Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Easter Faith of the Early Church

Crucifixion of Peter
As I said before, the resurrection of Jesus is supported by three pillars: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the Easter faith of the early Christians in the face of severe persecution. In order to undermine the historical support for the resurrection, a skeptic has to give viable naturalistic explanations for all three. 

We have already discussed the evidence for the empty tomb and examined the possible explanations for why Paul and the other apostles claimed to have seen Jesus postmortem. What remains is a discussion of the Easter faith that sprung up in a climate of severe persecution and grew into the dominant world religion.

The late orthodox Jewish rabbi and theologian Pinchas Lapide came to the conclusion that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead, and said in The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, that if the faith-shattering cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" had been the end of the story, the movement would have died right there. The Jews believed in a faithful, just God who never abandoned the righteous.

He concluded: "If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception--without a fundamental faith experience--then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself."

So the final question is this: What caused the Easter faith of the early followers of Jesus that grew into four million Christians by 300 AD? Did a group of simple men perpetrate the most masterful hoax ever, while preaching an ethic of love, faithfulness, and truth? And even if they could and would do it, what would have motivated them?

We know from Paul's letters that he used to be a zealous, successful Pharisee who persecuted the church, and he gave it up for imprisonment, persecution, and poverty. Writing from prison, he said, "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8). 

What could possibly have motivated him? Note that I am not asking what did motivate him--we can never know exactly what combination of factors lead other people to do what they do. However, if Jesus did not appear to Paul as he claimed, there should be other possible explanations for his willingness to sacrifice everything for his hope in the resurrection. What are they?

Liberal theologian and church historian Ferdinand Christian Baur rejected the resurrection and the other supernatural aspects of the primitive church for most of his life. But shortly before he died he concluded that the conversion of Paul was an unsolvable psychological puzzle which was a miracle in and of itself, and according to Philip Schaff, this led Baur to "bow before the greater miracle of the resurrection of Christ, without which the former is an inexplicable enigma."

Why did Stephen, when he stood before the Sanhedrin, gaze into the heavens and boldly report, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55-56), echoing the words that earned Jesus the death penalty? And when they rushed at him as an angry mob and stoned him to death, how could he have cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" as he died?

Pliny the Younger describes the Christian martyrs in much the same way in his letter to Emperor Trajan in 112 AD--that true Christians would die before they cursed Christ or worshipped pagan gods, like Pliny ordered them to do. And their conduct was blameless. He wrote:
In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement.
And,
They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food -- but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition. 
So eighty years after the death of Christ, His followers were still known for their loyalty to Him. They were still true to His word and fearless in the face of death because of their hope of eternal life.

The movement continued to grow after the stoning of James by the Sandedrin in 62 AD, and after the deaths of Paul and Peter during the severe persecution by Nero, who lit up his 64 AD garden party with torches of burning Christians and put them to death in other horrific ways for the amusement of the Romans. And it continued to grow through many subsequent waves of persecution when Christians were ordered to recant or be executed. As Tertullian observed, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

Paul lays it on the line in 1 Corinthians 15:15 by saying that if Jesus had not been raised, then he and the others would have been "false witnesses of God because we testified against God that He raised Christ." He makes it very clear that the truth of the resurrection is crucial, and if it didn't happen, the apostles would have been false witnesses against God. He leaves no room for any wishy-washy thinking about faith being such a beautiful thing that there is no need to worry about pesky things like facts. And the hope of the later martyrs was grounded in the historical fact of the resurrection that the apostles themselves were willing to die for.

If we take into account the whole panoply of human motivations, how does the Easter faith make any sense if this resurrection did not happen?


83 comments:

Keith said...

The idea of the rise of the early of the early church played a big part in my conversion from agnosticism to Christianity. In the midst of an incredibly hostile environment, Jesus’ followers rallied. With the might of the Roman Empire and the religious elite of Jerusalem coming down upon them, Jesus’ disciples held to their beliefs. All of Jesus’ 12 disciples but John were executed for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, the risen savior. Half of them were crucified, which is one of the most horrific ways to die. These 12 men who had watched Jesus’ ministry followed him everywhere and ate with him. If anyone would have good insight into the claims of Jesus it would have been them. The fact that they endured beatings, torture and execution lends huge credibility to the Bible’s assertion that Jesus rose from the dead and that he is the son of God. If they had lost faith in Jesus then they wouldn’t have died for him. The multiple attestations of the postmortem appearances of Jesus also make the theory that the disciples were delusional unlikely. Since Jesus appeared to more than 500 people it is simply not plausible that all of those people were delusional.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you for commenting, Keith!

I agree that the behavior of those who claimed to have witnessed Jesus postmortem is a compelling argument for the resurrection. As you said, if they had started doubting for any reason, they would not have been willing to endure the persecution by the leaders in Jerusalem and the Roman Empire. They must have been very sure of what they saw and experienced to be willing to die for their faith.

And although we don't have the names of the 500, they are mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:3-7, which is almost universally held by scholars (including skeptics) to be a tradition that dates to within a few years of the death of Jesus, and that was passed down to Paul by his predecessors. So he must have gotten the information from the apostles in Jerusalem, and he knows enough about the 500 at the time of his writing to be able to say that most of them are still alive.

Darkknight56 said...

I'm a bit confused. In a previous post you said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that someone's willingness to die for a cause tells you nothing about the truth or validity of the cause. Now you are asking us to be impressed by the deaths of the apostles and how it points to the truth of the resurrection and thus God.

Is someone's willingness to die for a cause show the validity of that cause or not?

Darkknight56 said...

1. My mom passed away in November of 1994 yet I saw her, alive and looking like she was 20 years old, after she died.

My wife's sister and daughter both passed away due to illness and she saw both of them alive and well after their deaths. The only reason I didn't see either of them is because they passed away prior to first meeting my wife.

This is the truth and I'm willing to die for it.

The catch is that we saw them in dreams but dreams that felt incredibly real. This is a very common event and has been reported often.

2. Keep in mind several factors.

2.1 The gospels were not written by witnesses at the time the events in them were happening.
2.2 Jesus's death was followed by at least 20 - 30 years of oral tradition before the stories were written down eventually by non-witnesses.
2.3 Once the stories were written down, it was recorded by gentiles and not Jews. We know this because the earliest documents we have are in Greek and not Aramaic.
2.4 We don't have the original documents so we can't say for certain what the original documents actually recorded. However, we know they recorded oral tradition which in itself is not a reliable means of recording and transmitting stories.
2.5 We also know that scribes altered the documents in order to more closely align them with the theological bent of their group.
2.6 The bible as you know it is based on documents from the second and third centuries, many, many years after Jesus's death and whose stories are corrupted by oral traditions, personal and group cultures and theological viewpoints and perspectives. As a result, you can't say that the events that are portrayed in the New Testament as you know it are the events as they actually happened in 33 AD or so.

Therefore, the resurrection can be easily explained as follows:

1. Jesus was an itinerant preacher who, according to Mark, went around preaching that the kingdom of God was near thus creating his reputation as a charismatic, religious, preacher-type.

2. After his death, a few, some, or most if not all, of the apostles have dreams of him where they see him, possibly encouraging them to continue his work. Because the dreams felt so real, as been often happening in these cases, there is no reason to assume they wouldn't think it was actually from him, that it wasn't real.

3. Stories of these appearances get passed down from person to person, city to city, country to country and Jew to gentile and some of the minor details, such as seeing him in a dream are either accidentally (because it was transmitted orally) or intentionally get lost or dropped from the stories thus creating the story of the resurrection.

4. As for the empty tomb, it's possible that followers of Jesus, other than the apostles, bribed the guards at night, and stole the body. You can argue that the Roman guards would have been severely punished or killed for such dereliction of duty. Keep in mind, though, they were eventually bribed by the Jewish leaders to say that the body was stolen, meaning that they weren't above accepting bribes, so for them it was win-win (bribed from both sides). Even to this day we have laws that if you break them you are punished by being strapped to Ol' Sparky yet people continue to break such laws every day knowing fully well what will happen to them if caught.

So, take the dreams, the desire to follow Jesus's teaching, the bribes, etc, and filter them through cultural and religious viewpoints and perspectives and it is not hard to see how these stories, over time, can evolve into what you know as the resurrection. It explains everything including the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus after his death. Paul's conversion can be explained by an attack of conscience and as for the 500, well, call me when you actually have their names and testimony.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

I'm a bit confused. In a previous post you said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that someone's willingness to die for a cause tells you nothing about the truth or validity of the cause. Now you are asking us to be impressed by the deaths of the apostles and how it points to the truth of the resurrection and thus God.

The fact that the 911 suicide bombers were willing to die for a cause does not mean that their cause was the truth. They were young disaffected men who had been trained for this kind of thing for a long time. In other words, they were brainwashed.

Now if I had just mentioned the later martyrs, then you might argue that they were brainwashed as well. But I made the point that the apostles claimed to have seen Jesus, and Paul goes so far as to say that they would have been false witnesses about God if Jesus had not appeared to them.

I have already addressed the possibility of mass hallucination. And please explain how Paul could have been brainwashed. He was a persecutor of the church. Give me one example of a murderous villain who was brainwashed into becoming a peaceful martyr who taught a lofty ethic about brotherly love. That is not how brainwashing works.

1. My mom passed away in November of 1994 yet I saw her, alive and looking like she was 20 years old, after she died.

My wife's sister and daughter both passed away due to illness and she saw both of them alive and well after their deaths. The only reason I didn't see either of them is because they passed away prior to first meeting my wife.

This is the truth and I'm willing to die for it.

The catch is that we saw them in dreams but dreams that felt incredibly real. This is a very common event and has been reported often.


You're willing to die for the fact that you had this dream or are you willing to die for the reality of the event in the dream? Obviously it's not the latter, since you're telling me that these were dreams. And even if you and your wife both claimed that these were real events, I would have no compelling reasons to believe you. Would you still insist that these deceased people appeared to you if you were threatened with execution or would you feel some doubt? Even if you did, the evidence for the resurrection is considerably stronger because Paul was a persecutor of the church and therefore a hostile witness. Also, neither he nor James were part of the group of Jesus' disciples. You and your wife, on the other hand, presumably influence each other's thinking, and you were close to the deceased.

I've already addressed most of your other points, so I won't go into that again. Suffice it to say that 1 Cor. 15:3-7 (the appearances of Jesus) is a tradition dated by just about all scholars to within a few years of the death of Jesus. So the disciples were preaching His appearances immediately.

As I said before, there is no evidence whatsoever that Paul felt any pangs of conscience before his conversion. He saw himself as zealous for his ancestral traditions.

Also, do you really think that if the disciples stole the body of Jesus, they would be willing to die for a known lie?

Anette Acker said...

4. As for the empty tomb, it's possible that followers of Jesus, other than the apostles, bribed the guards at night, and stole the body.

I apologize--I misread this the first time.

But even if someone had stolen the body, this does not mean that the disciples would have concluded that Jesus had risen. John 20 says that when Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty she immediately assumed that someone had taken the body away. All the Gospel accounts show the disciples doubting.

Wolfgang said...

@Darkknight56

It is most likely that no one was guarding the tomb. The story was probably made up to counter the accusation that Jesus' disciples stole his body.

Anette has repeatedly said, "people did not believe that the dead could be resurrected." Even if Anette is incorrect, it can be demonstrated that Jesus' disciples did not expect his resurrection. So it does not make sense that the Romans or Pharisees would believe the disciples might steal his body. So they had no reason to post soldiers.

Darkknight56 said...

