Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Essay: Prophecy and Resurrection by Shelby Cade

Prophecy and Resurrection by Shelby Cade
A.W. Tozer once stated, “The unattended garden will soon be overrun with weeds; the heart that fails to cultivate truth and root out error will shortly be a theological wilderness.”1 Tozer recognized the importance of truth, especially theological truth.  What evidence can be given to show that Christianity is the religion that has truth as its foundation?

In looking at the Christian truth claims compared to other religions, the divisions are distinguished by way of the evidence.   Truth, by its very nature, is exclusive.  Truth can be defined as that which corresponds to reality or the way things really are.  If something is true, it is irrelevant if an individual believes it or not. All religions can be critiqued – including Christianity – to verify which one corresponds to the way things really are.  What evidence exists for Christianity? (MP3 Audio | RSS | iTunes)

The evidence for Christian truth rests on prophesy and the resurrection. The first bit of evidence comes by way of prophecy. Jesus of Nazareth uniquely fulfilled the prophecies that were spoken of him hundreds of years earlier, even to the point of detailing the type of death he would receive (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53). According to Norm Geisler, the Old Testament records 191 Messianic prophecies.2  Peter Stoner has calculated the odds of just eight prophecies being fulfilled as one chance in ten to the 1017th power. An analogy of this is like covering the state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep and marking one red for an individual to identify, blindfolded, on the first guess.3 The prophetical evidence shows strong support that Jesus was the expected Messiah, but what about the resurrection evidence?

Perhaps the biggest truth claim in context of Christianity is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christianity lives or dies based upon the resurrection of Jesus. Paul states in his first book to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised…we are then found to be false witnesses." (I Cor. 15:14-15). Paul claims that the resurrection of Jesus either verifies the truth of Christianity or it does not. If Jesus did rise bodily from the dead, then the best explanation is that Christianity is true. Is there evidence to verify the resurrection?

Being that no one witnessed the resurrection event, the evidence falls to those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus, but how can these accounts be trusted?  First, there are multiple attestations to the resurrection, with one of the most important given by the Apostle Paul. Multiple attestations help to show why the individuals who saw Jesus were not hallucinating or seeing a vision. Hallucinations are always individual, not group experiences.4 Paul, writing to the Corinthians, states that Jesus appeared to over 500 individuals at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). This letter to the Corinthians was written when the people of Paul's day could easily have offered counter explanations, but none were given. Also of note is the almost universal agreement of scholars that 1 Corinthians 15, specifially the first 8 verses, is a creedal passage concerning the resurrection that goes back to the resurrection itself. Jack Kent, a skeptic of bodily resurrection said the I Corinthian 15 passage “could be dated very close to the actual resurrection.”5 In other words, the resurrection story is not a later invention.

What other evidence exists to validate the resurrection story? According to the four gospel writers, the fist appearances of Jesus were to women. In the first century, the testimony of women was considered invalid, so why would the authors include this point if they were simply trying to invent myth? 

Another piece of evidence is the place at which the resurrection occured, Jerusalem. Jeruselem was the hub of Judaism. The Jews had strongly condemned Jesus for claiming that he was equal to God (Matthew 26:63-66, John 19:7). If Christianity were forged, we should expect to see this new group start anywhere but Jerusalem.  Knowing the kind of persecution that would ensue claiming that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah of Judaism is just one more shred of evidence to point to the truthfulness of Christianity.

The final piece of evidence centers on the disciples themselves. They believed they had physically encountered the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:36-43, Galatians 1:11-12). They changed from scared men to individuals who were willing to die for their encounter (John 20:19). No other stories existed to explain away the appearence of Jesus as the ressurected Messiah during the first century.

In summary, the body of Jesus was missing from the known burial tomb. The Jews claimed the body was stolen, only confirming that the body was gone. Women and a multitude of others saw Jesus alive. The Christian community was birthed in the most hostile environment imaginable, but this did not slow down the followers who had seen the resurrected Jesus.  The resurrection story is early and the scale of evidence tips toward the truthfulness of Christianity.

