "side" agree on a particular point, I won't accept it as true unless I find their arguments biblically and logically persuasive.

Another thing that you have done is to point to liberal scholars who agree with your position on a particular issue. In that spirit, I would like to cite what my Catholic Bible says about the composition of Mark: “Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution when destruction loomed over Jerusalem.” Luke and Acts are dated about ten years later, in part, because of Luke’s apparent reliance on Mark. I am quite sure that the Catholic Church does not presuppose the impossibility of prophecy.

Well, why don't you tell me what arguments your Catholic Bible use to support that position, and I will consider them. So far I have not seen any arguments in favor of dating the Gospels after 70 AD except that Jesus spoke about the fall of Jerusalem in great detail in all three synoptic Gospels.

I have also had a discussion with a very well-informed skeptic about the dating of Daniel where the burden of proof was entirely on me and he never gave any reason why it should be dated in the second century BC, except for the historical events that had not yet transpired in the sixth century BC. So I do know that scholars often date biblical documents relying on the presupposition that prophecy is impossible.

I believe that the Catholic Bible is referring to the tradition that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome after the death of Peter. I think this tradition goes back to Papias around 130 A.D., which would be earlier than the traditions regarding the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. As I understand the tradition, when the original apostles were around, there was little motivation to compose written records because the first Christians expected the Second Coming to occur within their own lives. It was only when the first generation began passing from the scene that people realized they better start writing things down because Jesus might not be returning as soon as they thought.

Are you and the authors of your Catholic Bible relying on tradition in formulating your views about the dating of these documents? Or do you have other arguments?

Vinny said...

Both Luke and Acts refer to two apostles named James, James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus. In Acts 12, we are told of the death of James the brother of John. Luke-Acts never tells us anything about a James who was the brother of Jesus. Why should we think that the James in Acts 15 is a James that has never been mentioned before rather than the one who has?

Vinny said...

Since James the brother of John and James the brother of Zebedee are the same person, it probably would have been better if I had used the same designation both times.

Anette Acker said...

Why should we think that the James in Acts 15 is a James that has never been mentioned before rather than the one who has?

Maybe because James the brother of Jesus was well-known to Luke's audience. This could be why he never specifies which James he is, while James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus are always identified.

And in the same way that the angel tells the women at the empty tomb to tell Peter and the disciples (Mark 16:7), after Peter was rescued by an angel from prison, he tells the group of Christians, "Report these things to James and the brethren" (Acts 12:17). So just like Peter was the lead disciple, James seems to have been the lead apostle in Jerusalem (or he and Peter both). This is consistent with Acts 15.

So if "James the son of Alphaeus" was the leader of the Jerusalem church, why do we hear nothing more about this? Why does Paul refer to "James the brother of Jesus" as one of the apostles that he met when he visited Jerusalem? Where was this supposedly important personage, James the son of Alphaeus, that church history has completely ignored and Paul never mentions?

In fact, Matthew 10:23 mentions James the son of Alphaeus as one of the twelve disciples. They seem to be listed in some kind of order of significance, with Peter mentioned first and Judas last. Mark 3 puts them in the same basic order, except that it lists John and James the sons of Zebedee immediately after Peter, rather than Andrew, Peter's brother. But James the son of Alphaeus is toward the end of the list each time, so I see no reason to conclude that he suddenly assumed leadership of the Jerusalem church later.

Since James the brother of John and James the brother of Zebedee are the same person, it probably would have been better if I had used the same designation both times.

I didn't even notice that. I knew that you meant the same person.

Vinny said...

The problem is this: Acts doesn’t say anything about James being the brother of Jesus and Josephus never says anything about James being the leader of the Jerusalem Christians. There doesn't seem to be anything Josephus that links that James to the James in Acts and vice versa. It is true that Paul refers to James as the “brother of the Lord” in Galatians, but Acts doesn’t agree with Galatians on a number of points. The only way to establish a connection between the two James’ is be appealing to later church traditions, which is the same problem with using the deaths of the other apostles.

If Luke was really the meticulous historian that you claim, he wouldn't introduce a third James into the narrative without distinguishing him from the James' who were already in the story.

Anette Acker said...

Most scholars agree that this is James, the brother of Jesus, and that is probably because it is so easy to connect the dots by comparing the biblical documents. And there is nobody else it could be.

For example, Ludemann says in The Resurrection of Jesus: "That James later became the leader of the earliest community had more to do with the fact that he was a member of the family [than the appearance of Jesus to him]. In antiquity people thought in terms of family politics."

There are so many reasons to conclude that this was the brother of Jesus that scholars just take it for granted: Acts 1 indicates that the mother and brothers of Jesus became believers, James is mentioned as an important apostle in Galatians, 1 Cor, 15 says that Jesus appeared to him, he was killed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, which is where his church community would have been located. And finally, there's the point raised by Ludemann: He was the brother of Jesus, so it would be natural in that culture for him to assume leadership of the church.

If Luke was really the meticulous historian that you claim, he wouldn't introduce a third James into the narrative without distinguishing him from the James' who were already in the story.

Keep in mind that we are not Luke's intended target audience. He was writing to Theophilus, who would have known who James was.

But even though the evidence is firm that the James in Acts 15 was indeed the brother of Jesus, who was killed in 62 AD by the Sanhedrin, we still have the persecution by Nero in 64 AD and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD that Luke certainly would have known about and yet did not mention.

Vinny said...

Keep in mind that we are not Luke's intended target audience. He was writing to Theophilus, who would have known who James was.

This is a very handy explanation, but Theophilus would have known about the fall of Jerusalem, the death of James, and the persecution under Nero, too, wouldn’t he? As a result, we can draw no conclusions from Luke’s failure to mention those events.

As to the fall of Jerusalem and the death of James, I would also point out that they were not part of the story that Luke was telling. Once Paul enters the story, Acts stops following the events in Jerusalem. The only time Jerusalem is mentioned is when Paul goes there. Since Paul was not there for the death of James or the fall of Jerusalem, Luke doesn’t discuss them. As far as the Neronic persecution goes, it is only much later tradition that puts Paul in Rome for these events so we cannot assume that this would logically be part of the narrative either. From Acts 11 onward, Luke is not writing a comprehensive history of the early church; he is specifically following that activities of Paul.

Anette Acker said...

This is a very handy explanation, but Theophilus would have known about the fall of Jerusalem, the death of James, and the persecution under Nero, too, wouldn’t he? As a result, we can draw no conclusions from Luke’s failure to mention those events.