The fact that the 911 suicide bombers were willing to die for a cause does not mean that their cause was the truth. They were young disaffected men who had been trained for this kind of thing for a long time. In other words, they were brainwashed.

Perhaps I did but I don't think I ever used the 9/11 suicide bombers as examples, but maybe I did. The example I did use was atheists dying for their atheism. People die for all sorts of causes and not all of those who do are young disaffected men.

Now if I had just mentioned the later martyrs, then you might argue that they were brainwashed as well. But I made the point that the apostles claimed to have seen Jesus, and Paul goes so far as to say that they would have been false witnesses about God if Jesus had not appeared to them.

I have already addressed the possibility of mass hallucination. And please explain how Paul could have been brainwashed. He was a persecutor of the church. Give me one example of a murderous villain who was brainwashed into becoming a peaceful martyr who taught a lofty ethic about brotherly love. That is not how brainwashing works.

I never claimed Paul was brain-washed therefore I have no need to defend the idea.

Also, do you really think that if the disciples stole the body of Jesus, they would be willing to die for a known lie?

It didn't have to be the apostles who stole the body. Others who admired or accepted his message could have stolen it so that the actual disappearance came as an actual surprise to the disciples as recorded in the gospels. Add to that they see him in dreams that seem real to them and you have your resurrection story. And since the apostles thus believed it was resurrected it comes as no surprise that Paul would, too.

In subsequent years, people took the missing body and the claims of apostles seeing Jesus after his death and, coupled together Jesus's religious message, constructed the idea of a resurrection. Oral traditions change the message and people change the later documents to match their particular theological bent.

Despite my age, I was not there in the first century. No one knows what happened back then as no documents by his followers, disciples or witnesses to him or his miracles (even copied ones) survived from when Jesus was actually alive. The point here is that all I've done is provided a perfectly natural explanation for what happened much of which is backed up by scholars even if you exclude Ehrman. It explains the resurrection, the Easter faith, the empty tomb. It is all something that can easily be done in a first century, technologically-ignorant society. I'm not saying that this was the way it happened or that there aren't other natural explanations; there are other possibilities. However, if you can show that any of that couldn't possibly have happened, that something in my explanation was utterly impossible, then we can discuss the supernatural. Until then, natural explanations work quite well.

Darkknight56 said...

But even if someone had stolen the body, this does not mean that the disciples would have concluded that Jesus had risen. John 20 says that when Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty she immediately assumed that someone had taken the body away. All the Gospel accounts show the disciples doubting.

Last point first - if it is true that the disciples initially doubted that the tomb was empty, it lends credence to the idea that others other than them took the body for reasons unknown.

As for your first point, the disciples came from a strongly religious society. They spent the last 3 years wandering with a man who preached of God and the coming kingdom practically every day, day and night. And they had no explanation for what happened to the body. Add to that a few prophesies from the old testament (Isaiah 53, for example) and - walla! - a resurrection story. Given all that and their culture there is no reason not to believe that they honestly felt that Jesus rose from the dead.

Anette Acker said...

Wolfgang:

Anette has repeatedly said, "people did not believe that the dead could be resurrected." Even if Anette is incorrect, it can be demonstrated that Jesus' disciples did not expect his resurrection. So it does not make sense that the Romans or Pharisees would believe the disciples might steal his body. So they had no reason to post soldiers.

I have said that people did not believe that the dead could be resurrected, but I was referring to the Gentiles at the time. I also said that the Jews only believed in a resurrection at the end of time, but corrected myself when kilo papa challenged me on that by referencing examples in the Bible of people being raised from the dead. And of course he's right about that.

But getting back to the disciples, yes they all doubted, but that does not mean that they had never heard Jesus prophesy His death and resurrection. He did so repeatedly. So it is not unreasonable to assume that the Pharisees might have overheard Him or gotten the information from someone else and then taken precautions.

The Bible repeatedly shows that faith is not an all or nothing proposition. The disciples were constantly doubting even though they had seen miracles. Right after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the disciples started worrying about who had brought food, and Jesus chastised them about their hardheadedness.

That has the ring of truth because that is how faith is. To have every reason to believe something intellectually does not necessarily mean we won't doubt during a crisis. Humans are a combination of reason, emotion, and will--and doubt or unbelief are not necessarily grounded in reason.

I'll bet you didn't think there would be a connection between the comment you wrote yesterday in the other thread and this one, but here goes: Apologetics pertains only to the rational basis for Christian faith, but the experience of faith itself is spiritual. That is, it is to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:18.

The disciples had every reason to intellectually believe that Jesus would be raised from the dead, but they had not yet experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so they doubted that like they doubted just about everything else.

C. S. Lewis describes this difference between apologetics and the presence of God in his poem, The Apologist's Evening Prayer (quoted in part):

"Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all me thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free."

George MacDonald expressed a similar sentiment:

"I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing and myself be, after all, a castaway---no king but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with Him to the death, but an arguer about the truth."

They are both saying that the experience of Christ is so powerful and real that the thoughts and arguments in support of Christianity are a pale substitute. In other words, there is the knowledge that Christianity is rationally defensible, which is good to know, but it doesn't necessary lead to true faith. Faith comes from the Holy Spirit.

I know that you are probably skeptical of what I'm saying, but some things are impossible to understand unless we have experienced them. And when I had the experience I described in the other post, suddenly I understood things in the Bible and in classical Christian writings that never really made sense to me before, even though I was already a Christian. So if this deep faith experience is a delusion, it is a shared delusion that transcends time and culture. Why would I suddenly find myself sharing a delusion with John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim's Progress or Brother Lawrence, the author of The Practice of the Presence of God?

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

Perhaps I did but I don't think I ever used the 9/11 suicide bombers as examples, but maybe I did. The example I did use was atheists dying for their atheism. People die for all sorts of causes and not all of those who do are young disaffected men.

Since you brought up atheists dying for their atheism, can you think of an example of it happening? I can't think of a single instance of it happening, so that that's why I didn't use that example. My point is not that atheists are cowards, but that they generally don't feel that strongly about their absence of faith in God.

Yes, people do die for all sorts of things, but you still have not given plausible naturalistic reasons for why the apostles, like Paul, died. Again, you are not engaging the arguments I have already made, by saying that it makes sense that Paul would believe in the resurrection because the disciples had such vivid dreams. Your effort to hand-wave the evidence away doesn't make it actually go away. :)

Oral traditions change the message and people change the later documents to match their particular theological bent.

The fact that you think copyists were able to change the theological message of the Bible tells me that Misquoting Jesus has misled you. Please go back and read my quote from Vinny (a fan of Ehrman). His only point was that Ehrman was not misleading people. However, it is common knowledge among Bible scholars that Luke Muehlhauser is correct in that we have so many copies of the NT that individual copyist errors can easily be straightened out. Ehrman knows this too, which he makes very clear in his scholarly writings.

The only question that remains is whether Ehrman is misleading people--the subject of discussion between Vinny and me in an earlier thread.

Darkknight56 said...

Anette Acker said...

Since you brought up atheists dying for their atheism, can you think of an example of it happening? I can't think of a single instance of it happening, so that that's why I didn't use that example. My point is not that atheists are cowards, but that they generally don't feel that strongly about their absence of faith in God.

Not only did atheists die to protect atheism but they died so you can continue to worship your God.

Yes, people do die for all sorts of things, but you still have not given plausible naturalistic reasons for why the apostles, like Paul, died. Again, you are not engaging the arguments I have already made, by saying that it makes sense that Paul would believe in the resurrection because the disciples had such vivid dreams. Your effort to hand-wave the evidence away doesn't make it actually go away. :)

What do you mean by a "plausible naturalistic" reason for dying? Did Paul die because he was a Christian? Yes, like many Christians who died for their faith. The apostles died for their faith. They believed in the cause. They toured with Jesus for 3 years while he preached his message and the believed in him and the message. History is full of examples of men (and women) who have started one cause or another, died, and their followers have carried on even to the point of death.

Did Paul really see a light on the road and hear the voice of Jesus (or God the father depending on whether you are reading Acts or Galatians). Unfortunately, we will never know because we don't have the original, autograph, copy of Acts. In Galatians 1:15 he writes that God called him by his grace to be a preacher among the Gentiles. I've heard many, many, Christians say that they feel that God called them by His grace to fulfill one purpose or another and none of them involved blinding lights and voices. There is no reason to believe that Paul's conversion was any more than this.

Again, you are not engaging the arguments I have already made, by saying that it makes sense that Paul would believe in the resurrection because the disciples had such vivid dreams.

We don't live in the same culture as Paul and the apostles lived in. They didn't have the same world view we have. To us, dreams are dreams. They are interesting to talk about with friends around the water cooler but they have no more significance than that to us. In ancient cultures dreams were a window into another reality. If someone in the dream was talking to the dreamer, the dreamer, in many cases, actually believed that the person was really talking to them. So for the disciples to tell Paul that they actually saw Jesus after his death meant:

1. that they really, truly, believed it, and
2. that mentioning that it happened in a dream would have no adverse impact on the truth and validity of the experience. Dreams are mentioned in the bible numerous times to convey messages from God (Matthew 2:12 and Genesis 37, for example).

Even if the apostles saw Jesus in a dream and told that directly to Paul, it wouldn't have been shocking as the old testament supports the idea that dreams are a method of communication between God and man.

Biblical research - ain't it grand? :-)

Darkknight56 said...

The fact that you think copyists were able to change the theological message of the Bible tells me that Misquoting Jesus has misled you.

So, what are you saying? What are you saying about Ehrman misleading* people? On what do you base that conclusion? Have you examined the Greek documents and found all of them to be consistently the same - no changes? Even Ehrman, in his book, said that most of the differences are minor and make no difference theologically or otherwise. In chapters 5 and 6 he discusses some of those verses where he thanks that verses were changed for theological reasons.

I read Vinny's review of the book but I'm not sure he made it all the way through the book as he doesn't discuss chapters 5 and 6.

I find it strange that you want me to believe and accept Vinny's conclusions regarding Misquoting Jesus but then you reject what Vinny says regarding Jesus, Interrupted and his 194 contradictions in the New Testament. Why should I accept Vinny's opinion regarding Ehrman when you reject most of Vinny's other arguments? If you don't have faith in his conclusions in other areas, why should I accept what he says in this matter? It seems to me like you want me to accept what Vinny says when it agrees with your position but to reject what Vinny says when you disagree with him.

* I notice that sometimes when someone says something you don't agree with you have no compulsion about calling them liars. Stenger is dishonest. Ehrman is lying by misleading people. Mohammad is a liar as is Joseph Smith. I assume that you think those who created Hinduism as well as all the other countless religions man has created are all liars regarding the natural and supernatural claims they make, even if some of the prophets, leaders and those who started and died for their religion were real people. You dismiss all of their claims a priori as lies. You don't examine their claims at all before dismissing them as lies. Since you didn't spend any time examining their claims of miracles and other supernatural events prior to dismissing them all as lies then why shouldn't we treat the bible and Christianity the same way and dismiss them as lies and what-not without examining them for truth? It is what you did with Hinduism, Mormonism, Islam and who knows what other religions?

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56,

So, what are you saying? What are you saying about Ehrman misleading* people? On what do you base that conclusion?

No, I am not saying that Ehrman is misleading people; Luke Muehlhauser said that he is. I know that Luke is right that we have so many copies of the NT that text critics can reconstruct the original to an extremely high degree of accuracy. Ehrman knows this, too, and has said so in his scholarly works.

Now, whether he is saying something different in Misquoting Jesus I don't know. However, you seem to have reached some incorrect conclusions on the subject, so may seem at least to have been mislead. But I don't know if that's Ehrman's fault.

