Thursday, April 15, 2010

Essay: The Facts of the Resurrection by Aaron Brake

The Facts of the Resurrection by Aaron Brake
“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” — Antony Flew

The truth of Christianity stands or falls on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul himself said, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”1 Here the Apostle provides an objective criterion by which to judge the legitimacy of the Christian worldview. Show that Christ has not been raised from the dead and you will have successfully proven Christianity false. Consequently, it is entirely appropriate that a positive case for “Why Christianity is true” focus on the most central truth claim of the Christian faith: the Resurrection.
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The Minimal Facts Approach
The approach I will take in this essay is commonly referred to as the “minimal facts approach.” This method “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.”2 It should be noted this approach does not assume the inerrancy or divine inspiration of any New Testament document. Rather it merely holds these writings to be historical documents penned during the first century AD.3 Though as many as 12 minimal facts surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ may be examined,4 the brevity of this essay limits our examination to three: the crucifixion, the empty tomb,5 and the post-resurrection appearances. I contend that the best explanation for these minimal facts is that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave.

Fact #1 – The Crucifixion of Jesus
Perhaps no other fact surrounding the life of the historical Jesus is better attested to than His death by crucifixion. Not only is the crucifixion account included in every gospel narrative6 but it is also confirmed by several non-Christian sources. Some of these include the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, as well as the Jewish Talmud.7  Josephus tells us that “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us…condemned him to the cross…”8 From a perspective of historiography, Jesus’ crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple, independent and early eyewitness sources, including enemy attestation. John Dominic Crossan, non-Christian critical scholar and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, puts it this way: “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”9

Fact #2 – The Empty Tomb
Something happened to the body of Jesus. Of this we can be sure. Not only was Jesus publicly executed in Jerusalem but “His post-mortem appearances and empty tomb were first publicly proclaimed there.”10 This would have been impossible with a decaying corpse still in the tomb. “It would have been wholly un-Jewish,” notes William Lane Craig, “not to say foolish, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was still in the grave.”11 The Jewish authorities had plenty of motivation to produce a body and silence these men who “turned the world upside down,”12 effectively ending the Christian religion for good. But no one could. The only early opposing theory recorded by the enemies of Christianity is that the disciples stole the body.13 Ironically, this presupposes the empty tomb.

In addition, all four gospel narratives attest to an empty tomb and place women as the primary witnesses.14 It is hard to imagine this being an invention of the early church considering the low social status of women in both Jewish and Roman cultures and their inability to testify as legal witnesses.15  As with the crucifixion, the account of the empty tomb meets the historical criteria of multiple, independent and early eyewitness sources, including implicit enemy attestation as well as the principle of embarrassment. Atheist historian Michael Grant concedes that “the historian… cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb” since applied historical criteria shows “the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”16

Fact #3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul recounts what biblical scholars recognize as an early Christian creed dating to within a few years of the crucifixion. Included in this creed are all three of our minimal facts: the death of Jesus, the empty tomb, and the post-resurrection appearances. Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann states, “the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years…the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.17 The early date of this creed rules out the possibility of myth or legendary development as a plausible explanation and demonstrates that the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ death, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances very early.

Furthermore, the disciples sincerely believed the resurrection occurred as demonstrated by their transformed lives. Eleven early sources testify to the willingness of the original disciples to suffer and die for their belief in the resurrection.18 Many people will die for what they believe to be true but no one willingly suffers and dies for what they know to be false. Liars make poor martyrs. Again Lüdemann acknowledges, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”19 Appealing to hallucinations as an explanation simply won’t work. Hallucinations are private experiences requiring the proper frame of mind. They cannot explain such facts as the empty tomb, the conversions of skeptics like Paul and James, nor the multiple and varied resurrection appearances.20 As with the crucifixion and empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances meet the historical criteria of multiple, independent and early eyewitness sources.