Yes, but Luke's stated objective at the beginning of the Gospel was to give Theophilus the details. He knew about Jesus, Paul and others, but Luke still talked about them quite a lot. Theophilus would have wanted to know how the fall of Jerusalem and the persecution by Nero impacted the Christians. And how did James end up being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin? Josephus gives us no details and Theophilus may not have known the details either.

As to the fall of Jerusalem and the death of James, I would also point out that they were not part of the story that Luke was telling. Once Paul enters the story, Acts stops following the events in Jerusalem. The only time Jerusalem is mentioned is when Paul goes there. Since Paul was not there for the death of James or the fall of Jerusalem, Luke doesn’t discuss them.

But they would have impacted Paul. When the leader of the church in Jerusalem died, Paul would not have just gone his merry way, not worrying about that at all. (This was the council that hired him to persecute the Christians.) He would have reacted in some way, maybe by making another trip to Jerusalem.

Also, the fall of Jerusalem was a major event that was prophesied by Jesus. Surely Luke would have talked about it.

As far as the Neronic persecution goes, it is only much later tradition that puts Paul in Rome for these events so we cannot assume that this would logically be part of the narrative either. From Acts 11 onward, Luke is not writing a comprehensive history of the early church; he is specifically following that activities of Paul.

Actually, Acts 12:1-2 says that Herod persecuted the Christians in Judea and had James the brother of John put to death. Then it goes on to talk about Peter being imprisoned.

You are right that the last part is about Paul (Luke appears to be traveling with him), but if there had been major events going on in Jerusalem or Rome while Paul was not there, Luke still would have recorded Paul's response to them.

According to Wikipedia (quoting the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), Paul arrived in Rome in 60 AD and spent two years in house arrest. This means that the Book of Acts ends in 62 AD. If that is not when Luke wrote it, why did he end it there? Numerous important events took place shortly afterwards.

Anette Acker said...

I have enjoyed our discussion, but I think this is getting ridiculous. You are aware, I hope, that the name Theophilus means “friend of God” and that many scholars are unsure that it actually designates a specific person. Instead, it may merely be a colloquialism that designates a general audience in the same way a modern author might address his writing to “gentle reader.” The idea that you are able to say not only what this possibly imaginary person did know, but what he would have wanted to know as well goes far beyond any serious discussion of the evidence.

I am aware of the meaning of the name Theophilus, but since Luke refers to "most excellent Theophilus," he appears to be addressing an important person.

But let's say for the sake of argument that he was addressing it to a wide audience--my point still stands. They would have been familiar with the events ("so that you may know the exact truth of the things you have been taught"), so his target audience would have known about James, the head of the Jerusalem church.

As for me knowing what this "imaginary" person would have wanted to know, I am concluding, based the fact that Luke wrote the two books so that he/they would know the exact truth, that he/they also wanted to know the exact truth, and that Luke wasn't just cramming the information down his/their throat.

And since I would have liked to know how and why James was killed, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to conclude that the early Christians also would have liked to know the details. Likewise, they probably would have liked to know what happened to the Christians who were persecuted under Nero and what happened to Paul during that time. I also would have liked Luke perspective on the fall of Jerusalem.

I prefer to base my conclusions on the evidence. If Josephus doesn’t give me any reason to think that he was writing about the head of the church in Jerusalem and the author of Luke-Acts doesn’t give me any reason to think that he was talking about the brother of Jesus, I am going to acknowledge the possibility that they were telling stories about different people. The evidence is insufficient to provide me with certainty on the issue. I think this is more in line with what real historians do rather than what theologians and New Testament scholars do.

I gave you evidence for why the James in Acts 15 was the brother of Jesus. And I have quoted a scholar--atheist Gerd Ludemann--who said that he was the leader of the early church as if it's a completely non-controversial fact. (He also gave a good explanation for why James became the leader of the early church.) But if you don't respect the opinions of New Testament scholars on this subject, why don't you find me a historian who believes this is a different James? If you manage to find such a scholar, then your argument is a serious one.

Anette Acker said...

Looks like your last comment disappeared. (That seems to happen sometimes with Blogger.) Well, I copied all of it in my response so it wasn't completely lost.

Vinny said...

G.A. Wells.

Anette Acker said...

Quote, please?

If Wells didn't think Jesus existed, he presumably didn't think He had a brother. But why don't you tell me who he thought the James in Acts 15 was, and why he considered that chapter of Acts historical if Acts 1:14, which mentions the mother and brothers of Jesus, was mythological? And who did he think Paul was referring to in Galatians 1:19?

If he doesn't have rational answers to questions like that, why should I assume that he is more than just a dogmatist with an extreme anti-Christian bias and take his opinions seriously?

And if he dismisses just about everything in the Bible as unhistorical, then he has no opinion on our specific issue and you need to come up with another historian.

Vinny said...

Well thinks that Josephus is referring to a different James than Acts. He believes that "who is called the Christ" is a later Christian interpolation. I do not own the book in which I read this. I borrowed it from the library.

I really don't care what you assume about Wells. I have tried to avoid getting in to a competition of dueling quotes because I would prefer to focus on the evidence, but you asked me for a historian who thinks that there were two different James' and I gave you one. Ergo, by your own criteria, my argument is a serious one.

Anette Acker said...

Well thinks that Josephus is referring to a different James than Acts. He believes that "who is called the Christ" is a later Christian interpolation. I do not own the book in which I read this. I borrowed it from the library.

I'm not at all worried about you not having the book. I completely trust you that he said those things, since one of his followers, Robert M. Price, thinks that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 was an interpolation. I see a pattern of dealing with inconvenient evidence.

I really don't care what you assume about Wells.

I don't assume anything about him, except that he's really old.

Ergo, by your own criteria, my argument is a serious one.

Technically, yes. You win! ;)

Anette Acker said...

I apologize if my last couple of comments seemed snarky. I don't know much about either Wells or Price, so I'm not going to judge them.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

The reason why I wanted you to find a scholar who believes that the James in Acts 15 is somebody other than the brother of Jesus is because I suspect that you are expressing skepticism about this only because you don't like the implications of it. (Just like some scholars express skepticism about the empty tomb because they don't like the implications of it.) But the evidence itself is sound, and that is why scholars who accept the historicity of Jesus also believe that He had a brother who led the early church. Although it would of course be better for us if Luke had identified him, the fact that he didn't (but identified the others) indicates that his audience knew who he was talking about, given the context. But we still have enough information to identify him, for reasons I have given before.