* I notice that sometimes when someone says something you don't agree with you have no compulsion about calling them liars.

That is absolutely not true that I have no compunction about calling people liars. Our whole subject of discussion is about whether the apostles lied, hallucinated, or had some other naturalistic reason for believing that they saw Jesus. When others bring up Joseph Smith and Mohammed, am I not allowed to raise the possibility that they lied?

As for Stenger, other physicists have said that he is a "true unbeliever" when it comes to the fine-tuning of the universe because he is way out of the mainstream and seems motivated by his bias. Some Christian scientists are likewise way out of the mainstream because of their bias.

Not only did atheists die to protect atheism but they died http://ffrf.org/outreach/atheists-in-foxholes so you can continue to worship your God.

Those soldiers did not die for their atheism, they died for freedom, which includes religious (or its absence) freedom. I never said that atheists are cowards, remember?

So their willingness to die says nothing about the truth or falsity of atheism--all it says is that freedom is worth dying for.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

I find it strange that you want me to believe and accept Vinny's conclusions regarding Misquoting Jesus but then you reject what Vinny says regarding Jesus, Interrupted and his 194 contradictions in the New Testament. Why should I accept Vinny's opinion regarding Ehrman when you reject most of Vinny's other arguments?

Are you mixing up Vinny and Luke here? Luke is the one who said that Ehrman was misleading and he also linked to the 194 contradictions.

But regardless of whom you were talking about, my response is the same: If someone makes an admission that goes against his or her interest, that statement is more likely to be true. I use the same principle in determining what Christians are likely to be correct. If they say something against their interests, that is, combined with other factors, reason to believe that is true. In fact, if a Christian says something that is consistent with a Christian worldview and I'm not familiar with the subject, I will always double-check it. I want to get at the truth rather than confirm my own bias.

I have noticed that you seem to read only atheist sources, which makes me wonder if you are trying to get at the truth on these issues or if you are looking to reinforce your position. Although I avoid Christian apologists who are misleading, you seem to resent the fact that I have brought to your attention that Ehrman and Stenger have been accused by other non-theists of being misleading. (Please note that to say that someone is being misleading is not to call them a liar--if they really believe the misleading information, they are not lying, but they are still being misleading.)

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

Even if the apostles saw Jesus in a dream and told that directly to Paul, it wouldn't have been shocking as the old testament supports the idea that dreams are a method of communication between God and man.

Keep in mind that Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of the church who was convinced that he was doing God's will by dragging Christians off to prison. Do you really think that he would believe in the resurrection because the disciples of Jesus told him about a dream they had?

Let's say Richard Dawkins becomes a Christian, and you come up to me and say, "Isn't it shocking that Dawkins has become a Christian?"

"That's not shocking at all," I reply with a shrug. "I heard he ran into Ray Comfort on the beach, who administered the Good Person Test. Dawkins, of course, immediately repented of his sins and his belief in evolution and trusted the Savior."

Would you then say, "Got it! That makes perfect sense now"?

Darkknight56 said...

Since you brought up atheists dying for their atheism, can you think of an example of it happening? I can't think of a single instance of it happening,

Here is a link to some acts of persecution against atheists. Some studies show that atheists are a more hated group than homosexuals (not that hatred towards them is justified, either). In Islamic countries atheist are routinely killed. Some are killed outright but others are given the opportunity to recant and convert to Islam but they turn it down thus resulting in their deaths. Do I know of any who actually died? No, but I have followed the stories of others who have been offered the chance to recant but refused.

I have noticed that you seem to read only atheist sources, which makes me wonder if you are trying to get at the truth on these issues or if you are looking to reinforce your position.

I'm here and on AC, aren't I? :-) Actually, my wife complains I spend too much time on-line and posting in Christian websites. I saw a video of Ray and Kirk saying we could know Christianity intellectually and without faith so I followed Ray for over a year, repeatedly asking him how this could be done. "Just believe" seems to be his answer.

I come here to ask questions, not to convert anyone to atheism, and to see what there is to support your position. You are not one of Ray's followers who blindly accept whatever he says. You have done a great deal of study and research to support your position.

When I was a Christian I led bible study groups and read apologists like Josh McDowell. Even today, the time I spend on Christian websites (mainly yours and AC) can be measured in hours while the time I spend on atheists websites combined can be measured in minutes for the same period of time (daily, weekly, etc).

you seem to resent the fact that I have brought to your attention that Ehrman and Stenger have been accused by other non-theists of being misleading.

Yes, you are right. I have Vinny and Luke confused here.

I haven't hear of any non-theist accusing Stenger of lying (not to say none have or that he doesn't...). I don't resent you saying it but I am interested in why you say it. (or are you just reflecting the position some non-theists take in regards to these people?) What are they lying about? In what way is Ehrman being misleading?

If they say something against their interests, that is, combined with other factors, reason to believe that is true.

Just because Antony Flew, for example, became a deist towards the end of his life doesn't falsify atheism nor does it prove Christianity. If Richard Dawkins came out and endorsed any of Ray's current books it doesn't mean that what Ray wrote is true.

When others bring up Joseph Smith and Mohammad, am I not allowed to raise the possibility that they lied?

You are more than welcome to bring up the idea that someone is lying if and only if you can show (provide proof) that they are lying.

Darkknight56 said...

Keep in mind that Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of the church who was convinced that he was doing God's will by dragging Christians off to prison. Do you really think that he would believe in the resurrection because the disciples of Jesus told him about a dream they had?

You can't view Paul in the context of his, first-century, culture as if he was someone from this time and culture.

Paul's conversion happened prior to meeting any of the apostles so he didn't convert because of their dream. So:
1. Because he was already a believer when he finally talked to the apostles and
2. Because dreams had much more significance in their culture than ours and
3. Because the apostles were the leaders/teachers of his new religion, then it wouldn't be unreasonable for Paul to accept that the resurrection happened, in part, because of their dreams. As I said before, dreams were one of many ways God communicated messages to his followers, and devout followers back then wouldn't question the dreamer about it like we would today. The old testament has numerous examples how dreams were used by God.

Keep in mind, he was also talking to the ones who roamed day and night with Jesus for 3 years and thus have some authority that others don't have. Jesus promised them that they would rule with him in heaven. This gives the apostles a great deal of 'street cred' with other believers. One thing I've learned about religions in general is that followers don't seriously challenge the leaders but are willing to accept what they are told. I see this in AC all the time between Ray and his followers and Ray didn't even travel with Jesus for any amount of time.

You also treat Paul differently from other humans. On one hand you acknowledge that people die for a variety of reasons and beliefs, no matter how well or poorly their beliefs are supported. Then when it comes to the apostles you keep asking "Do you think they would die for..".

I admire both Peter and Paul. When my dad married my mom, who was catholic, he had to change his name (I don't know why) and so he chose the name of Paul. When I had to undergo my confirmation at 13 I chose the name of Peter so basically, I admire both men for what they did at the start of the church.

However, they are not 'super-apostles' or 'super-men'. They are regular guys, cut from the same cloth as the rest of us. They are fallible as well as strong. And like the rest of us they had their beliefs and biases so when you ask "Do you really think they would...?" to me it is a meaningless question because people in other religions are just as devote, and believe their religion and its tenants just as much as Paul and the others did. They had their happy days and their grumpy days. Some were probably introverts while others were extroverts.

The other problem is that the bible gives very little biography of the apostles; some have almost no biography written about them. This means that we really don't have enough personal and biographical information on them to say what any would, or would not, do in any particular situation.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

Actually, my wife complains I spend too much time on-line and posting in Christian websites.

Tell your wife you learned something important on one of the Christian sites: Always listen to your wife. :)

Here is a link to some acts of persecution against atheists. Some studies show that atheists are a more hated group than homosexuals (not that hatred towards them is justified, either). In Islamic countries atheist are routinely killed. Some are killed outright but others are given the opportunity to recant and convert to Islam but they turn it down thus resulting in their deaths. Do I know of any who actually died? No, but I have followed the stories of others who have been offered the chance to recant but refused.

Yes, I am familiar with those studies and I'm sure that many atheists experience that bigotry against them, but I still don't think they would die for the truth of their belief that there is no God. I think they would die for their right to hold that belief.

Going back to the example of Rachel Scott, who stood up when the Columbine gunmen asked if there were any Christians in the room--let's say they asked if there were any atheists in the room, and I was an atheist in the room. There is no way I would stand up--I would decide at that moment that I was technically an agnostic. I would hand over my atheism at gunpoint as readily as I would hand over my wallet. And then I would go back to being an atheist afterwards.

And I think most atheists would do the same. One reason why they often don't give their real names on the Internet is probably because they don't want what they say (or the fact that they're atheists) to have a negative impact on their lives. They probably feel like there's no point to doing so. (Although some atheists give their real names, and I think I would if I were an atheist.)

However, I can see why atheists in Islamic nations would rather die than recant. They are dying for their right to believe what they do--not for the truth or falsity of their beliefs.

When Rachel Scott stood up, on the other hand, she did so in loyalty to a Person, believing deeply enough that death was not the end to die for that belief. For a Christian, the right choice in that situation is always clear (although that doesn't mean we would have the courage to make it), and it doesn't matter if the threat is by a crazed gunman or a government. A Christian faith that's not worth dying for is not worth having.

Anette Acker said...

Just because Antony Flew, for example, became a deist towards the end of his life doesn't falsify atheism nor does it prove Christianity. If Richard Dawkins came out and endorsed any of Ray's current books it doesn't mean that what Ray wrote is true.

Of course not. That's not what I'm saying. All I'm saying is that it's more telling that Luke Muehlhauser thinks Ehrman is being misleading than the fact that William Lane Craig said the same thing about the difference between what Ehrman said in his scholarly and popular books. Luke is an atheist and I believe he's a fan of Ehrman. That doesn't mean that Ehrman is for sure being misleading.

"When others bring up Joseph Smith and Mohammad, am I not allowed to raise the possibility that they lied?"

You are more than welcome to bring up the idea that someone is lying if and only if you can show (provide proof) that they are lying.


I never said they were lying--I said it was possible they were lying. Or they could have hallucinated. And the question about the apostles is, given the evidence, is it possible that they were lying or that they all hallucinated? That is, would someone die for a know lie?

You also treat Paul differently from other humans. On one hand you acknowledge that people die for a variety of reasons and beliefs, no matter how well or poorly their beliefs are supported. Then when it comes to the apostles you keep asking "Do you think they would die for..".

Again, I'm looking for a list of plausible explanations that take into account the known facts.

I haven't hear of any non-theist accusing Stenger of lying (not to say none have or that he doesn't...). I don't resent you saying it but I am interested in why you say it.

I have never said that Stenger or Ehrman are lying--I have said that people have accused them of being misleading. Stenger's views on the fine-tuning have been criticized by physicists Luke Barnes and George Ellis--and Luke Muehlhauser, who is not a physicist but is an atheist--has also criticized Stenger's rationale for what he says about the fine-tuning.

Dawkins, on the other hand, has admitted in a video that the fine-tuning argument is a good one for the existence of God. I found that video back before I knew much about the arguments for God's existence, and I thought it was interesting that he grudgingly made that admission. I'm sure that if Dawkins felt that Stenger's arguments had any merit, he would have said so. (But that is, of course, not the only reason why I think the fine-tuning argument is a compelling one.)

Darkknight56 said...

And I think most atheists would do the same. One reason why they often don't give their real names on the Internet is probably because they don't want what they say (or the fact that they're atheists) to have a negative impact on their lives.