Centuries later, other theories developed to explain the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus, such as the swoon theory, wrong grave theory, legendary story theory, hallucination theory and so forth. The fact is these explanations appeared late and can be discounted as false for not matching up with reality. Only one story has stood the test of time in aligning with the evidence. The one story that puts the pieces of truth together is that Jesus rose from the dead. Ultimately, Christianity is true based upon the bodily resurrection of Jesus.             


1 http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/t/truth.htm, acquired 14, January 2010
2 Geisler, Norm, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 610
3 http://www.factnet.org/vbforum/archive/index.php/t-1809.html, acquired 16 January 2010
4 Collins, Gary as quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, p. 238
5 Kent, Jack, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, p. 16-17

36 comments :

David said...

"This letter to the Corinthians was written when the people of Paul's day could easily have offered counter explanations, but none were given."

How do you know this? If someone disagreed with Paul's claims, how would we know? Where would one go to register a complaint about the acccuracy of Paul's statements?

"Jeruselem was the hub of Judaism."

So, the resurrected Jesus had a chance to appear before the most important players in the Jewish game, but he didn't. The only ones who see Jesus are those few that already believed that he was the Messiah. Further, the resurrection of the Messiah after the Messiah was killed by the hated Romans during Passover in the geographic heart of the Jewish faith appears to have had little or no impact on the vast majority of Jews.

David said...

With respect to prophecy, the phrase "on that day" occurs repeatedly in Zechariah 12 and 13. What "day" are these passages referring to?

Marcus McElhaney said...

David, How do you know that people did disagree with Paul back then, besides you?

Not just the 12 apostles believed, remember after Peter's first sermon 3000 men joined up. They agreed with the facts and they were all Jews.

This was a great summary of evidences for them Resurrection. Accept the Gospel while you have the chance.

Ken Pulliam said...

Shelby,

Thanks for your essay. I agree with you, against postmodernism, that truth is exclusive. I don't agree that we can always arrive at truth or at least not with absolute certainty but I do believe it exists.

You mention the prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures as being strong evidence for Jesus. Frankly, I don't find them very convincing. For example, Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 were not understood by the Jews as referring to a dying Messiah. Since the supposed revelation was given to them initially, I would think that they would have recognized its intent. I find the prophecies in the OT to be much like the prophecies of Nostradamus. They can only be recognized as prophecies after they are fulfilled and even then it requires a good imagination (for example, Matt. 2:15 fulfilling Hosea 11). I believe that the early Christians looked for a basis for their beliefs in the OT and thus came up with what they claimed were a lot of fulfilled prophecies. Prognosticators through history have been notoriously vague allowing people to see fulfillments when there really wasn't any.

On the resurrection, you say there are multiple attestations. Actually there is only two--the gospel of Mark and the epistles of Paul. Paul is the only first hand actual testimony that we have of anyone who claimed to see Jesus alive after his death. His account of what he saw in Acts is that he saw a bright light and heard a voice. He never says he actually saw a human figure or a resurrected body. The fact that he puts his "vision" on the same level with Peter's, James, the 12 and the 500 in 1 Cor. 15, tells me that he might have thought that is what they saw as well. He uses precisely the same word (ὤφθη) in 1 Cor. 15 to describe the appearances of Jesus to all of the people he mentions. I can't go into a study of the word here but it doesn't have to involve seeing something with one's eyes.

As for the women, that could be explained by Mark's motif--those you don't expect are the ones who recognize Jesus. If the empty tomb is a legend, it could also be that saying the tomb was originally discovered by women, which is somewhat embarrassing, was a preemptive strike against an anticipated objection that some early Christians might have had--why are we just now finding out about an empty tomb?

As for the early Christians being willing to die for their beliefs, this is not unusual. People have died for their religious beliefs throughout history. I will grant that they must be personally convinced of the truth of their belief in order to be willing to die for it but their subjective assurance is not the same as objective truth. Take for example, the folks at Jonestown in the 1970's or the Heaven's Gate cult in the 1990's.

Shelby Cade said...