I reacted the way I did to you bringing up Wells because he holds radical views and you do not. So I don't think you are seriously influenced by what he says about the historicity of the Bible. But even if I'm wrong about that, you only demonstrated that he believes there was one relevant James, the one mentioned by Josephus. As far as I can tell, he has said nothing about the one mentioned in Acts 15.

And if you genuinely think that the James in Acts 15 is someone else (and it's not just because of its significance for the dating of the Book of Acts), who do you think it is?

Vinny said...

Wells is one of the scholars who have influenced my thinking along with Price and Carrier, as well as more mainstream liberal scholars like Ehrman, Allison, and Sanders.

The main issue I am raising is whether the James in Josephus is the James in Acts 15. Josephus may be talking about a James who is the brother of some other guy named Jesus rather than the Jesus of the gospels. Both Jesus and James were fairly common names at the time. Wells thinks “who is called the Christ” may be an interpolation because nothing else in Josephus’ story suggests that his James was the head of the Christian church or that he had anything else to do with the Christians. I think that there are other scholars who have similar reservations about this passage in Josephus, but I cannot name them off the top of my head.

I am not sure whether any scholars doubt that the James in Acts 15 is the same James as the one Paul mentions in Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15. Apparently it has always been the Catholic Church’s position that this James is also James the son of Alpheus and that he was one of the twelve. It is of course, the Catholic position that this James was not the son of the Mary who bore Jesus, but at best a more distant relation.

Anette Acker said...

The main issue I am raising is whether the James in Josephus is the James in Acts 15. Josephus may be talking about a James who is the brother of some other guy named Jesus rather than the Jesus of the gospels. Both Jesus and James were fairly common names at the time. Wells thinks “who is called the Christ” may be an interpolation because nothing else in Josephus’ story suggests that his James was the head of the Christian church or that he had anything else to do with the Christians. I think that there are other scholars who have similar reservations about this passage in Josephus, but I cannot name them off the top of my head.

I think the only scholars who reject the authenticity of the James passage are Jesus mythologists, and they are very few. Louis H. Feldman says in Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity, p. 56, that "the authenticity of [the passage about James] . . . has been almost universally acknowledged."

I am not sure whether any scholars doubt that the James in Acts 15 is the same James as the one Paul mentions in Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15. Apparently it has always been the Catholic Church’s position that this James is also James the son of Alpheus and that he was one of the twelve. It is of course, the Catholic position that this James was not the son of the Mary who bore Jesus, but at best a more distant relation.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says the following:

The name "James" in the New Testament is borne by several:

1. James, the son of Zebedee — Apostle, brother of John, Apostle; also called "James the Greater".

2. James, the son of Alpheus, Apostle — Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13.

3. James, the brother of the Lord — Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19. Without a shadow of doubt, he must be identified with the James of Galatians 2:2 and 2:9; Acts 12:17, 15:13 sqq. and 21:18; and 1 Corinthians 15:7 (italics added).

I think that Catholic scholars believe that the word "brother" is used to mean cousin or something, but they still think that Josephus is referring to the same James that is called "the brother of the Lord" by Paul and who led the early church community.

Anette Acker said...

Actually, I think the Catholic Encyclopedia is saying that a lot of Catholic scholars think that James the son of Alpheus and James the brother of Jesus are the same person. (But I disagree because the Gospels would have said something about that.) But they still identify him with the James mentioned by Josephus, according to Wikipedia.

Vinny said...

Actually, I think the Catholic Encyclopedia is saying that a lot of Catholic scholars think that James the son of Alpheus and James the brother of Jesus are the same person. (But I disagree because the Gospels would have said something about that.) But they still identify him with the James mentioned by Josephus, according to Wikipedia.

Maybe the gospels didn’t say it because everybody knew it already. Isn’t that your answer whenever I raise some issue like Luke’s failure to ever mention the fact that James was the brother of Jesus?

Anette Acker said...

The reason why I didn't address the Catholic position in greater detail is because it became very clear to me that they had started with the presupposition that Mary remained a virgin and went from there in identifying James. I don't share that presupposition--in fact, I have no presuppositions when it comes to apologetics. If the facts do not support my position, I don't force them.

And as we discussed in an earlier thread, the simplest explanation that fits the evidence is usually the correct one. Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 say that Mary was Jesus's mother and his brothers were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. And the cross reference in Luke 4:22 says, "Isn't this Joseph's son?'" Acts 1:14 talks about Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers.

So why go to all the trouble of making the case that James is not the real brother of Jesus, but just a cousin--and therefore, James must not have been the son of Joseph but the son of Alpheus? I can see no other reason but to preserve the virginity of Mary.

So if we don't have the presupposition that Mary remained a virgin, there is no evidence that James the brother of Jesus was one of the disciples--in fact, there is evidence that he was a skeptic (Mark 3:21, Matthew 12:47-50). And all the evidence we have indicates that he was the son of Joseph and Mary, not the son of Alpheus.

But given the fact (agreed upon by Catholics, Protestants, and skeptics like Ludemann) that James led the early church, he would have been a celebrity among the Christians at the time and therefore would not have needed to be identified in Acts 15, where he has the final word on the circumcision dispute. However, to Josephus he would have been the brother of a poor man who was crucified for blasphemy, and the leader of a bunch of heretics. Josephus only mentioned him incidentally.

Vinny said...

With all due respect, your evaluation of what is simplest seems to be pretty clearly driven by your apologetic concerns.

In Luke-Acts, the author identifies two individuals named James, James the brother of John and James the son of Alpheus. In Acts 12, he tells us that James the brother of John is killed. Since there is only one James left, it is sufficient to identify him by that name alone without reference to his father.

How can it be simpler to suppose that Acts 15 is talking about a third James who has never been mentioned before rather than the James that is already part of the story?

The author of Luke claims that he carefully investigated everything so that his readers would have an accurate account of what had happened. If he omits details that are found in earlier accounts, isn’t the simplest explanation that his investigation led him to conclude that the earlier writer was mistaken?

BTW, if Mark 3:21 and Matthew 12:47-50 constitute evidence that James was a skeptic, don’t they equally constitute evidence that Jesus’ mother Mary was a skeptic as well?

Anette Acker said...