Many members of my family and friends know:

1. My name, and
2. That I am an atheist.

I use darkknight56 all over the Internet not to hide the fact that I am an atheist (I go to many sites where religious affiliation is irrelevant with that name) but because I am a private person and I'm a little hyper when it comes to computer and Internet security and divulging personal information. I am currently working on my Master's degree in Computer Science with a concentration in Computer Security.

When I go to sites like yours or Ray's I'm not interested in the name of the person I may be exchanging ideas and reasoning with but with how well they reason out their position and what evidence they have for it. I'm not ashamed of my position or embarrassed by it but, as I mentioned previously, I'm not interested in proselytizing or converting people to it. However, if someone wants to discuss religion or atheism I'd be glad to discuss it.

They are dying for their right to believe what they do--not for the truth or falsity of their beliefs.

Did you talk to them and get this from them? What do you base this conclusion on? Why do you find it so hard to believe that atheist would die for atheism?

Earlier you ask why would Paul and the other apostles die for something they knew to be a lie. Atheists are atheists because they think their position is true. Basically, we believe that no god or gods exist and we believe that position to be true. why would any atheist die for the right to be an atheist if they thought or knew atheism was false or a lie? If I advocated the position that the earth was flat while believing it was spherical and then someone said "Recant about the earth being flat or die." I'd recant in a second.

Again, I'm looking for a list of plausible explanations that take into account the known facts.

Okay, well I've given a list of plausible explanations for the empty tomb and the Easter faith of Paul and the other apostles. I'm not saying it happened that way but that this is one of many possible, realistic, scenarios. History is full of examples of guards being bribed (even in the bible), people interpreting dreams as messages from God and acting on the message (even in the old testament), and loyal religious followers building up and even deifying their leader(s) who have died or been executed (myth-building).

You don't have to agree with me that this was the way it all started, I'd be shocked if you did and you are welcome to say "I don't think Peter would do this or Paul would do that.", but as a scenario you must agree that it is at least plausible (within the human experience) that it happened this way. Agreeing that something is plausible doesn't mean you agree that it happened that way.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

I use darkknight56 all over the Internet not to hide the fact that I am an atheist (I go to many sites where religious affiliation is irrelevant with that name) but because I am a private person and I'm a little hyper when it comes to computer and Internet security and divulging personal information.

I apologize if I phrased that in a way that might have offended you. That was not my intent. What I was trying to get across is that numerous atheists have commented on the studies you mentioned, and I've heard some say that they are hesitant to disclose that they are atheists--others have no problem with that.

A lot of Christians also have a hard time telling people that they are Christians. It is human nature not to want to say something that we think would make people reject us--or worse.

Earlier you ask why would Paul and the other apostles die for something they knew to be a lie. Atheists are atheists because they think their position is true.

Well, since Paul and the apostles claimed to have seen Jesus postmortem, that is a little different from having certain beliefs.

So you would die for your atheism then? If a gunman walked into a room and told all atheists to identify themselves, you'd do it? You'd leave your wife a widow and your children (if you have them) without a father over your atheism? Would you do it if the gunman asked all Democrats or Republicans to stand up?

All I'm saying is that I wouldn't if I were an atheist. If someone ordered all Norwegians to stand up, I would not stand up even though it is true that I am Norwegian. But I certainly understand why atheists in Islamic countries would not allow themselves to be intimidated into to saying they believe what they don't believe.

Darkknight56 said...

So you would die for your atheism then? If a gunman walked into a room and told all atheists to identify themselves, you'd do it? You'd leave your wife a widow and your children (if you have them) without a father over your atheism? Would you do it if the gunman asked all Democrats or Republicans to stand up?

So you would die for your Christianity then? If a gunman walked into a room and told all Christians to identify themselves, you'd do it? You'd leave your husband a widower and your children without a mother over your Christianity? Would you do it if the gunman asked all Democrats or Republicans to stand up?

If you can do it for your Christianity then why can't I do it for Atheism? The difference between dying for Christianity and dying for Atheism is that we don't believe there is someone on the other side waiting to reward us for the life we lived in this life. Probably some atheists would lie and say they weren't atheists but the rest wouldn't die because we don't believe the resurrection happened and we wouldn't die because we don't believe Mohammad split the moon. We believe that the truth is worth dying for.

You didn't answer my last question in my last post. Based on all we've discussed so far, isn't the scenario I presented at least plausible (within the realm of possibility)? If you say no because you don't believe the apostles or Paul would or wouldn't do something then that shouldn't be a factor in whether it is plausible or not. For example, if you came to me and said "Richard Dawkins converted to Christianity." I would have to question it. Is it plausible/possible he converted to Christianity? Yes but based on what I've read about him I would still doubt it. Being plausible/possible means it could happen but it doesn't mean it did happen.

Keith said...

Darkknight56 said: “Paul's conversion can be explained by an attack of conscience.”

Response: Why would he feel guilty about trying to stamp out a group of people that he believed were blaspheming God?

Darkknight56 said: “Not only did atheists die to protect atheism but they died so you can continue to worship your God.”

Response: This is a false analogy—you are trying to compare an apple to an orangutan. The disciples did not die for some ideology or abstract idea like freedom; they died for proclaiming that Jesus is the risen Son of God and the Messiah. These 12 men who had watched Jesus’ ministry followed him everywhere and ate with him. If anyone would have good insight into the claims of Jesus it would have been them. Jesus made the audacious claim that he is the son of God. His crucifixion became the ultimate test of these claims because if he did not rise from the dead like he said he would then it would have become apparent to his followers that he was either a fraud or delusional. If his death and lack of resurrection proved that he was a fraud then we can expect that his followers would give up and go back to their former lives, and that Jesus Christ would have been forgotten by history, but that is clearly not the case. The fact that the disciples were willing to die also shows that they were not part of some conspiracy to steal Jesus’ body and create a story about rising from the dead.

Of the apostles the most interesting case is James, the brother of Jesus, who was initially said to be skeptical of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus appeared to James and James end up writing that he is, “James the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).” James was stoned to death for spreading proclaiming that his brother is the risen Son of God.

Keith said...

Darkknight56 said: “After his death, a few, some, or most if not all, of the apostles have dreams of him where they see him, possibly encouraging them to continue his work. Because the dreams felt so real, as been often happening in these cases, there is no reason to assume they wouldn't think it was actually from him, that it wasn't real.”

Response: This hypothesis is not very plausible as most people can tell the difference between dreams and reality. It also fails to explain the multiple postmortem sightings of Jesus at various times and places and by different people. This hypothesis is also ad hoc because you have to tack on the conspiracy theory that some followers other then the disciples stole the body. Who are these people and why are they stealing the body?

Are you purposing this hypothesis because you don’t believe that miracles are possible?

Keith said...

"In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts.6 The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

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

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

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

Keith said...

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

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

6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis."
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5933

Vinny said...

What caused the Easter faith of the early followers of Jesus that grew into four million Christians by 300 AD?

What caused the early followers of Joseph Smith to grow to almost fourteen million Mormons even faster?

Darkknight56 said...

Keith said...

Response: Why would he feel guilty about trying to stamp out a group of people that he believed were blaspheming God?

Paul was both educated and had a conscience. After seeing all the harm and misery he was causing to people who were not harming him there is no reason to think that he couldn't have a change of heart. It's been known to happen when soldiers see all the death and destruction they cause and they become pacifists or, at least, anti-war.

This hypothesis is not very plausible as most people can tell the difference between dreams and reality.

In Matthew (I think) Joseph had a dream that people wanted to kill him and his family, so what did he do? Did he say to Mary, "Hey, I had this crazy dream where people wanted to kill us."

And Mary said, "Wow, you poor thing. You had a nightmare, probably because you are working too hard."

No, he thought it was real so he took his family and fled because he considered it real.

My point is that people in that culture considered dreams to be another form of reality. To them seeing and talking to someone in an especially vivid dream was the same as talking to them while both are alive and awake and in the same room together. As I suggested earlier, you should research how dreams are treated in the old testament and what various people did in response to their dreams. They didn't have the same attitude towards dreams as we do in this culture.

As for the rest of your statement, keep in mind that stories of Jesus's death and resurrection were passed around by oral tradition for 30 years or so before they were even written down, plenty of time for people to alter stories as well as add mythological stories to the mix.

In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts.6 The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

Wow. A Christian religious teacher supporting the idea of the resurrection - whodda thunk it? Muslim scholars support the idea of Mohammad flying on a winged horse and splitting the moon. Are you saying that these events happened, also? They are supported by Muslim scholars throughout the world.

If historians support the idea of the resurrection then why isn't the resurrection in all historical books in every country in the world as a valid, historical, event? After all, they contain other historical events that historians agree happened. Why isn't the story endorsed in historical books within Christian nations?

The disciples did not die for some ideology or abstract idea like freedom; they died for proclaiming that Jesus is the risen Son of God and the Messiah.

Well, by definition, atheists can't die for any deity because we don't believe any deity exists. We, Christians and atheists alike, both die for a belief. If a Christian dies then he dies for his belief that Jesus is alive or his believe that his God exists just like a Muslim or a Hindu dies for his belief that their god(s) exist.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny:

What caused the early followers of Joseph Smith to grow to almost fourteen million Mormons even faster?

First, Joseph Smith was a very charismatic leader who probably gave them a sense of importance for being the only people who pleased God. The apostle Paul says of himself that he did not have eloquence or charisma (1 Cor. 2:1-5). There is no indication that any of the apostles did.

Second, although the Mormons experienced some persecution, it was nothing like the disciples and the early Christians, who were put to death by the religious authorities in Jerusalem as well as the Romans. The persecution by Nero in 64 AD was so severe that it can hardly be compared to what the early Mormons experienced.

Third, only Joseph Smith supposedly saw the angel Moroni, while numerous people claimed to have seen Jesus postmortem. They were all willing to die for this conviction, and, according to ecclesiastical tradition, most of them did. Two of them, Paul and James, started out as skeptics and/or opponents of Christianity.

Given those factors, it would be very surprising if the apostles lied, and given the number and diversity of those who saw Jesus, it would be almost impossible for them to have hallucinated. And still the movement survived Nero's persecution and the subsequent waves of persecution to become the largest world religion.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

In Matthew (I think) Joseph had a dream that people wanted to kill him and his family, so what did he do? Did he say to Mary, "Hey, I had this crazy dream where people wanted to kill us."

And Mary said, "Wow, you poor thing. You had a nightmare, probably because you are working too hard."

No, he thought it was real so he took his family and fled because he considered it real.


You just confirmed Keith's statement that "most people can tell the difference between dreams and reality." In the Gospels, the authors go out of their way to establish the fact that Jesus appeared to them bodily. He was not a ghost and the disciples did not dream.

On the other hand, Matthew 2:13 specifically says that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

As for the rest of your statement, keep in mind that stories of Jesus's death and resurrection were passed around by oral tradition for 30 years or so before they were even written down, plenty of time for people to alter stories as well as add mythological stories to the mix.

Do you remember what I've said numerous times about 1 Cor. 15:3-7?

Wow. A Christian religious teacher supporting the idea of the resurrection - whodda thunk it?

I recall you criticizing me for quoting Luke Muehlhauser in support of an argument when I don't in general agree with him. Now you're criticizing Keith for quoting someone he does in general agree with? You might note that each of us gave reasons for why this individual is right (Keith included McCullagh's reasoning, so you should address that).

If historians support the idea of the resurrection then why isn't the resurrection in all historical books in every country in the world as a valid, historical, event?

Most historians do not accept the supernatural. However, the point is that the resurrection fits the six criteria historians use, something that should be telling to the sincere inquirer.

Well, by definition, atheists can't die for any deity because we don't believe any deity exists. We, Christians and atheists alike, both die for a belief.