Conclusion
How do we know Christianity is true? Because Jesus was resurrected and “God wouldn’t have raised a heretic.”21 Jesus’ resurrection fits the context of his life, vindicating His teachings and radical claim to be the unique divine Son of God. Naturalistic explanations such as legendary development, fraud, or hallucinations fail to account for all the relevant data. Conversely, the Resurrection Hypothesis accounts for all of the known facts, has greater explanatory scope and power, is more plausible, and less ad hoc.22 Only if one is guided by a prior commitment to philosophical naturalism will the conclusion “God raised Jesus from the dead” seem unjustified.

1 1 Cor. 15:14. All Scripture quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.
2 Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 44.
3 For more information on the historical reliability of the New Testament see Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), and F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, 6th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981).
4 See Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, Rev. ed. (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 158-167.
5 Habermas and Licona note that “roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact” (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 70).
6 See Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:33, and John 19:18.
7 Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3; Tacitus Annals 15:44; Lucian of Samosata The Death of Peregrine 11-13; Talmud Sanhedrin 43a.
8 Flavius Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus, Rev. ed., trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 590.
9 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 163.
10 Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 70. See also Acts 2 and Tacitus Annals 15:44.
11 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 361.
12 Acts 17:6, NKJV.
13 See Matt. 28:12-13; Justin Martyr Trypho 108; Tertullian De Spectaculis 30.
14 See Matt. 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10, and John 20:1.
15 Craig, Reasonable Faith, 367.
16 Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Scribners, 1976), 176.
17 Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 38 (His emphasis).
18 Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus. See Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 56-62.
19 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection, trans. John Bowden (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 80. Lüdemann appeals to hallucinations as an explanation.
20 See The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 104-119, and Reasonable Faith, 384-387, for more on the hallucination theory.
21 Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 184.
22 Craig, Reasonable Faith, 397-399.

WORKS CITED
1. Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. New York: Scribners, 1976.
4. Habermas, Gary R. and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.
5. Josephus, Flavius. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Rev. ed. Translated by William Whiston. Commentary by Paul L. Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999.
6. Lüdemann, Gerd. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Theology, Experience. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.
7. Lüdemann, Gerd. What Really Happened to Jesus?: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection. Translated by John Bowden. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995.

14 comments :

Ken Pulliam said...

Aaron,

Thanks for your essay. You say: Show that Christ has not been raised from the dead and you will have successfully proven Christianity false. The problem is that the resurrection as with most miracle claims from the ancient world cannot be shown to be either true or false. There are degrees of probability but no conclusive proof. This is where I think apologists err. They want to act as if they can prove the literal resurrection is a fact. To illustrate my point, what could possibly be discovered at this point that would convince you that the resurrection was false? My guess is nothing.

You say: Something happened to the body of Jesus.. That is a given but the question is what. It could have been buried in the criminal graveyard. You say that the empty tomb was proclaimed in Jerusalem. The resurrection was proclaimed in the book of Acts but interestingly enough no mention of the empty tomb story as found in the gospels. No mention of Joseph of Arimathea (which would have had strong apologetic value). The common argument that the Jews could have produced the body and ended the discussion is misguided. First, if he was buried in the criminal graveyard, it would have been next to impossible to find his particular grave. Second, if they had found it on the day of Pentecost, that would have been 50 days after his death. The body would be so decomposed that without dental records or DNA, he couldn't be identified. Habermas has argued that since the tomb was cool, you could still identify the hair style and the wounds. Who knows what Jesus' hairstyle was? We have no description of his looks anywhere in the NT. Was his hairstyle so distinct that it could be identified on a corpse that was dead for 50 days? As for the wounds, there were others who were crucified at the same time.

As for multiple attestation of the empty tomb, that is not accurate. Its in Mark's gospel and we know that Matthew and Luke used Mark for their source. John may have but his gospel is so late as to make its value much lower.
Yes, I Cor. 15 reflects very early tradition but that is not relevant. Virtually everyone acknowledges that sometime soon after Jesus' death, the reports of his resurrection surfaced but that does not prove the resurrection happened. Legends can develop very quickly.