With all due respect, your evaluation of what is simplest seems to be pretty clearly driven by your apologetic concerns.

But my buddy Gerd Ludemann is not driven by apologetics concerns, is he? So why do you think he has reached the same conclusion about James that I have when his books are geared toward disproving Christianity?

In Luke-Acts, the author identifies two individuals named James, James the brother of John and James the son of Alpheus. In Acts 12, he tells us that James the brother of John is killed. Since there is only one James left, it is sufficient to identify him by that name alone without reference to his father.

How can it be simpler to suppose that Acts 15 is talking about a third James who has never been mentioned before rather than the James that is already part of the story?


Because "all the evidence" means all the NT documents that mention James. And if we put together all the pieces of the puzzle we get a picture of James the brother of Jesus (and son of Mary and Joseph) as the head of the early church. Everything Luke says fits neatly into this theory.

The author of Luke claims that he carefully investigated everything so that his readers would have an accurate account of what had happened. If he omits details that are found in earlier accounts, isn’t the simplest explanation that his investigation led him to conclude that the earlier writer was mistaken?

No, if he thought the earlier accounts were mistaken, the most reasonable course of action would be for him to say so. Since he said nothing inconsistent with the other Gospels, most likely he did not dispute anything they said.

BTW, if Mark 3:21 and Matthew 12:47-50 constitute evidence that James was a skeptic, don’t they equally constitute evidence that Jesus’ mother Mary was a skeptic as well?

Yes.

Vinny said...

Because "all the evidence" means all the NT documents that mention James. And if we put together all the pieces of the puzzle we get a picture of James the brother of Jesus (and son of Mary and Joseph) as the head of the early church. Everything Luke says fits neatly into this theory.

This is where your apologetic concerns are apparent. You assume that all the different New Testament writings should be harmonized into a single narrative when it is perfectly reasonable to think that different authors might disagree.

I’ve never read Ludemannn, so I have no idea how or why he reached the conclusions about James that he did. Since he is your buddy, why don’t you tell me why he thinks that Luke never identifies James as the brother of Jesus.

How do you make sense of the fact that Mark thinks Mary was a skeptic while John thinks that Mary asked Jesus to perform miracles?

Anette Acker said...

This is where your apologetic concerns are apparent. You assume that all the different New Testament writings should be harmonized into a single narrative when it is perfectly reasonable to think that different authors might disagree.

In this particular instance all the books of the Bible (and Josephus) are completely consistent, so they corroborate each other. Since there is no evidence that the authors meant different things, there is no reason to conclude that. Whenever the books of the NT seem inconsistent, liberal scholars are sure to point that out immediately, but nobody seems to have found any discrepancies in what the Bible says about James.

I’ve never read Ludemannn, so I have no idea how or why he reached the conclusions about James that he did. Since he is your buddy, why don’t you tell me why he thinks that Luke never identifies James as the brother of Jesus.

Well, Gerd and I go way back to October, when I first started mentioning him in just about all my blog posts, but in spite of my searches of his books on Amazon, I have to admit that I don't know everything about how he has formulated his opinions. I do know that he used to be a liberal Christian, but now he's an atheist. He says the following in Resurrection of Jesus, p. 109:

"Only vague conjectures are possible about the historical background to this individual vision, which represents a kind of conversion of James. Because of I Cor. 15.7 it is certain that James 'saw' his brother . . . It should be noted that James had no religious link with his brother during Jesus' lifetime."

How do you make sense of the fact that Mark thinks Mary was a skeptic while John thinks that Mary asked Jesus to perform miracles?

I think that Jesus had a somewhat complicated relationship with His family, since He did not seem pleased with Mary's request that He perform a miracle. Luke says that Mary "kept these things and pondered them in her heart." She may have initially been overjoyed about being the mother of the Messiah, but it would not surprise me if it turned out to be a challenge. So she may have believed on one level but experienced doubt.

In any event, there is clear evidence that the brothers of Jesus did not believe during His lifetime. By the criterion of embarrassment, that is likely to have been true. And John is consistent with Mark and Matthew about this.

John 7:2-5 says: "But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, 'You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.' For even his own brothers did not believe in him."

Vinny said...

In this particular instance all the books of the Bible (and Josephus) are completely consistent, so they corroborate each other. Since there is no evidence that the authors meant different things, there is no reason to conclude that. Whenever the books of the NT seem inconsistent, liberal scholars are sure to point that out immediately, but nobody seems to have found any discrepancies in what the Bible says about James.

Some scholars think that the James of Acts 15 is James the son of Alpheus and some think it is somebody else. I would call that a discrepancy, wouldn’t you?

I don't think you understand the meaning of the word "corroborate."

Anette Acker said...

Some scholars think that the James of Acts 15 is James the son of Alpheus and some think it is somebody else. I would call that a discrepancy, wouldn’t you?

No, I would not. There's no discrepancy. If a group of scholars started saying that Jesus taught that He came from the planet Mars and others disagreed, that would not make the Bible inconsistent about what Jesus said about Himself. It would just mean that one group was right and the other wrong.

I don't think you understand the meaning of the word "corroborate."

I think I do.

Vinny said...

If you think that Josephus corroborates Acts, then you don't understand the meaning of the word because there is nothing in Josephus that supports anything in Acts or makes it more certain. Connecting dots is not the same as corroborating.

Anette Acker said...

Josephus corroborates the New Testament in saying that Jesus had a brother named James who was stoned to death as a lawbreaker. Although the Bible says nothing about how he died, it does say that he made the judgment that circumcision was not necessary and therefore would have been considered a lawbreaker to the Jewish leaders.

Vinny said...

Josephus doesn't tell us what law James was accused of breaking. In fact, it is not really clear whether Josephus thinks had broken any laws or not. It sounds a bit like James was framed. In any case, in Acts 15, James made the judgment that circumcision wasn't necessary for Gentiles. That wouldn't have been a breach of the Jewish law.

Anette Acker said...

I think you are right about that.

In any event, it does corroborate the fact that Jesus had a brother named James. And it says that he was in Jerusalem when he was killed, which is where the NT tells us he lived.

Vinny said...

I think that is a reasonable statement.

Wolfgang said...

Anette said...
Most of the conversations I've had with non-Christians in the past year have taught me something and have therefore modified my perspective somewhat (although they have strengthen my faith in the Bible, but that would be expected if it is the truth).

Anette, would you agree your faith in the Bible would very likely be strengthened even if it is not the truth?