That is true of most Christians, but the apostles died for the claim that they had seen Jesus postmortem. They did not die for a belief.

Darkknight56 said...

Rather than jumping from one event to another, let's just take this a step at a time. Are you saying that it is impossible for some followers of Jesus, other than the 12 disciples, to have bribed the guards and stolen the body even though Matthew 28:12-15 records the guards accepting bribes? Yes or no will suffice, thanks.

Anette Acker said...

It is possible but not at all plausible because the guards would have risked their lives for that bribe. Also, the women and the disciples didn't believe in the resurrection of Jesus until they saw Him. When she discovered the empty tomb, Mary believed that someone had stolen the body.

Vinny said...

First, did Joseph Smith describe himself as a charismatic character? I don’t know whether he did or not, but it seems to me that dynamic and charismatic preachers frequently denigrate their own skills while giving credit to God for all their success. I don’t think that we can really draw any conclusions from Paul’s humility.

Second, my question was what caused the growth of Mormonism. I don’t think less severe persecution can really be considered a cause since there have been lots of religious movements that were persecuted even less that didn’t do as well as the Mormons.

Third, as I understand the Mormons’ claims, there were several people besides Joseph Smith who saw the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates.

The point is that the rate of growth of Christianity doesn’t prove anything at all about the historical basis for its claims since other religion grew just as rapidly.

Darkknight56 said...

It is possible but not at all plausible because the guards would have risked their lives for that bribe.

And yet Matthew 28 shows them actually accepting a bribe from the Jewish leaders and, supposedly, nothing bad happened to them. If they had really been risking their lives why would they have accepted that bribe? It would have meant that not only did they let someone steal the body, after being bribed for it, but they accepted a second bribe from the Jewish leaders. That second briber would have only made matters worse, not better, for them.

Darkknight56 said...

Regarding Paul's statement in Corinthians, let's keep in mind some actual facts.

Did Paul ever see Jesus preaching prior to his Crucifixion? No.
Did Paul ever see Jesus' trial? No.
Did Paul ever see Jesus execution? No.
Did Paul actually see Jesus resurrection? No.
Did Paul even see the empty tomb on the day it happened? NO.

So he was not an actual eyewitness to any of the events in Jesus's life and death. Not one. This means that Paul didn't die because of he what he actual saw and witnessed; he died (like many Muslims for Islam, Hindus for the Hindu religion, Mormons for Mormonism and other Christians for the Christian religion) because he only believed it to be true. Nothing more. Unless you can place him at the tomb on the actual morning of the resurrection, of course, but I'm not aware of any biblical verses that do that.

As for his experience on the road - there were only 3 witnesses to the actual event. There was just Paul and the two soldiers and not the author of Acts. We have no reason not to believe that the author of Acts didn't embellish Paul's conversion story. When Paul mentions his conversion in Galatians he doesn't mention anything about a white light.

Darkknight56 said...

1. You stated that it was not plausible to think that the guards would accept a bribe as they would have been executed for it. I should point out that in Russia a politician caught spying for another country like ours can be executed if caught - and some are. And why are they spying for us? Because our government bribed them. That's one of the main reasons people spy on their own country for another. So it is more than plausible to think that the guards would have accepted bribes.

Some people in this country will commit murder knowing that the penalty for doing it, if caught, is death by electric chair which is a form of being burned. The skin, where the electrodes make contact with the body and where the electricity either goes in or out of the body, is severly burned in the process.

2. More importantly, one of your main premises has been that the empty tomb can only be explained by a supernatural event, in this case by the Resurrection of Jesus. No natural events could explain it.

However, when you said that it was possible for the guards to be bribed (however unlikely) and thus allowing someone to steal the body, you immediately showed your statement to be false as there was a non-supernatural explanation. In short, a resurrection is not the only explanation for the empty tomb. There are naturalistic reasons for it.

QED

Anette Acker said...

Vinny:

The point is that the rate of growth of Christianity doesn’t prove anything at all about the historical basis for its claims since other religion grew just as rapidly.

By itself, that may well be true, but that was not my point in the sentence you quoted. I said, "What caused the Easter faith of the early followers of Jesus that grew into four million Christians by 300 AD?" The emphasis here is on what caused the Easter faith of the early followers of Jesus. Why did the movement survive at all, let alone grow to be the largest religion in the world? And given the severe persecution, the poverty of the disciples, the conversion of a hostile witness who spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the focus on eyewitness accounts of the resurrection, this is very difficult to explain.

Third, as I understand the Mormons’ claims, there were several people besides Joseph Smith who saw the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates.

My understanding is that Joseph Smith was the only one who saw the Angel Moroni, and he chose eleven men to witness the Golden Plates, but they had to have faith first. That seems a little like the Emperor's New Clothes--if you are worthy, you'll see them, and if not, well, you better keep that to yourself. They were also all related to, or close to, Joseph Smith.

On the other hand, all the witnesses of Jesus at least doubted, James was skeptical of all the claims of Jesus, and Paul opposed the church. So faith was not necessary.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

And yet Matthew 28 shows them actually accepting a bribe from the Jewish leaders and, supposedly, nothing bad happened to them. If they had really been risking their lives why would they have accepted that bribe?

They would have risked their lives by letting the body disappear, but by the time the Jewish leaders offered a bribe, the body was already gone.

Regarding Paul's statement in Corinthians, let's keep in mind some actual facts.

Did Paul ever see Jesus preaching prior to his Crucifixion? No.
Did Paul ever see Jesus' trial? No.
Did Paul ever see Jesus execution? No.
Did Paul actually see Jesus resurrection? No.
Did Paul even see the empty tomb on the day it happened? NO.

So he was not an actual eyewitness to any of the events in Jesus's life and death. Not one. This means that Paul didn't die because of he what he actual saw and witnessed; he died (like many Muslims for Islam, Hindus for the Hindu religion, Mormons for Mormonism and other Christians for the Christian religion) because he only believed it to be true.


Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that Jesus appeared to him. He did not believe until then.

When Paul mentions his conversion in Galatians he doesn't mention anything about a white light.

The white light is irrelevant--Paul claimed to have seen Jesus postmortem.

2. More importantly, one of your main premises has been that the empty tomb can only be explained by a supernatural event, in this case by the Resurrection of Jesus. No natural events could explain it.

However, when you said that it was possible for the guards to be bribed (however unlikely) and thus allowing someone to steal the body, you immediately showed your statement to be false as there was a non-supernatural explanation. In short, a resurrection is not the only explanation for the empty tomb. There are naturalistic reasons for it.


I have never said that no natural event can explain the empty tomb--I've said that skeptics have never come up with a plausible naturalistic explanation for all three historical events: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the Easter faith and growth of the church in a climate of severe persecution. Just explaining the empty tomb won't do. And the proffered explanations for the empty tomb are ad hoc.

QED

'Fraid not.

Vinny said...

I think your understanding is incorrect. I'm pretty sure that at least a half dozen people besides Joseph Smith claimed to have seen Moroni. However, I fully agree with you that these claims are a load of malarkey. Nevertheless, people believed them and willingly endured risk and hardship because they believed them.

The persecution of early Christians was occasionally severe, but it was sporadic and ad hoc. Many early Christian communities were undisturbed. Moreover, I think that we have to look at the persecution of Christians in the context of the time in which it occurred. Life for peasants and slaves within the Roman Empire was fraught with risk. Life expectancies were low and the possibility of a brutal death was a fact of life. There is no need to resort to a supernatural explanation for why many people were attracted to a loving supportive community that taught that man could transcend a world filled with pain.

In fact, when you compare the choices available to 19th century Mormons to 1st century Christians, I think that the sacrifices of the Mormons look pretty impressive. The people who followed Brigham Young out to Utah could have settled on some of the most fertile farmland in the country in either Iowa or Illinois where the Indians had been largely subdued. Nevertheless, they chose to make a long trek to a much less promising region where the threat from hostile natives was much greater. Despite having seen their leader murdered, they chose the hardship when there were many other attractive opportunities.

You spoke of the poverty of the apostles, but I’m not sure that this had anything to do with their religious faith. Is there any reason to think that the apostles would have lived lives of wealth and comfort had they chosen not to follow Jesus?

Vinny said...

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that Jesus appeared to him. He did not believe until then.

Does Paul ever say that he did not believe before the risen Jesus appeared to him? I know he doesn't say that James converted because of the appearance.

Darkknight56 said...

I have never said that no natural event can explain the empty tomb--I've said that skeptics have never come up with a plausible naturalistic explanation for all three historical events: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the Easter faith and growth of the church in a climate of severe persecution.

There is nothing implausible about the guards accepting bribes, especially when Matthew shows them actually accepting bribes. If there are natural explanations for the empty tomb then those have to be disproved and actually shown to be impossible before any supernatural explanations can be considered and accepted. As for the other 2 pillars:

1. Post Mortem appearances - religious mythology since you have no evidence they happened. Since you are making the positive claim that Jesus appeared to his followers post mortem can you prove it is true and not a myth? Are there any non-religious documents from witnesses showing that he really did appear. Can you prove/demonstrate that:

1.1 The events as recorded in the New Testament are a true and accurate reflection of what actually happened, either with Paul or surrounding the resurrection and

1.2 the stories were not changed in any way when passed down via oral tradition?

2. Easter Faith is just religious zealousness, much like you'd find in any new and growing religion. Muslims had miracles, Muslims had witnesses to some of these miracles, and Muslims were willing to be (and were) martyred for their new religion.

Any naturalistic reason for an event, so long as it can be demonstrated that it was not impossible to happen, means that no supernatural explanation is necessary. If the tomb was empty via natural means then it means that there was no resurrection and that everything else that followed has to be explained in naturalistic terms.

Darkknight56 said...

In the case Islam and Hinduism, you don't apply the same standards of critical examination to their miracles that you expect us to apply to Christian miracles. You don't examine their miracles on a case by case basis. You don't take into consideration the fact that many at the start of their religion were willing to be tortured and killed for their religion and beliefs. Any claims of being witnesses are immediately dismissed without any consideration.

Have you read the Koran as well as Hindu Vedas cover to cover before dismissing them or did you dismiss their miracles without even reading and examining each miracle critically?

Darkknight56 said...

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that Jesus appeared to him.

Was this appearance physical meaning that he appeared to Paul in the same physical way your husband and children appear to you each day? If it was a physical appearance then it happened after Jesus' ascension into heaven meaning that it was Jesus' second coming.

If it wasn't his second coming and thus it wasn't a physical appearance then was it in a dream/vision? If Paul's was a dream/vision then why couldn't the apostles have seen Jesus in a dream/vision?

I anxiously await your answer to both of these questions.

Anette Acker said...

I think your understanding is incorrect. I'm pretty sure that at least a half dozen people besides Joseph Smith claimed to have seen Moroni.

Where do you get this information? This website indicates that only Joseph Smith saw Moroni, and that all his brothers who slept in the same room (even sharing his bed) did not wake up or notice anything. The author researched the issue of why this didn't wake up the brothers and didn't find this addressed, so he/she asked Mormon's about it.

There is no need to resort to a supernatural explanation for why many people were attracted to a loving supportive community that taught that man could transcend a world filled with pain.

Not all the converts to Christianity were peasants or slaves. Paul was a well-educated Pharisee with a Roman citizenship, which would have made him privileged. Why on earth would he have wanted to be part of a community of what he considered heretics? As a devout Jew, he would have found the idea of the deity of Jesus extremely offensive. And there is no reason to think that he was emotionally needy in any way.