Regarding hallucinations, you are right that they are private events. However, Paul's was a private event and perhaps the other appearances were as well. Unless you presuppose that all the details of the appearances in the gospels are literally true, there is no reason to think that a few private hallucinations could explain the origin of the belief in the resurrection. You cite Ludemann but you don't tell us that he rejects the literal resurrection. So even though he grants you your "minimal facts," he comes to a different conclusion. This goes back to what I said at the beginning. The evidence is too scant and too sketchy to prove the resurrection one way or the other.

Peter Grice said...

Hi Ken, you said "Paul's was a private event and perhaps the other appearances were as well. Unless you presuppose that all the details of the appearances in the gospels are literally true...."

This again is part of a false dichotomy. Not presupposing the truth of the written accounts [elsewhere you said "inerrancy"] does not mean one has to then reconstruct what really happened from an alternative minimalistic hypothesis. It is critical to treat the written accounts as one hypothesis to test against rivals. Perhaps you do this, but I keep hearing concepts that imply the choice is between accepting the text uncritically, and commencing an alternative reconstruction.

You also said "The resurrection was proclaimed in the book of Acts but interestingly enough no mention of the empty tomb story as found in the gospels. No mention of Joseph of Arimathea (which would have had strong apologetic value)."

This seems to me both an argument from absence and an error in judgment. Acts is a sequel to Luke, is it not? Even if the empty tomb were an integral part of the publicly proclaimed gospel narrative (I can't see logically why it need be), what is the point of Luke recording too much redundancy over his two volumes? Why record details already accounted? If J of A had strong apologetic value (again I don't see it) that would explain why Luke included it in an appropriate context: his account of the events of the first Easter. [That it happened or was believed to have happened would also explain prosaically why Luke recorded it].

But in the context of post-resurrection appearances the empty tomb is superseded as any kind of apologetic. Think about it, why belabor the point ("No, it really was empty -- please believe us!!") when your angle is this instead: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, AS YOU YOURSELVES KNOW" and "He presented himself alive to [us] after his suffering by many proofs" for 40 days (oh and by the way, we just spoke supernaturally in your mother tongues)? Disqualifying these as one live option/possibility is what leads straightforwardly to regarding J of A as any kind of remainder would-be apologetic in the context of Acts. The resurrection has primacy as a concept over the empty tomb.

Furthermore the empty tomb in itself is not a strong apologetic in and of itself since it is an argument from absence. Thomas refused to accept it. Focusing on the things they did witness (or believed they did witness) speaks to their credibility.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

You say: It is critical to treat the written accounts as one hypothesis to test against rivals.

Well, as I understand the historian's work, it is to take the documents available to him and try to reconstruct what happened. It sounds as if you are saying that one should just accept everything the documents say as having happened. If that is the case, then the historians work is done. All he needs to do is just quote from the Gospels.

As far as the "empty tomb," current apologists make a big deal of it. They say that if Jesus had not been raised, the Jewish leaders would have produced the body on the day of Pentecost and the charade would have been over. If that is the case, then it would seem to me that it would have been of huge apologetical value for Peter to have said in his sermon: "Look folks, Jesus is risen. You all know J of A, he laid Jesus in his own tomb and now that tomb is empty. Go and check for yourselves. Go and ask J of A if Jesus was really dead and if he closed and secured the tomb."

Aaron Brake said...

Ken,

Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. I put your comments below in bold with my responses underneath.

Thanks for your essay.

You are welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read it.

You say: Show that Christ has not been raised from the dead and you will have successfully proven Christianity false. The problem is that the resurrection as with most miracle claims from the ancient world cannot be shown to be either true or false.

The historical facts surrounding the resurrection are available for anyone to investigate and the resurrection is a historical event that can be investigated like any other. Furthermore, I agree with Antony Flew when he stated, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” It can be shown to be true or false like any other historical event, which leads to the next point…

There are degrees of probability but no conclusive proof.

When we are speaking about history all we have is probability, not 100% certainty. It doesn’t follow from this that we don’t have “conclusive proof.” If your requirement is 100% certainty for historical events then it is impossible to have any historical knowledge, which is absurd. When it comes to the resurrection we look at the data and see which explanation best fits this data.