Has it been your experience that virtually everyone either maintained or became more convinced of their own positions in your conversations?

Have you noticed the explanations that make the most sense are the ones that best fit our views of the world?

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Anette, would you agree your faith in the Bible would very likely be strengthened even if it is not the truth?

That's a good question, but I honestly don't think so. I went through a major crisis of faith seventeen years ago where I examined my beliefs very carefully. I think that if Christianity wasn't true, it would not have withstood my scrutiny at the time.

And during the past year, I have daily let my faith be challenged by non-theists. I have changed my mind about some things, but if I had felt that those discussions seriously challenged my core beliefs, I don't know how I would have reacted. Maybe I would have felt threatened. But the fact is that I honestly believe more than ever that Christianity is more intellectually defensible than any other worldview.

Here are some areas where I've changed my mind:

- I no longer think Romans 1 means that everyone knows God exists. (I won't go into the details of why, but Paul says elsewhere that he acted ignorantly in unbelief before his conversion.)

- I think Luke Muehlhauser raised a good point on his blog that the Kalaam Cosmological Argument falls short because it is predicated upon A Theory of time and most physicists accept B Theory of time. Since I don't feel qualified to take on Einstein, I avoid that argument. Maybe my views on the KCA will change as I understand it better, but that's where it stands right now.

- I think all gap arguments for God are weak and probably do more harm than good in the long run.

That's just a sample of ways that I have changed my mind in the past year. I don't think it would have been possible for me to honestly consider and address every argument put to me by non-theists in the past year and have my faith become stronger if it wasn't true.

Have you noticed the explanations that make the most sense are the ones that best fit our views of the world?

That's what confirmation bias is all about, but it is possible to follow the evidence honestly and logically and allow our views to be challenged.

Has it been your experience that virtually everyone either maintained or became more convinced of their own positions in your conversations?

Yes, I have definitely noticed that, so I'm not sure that these kinds of discussions actually help anyone. I hardly ever comment on AC anymore, and I'm not sure how much longer I'll do this here.
It has become very clear to me that the decision to believe in God or not is not primarily rational. It is primarily emotional, intuitive, or volitional. So although I have greatly benefited from these discussions and really appreciate all of you, the learning curve is no longer as steep for me, so the time and energy I've spent on this might soon be more constructively spent elsewhere.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang, since you asked, would you say that you became more convinced of your position during our discussions? If so, do you feel that discussions like these are rarely a helpful way of arriving at the truth?

Wolfgang said...

I wouldn't say I am more convinced; it is just that I am not satisfied by your explanations.

If God exists, I need something from Him.

Y = X summed it up best when he replied to your question, "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.

I don't have a good answer right now on whether these discussion are a helpful way of arriving at the truth.

Maybe your own words and the words of C.S. Lewis can help you.

In the comments to your post "Venite Ad Me Omnes," Ragnhild K Ulrich wrote...
I am reminded of the last paragraph of C.S. Lewis' book, Till We Have Faces, where the main character Psyche concludes, "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away"...

To which you responded...
I love that book! I just went and pulled it off the shelf and the way it continues is brilliant: "What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words."

I'm sure that Lewis, as an apologist, saw the futility of words. People will always find the words to defend what they want to believe. Only a personal encounter with God (even if it's not dramatic) brings true faith
.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Wolfgang. That is exactly what I needed to hear, because I was feeling very frustrated yesterday. You are very insightful!

And you are right that God needs to give you something, but He will only give it with your consent. That is what Revelation 3:20 illustrates when it says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." The door opens from the inside.

Garbonzo Beans!!! said...

@Anette

"That's what confirmation bias is all about, but it is possible to follow the evidence honestly and logically and allow our views to be challenged."

~I think the overarching point, and sadly one that is so often missed, because it gets to the very essence of the philosophy itself, we have an absolute of zero control over what is "allowed" to be sensed, barring titration etc...

Our views, are the challenge, in and of, themselves.

I wouldn't say that what Wolfgang was saying as much so to say confirmation bias, but more to say, correspondance and reportability.

We could go so far as to say , as per your train of logic, that 2+2=4 is simply a very popular presentation of confirmation bias. This wouldn't exactly serve to make clear sense either mind you...

When we say "the way something is" we are necessarily reporting the characteristic properties and regularities of the object, correspondant to the characteristic properties and regularities in the subject.

This is what leads me to dismiss theology in the wholesale Anette, it is because I can see no sense to be made of it. I can bring nothing of it to bear. Not even in philsosophy.

Reportability/correspondance factor, appear very low, or wildly inconsistent.

~Merry Christmas!

PS. I hope this post wasn't out of line, but I too shared some of your sentiments towards AC, and the productivity of these forums Anette. Thanks for your time, and good natured patience.

Anette Acker said...

Hi Garbonzo Beans!!!

Your post was not at all out of line. I appreciate getting your perspective.

I agree with you that there is very little that we actually know for sure. But we have ways of checking whether our experiences are real. For example, if everyone else seems to experience a chair in the same way that I do, then I can safely conclude that I understand the concept "chair" and it really exists and is not just in my mind. But I don't know it with 100% certainty.

The experience of Christian faith is the same way, to a certain extent. In addition to the spiritual rebirth being very real to us, we can check to see if our spiritual insights and experiences are shared with others. And we can further confirm its veracity by thinking it through rationally and overcoming objections. But still, of course, it remains faith and not certainty.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

I have tried to write this comment many times. I have trouble getting the words to come out right. My attempts are made all the more difficult because it deals with a personal crisis you experienced and involves your family. I have never experienced anything like what you went through.

You said, "I went through a major crisis of faith seventeen years ago where I examined my beliefs very carefully. I think that if Christianity wasn't true, it would not have withstood my scrutiny at the time."

From the details I know, I would say that if you hadn't concluded that Christianity is true, you wouldn't have withstood the ordeal.

Reality had shattered your worldview. Frantic, all-consuming prayer hadn't brought the results you had believed they would. But a reality without God was terrifying and nearly impossible to deal with.

You needed God more than ever, so your subconscious mind provided a different worldview that reality could not contradict and could help you once again handle all the randomness and unfairness and wickedness of life.

The problem for me has been that though I am very certain the Christian god does not exist, I also understand that Christians are equally certain He does exist. So who is correct? I now think I understand why Christians believe. Most Christians believe because of the worldview the Christian faith provides. That applies even more so to the deeply religious.