The people who followed Brigham Young out to Utah could have settled on some of the most fertile farmland in the country in either Iowa or Illinois where the Indians had been largely subdued. Nevertheless, they chose to make a long trek to a much less promising region where the threat from hostile natives was much greater. Despite having seen their leader murdered, they chose the hardship when there were many other attractive opportunities.

Of course they were persecuted in large part because of their polygamy, and if they wanted to continue that practice undisturbed, it is not surprising that they followed Brigham Young (who had 55 wives) to Utah. That may well have been a stronger motivator than the fertile farmland elsewhere.

You spoke of the poverty of the apostles, but I’m not sure that this had anything to do with their religious faith. Is there any reason to think that the apostles would have lived lives of wealth and comfort had they chosen not to follow Jesus?

Paul would have given up prestige and comfort and probably money because in the Gospels Jesus accuses the Pharisees of loving money. As for the others, the disciples said to Jesus that they had given up everything to follow Him.

Does Paul ever say that he did not believe before the risen Jesus appeared to him? I know he doesn't say that James converted because of the appearance.

He doesn't explicitly say that, but it is not difficult to connect the dots of Galatians 1, 1 Cor. 14:8, Philippians 3, and Acts 9. If he went from being a persecutor of the church to following Christ before Jesus appeared to him, how do you explain the conversion? Why do you prefer an ad hoc explanation to the one given in Acts 9?

Regarding James, as we have discussed before, the evidence is compelling that he went from being a skeptic to a believer because Jesus appeared to him. What else would have changed his mind (especially since Paul says that Jesus appeared to James)? The crucifixion of Jesus as a criminal would have just reinforced his conviction that his brother was not the Messiah.

It seems to me that you are grasping at straws in order to avoid accepting the most obvious explanation and the only one that has explanatory power. What evidence is there of anything that could have changed their minds before Jesus appeared to them?

Vinny said...

According to http://www.latterdayconservative.com/articles/the-angel-moroni/, Moroni also appeared to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Emma Smith, Mary Whitmer, and Luke Johnson. I don't know how much of this is official Mormon history, but I have seen a number of references to Moroni appearing to others.

Polygamy was not openly practiced by Mormons until they moved to Utah. Only Joseph Smith and a few of his closest followers practiced polygamy while they were still in Illinois and the fact was concealed from outsiders as well as most members of the church. Therefore, polygamy would not have provided any motivation for most of the Mormons that followed Brigham young, although it might have been for him. It also does not explain the persecution they suffered prior to moving to Utah.

Did the risen Christ appear to C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, or Lee Strobel? If the only thing that can explain James' conversion is the appearance of the risen Christ, how can you possibly explain all the other skeptics who have converted? People change their minds about Jesus every single day of the week without the benefit of supernatural apparitions. We simply don't know when James converted.

I don't prefer ad hoc explanations. I prefer explanations based on Paul's own statements to explanations based on unknown sources. Based on Paul's statements, I think it possible that he became convinced based on his study of the scriptures.

You are making the claim that all possible explanations for Paul's conversion other than the supernatural one can be eliminated. Based on our only first person account of Paul's experiences, I can't even eliminate the possibility that he had converted prior to the appearance. I don't claim to know that this is what happened, but it is a possibility that cannot be eliminated.

The Pharisees were generally from the middle class while the Sadducees were from the aristocracy and priestly classes. Thus, Paul was probably better off than Peter or James, but that wouldn't be a reason to think that he would have been wealthy. Moreover, the Pharisees were opposed to the Hellenizing influence of Roman rule which would have made their situation less secure than some other groups.

Keith said...

Vinny said: “What caused the early followers of Joseph Smith to grow to almost fourteen million Mormons even faster?”

Response: What do these red herrings have to do with the question of Jesus’ resurrection? The Mormon Church, which is a sect of Christianity, would never have existed if Jesus’ disciples gave up following his crucifixion.
Dark56 said: “After seeing all the harm and misery he [Paul] was causing to people who were not harming him there is no reason to think that he couldn't have a change of heart.”

Response: I don’t think we know enough of Saul/Paul’s mental state to do this kind of psychoanalysis. Could he have felt guilty enough to back off a little bit and not taken part in persecutions, perhaps, but a complete reversal on guilt alone seems implausible.

Keith said...

Darkknight56 said: “In Matthew (I think) Joseph had a dream that people wanted to kill him and his family, so what did he do? Did he say to Mary, "Hey, I had this crazy dream where people wanted to kill us."

Response: Notice how you said that Joseph had a dream, not that Joseph saw an angel. The Bible is very clear about when people are having dreams and visions, it does not confuse these with accounts that were derived from the five senses in waking life. The apostles descriptions of encountering the risen Jesus are not described as dreams; they are full of sensory information. They say that the disciples literally saw, heard and touched Jesus.

Vinny said...

There are multiple attestations by different people who saw Jesus at different times in different places.

No there are not Keith. There is single attestation from a single person who claims that Jesus appeared to him and he tells us nothing whatsoever about what it is that he saw. There are claims by that person and others that Jesus appeared to other people but none of those claims are made by people who claim to have been witnesses to those appearances.

Keith said...

Darkknight56 said: “Wow. A Christian religious teacher supporting the idea of the resurrection - whodda thunk it?”

Response: This is ad hominem—the fact that C. B. McCullagh is a Christian does not have any bearing on the validity of his argument.

Darkknight56 said: “Muslim scholars support the idea of Mohammad flying on a winged horse and splitting the moon.”

Response: Who witnessed these purported events?

Keith said...

Darkknight56 said: “Post Mortem appearances - religious mythology since you have no evidence they happened.”

Response: There are multiple attestations by different people who saw Jesus at different times in different places.

Darkknight56 said...

Keith said...

Response: I don’t think we know enough of Saul/Paul’s mental state to do this kind of psychoanalysis.

Great! Then we don't know enough about his mental to come to any conclusion about what he did or did not think or believe. Thus, anything he wrote should be rejected because of this.

If you are saying we don't know enough about his mental state so therefore we can't support Darkknight56's interpretations but we know enough to support OUR side then that is just bias, plain and simple.

Notice how you said that Joseph had a dream, not that Joseph saw an angel.

I've already discussed in this post how dreams were just another reality to people in these cultures and I see no reason to repeat it here. Please review my posts on dreams and review how dreams were used in the bible as messages from God.

This is ad hominem—the fact that C. B. McCullagh is a Christian does not have any bearing on the validity of his argument.

So you are willing to accept the conclusions by Muslim Scholars that the Koran is true and that Allah really exists?

If you want me to accept what Christian scholars have to say then you should accept Muslim scholars and what they have to say about Allah and the Koran.

There are multiple attestations by different people who saw Jesus at different times in different places.

Outside of the bible? Great! Who are they and what did they say.

Keith, can you prove that the resurrection happened without the bible? Can you prove your God exists without using the bible?

Darkknight56 said...

Focusing solely on the empty tomb here for a moment, and in view of the fact that the guards accepted bribes from the Jewish religious leaders, isn't it both possible and plausible that followers of Jesus other than the 12 disciples bribed the guards and took the body?

Wolfgang said...

Anette,

My name is Lowell. I have debated posting under my actual name for a while, and this is a good time to make that change.

You have done a great job presenting key facts supporting the resurrection, but I do believe that there still remains many details in the Bible that are untrue whether they are exaggerations or completely made up. One detail that I am very certain is entirely made up is the idea of anyone guarding the tomb.

I began to question whether there were soldiers guarding the tomb when I noticed that you never bring it up. What percentage of historians would you estimate disagree with Matthew's account that soldiers were guarding the tomb?

Matthew is the only gospel that mentions the guards which means little by itself, but the other three gospels disagree with Matthew by claiming the stone is already rolled away when the women arrive at the tomb. In Matthew, an angel rolls back the stone before the women and guards to reveal an empty tomb. How did Jesus get out of the tomb if it was guarded and the stone never moved? After all, this was supposedly a bodily resurrection.

You claim that the soldiers would have risked their lives by letting the body disappear. How does claiming they had fallen asleep when the body disappeared protect themselves?

The story just doesn't add up. Would you agree the most likely explanation is that one or more Christians (perhaps the author of Matthew) made up the story to counter the claim that the disciples stole the body?

Anette Acker said...

You have done a great job presenting key facts supporting the resurrection, but I do believe that there still remains many details in the Bible that are untrue whether they are exaggerations or completely made up. One detail that I am very certain is entirely made up is the idea of anyone guarding the tomb.

Thank you, Lowell.

The reason why I never bring up the guards at the tomb is because it does not fit any criteria of historicity, like multiple attestation, embarrassment, etc. However, this does not mean I don't think it happened.

I actually do think there is reason to believe it happened and this is why: After Matthew recounts the story, he says, "and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day." In other words, when he was writing those words, Jews were telling the story of the disciples stealing the body while the guards slept. If this story was not widely spread among the Jews, how could Matthew get away with saying that?

The detail about the guards is not important in and of itself in establishing the historicity of the resurrection, but Matthew's story is helpful in establishing that the tomb was empty, something that is important. If the tomb was still occupied, why would the Jews accuse the disciples of having stolen the body? They were making an important concession for us and were still doing so in the middle of the second century when Justin Martyr wrote his Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew.

So the Jews at the time seem to have conceded the empty tomb, and they gave an extremely poor explanation. Why would the disciples be willing to die for a known lie? What would they have to gain by stealing the body? For that reason, modern scholars have almost unanimously rejected the theory that the disciples stole the body.

Darkknight56 said...

Christian apologists have always dismissed the idea that the disciples stole his body. After all, it would be like accusing your favorite uncle of being a thief or your favorite personal hero of being a robber.

Be that as it may, all these events happened at the time of the passover. The disciples weren't the only ones in town who could have stolen the body. By all scholarly accounts, Jerusalem was filled several times over with visitors there to offer a passover sacrifice. Christian apologists, it seems, has always side-stepped the question of whether or not people other than the disciples stole the body. If there were no guards then all they had to do was roll away the stone. If there were guards then the guards were obviously open to taking bribes. All they would have had to do was pay off the guards. In either case they would have then taken the body away.

Isn't this both a possible as well as plausible scenario to explain the missing body? If it is not plausible could you briefly explain why? What makes it not plausible?

Vinny said...

If this story was not widely spread among the Jews, how could Matthew get away with saying that?

As a blogger, you must know that many people sincerely believe that false things are true and that they continue to believe and repeat those things even after the falsity is pointed out. Why should we think that Matthew couldn't have gotten away with saying something that wasn't true?

Who do you suppose would have challenged Matthew if in fact that story was not widely spread among the Jews? If I see a Christian apologist make a statement about a particular argument being widely accepted by skeptics and I have never seen a skeptic make that particular argument and I don't accept it myself, how would I go about proving the apologist wrong?

Lowell said...

Anette,

I agree with you that the there is an empty tomb. I agree with you that it does not make sense that the disciples would have stolen the body.

What I am trying to demonstrate is that the Bible has untrue details, and the soldiers guarding the tomb is clearly one of the untrue details of the Bible.

The reason why I never bring up the guards at the tomb is because it does not fit any criteria of historicity, like multiple attestation, embarrassment, etc. However, this does not mean I don't think it happened.

You are correct that just because it doesn't fit the criteria of historicity doesn't mean it didn't happen, and I know you think it happened. But I can demonstrate that it does not make sense that it did happen.

I actually do think there is reason to believe it happened and this is why: After Matthew recounts the story, he says, "and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day."

I know that is the wording the Bible uses, but I am arguing that what the Jews were really saying was that the tomb was empty because Jesus' disciples had stolen the body. The story of the guards was invented to answer that argument.