Hi David,

Thanks for responding. I will try to briefly answer your responses with the limited time I now have. First, concerning the 1st Corinthians passage. This passage is almost indisputable among scholars as being an early creed or saying. My point was, there is absolutely no writing in the 1st century to deny this early story. There were 1st century historians (Jewish and Roman) that could have disputed the resurrection story, but again, this is not what we find. In fact, the non-Christian sources support the eyewitness accounts given by the New Testament writers.

Secondly, you said, "So, the resurrected Jesus had a chance to appear before the most important players in the Jewish game, but he didn't." This is irrelevant to your argument. There were multiple appearances of Jesus to multiple people who actually encountered the resurrected Christ. Thirdly, you said, "The only ones who see Jesus are those few that already believed that he was the Messiah." This is simply not true. The New Testament records that the disciples all fled when Jesus was crucified. Jesus own brother, James, was a skeptic initially. Paul, was a persecutor of the Church. All of these individuals changed when they encountered the resurrected Jesus. Fourthly, you said, "the Jewish faith appears to have had little or no impact on the vast majority of Jews." Again, this is irrelevant to the evidence pointing to the resurrection of Jesus.

Concerning the Zechariah passage, I did not intend to answer every iota of Biblical prophesy. My point was that there are many passages in the OT detailing the fact that the person of Jesus best fits as the fulfillment of long expected Messiah. I think the whole purpose of these essays has been to show that there is overwhelming cumulative evidence supporting the truthfulness of Christianity. It is incumbent upon you to give a rational explanation contra the Christian worldview and the evidence that has been presented.

Av8torBob said...

Ken said: As for the early Christians being willing to die for their beliefs, this is not unusual. People have died for their religious beliefs throughout history ... Take for example, the folks at Jonestown in the 1970's or the Heaven's Gate cult in the 1990's.

You are missing Shelby's point. I may be willing to die for my belief in Christianity today. But if I did so, it would be because of my adherence to something that someone else taught me. So, even if what I believe in is a lie, I do not have firsthand knowledge that it is a lie. I got it from someone else so my willingness to die, no matter how strongly held, is understandable because I unwittingly accepted a lie as being true.

The first disciples are not in the same category. If Christ was not resurrected, they knew it firsthand. They knew that they did NOT see it with their own eyes.

It is unreasonable to equate their willingness to die for something they had firsthand knowledge about and a modern believer's willingness to die for something he learned from someone else.

The latter can be explained away, the former cannot.

Ken Pulliam said...

Bob,

I don't doubt that the ones who thought they saw Jesus really believed they had. But this is not unusual either. Tens of thousands of people (as Paul would say, many of them still alive today if you want to check) report that they have seen the Virgin Mary. Phillip Wiebe interviewed 30 living people for his 1997 book who claimed they had seen Jesus (Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the NT to Today) Wiebe says every one was convinced of what they had seen. This testimony of apparitions of Mary and contemporary visions of Jesus is far, far, stronger than what we have for the resurrection of Jesus.

Av8torBob said...

Ken,
OK, what follows from your observation?

David said...

"My point was, there is absolutely no writing in the 1st century to deny this early story. "

This doesn't answer the question at all. If someone disagreed with Paul, how would we know? Where does one goes to record one's dissent? We're talking first century here. No newspapers, no blogs. When you say that no one challenged Paul, this is pure speculation.

What is the grand total of all of the writings of any kind that survive from the first century? What is the grand total for the number of individual writers who left any accounts at all? How many people lived in Jerusalem in AD 30, and how many of those people left behind a written record?

You say that "non-Christian sources support the eyewitness accounts given by the New Testament writers". Could you be more specific? What are the dates for these sources? Would any of these sources have had even third-hand knowledge of events? Are these writer really supuporting the eyewitness accounts or are they really just reporting that there were people in the first century who thought that Jesus came back from the dead? In other words, are these accounts similar to a 19th century newspaper report that there were people who believed that Joseph Smith found some golden tablets?

My other arguments are not irrelevant. Given the paucity of the written record, it's important to find independent means by which to test the claims. You may wish to simply believe that 500 people saw Jesus or 3000 people saw Jesus, but there is no independent evidence to support this claim. Ken is right about "multiple attestations"; they don't exist and there is little reason to believe that the statments about 500 or 3000 witnesses are accurate.