Would you agree that the main reason you believe in Christianity is because of the worldview the Christian faith provides? Is a religion's worldview behind the "emotional, intuitive, or volitional" reason people come to believe in its gods?

Anette Acker said...

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Wolfgang, but you don't have to worry about this being too personal to talk about. Feel free to ask whatever follow-up questions you have.

Your interpretation is a good one based on the few facts I gave in that blog post, but there was much more to that experience, in terms of how it changed me.

First, you are absolutely right that I don't know how I would have made it through that experience without my faith, but it was also a time of facing reality head-on. That is, I faced the hard teachings of Jesus that I did not want to believe and I faced facts about myself that I didn't want to believe. I recognized that I had major cognitive dissonance issues that I had to deal with.

In fact, I have often thought that if I had not gone through that experience and its aftermath, I would not be able to communicate with atheists today because they are so conscious of cognitive dissonance and subtle untruthfulness in Christians. Long before I had any inkling that I would ever be challenged by atheists, I knew that truth is the building block of faith. That is, if I twist the truth into what I want to believe, that worldview will shatter if challenged. That is not true faith as defined in the Bible. God "desires truth in the innermost being."

You said that you think Christians believe because of the worldview the Christian faith provides and that this "applies even more so to the deeply religious." It's interesting that you said that, because I had a long conversation with an agnostic right before I discovered AC (he used to comment there). And he said that he was convinced that Christianity was a "huge brainwashing operation." But he also said that he admired my conviction because he didn't like it when Christians were half-hearted about their faith.

Those two ideas are logically inconsistent because if Christianity is brainwashing, then the more devout are the most thoroughly deluded and there is nothing to admire about that. Half-hearted Christians, on the other hand, can just go to church for the socialization and the moral lessons. If Christianity is a "huge brainwashing operation," then the healthiest Christians would be the half-hearted ones. And the Christians who really believe would be the most out of touch with reality.

But I've noticed that the more I am in touch with reality, the more firmly I believe in Christ, and vice versa. If I really believe, then I will be willing to let my faith be challenged by reality because it will not be threatening. But if the Bible and reality proved inconsistent, then I couldn't do that and continue to really believe.

If Christianity is false, how is this possible?

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

Why are you "very certain the Christian god does not exist"? Is it because of the arguments or your intuition? Have you always been an atheist?

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

Your interpretation is a good one based on the few facts I gave in that blog post, but there was much more to that experience, in terms of how it changed me.

Often times, one can come to an incorrect conclusion based on too few facts. It is fortunate that I can dialogue with you instead of relying mainly on the details you have written. ;)

I faced the hard teachings of Jesus that I did not want to believe and I faced facts about myself that I didn't want to believe.

I would be very interested in hearing what were the hard teachings of Jesus that you did not want to believe. I would also be interested in hearing about the facts about yourself you did not want to believe if you care to share and you think it is pertinent.

And I would really like to know what exactly you scrutinized that Christianity couldn't have withstood if it were not true.

Why are you "very certain the Christian god does not exist"?

I answered a similar question in "The Most Important Fact in the Bible." The question was why I had said "atheism makes a lot more sense than a personal God." I have re-read the discussion, and I still have my certainty. And you still have yours.

Is it because of the arguments or your intuition?

I would say it is because of my experiences and observations and just trying to make sense of the world around me.

Have you always been an atheist?

I didn't stop believing in God until the third grade. Before that (and after that), I was raised Jehovah's Witness. I never remember a time that I wasn't very aware of different religions, and I questioned to myself which religion was true.

It was when my third grade teacher was discussing Native American beliefs that I came to the realization that the religions of today are the mythologies of tomorrow.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang,

I would also be interested in hearing about the facts about yourself you did not want to believe if you care to share and you think it is pertinent.

Up until the time when Ingrid was discharged from the Children's Hospital in St. Paul, I think I believed that I was invincible. I had led kind of an easy life where problems had resolved themselves, and although it was terrifying to see Ingrid having seizures, I had no doubt that I could make this problem go away, too. I did not really even let myself grieve during those first three months because I was so determined to have faith and make the problem go away by praying constantly. But my "faith" was just mental gymnastics--it was not real.

While Ingrid was at this last hospital, we were staying at my parents' house in Minneapolis, and I remember one time my husband and two-year-old were looking at cartoon pictures on my dad's computer. One picture was of a tiny man sitting on a huge hand, breaking into a sweat trying to move the thumb. I can't even tell you how much that picture spoke to me. That was me--killing myself trying to move a Hand that wasn't budging.

In addition to Ingrid having seizures every few minutes even after she was discharged from one of the best hospitals for epilepsy care in the nation, we were in severe financial straits. Our insurance premium cost over $1000 per month and only 60% of the medical costs at the Children's Hospital were covered. (She had also been in other hospitals.) We had to move in with my husband's parents in Illinois after law school graduation.

During the drive back to Illinois from Minnesota I started to feel like the burden was crushing me--I wondered if God was even there, and I started having anxiety attacks. My neck was so tense that it hurt to move my head. I started to realize that I was not coping well--I had just been denying my feelings the whole time and was now suffering the physical consequences of that.

That's when I first experienced something that I may have a hard time explaining to you because, although it's a central teaching of Christianity, I didn't understand it until I experienced it, and that is that God's grace works most powerfully in us in our weakness. My failure was no hindrance to God. He did not want me to try so hard to be strong and "perform" for Him, but rather to admit that I was a mess and let Him be strong through me. He wanted me to surrender my false sense of self-sufficiency, which is really just pride.

And when I did that, God filled me with joy and peace like I've never experienced before and changed me in many ways. I learned so many things that had never occurred to me before, and one of those things was the importance of being honest with myself. I realized that spiritual, psychological, and physical health are closely interrelated, and the anxiety attacks and tension disappeared in a matter of weeks.

Anette Acker said...

I would be very interested in hearing what were the hard teachings of Jesus that you did not want to believe.

Once God had my attention, I started reading the Bible more carefully and critically, and I realized that what is generally taught in modern churches is cheap grace. So it was a wake-up call to me that God actually expects obedience. Nowhere does the Bible say that if we've had a born again experience, we will be saved no matter what we do afterwards. I struggled with that for a long time because I didn't want to believe it, but came to see clearly that Jesus, Paul, and James are completely consistent in their teaching that if there is no "good fruit" in our lives, there is no faith. Luther said the same thing. People just tend to misunderstand Paul by relying on proof texts, and they like their misunderstanding of him (I certainly did).