This is where I think apologists err. They want to act as if they can prove the literal resurrection is a fact.

First, if by “prove” you mean with 100% certainty, than I agree with you that this is not attainable. But I do not know any apologist who boasts 100% certainty with regard to the resurrection or any other historical event. This is certainly not my position.

Second, you don’t need 100% certainty to know the resurrection is a reasonable historical fact or to “know” any other historical event. I reject Cartesian foundationalism. In other words, knowledge does not require 100% certainty. I believe we have reasonable historical certainty with regard to the resurrection and therefore can say the resurrection is a fact like many other historical events.

To illustrate my point, what could possibly be discovered at this point that would convince you that the resurrection was false? My guess is nothing.

How about Jesus’ body? A few years ago there was controversy surrounding the supposed find of “Jesus’ family tomb,” the Talpiot tomb. A discovery of this sort, were it shown to be true, would certainly falsify Christianity. However, I grant that after 2,000 years this is highly unlikely, which leads to the second point…

Second, pointing out the failure of skeptics to disprove the resurrection is evidence for my side, not yours. Even if it is true that nothing “could possibly be discovered at this point,” the reason for this is that nothing could be discovered at that point 2,000 years ago!

Aaron Brake said...

You say: Something happened to the body of Jesus. That is a given but the question is what. It could have been buried in the criminal graveyard.

First, this is an alternative explanation, not a refutation. Saying that something “could have been” is not the same as giving reasons why we should believe that is actually the case. What positive evidence or reasons can you give that Jesus was buried in a criminal graveyard?

Second, this doesn’t take into account the arguments for Jesus’ burial. For example, Jesus’ burial is found in early, independent sources (1 Cor. 15, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and even the gospel of Peter, and the early apostolic sermons in Acts). Joseph of Arimathea is also an unlikely Christian invention. The accounts do not reflect legendary development and no competing burial story exists. Again, the gospels testify as women being the first witnesses. This is why even atheist Jeffrey Lowder admits, “Therefore, the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has a high final probability.” Also, see the quote in my essay by Michael Grant.

Third, this doesn’t explain the conversions of skeptics like Paul and James or the resurrection appearances. This means you need to start combining theories because of the lack of explanatory power and scope, making your approach look more ad hoc.

You say that the empty tomb was proclaimed in Jerusalem. The resurrection was proclaimed in the book of Acts but interestingly enough no mention of the empty tomb story as found in the gospels. No mention of Joseph of Arimathea (which would have had strong apologetic value).

First, even if true, this is an argument from silence.

Second, Luke wrote Luke-Acts and mentions the empty tomb and Joseph of Arimathea in Luke. So the empty tomb and J of A is already known by the readers of Acts (certainly Theophilus) who are working with the prior knowledge of the first volume.

Third, the bodily resurrection is preached all throughout Acts and implies the empty tomb. If I were to say, “Ken got up and went to work,” I don’t have to specifically mention that your bed is now empty. This would be redundant.

Fourth, the speeches in Acts are most likely edited for space. It could very well be the case that the empty tomb and J of A were mentioned but edited out for content. Either way, it doesn’t follow that because the empty tomb and J of A are not specifically mentioned that therefore these facts were unknown or unused.

The common argument that the Jews could have produced the body and ended the discussion is misguided. First, if he was buried in the criminal graveyard, it would have been next to impossible to find his particular grave.

First, this again is an assertion on your part, not an argument. An alternative explanation is not a refutation. Please provide some positive evidence or reasons for this along with why you reject the burial accounts.

Second, there is no competing burial story in existence, only the explanation offered by the Jews that the disciples stole the body, implying the empty tomb.

Third, again, this doesn’t explain the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James or the resurrection appearances.

Aaron Brake said...