If this story was not widely spread among the Jews, how could Matthew get away with saying that?

Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't the Christians meeting in secret because of the persecutions. What is said in Matthew would not have been widely circulated outside of the Christian community, and Matthew's claim isn't even in the other gospels.

I still maintain the disciples did not expect the resurrection of Jesus, and the Romans and Pharisees had no reason to believe anyone would steal the body. We simply disagree on that point.

But please explain why the other three gospels claim the stone was already rolled way when the women arrived as if Jesus had walked out, but Matthew claims an angel rolled away the stone before the women and guards, and Jesus was already gone. How does Jesus get out of the tomb with the soldiers guarding it?

Darkknight56 said...

when Christians were ordered to recant or be executed.

You have repeated this idea several times and you may have cited your sources for this in an earlier post. If so, could you provide the name of that post so I can read it, please?

Is there any proof that this 'recant or be executed' processes was consistently applied to all Christians? If this were true, how is it that in the New Testament, the Romans never asked Jesus to recant? What is to prevent someone from recanting in front of the Romans and then later denying it to their faithful followers (who, by the way would believe that person and just assume the Romans were lying about the recanting)?

Anette Acker said...

Vinny:

Who do you suppose would have challenged Matthew if in fact that story was not widely spread among the Jews?

The other Christians in Jerusalem would have known.

If we assume, arguendo, that the early Christians were in a better position to know the authorship of the Gospels than liberal scholars of today, then the Gospel of Matthew was probably written by the tax collector disciple of Jesus. He would most likely have lived among the other disciples in Jerusalem. But even if it was not Matthew, the consensus is that he was a Jewish Christian--he focused much more on OT prophecy than the others--so he would have been familiar with what other Jews were doing and saying.

Please note that I am not the one making a positive claim here--I have never relied upon the story of the guards in making my case for the resurrection. So the burden of proof is not on me. I am simply saying that I can see perfectly plausible explanations for how Matthew could have been telling the truth about the guards.

William Lane Craig explains the story in Matthew in much the same way as Lowell did, as a polemic between Jews and Christians, where the Jews claimed that the disciples stole the body, Christians replied that the tomb was guarded, Jews countered that the soldiers fell asleep, and Christians said that the soldiers were bribed by the high priests to say that.

But even if Craig is correct, that doesn't mean that there were no guards, nor does Craig say that. If the story of the guards was made up, there is no reason why the Jews in Jerusalem would have conceded it. And it's perfectly plausible that the author of Matthew, in writing the most Jewish Gospel, would have found this information pertinent while the other authors did not.

Anette Acker said...

Lowell:

But please explain why the other three gospels claim the stone was already rolled way when the women arrived as if Jesus had walked out, but Matthew claims an angel rolled away the stone before the women and guards, and Jesus was already gone. How does Jesus get out of the tomb with the soldiers guarding it?

Matthew 28:2 says: "And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat on it." The word "had" indicates that the earthquake had already occurred and it occurred as a result of the angel. That would explain why Jesus was already gone. The soldiers would have fainted from the appearance of the angel and were lying on the ground "like dead men," so they would have presented no hindrance to Jesus.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

Is there any proof that this 'recant or be executed' processes was consistently applied to all Christians? If this were true, how is it that in the New Testament, the Romans never asked Jesus to recant? What is to prevent someone from recanting in front of the Romans and then later denying it to their faithful followers (who, by the way would believe that person and just assume the Romans were lying about the recanting)?

The letter by Pliny the Younger shows that Trajan gave Christians the right to recant around 112 AD, and other historical evidence indicates that this was the general policy of the Romans during the waves of persecution. Or rather, they were forced to recant. Some did, but those who didn't were killed. Pliny indicates in his letter that he knew that true Christians would never worship the pagan gods or curse Christ, so that is what Pliny tried to force them to do.

Darkknight56 said...

The letter by Pliny the Younger shows that Trajan gave Christians the right to recant around 112 AD,

Trajan was emperor from 98 to 117. When he discussed with Pliny what to do with Christians Trajan said to leave them alone unless they are practicing openly. The article also states, "Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a virtuous pagan". There is no mention of Trajan persecuting or killing Christians. If he did, why would medieval Christians consider him virtuous?

In any case, this offer to recant or be executed was never offered to either Paul or any of the apostles as they would have died of old age before Trajan even became emperor. The fact that it was offered to later Christians who neither saw Jesus or the apostles has no bearing on whether or not the resurrection or the gospels are true. This 'recant or be executed' proves nothing about the empty tomb, the post mortem appearances or the Easter faith of the disciples.

Vinny said...

Anette,

The only positive claim that I am addressing here is your assertion that the author of Matthew couldn’t have gotten away with saying that the story was widely spread among the Jews if it wasn’t. I find such arguments pretty silly. By that logic, I could never rationally question anything in the gospel including the story of the zombie saints in Matthew 27:53.

We can of course assume anything we like for the sake of making our arguments work better, but is there any reason to assume that Matthew’s gospel was written in Jerusalem at a time when the other disciples were present to check Matthew’s work? Is there any tradition behind such an assumption? That strikes me as somewhat ad hoc.

Vinny said...

Anette,

There is no reason to think that Nero would have given Christians a chance to recant since he was simply scapegoating them for the fire he started. He didn't care what they believed.

Christians were normally persecuted for failing to make the sacrifices to the pagan gods happy. The Romans really didn't care what the Christians believed as long as they would make the necessary sacrifices.

Darkknight56 said...

And it continued to grow through many subsequent waves of persecution when Christians were ordered to recant or be executed.

It should be pointed out that Christians, when proselytizing and encountering natives in other countries and regions, also made the same, generous, offer to those people. According to one book I'm currently reading Christians from Norway invaded Iceland in the year 1,000 and offered the people there the same offer the Romans offered them several centuries earlier. Apparently, it was a very effective conversion tool as many of the places it was employed are now Christian countries.

Even though the Romans used it on the Christian population and they considered it to be horrible, now doubt I can find Christians today, especially in Ray's group, who will endorse the Christians use of the same threat.

Christians everywhere should be so proud.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

This is what Pliny said to Trajan and how Trajan replied. So he definitely had Christians tortured and executed, but he told Pliny not to hunt them out. This letter is very well known. It does show that Pliny and Trajan are concerned about doing the right thing, but that did not involve letting people who were proven to be Christians live.

In any case, this offer to recant or be executed was never offered to either Paul or any of the apostles as they would have died of old age before Trajan even became emperor. The fact that it was offered to later Christians who neither saw Jesus or the apostles has no bearing on whether or not the resurrection or the gospels are true.

The martyrs in 112 AD and later would have known how the eyewitnesses died. If they had died peacefully in their sleep, the later martyrs probably wouldn't be willing to die for their faith in the resurrection. The Bible, Josephus, and tradition indicate that the vast majority of the apostles were martyred. As for whether they were given the opportunity to recant, probably not, but they would have known what happened to Stephen and James the son of Zebedee.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny:

The only positive claim that I am addressing here is your assertion that the author of Matthew couldn’t have gotten away with saying that the story was widely spread among the Jews if it wasn’t. I find such arguments pretty silly. By that logic, I could never rationally question anything in the gospel including the story of the zombie saints in Matthew 27:53.

Most of the events recounted in the Gospels took place around the time of Christ, but the assertion that the story about the guards was being spread to this day was a claim about what was happening at the time Matthew was being written. It would have been a current event that the Christians (especially the Jewish Christians) would have been well aware of because it concerned their beliefs.

You gave the example of an apologist falsely saying that an argument was widespread among skeptics, but most Christians would have no idea whether or not that is true. The Christian subculture and the skeptical subculture are like two circles that hardly intersect. Two years ago, I wouldn't have had the foggiest idea if such an allegation is true, but know I would know. If an apologist made an allegation that I recognized as false, he would seem ignorant or deceitful to me.

The early Christians would have been been very conscious of what the Jews were saying about them and their beliefs--especially the Jewish Christians.

We can of course assume anything we like for the sake of making our arguments work better, but is there any reason to assume that Matthew’s gospel was written in Jerusalem at a time when the other disciples were present to check Matthew’s work? Is there any tradition behind such an assumption? That strikes me as somewhat ad hoc.

During an earlier discussion on theopneustos, I pointed out that 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Luke 10:7 as Scripture. It can just as easily be referencing Matthew 10:10 (in 2 Peter, Paul's letters are called "Scripture"), so this indicates that these Gospels were widely read at the time and considered Scripture. Since Matthew's Gospel is far more Jewish than Luke's (and especially if it's written by the disciple), that is good reason to think the disciples would have been familiar with it.

There is no reason to think that Nero would have given Christians a chance to recant since he was simply scapegoating them for the fire he started. He didn't care what they believed.

I meant to say the waves of persecution after 112 AD.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

According to one book I'm currently reading Christians from Norway invaded Iceland in the year 1,000 and offered the people there the same offer the Romans offered them several centuries earlier. Apparently, it was a very effective conversion tool as many of the places it was employed are now Christian countries.

You don't like the Viking style of evangelism? As you pointed out, it's highly effective.

But bringing this up undermines your point because King Olaf Tryggvason had Norway Christianized in no time, using the "Be Christian or die!" method. The Romans used the same method ("Worship our gods or die!") to get the Christians to worship their gods, and Christianity still grew to four million by 300 AD.

Lowell said...

Anette,

The word "had" indicates that the earthquake had already occurred and it occurred as a result of the angel.

I see your point. I was looking at the English Standard Version which says, "And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it."

As I wrote my comment about the guards, I easily created possible explanations for many of the things I found contradictory. I can see it both ways.

Lowell said...

Anette,
You can point to Jewish sources that concede the tomb was empty, but can you point to Jewish sources that concede the tomb was guarded?

Vinny said...

The early Christians would have been been very conscious of what the Jews were saying about them and their beliefs--especially the Jewish Christians.

I am always impressed by the way Christians can express certainty about conditions and events in the first century without any supporting evidence. We do not know anything for certain about the community for which the author of Matthew was writing other than that is was probably composed of Jewish converts. We don’t know whether it was inside Palestine or outside. We don’t know what kind of contact it had with other Christian communities. We do not know what kind of contact it had with unconverted Jews.

Let me suggest another scenario which seems to me equally, if not more, plausible:

The author of Matthew (whoever he was) is tramping about Asia Minor spreading the gospel. In each town he visits, he finds the synagogue and tells the Jews there about the resurrection of Christ. In some of those synagogues, a skeptic says “The body was probably stolen.” In fact, grave robbing was a common enough phenomenon at the time that it is hard to believe that he wouldn’t have heard this objection pretty regularly. In one of these synagogues, however, a sympathetic listener chimes in with “Wouldn’t the Romans have posted a guard?” The evangelist thinks this is reasonable.

While walking to the next town, the evangelist considers how logical it would have been for the Romans to post guards and realizes that it must have happened that way and that the Romans must have bribed the guards to lie about what happened. It would be no harder for him to convince himself that the Romans would have posted guards than it is for you to convince yourself that Matthew’s readers would have been very conscious of what the Jews were saying about them. When the next skeptic raises the possibility that the body was stolen, the evangelist responds “The Jews have been making that claim since the very beginning.” From then on, he tells the story of the resurrection that way and eventually writes it down that way.

Matthew’s listeners might have had no idea how widespread the story of the disciples stealing the body was. Both the Jews who converted and those who did not were hearing the story for the first time. Other than what the evangelist told them, they would have no way to know when, where, or how often it had previously been claimed by Jews that the disciples stole the body. After all, there were no itinerant skeptics traveling along behind Matthew to offer counter-arguments. Many of Matthew’s listeners would have nothing with which to compare his story. When Christians who had never heard the story of the guards before came across these communities, they would have no basis to challenge the story. After all, the fact that they hadn’t heard it before wouldn’t prove that it hadn’t happened. It would seem just as logical and reasonable to them as it had to the others.