So I stopped being so presumptuous, but at the same time I realized that only Christ could change my heart, and when I was honest about my own sinfulness and weakness, He did.

And I would really like to know what exactly you scrutinized that Christianity couldn't have withstood if it were not true.

I scrutinized everything, but mostly I thought about the problem of evil a lot over many years. And everything fell into place like the pieces of a puzzle (with many pieces still missing, of course). I challenged all my presuppositions and listened to people who see things differently from me. In every detail the Bible held true. It is like G. K. Chesterton said about the philosophy of Christianity: "If snowflakes fell in the shape, say, of the heart of Midlothian, it might be an accident. But if snowflakes fell in the exact shape of the maze at Hampton Court, I think one might call it a miracle."

Although the post you referenced was about one unanswered prayer, the answers to prayer, blessings, and guidance by God have been too many to count since then. For example, during the past year, it has been common for me to come across something one day, and then the next day get a question from a non-believer for which that information is the answer. God leads me every day.

Anette Acker said...

"Is it because of the arguments or your intuition?"

I would say it is because of my experiences and observations and just trying to make sense of the world around me.


But why do you think that your subjective experiences and perceptions have to be the correct ones when others have had different ones? Why not examine the arguments to see which make most sense and have more explanatory power? Is your worldview the one that makes the most sense of the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the Big Bang, the existence of morality, and the historical evidence for the resurrection?

Keith, the guy who has been commenting in the most recent thread, went from atheism to agnosticism to Christianity by examining the arguments. I think he is unusual in that he converted to Christianity for largely intellectual reasons. That is not true for most of us.

However, I've noticed that most people do not deconvert (or remain non-believers) for largely intellectual reasons either. They tend to base it on their own perceptions, experiences, and emotions. I used to think that people deconverted because they couldn't resolve their doubt, but I have yet to see evidence that Christians who deconvert really try to resolve their doubt. (Yes, I did reach out to those on AC who recently deconverted and got no interest.) That does not mean that nobody deconverts for primarily intellectual reasons, of course, but I think Luke Muehlhauser (an atheist) is correct in saying that most deconversions are emotional.

So you are right that my crisis led to a deepening of my faith, but it could have gone the other way and does for some people. All that means is that we tend to be complacent and set in our thinking patterns until something shakes us up. And we are in general governed more by emotion and volition than reason.

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

For example, during the past year, it has been common for me to come across something one day, and then the next day get a question from a non-believer for which that information is the answer. God leads me every day.

Anette, you spend a significant amount of time researching your faith, and you spend a significant amount of time answering questions from non-believers. What you described would be a common occurrence for you even without God leading you.

Keith, the guy who has been commenting in the most recent thread, went from atheism to agnosticism to Christianity by examining the arguments. I think he is unusual in that he converted to Christianity for largely intellectual reasons. That is not true for most of us.

Coincidently, I just began reading Keith's blog the day before you posted this comment and found some information that applies to this. I do not agree with your assessment at all. The worldview of Christianity gives Keith exactly what he had been searching for.

In his post, "Why I Renounced Atheism," he states, "I have always been consumed by the question of the meaning of our lives." He goes on to say, "It became apparent that without a God and an afterlife our lives were essentially meaningless and futile. This troubled me greatly."

Wolfgang said...

However, I've noticed that most people do not deconvert (or remain non-believers) for largely intellectual reasons either. They tend to base it on their own perceptions, experiences, and emotions.

I am confused by exactly what you mean by this. If you were to ask me whether I became an atheist because of intellectual reasons or emotional reasons, I would say intellectual because there was nothing emotional about it. But for some reason you value arguments above all else.

We can convince ourselves of what we want to believe through arguments. But who is doing the arguing? Who is making the arguments? People. God doesn't make any arguments, and God wouldn't need arguments to reveal Himself.

When I stopped believing in God, I had never heard of atheism nor known anyone that didn't believe in some type of Christian god. I wasn't hurt by God or disappointed by Him. I just wanted to know which religion was true because they all couldn't be true.

And I am not against emotional reasons for converting or deconverting either. I have needed God, and I still need God, and I have emotionally come before God and Jesus several times in my life. I am a weak and need God's strength. But above all else, I want something real.

I am not looking for arguments. Yes, we all use arguments in these discussions, but I am looking for perspectives. Because you are right, I cannot be sure my subjective experiences and perceptions are the correct ones when others have different ones.

I don't know if you have noticed, but that has always been my problem. And I have always been aware of it. In fact, I have thought that I sometimes come across as a bit wishy-washy in these discussions. Maybe not with you, but definitely with other people on AC.

But I feel more confident with my perspective now that I am aware how important the Christian worldview is to many, many Christians.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang:

I am confused by exactly what you mean by this. If you were to ask me whether I became an atheist because of intellectual reasons or emotional reasons, I would say intellectual because there was nothing emotional about it. But for some reason you value arguments above all else.

When I said that most people are not atheists for primarily intellectual reasons, I was not referring to you. I have no reason to doubt what you said about what happened when you were in third grade, and you are by far the most sincere in your search for truth of all the atheists I have talked to. In case you think I'm just saying that because I happen to be talking to you, you can check what I said here on Keith's blog.

The other atheist I mentioned is very intellectually honest and he is interested in Christianity, but I don't necessarily get the sense that he is seeking. Sometimes he acts that way and other times not.

Of all the atheists and agnostics that I've talked to, that's two of you that stand apart from the rest. I think the others enjoy the discussions, but I have no sense that they are open to changing their minds.

What you have picked up on is that Christians convert because they have a need for God, but I can tell you that there is also in most of us a resistance to Christianity. I experienced that before my conversion, C. S. Lewis talks about it in Surprised by Joy, and it has become very obvious to me that most non-theists will grasp at any straws to avoid reaching the conclusion that the Christian God exists. I do not mean for that to sound derogatory, because I genuinely like just about everyone I've talked with.

You may doubt that non-theists are resistant to Christianity, since I have seen no evidence of that in you, but I'm sure I have tried as hard to understand non-believers as you have tried to understand believers. And it took me a long time to finally conclude that if I'm not learning anything new with these discussions, I'm probably wasting my time.

I don't value arguments more than anything else, although I can see why it would seem that way to you. I know that true faith can only come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is how God reveals Himself to us. However, when someone is trying to get at the objective truth, like you are, then the evidence is extremely important, isn't it?