Second, if they had found it on the day of Pentecost, that would have been 50 days after his death. The body would be so decomposed that without dental records or DNA, he couldn't be identified. Habermas has argued that since the tomb was cool, you could still identify the hair style and the wounds. Who knows what Jesus' hairstyle was? We have no description of his looks anywhere in the NT. Was his hairstyle so distinct that it could be identified on a corpse that was dead for 50 days? As for the wounds, there were others who were crucified at the same time.

I think this completely misses the point. The point is that all the Jews had to do was produce a body, some body, any body! The burden of proof at that point would then be on the disciples to show that the body was not Jesus’. But this was not done. No competing burial story exists and the only alternative explanation presupposes the empty tomb.

As for multiple attestation of the empty tomb, that is not accurate. Its in Mark's gospel and we know that Matthew and Luke used Mark for their source.

First, no, we don’t know this. This is an assumption made by many biblical scholars. However let’s just grant that this is true. Your conclusion still does not follow because of point two…

Second, Matthew and Luke have information regarding the empty tomb which is independent of Mark. For example, Luke and John have the story of Peter and another disciple inspecting the empty tomb. Only Matthew uses “guard” rather than soldiers and says the tomb was made secure and had a seal. Only Matthew and John use “chief priests and Pharisees,” never Mark or Luke. And point three…

Third, even if you discount Matthew, Luke, and John, we still have Mark, Paul, and the early apostolic sermons recorded in Acts.

John may have but his gospel is so late as to make its value much lower.

This is another assumption on your part, not an argument.

Yes, I Cor. 15 reflects very early tradition but that is not relevant.

This is quite an overstatement!

Virtually everyone acknowledges that sometime soon after Jesus' death, the reports of his resurrection surfaced but that does not prove the resurrection happened. Legends can develop very quickly.

First, once again this is an assertion, not an argument. You need to provide some positive evidence or reasons as to why we should believe the reports are legendary.

Second, as I mentioned in the essay, this doesn’t explain the disciples’ very early proclamation of the death, resurrection, and appearances of Christ. Are we to believe the legend grew up amongst them in a matter of months? If so, this doesn’t explain their willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs.

Third, because of the disciples early proclamation mere legends still don’t account for the empty tomb or the conversions of skeptics like Paul and James.

Aaron Brake said...

Regarding hallucinations, you are right that they are private events. However, Paul's was a private event and perhaps the other appearances were as well.

First, again, this is an assertion, not an argument. You need to give some reasons or positive evidence as to why we should believe Paul hallucinated. He certainly was not in the proper frame of mind. Again, saying, “perhaps the other appearances were as well” is not an argument. It is a dismissal.

Second, appealing to hallucinations does not explain the other minimal facts. I am also a bit confused on your position since you have referred to both legends and hallucinations as possible explanations.

Third, the resurrection appearances are reported as bodily appearances, not merely visions.

Fourth, Paul’s event was not entirely private. The others on the road to Damascus experienced something as well, showing this could not have been a hallucination. Furthermore, Paul argues that the appearance of Jesus to him was just as valid as the appearance to the disciples. This is why Richard Carrier admits that Paul, “places himself on the list of witnesses to the risen Christ, along with Peter, James and everyone else. The only distinction he makes between his experience and the others is that it came last in sequence…. Otherwise he emphasizes its equality in kind.”

Unless you presuppose that all the details of the appearances in the gospels are literally true, there is no reason to think that a few private hallucinations could explain the origin of the belief in the resurrection.

First, this again is not an argument. You haven’t provided any reasons why we should think that the disciples and Paul experienced hallucinations.

Second, my approach does not depend on the inerrancy or divine inspiration of the biblical texts. This is the minimal facts approach.

Third, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the hallucination theory. The idea of Jesus’ resurrection would have been completely foreign to Jews who believed in one final resurrection at the end of time. The Jewish concept of resurrection was a bodily resurrection as the resurrection reports testify to, not merely spiritual visions. Furthermore, even if they did experience hallucinations they would not have concluded that Jesus was raised from the dead. They perhaps would have concluded that Jesus had ascended to heaven. Hallucinations also do not explain the empty tomb or conversions of skeptics like Paul and James who certainly were not in the proper frame of mind.