So your assertion that Matthew couldn’t have gotten away with saying that the story spread widely among Jews if it hadn’t still strikes me as little more than wishful thinking. It is very easy to imagine a perfectly plausible scenario in which he could have said it without the slightest fear of contradiction.

Darkknight56 said...

But bringing this up undermines your point because King Olaf Tryggvason had Norway Christianized in no time, using the "Be Christian or die!" method.

So if threats are used to promote Christianity (and I assume there were at least some who didn't convert) then that's okay? This would undermine your argument that the persecution of Christians by Romans was wrong then. Might does not make right. Just because you can force, threaten, or intimidate others into your way of thinking doesn't make what you believe right. I daresay that if you have to go that route then you have no real arguments or reasons to convince others of your beliefs.

Also, keep in mind that many places in the Middle East that were Christian are now Muslim. Iceland, the country invaded by Norway now has a very low percentage of Christians/religious people and it seems to be declining on a yearly basis. The only growing religion in Europe seems to be Islam.

In any case, the Christians that died under this threat by the Romans died for what they believed to be true and not for what they knew to be true. None that were killed were apostles so this ability to not recant has nothing to do with the empty tomb, post mortem appearance or the Easter faith of the apostles.

Most historians agree, however, that Christianity took off when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Anette Acker said...

Lowell:

As I wrote my comment about the guards, I easily created possible explanations for many of the things I found contradictory. I can see it both ways.

I have never been greatly concerned about apparent contradictions in the factual details in the Gospels, for three reasons: First, the discrepancies establish the independence of the sources, which means that the important events are multiply attested. Second, I have for a long time been very confident that the Bible is theologically consistent, which is the most important thing in establishing that it is God-breathed. I have answered many claims on AC that the Bible contains theological contradictions. And third, I have often found that what looked like a factual contradiction to me really is no contradiction when I become more familiar with the context. This has certainly been true in reading Sherwin-White's book.

So the bottom line is that I generally don't concern myself with what appears to be minor factual contradictions, because one difficulty is that we often don't have all the information we need to resolve them. When it comes to apparent theological contradictions, on the other hand, everything we need to know is contained within the pages of the Bible. And those are, of course, more important than small factual details.

You can point to Jewish sources that concede the tomb was empty, but can you point to Jewish sources that concede the tomb was guarded?

No, but you have the burden of proof here, and if there is a way in which a passage can plausibly be read as non-contradictory, that burden has not been met.

Anette Acker said...

Vinny,

Your scenario of ways in which the author of Matthew could have gotten away with fabricating the story of the guards whole cloth doesn't work, because all he needs is one person who knows the truth and he would have been discredited. Even modern authors who are not writing something as important as the Gospels know that they have to research everything they say carefully so that they are not discredited by the one reader who is an expert on a particular detail.

The church fathers concluded that Matthew the disciple wrote the Gospel, and if true, there would be numerous other eyewitnesses who would be in a position to falsify his statement. Many of them were part of the church in Jerusalem, so they also would have been very familiar with what the Jews were doing and saying.

BTW, this was just a throwaway line in my response to Lowell's claim that he could prove that there were no guards. If it would make you happy, I'll qualify it with the word "probably." This is simply not worth this kind of intense debate. All I have to demonstrate is that there are quite plausible reasons for why Matthew included the guards and the other authors did not, and that is not difficult to do.

I am always impressed by the way Christians can express certainty about conditions and events in the first century without any supporting evidence.

Vinny, I'm sure you're capable of disagreeing with me on a minor point that I alone made without dragging all Christians into this.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

This would undermine your argument that the persecution of Christians by Romans was wrong then.

That is not my argument. I've been operating under the assumption that we all agree that it was wrong. And of course I agree that what the Vikings did in the name of Christ was wrong.

Vinny said...

Anette,

Why are there 14,000,000 Mormons in the world? If it only takes a single person to discredit a false story, how in the world did that load of malarkey spread the way it did? If Matthew established a community and that community believed that there were guards at the tomb, why would they believe the first person who came along and claimed that there weren't?

I realize that this is a minor point in this discussion, but I come across this kind of reasoning all the time. Christian apologists seem to think that there was some sort of truth squad roaming about the Mediterranean that would correct every misstatement that anyone might try to make about Jesus. This despite the fact that Paul says that there were lots of false teachers who managed to convince a lot of people of things that weren't true.

Darkknight56 said...

This article provides another possible, plausible, explanation for the empty tomb. Actually, I like this one better than mine. However, both show that there are several, non-supernatural, explanations for the empty tomb and that the resurrection of Jesus is the most unlikely reason.

Once the resurrection can be explained through naturalistic and plausible reasons then the post mortem visits and the Easter faith of the apostles can be explained away as religious legend and zealousness.

Anette Acker said...

Darkknight56:

This article provides another possible, plausible, explanation for the empty tomb. Actually, I like this one better than mine. However, both show that there are several, non-supernatural, explanations for the empty tomb and that the resurrection of Jesus is the most unlikely reason.

I have addressed Lowder's theory in another blog post, and suffice it to say that it is extremely implausible and ad hoc.

First, how likely is it that a member of the Sanhedrin would put a convicted criminal in his own family tomb just to take the body off the cross in time for the Sabbath? And if he had voted to sentence Jesus, he would have considered Him a blasphemer and a heretic.

Second, if Joseph of Arimathea's main concern is to observe the Jewish law, why is he handling a dead body so much? He would be defiling himself in time for the festival by handling the body as well as by going into a Gentile court to see Pontius Pilate.

Third, why didn't he say anything when the Christians started proclaiming the resurrection? I believe Lowder claimed that it would have been pointless because the body would have been unrecognizable by Pentecost, but if true, why would that have stopped him from at least telling the Jewish leaders about it? And if Joseph had said something, the Jews would not have circulated the story that the disciples stole the body.

Fourth, are we to believe that Joseph removed the body after sundown on Saturday and before sunrise on Sunday? Why not wait until daylight?

Fifth, he is cherry picking which details in the empty tomb story to keep and which to dismiss in an extremely ad hock manner.

Sixth, the text indicates that none of the followers of Jesus believed that Jesus had been raised just based on an empty tomb. Mary Magdalene immediately assumed that someone had taken away the body of Jesus and did not believe in the resurrection until Jesus appeared to her. The disciples did not believe until they personally saw Jesus.

So that is not a plausible explanation for the empty tomb, but even if it was, you have a much more challenging task in trying to explain away the appearances of Jesus. Skeptical scholars often simply dismiss the empty tomb as unhistorical because it was told later (although this is problematic because the story meets historical criteria of authenticity), but they cannot explain away the appearances because Paul gives first-hand testimony of Jesus appearing to him. And just about all scholars, including skeptical ones, agree that Paul is citing tradition dating to within a few years of the death of Christ when he talks about the postmortem appearances to the other apostles and the five hundred (1 Cor. 15:3-7). Most agree that he received this tradition from his predecessor in Jerusalem, so they were giving him their first hand testimony.

This means you have to deal with the hallucination theory and my response to it.

Darkknight56 said...

First, how likely is it that a member of the Sanhedrin would put a convicted criminal in his own family tomb just to take the body off the cross in time for the Sabbath? And if he had voted to sentence Jesus, he would have considered Him a blasphemer and a heretic.

In the article Lowder states that the move to his tomb was temporary. Once the Sabbath was over he had it moved out and transported to where criminals are buried. Being of the priestly class it was his job to uphold Jewish Law as well as rituals and traditions.

Second, if Joseph of Arimathea's main concern is to observe the Jewish law, why is he handling a dead body so much? He would be defiling himself in time for the festival by handling the body as well as by going into a Gentile court to see Pontius Pilate.

Nothing said he personally had to handle it. Being both rich as well as a priest it is highly unlikely he would have done any physical labor himself. There are people he easily could have hired for the task.

Third, why didn't he say anything when the Christians started proclaiming the resurrection? I believe Lowder claimed that it would have been pointless because the body would have been unrecognizable by Pentecost, but if true, why would that have stopped him from at least telling the Jewish leaders about it? And if Joseph had said something, the Jews would not have circulated the story that the disciples stole the body.

Why would they care to stop it? It was no threat to them or their religion. As you pointed out Jews at that time and before generally didn't believe in people rising from the dead so when the small sect known as Christians started preaching it's possible that people like Joseph didn't care about the new movement. Besides, most of the growth of the Christian church took place outside of Israel and not in it.

Fourth, are we to believe that Joseph removed the body after sundown on Saturday and before sunrise on Sunday? Why not wait until daylight?

Why would he want to keep the body in the family tomb longer than absolutely necessary? As you said, he just voted to condemn a criminal and the storage of the body in his family tomb was supposed to be just temporary. If some criminal was being stored in my family mausoleum (if I had one) I'd want him out as soon as possible. As a priest he did have an image to maintain, among other reasons.

Fifth, he is cherry picking which details in the empty tomb story to keep and which to dismiss in an extremely ad hock manner.

Thank God Christians don't do that to prove whatever pet theory they currently have.

How would you show this to be true?

Sixth, the text indicates that none of the followers of Jesus believed that Jesus had been raised just based on an empty tomb. Mary Magdalene immediately assumed that someone had taken away the body of Jesus and did not believe in the resurrection until Jesus appeared to her. The disciples did not believe until they personally saw Jesus.

Paul never personally saw Jesus; instead, he only heard a voice. You are making the positive claim that the resurrection happened based, in part, on the empty tomb. The Christians claim is that the only it could possibly be empty is because of the resurrection. Implausibility is also just your criteria, not any standard used by historians.

Anette Acker said...

Lowell,

Your comment didn't post (feel free to repost it), but what I meant by you having the burden of proof is that you said that you could prove it didn't happen. I never said that I could prove it did happen. Therefore, all I have to do is show plausible ways in which it could have happened.

The fact that the story of the disciples stealing the body while the guards were asleep is a poor explanation doesn't mean they didn't give that poor explanation. It might have been a sign of desperation.

Lowell said...

Anette,
It is a shame my comment didn't post, I will pay more attention from now on.

You are correct; I overstated what I could demonstrate/prove. It all seemed so clear when I began.

If you care to, could you please provide an explanation for why the Jews would have paid the guards a sufficient sum of money when the guards lives were in danger for losing the body? The guards would have taken any excuse without the need for payment.

And how would the guards protect themselves by admitting they had fallen asleep?

I am interested in your reply, but I understand our time is limited, and there are other areas to get to.

Anette Acker said...

Lowell,

Keep in mind that the Jewish leaders originally requested the guards, so they had a fair amount of power in this situation. That is, they probably could keep the guards out of trouble if the news reached the governor.

The bribe was a win/win solution. Without it and the promise of protection by the chief priests, the guards might well have talked about seeing the angel, passing out, and finding that the body was gone. It was a great story and an excuse for why the body disappeared.

However, by bribing the guards and offering protection, the chief priests gave the guards a powerful incentive to spread the story the chief priests wanted them to spread. On the other hand, if the guards had broken their promise and talked about the angel, the chief priests would have taken the matter of the disappearing body to Pontius Pilate themselves, which might have cost the guards their lives.

Maybe it would have been enough for the guards if the chief priests only offered protection and not a bribe, but the chief priests probably wanted to give the guards the strongest possible incentive to start spreading the rumor about the disciples stealing the body as soon as possible.