Do you accept the theory of evolution? If so, why do you? It's because of the evidence, right? But I'm sure you know that creationist scientists will do anything to avoid reaching that conclusion because they believe that it is inconsistent with Genesis.

Non-theistic scientists will likewise explain the fine-tuning of the universe away with entirely hypothetical explanations like a multiverse. They have also always resisted the idea that the universe had a beginning because of the implications. Robert Jastrow, an agnostic astrophysicist, talks about this in God and the Astronomers.

Likewise, skeptical Bible scholars will reach implausible conclusions like mass hallucinations in order to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead. They are not simply following the evidence in an impartial way, using the same criteria historians generally use to determine the best explanation for historical facts.

Anette Acker said...

You may argue that I'm doing the same thing, but you do know that I accept common ancestry, right? And I do so because that's where all the evidence points. And at exactly the same time when you posted your first of these two comments on my blog, I posted a comment on Keith's blog saying that I do not find the ontological argument for God's existence very compelling because it seems like logical sleight of hand. Although this argument is frequently used by theists I do not think the conclusion follows the premises and I have no qualms about saying that.

In his post, "Why I Renounced Atheism," he states, "I have always been consumed by the question of the meaning of our lives." He goes on to say, "It became apparent that without a God and an afterlife our lives were essentially meaningless and futile. This troubled me greatly."

So what this tells me is that Keith had a need for God. If he didn't, he probably wouldn't have spent the time he did examining the evidence. But he did gradually go from atheism to agnosticism to Christianity by processing the arguments.

You have also expressed a need for God, and if you didn't need God, you wouldn't be reading all these blogs trying to get at the truth of His existence. Only hungry people eat, and there is no reason why you should think that the fact that people feel a need for God means that He doesn't exist. C. S. Lewis argues the opposite in The Weight of Glory, by using the analogy that the existence of hunger means that such a thing as food exists, and likewise, the existence of a desire that no natural happiness will satisfy indicates that something beyond nature exists to satisfy it.

But above all else, I want something real.

I am not looking for arguments.


I'm not sure if I understand what you're saying here. By "something real," do you means something objectively true? If so, then it seems that you would need to examine the evidence by reading the arguments.

If by "something real" you mean that you want God to reveal Himself to you directly apart from the arguments, then you need to be born of the Holy Spirit because that is how God does that.

But I feel more confident with my perspective now that I am aware how important the Christian worldview is to many, many Christians.

But what about the fact that I've become aware of how important it is for most of the non-theists I've talked with not to accept the Christian worldview? For that reason, I'm no longer commenting on AC even though I enjoyed it while I did it.

My point is that people generally believe what they want to believe, but if you want to get at the objective truth you have to be willing to honestly examine the evidence. That is the only way of getting at any truth.

In fact, I have thought that I sometimes come across as a bit wishy-washy in these discussions. Maybe not with you, but definitely with other people on AC.

I don't think you're wishy-washy--I think you want to get at the truth but you're not sure how. You have sought God before and have not found Him, so you want to feel secure in your belief that God does not exist. But I don't think you've completely given up, or we wouldn't be having this conversation. Would you say that's basically right, or not?

Nightvid said...

You say "This was a popular hypothesis around the beginning of the nineteenth century, but like the stolen body theory, it has been almost completely abandoned by modern scholars. It states that Jesus did not fully die on the cross and recovered in the tomb. This hypothesis has major problems. First, since Jesus was at least severely wounded from the crucifixion, there is no way He could have removed the stone covering the entrance to the tomb, so the apparent death theory has to be in part conspiracy theory. Second, as the very liberal scholar David Strauss argued, how did a half-dead Jesus stumble into a meeting of His doubting and fearful disciples and encourage them with the news that He had conquered death and someday they would have a body just like His? Third, numerous studies show that medically there is no way He could have survived the crucifixion. Skeptical Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan has stated that the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion is as sure as any fact could ever be."

There are a large number of false and misleading claims here.

1. Abandonment by modern scholars is irrelevant if the scholars are mistaken about the medical facts. Most of those to which you refer are operating under the false pretense that crucifixion interferes with respiration. However, Dr. Zugibe has proven that false.

2. Removal of the stone is not necessarily difficult. We do not have enough documentation to reconstruct the physical scene - we do not know how much it weighed, nor whether it was positioned vertically, nor whether it was facing uphill, downhill, or neither. This argument assumes more than it is legitimate to.

3. David Strauss's argument assumes that a crucified one has injuries that make them unable to walk normally. This is proven to be false by the Phillippines Crucifixion Ceremony, where flagellated, whipped, and crucified men are later able to walk with no difficulty. But even if it were true, it doesn't follow that the disciples would not react - they would respond by the effect studied by psychologists Festinger and Carlsmith in 1959.

What you say about the medical studies is false. There is only one small group of paper supposedly covering this, but it is based on the claims of Alexander Metherell. Metherell assumes that crucifixion makes respiration without using legs impossible. However, Dr. Zugibe has proven that false. And I personally have shown that the argument fails from a mechanico-physiological perspective by self experimentation (my YouTube video "debunking Dr. Metherell" addresses this)

So the swoon theory is perfectly viable, whether you like it or not. Truth is more important than fantasy.

Nightvid said...

And also there are a number of viable psychological manners in which we can explain the documentary data naturalistically. I would refer the reader to the research conducted by Dr. Bartlett on confabulation and distortion of memory recollection in the primary and secondary (and higher-order) telling of narratives. The effect studied by Loftus and Palmer in 1974 is also significant, as are the findings of Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) and the Asch Conformity Experiments (1950s). The latter also provides a naturalistic explanation for how the women could have mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. Once the report of an empty tomb was out, they could have believed they saw a risen Jesus by the Loftus and Palmer effect.

These psychological phenomena can be immensely powerful and are not uncommon at all - they happen even in mentally healthy adults. When we have reports of non-eyewitnesses, they can even compound each other and multiply the effects tremendously. Courtroom criteria of acceptable evidence must take them into account, and the type of third- fourth- and fifth- hand hearsay we have recorded in the NT would not even be admissible evidence in court.

The NT books utterly fail to demonstrate to any satisfactory degree that a genuine supernatural event occurred. Apologists just don't seem to ever be able to admit that. They want to take a theologically motivated belief and claim it is a historical one, even though it is not.