You cite Ludemann but you don't tell us that he rejects the literal resurrection.

Actually I did. See footnote 19.

So even though he grants you your "minimal facts," he comes to a different conclusion.

First, Ludemann doesn’t grant all the minimal facts, for example, the empty tomb. This gives his theory problems, for example, less explanatory scope and power, and more ad hoc for various other reasons.

Second, noting that people disagree does nothing to refute my case. Each individual certainly has to come to their own conclusion but that does not mean the Resurrection Hypothesis is not the most plausible explanation. After all, people disagree with Ludemann.

This goes back to what I said at the beginning. The evidence is too scant and too sketchy to prove the resurrection one way or the other.

I believe the evidence proves the fact of the resurrection with reasonable historical certainty, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

Thank you again for your thoughts Ken and for the dialogue.

Ken Pulliam said...

Aaron,

Thanks and I appreciate the dialogue. Obviously it is difficult to carry out a thorough debate here on the subject but let me address some of your points.

I agree that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is better than for most other miracle claims in antiquity but I don't believe its strong enough to warrant acceptance. I don't believe that most people today would accept it as historical UNLESS they had already made a faith commitment.

You mention that discovering the body of Jesus today would disprove the resurrection. How could one possibly determine that bones discovered today were those of Jesus of Nazareth? Its impossible. You also say that the fact nothing was discovered 2000 years ago to disprove the resurrection is significant. This fails to appreciate that the vast majority of Jerusalem as well as others who heard the story rejected it. If the evidence was so overwhelming, then why did most people back then reject it?

My belief that the body was probably buried in the criminal graveyard is based on the fact that this was customary and normal for those whose bodies were not left on the cross. While an honorable burial in a private tomb was possible, it was very unusual. Again, I am looking at probabilities. In addition, we do have at least one source that reports a shameful burial (Secret Book of James). The references to burial in 1 Cor. 15 and Acts would be consistent with the criminal graveyard theory. I recognize that some skeptics accept the empty tomb and I am not dogmatic about it but I tend to prefer what was normal and customary over what was exceptional. As for the arguments for the empty tomb, there is an answer for each argument but there is not space to develop it here. I still think that the empty tomb would have had enormous apologetic value (just as you apparently do or you wouldn't emphasize it) for Peter to have used on the Day of Pentecost. While an argument from silence is not always sound, it has some weight if one should legitimately expect the event to have been mentioned. While Luke mentions the empty tomb in his gospel, the audience that listened to Peter and the other believers in the book of Acts would not have had access to Luke's gospel because it hadn't been written yet.

There is no problem with combining theories. Very few historical events are reducible to one explanation and there is no reason, contrary to Craig, to think that a single explanation is somehow superior. It could instead be overly simplistic.

You say: Matthew and Luke have information regarding the empty tomb which is independent of Mark. Yes, they have colorful details like earthquakes and other bodies rising which sound like legendary embellishments. If there had been an earthquake strong enough to do what they claim, one would expect some other evidence for it. Also, its incredible that no one else besides Matthew mentions the resurrection of the "many" saints who appeared unto "many."

To summarize my theory: Peter and perhaps a couple of others had a vision (hallucination) in which they saw the risen Jesus. This happened very soon after the first Easter, probably within days or weeks. Paul also has a vision a few years later. Paul is the first one to write about it. He equates his vision with the ones received by the others (uses the same Greek word and the whole passage is in parallel construction). As time passes and the Gospels are finally written, the reports of the appearances have been embellished to include all kinds of specific details including an empty tomb and Roman guards and Jesus eating fish and passing through walls and so on.

Ken Pulliam said...

The reason for believing these additional details are embellishments instead of literal history is because of similar occurrences with other ancient stories. The idea that eyewitnesses would have been around to "tone down" these exaggerations fails to take into account a number of factors. 1) Few if any eyewitnesses would have been around by the time the Gospels were written. 2) Eyewitness testimony can be notoriously unreliable, especially if it relates to a highly emotional event (see Elizabeth Loftus's work). 3) Memories can fade and false memories can be generated. 4) Oral tradition would have been very difficult to control. Once a story gets out, its very difficult to correct (just look at all the urban myths that circulate today). 5) Form criticism tells us that the gospels underwent redaction. We don't know exactly when some of the embellishments may have come about.

As for the conversion of Saul and James, a hallucination would explain it. People who have visions are convinced of their reality (see Phillip Wiebe, Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the NT to Today). Its not hard to believe that people would die for what they believe to be true.

You say: the resurrection appearances are reported as bodily appearances, not merely visions . Yes in the gospels which as I have already theorized underwent embellishments.

You say: Paul’s event was not entirely private. The others on the road to Damascus experienced something as well, showing this could not have been a hallucination.
Its not clear what they saw or heard if anything. Paul did not even see anything but a bright light. No body, no human figure. Yet when he writes 1 Cor. 15, he puts what he saw on the very same level as what the tradition said that Peter and the others saw. He makes no distinctions. I agree with Carrier that he equates them.

With regard to the minimal facts approach, really only three of them are widely accepted. Licona now only uses three in his debates. He no longer uses the empty tomb nor the conversion of James.

You say: The idea of Jesus’ resurrection would have been completely foreign to Jews who believed in one final resurrection at the end of time . True, but the disciples believed that Jesus' resurrection had inaugurated the last times. They expected Jesus to return any moment and complete the day of resurrection. Jesus himself was reported to have said that all these things will come to pass before this generation passes away.

You say: The Jewish concept of resurrection was a bodily resurrection as the resurrection reports testify to, not merely spiritual visions. I agree and I think that is why eventually the reports including embellishments took on a much more physical tone. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 is notoriously ambiguous on what the nature of the resurrection body was. I think this doctrine was still undergoing development within Christian circles. In addition, there is no reason to believe that the early Christians had to accept precisely what the view of resurrection was in their day. We know that they did not accept the current Jewish notions about the Messiah or the idea that he would suffer. They were perfectly capable of modifying existing Jewish beliefs to agree with their experiences.

Peter Grice said...

Hi Ken,

Apologies for some delayed responses from me.

You said: "Well, as I understand the historian's work, it is to take the documents available to him and try to reconstruct what happened. It sounds as if you are saying that one should just accept everything the documents say as having happened. If that is the case, then the historians work is done. All he needs to do is just quote from the Gospels."

I don't know how you could think that, since you had only just quoted me as saying: "It is critical to treat the written accounts as one hypothesis to test against rivals."

No apologist worth their salt would ever say "just accept" in the sense you've used it, which is fideistic.

So to be clear, it is important not to REJECT the hypothesis put forward by the primary sources out of hand (a priori). No I don't think it's the historian's task to "try to reconstruct" if this entails first a fideistic "just reject" of the source hypothesis. This approach would be an illegitimate intrusion of anti-supernaturalistic bias, that refuses to countenance the possibility of divine action in history.

You said: "it would seem to me that it would have been of huge apologetical value for Peter to have said in his sermon: "Look folks, Jesus is risen. You all know J of A, he laid Jesus in his own tomb and now that tomb is empty. Go and check for yourselves. Go and ask J of A if Jesus was really dead and if he closed and secured the tomb."

Once more I believe you are reiterating your points rather than interacting with challenges to them. I am often not as clear as I'd like so that could be a cause. I have argued that the resurrection appearances (to many) had superceded the empty tomb as an apologetic. Firstly, being an argument from absence (viz. "empty") it was inferior to the very Jewish concept of "eyewitness testimony," from those saying they'd had personal/group encounters with Jesus over an extended period in diverse situations. If my son finds his pet canary dead in its cage, and a week later I tell him it rose from the dead on the third day and burst forth from its cage, he's not going to find the empty cage persuasive evidence of this. [Even if he did have a context for taking me seriously, and a profoundly coherent understanding of why such a thing might happen to the canary, he would be more likely persuaded on my sincere testimony to have seen such an extraordinary thing, rather than simply on account of the missing canary.]

Secondly, the text itself records a conspiracy to say that the body was stolen: if one wanted to dispute the resurrection one could easily adopt this kind of theory, which would simply not be refuted on the evidence of an empty tomb alone.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

thanks for the reply. I guess I don't understand how you evaluate the NT documents. It seems that you accept and defend them in every detail. As I mentioned, a historian treats his sources critically. Is there any detail in the NT that you don't accept?

I agree that the empty tomb by itself would not be a strong apologetic but in combination with the claims that Peter was making on the day of Pentecost and due to the close proximity of the tomb where one could easily go and check and the availability of J of A to question, it seems to me that it had some apologetic value and would have been mentioned.

Peter Grice said...

Ken, yes I treat the sources critically, like an historian. I worry though that some take this as license to reject the primary source hypothesis out of hand [based upon a metaphysical stance], and reconstruct "what really happened." You'll agree that a critical analysis does not necessitate doing this. Instead it necessitates proper investigation of claims and counter-claims, from all possible systematic/coherent explanations. In turn, a concerted investigation necessitates some resolution, if only tentative. And my resolve is that the accounts are reliable. In principle I am open to rethinking this view if presented with persuasive challenge.

There's no reason to think Luke recorded public speeches in their entirety. On that basis one can't build a strong argument that something they think should have been mentioned, wasn't.

But as I already pointed out, to go and verify that a tomb is empty is a weak apologetic, because all this means to the determined skeptic is that somebody removed the body. So, arguing from its alleged conspicuous absence [that it was a later embellishment] is itself a fallacious argument from absence. The fact that a weak apologetic isn't supplied in Acts (whereas stronger apologetic justifications are) only speaks to credibility.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

If the empty tomb was a weak apologetic on the Day of Pentecost, why do current apologists think its such a strong apologetic today?

Peter Grice said...

Ken,

We were discussing a proposal that in the ensuing weeks and months after the claimed resurrection, a skeptic could obtain sufficient verification by witnessing the tomb's emptiness. Further, that this is sufficiently strong apologetically to be conspicuously absent from very early Christian apologetic discourse [an argument from silence, unless it is assumed that we have exhaustive written transcripts]. Therefore, the empty tomb must be a later addition, a capitulation to embarrassment.

Among other flaws, the argument seems to confound the utility of verification with falsification, or of corroboration with proof.

To its credit, the narrative does not portray the empty tomb as final verification/proof: in fact it records the level-headed remark of one disciple, Thomas, that implies it was not. It further records the conspiracy theory that the disciples had stolen the body, and this is the reason I gave for apologetic weakness: a skeptic could easily fall back on some similar explanation for an empty tomb.

On the charitable hypothesis (conservative Christian interpretation), notice that the disciples, amongst themselves, would have known with more confidence that they hadn't conspired, so for them the empty tomb held more evidential clout, however before too long this was radically eclipsed by the evidence of their interactions with a physically resurrected Jesus (again, on this view). If the "Christian" Thomas was not persuaded by the empty tomb, neither would a nonchristian skeptic be. Thomas also doubted the nascent testimony of appearances, but for himself and many others these experiences grew and persisted in qualifying ways.

So the early skeptic unwilling to accept the broad, joint testimony of positive evidence for a resurrected Christ would not find the matter verified by an empty tomb.

So to be clear, the scenario you raised presupposes that the apologetic testimony we do have recorded [the eyewitness accounts] is inadequate.

Modern apologists are not presupposing this, and on their hypothesis the disciples did not steal the body or something similar, so the empty tomb is of greater significance in that context. It is integral to the account but not critical for it. Attempts to verify the risen Christ begin in that location but extend far beyond. As you know, part of the argument is that the astute historian can discern a tacit admission to the tomb's emptiness [or at least an accessible gravesite] in the passing mention of the conspiracy theory.

If one holds to that kind of theory, well then we're back in the context where the empty tomb is apologetically weak [even redundant], but a modern apologist attempts to rule this out, thus putting the tomb back into play, in conjunction with other, stronger, confirmations.

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