"Concerning the Zechariah passage, I did not intend to answer every iota of Biblical prophesy."

Wise move. The prophecies here are not fulfilled by Jesus.

"My point was that there are many passages in the OT detailing the fact that the person of Jesus best fits as the fulfillment of long expected Messiah."

Ken is right, again. The prophecies in the OT to be much like the prophecies of Nostradamus. And it's not enough to fulfill some of the prophecies. If you're God, you need to bat a thousand.

Av8torBob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Av8torBob said...

Ken,
I mistakenly forgot to include the reasons I asked "what follows ..."

Two possibilities result from your observation:

1) These visions are real. In this case, your observation carries no weight.

2) These observations are false and Mary (or whoever) did not actually appear. In this case it begs the question, "Were any of the people who claimed to have these visions threatened with torture and execution for saying they did see what they claimed to have seen?"

Only if 2) is true AND they are willing to go to their deaths in defense of it, does your observation carry any weight.

Do you know if this is the case?

Jim Turner said...

>> This letter to the Corinthians was written when the people of Paul's day could easily have offered counter explanations, but none were given.

Maybe nobody cared. Maybe they were more worried about the Romans. Maybe they didn't write down their objections. Maybe the Christians didn't care about the critics, and just weren't interested in what others had to say.

Who knows? Nodoby knows. But we do know how new and unusual religous movements can easily withstand external criticism and persecution and no only survive, but thrive. A quick survey of recent new groups like the Mormons, Jehova's Witnesses, and Scientology are all it should take to illustrate this point. If not, maybe the countless smaller groups that have survived and done quite well for themselves will add to my point.

Far from being unusual, a new and unique religous movement that survives against surprising odds is actually quite mundane.

David said...

Just to clarify, when I said "saw Jesus", I was referring to seeing flesh-and-blood Jesus. Paul did not see fleshy Jesus; he had a vision.

Jim Turner said...

David wrote >> Further, the resurrection of the Messiah after the Messiah was killed by the hated Romans during Passover in the geographic heart of the Jewish faith appears to have had little or no impact on the vast majority of Jews.

But remember, he wasn't the only person resurrected during that time. There were many resurrected people in Jerasulem then, so it was probably very confusing.

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:52-53

Russell said...

Hi Jim,

Forgive me if my arguments are not very articulate, but i rarely engage in debate over these issues.

"Maybe nobody cared. Maybe they were more worried about the Romans. Maybe they didn't write down their objections. Maybe the Christians didn't care about the critics, and just weren't interested in what others had to say."

To this comment, I would say that Christians did not have the option to simply ignore other, considering they were killed for their beliefs. I highly doubt that no one would bother to dispute the claims put forth by Paul and other Christians considering Jewish faith during that time.

"Who knows? Nodoby knows. But we do know how new and unusual religous movements can easily withstand external criticism and persecution and no only survive, but thrive. A quick survey of recent new groups like the Mormons, Jehova's Witnesses, and Scientology are all it should take to illustrate this point. If not, maybe the countless smaller groups that have survived and done quite well for themselves will add to my point."

The rate at which the Christian movement grew after the resurrection sets itself apart. Also Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Scientologists aren't being executed because their beliefs contradict the status quo.

As a side note, I have to say how impressed I am with everyone here. It's nice to see everyone can debate these issues in a sincere and peaceful way!

Shelby Cade said...

Hi Ken and David,


Thanks for your thoughtful responces. I will try to be brief. First, the 1 Cor. passage is recognized by almost all scholars as going back to the resurrection. It speaks of many who witnessed the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. There are other 1st century sources that speak of Jesus including, Josphus, Tacitus, and Thallus.

Ken, you mentioned a vision and a myth (concerning the women as being a later addition). Which is it? Is the resurrection myth, hallucination or both? The word for seeing in Greek is "horao" and is always in reference to a material object. The word for body in Greek is "soma", and again it always is in reference to a material body. Both of these words are used in the 1st Cor. passage.

I differ in opinion with regard to your view of OT prophesy. Nostradamus does not come close to the specificity of some of the OT prophecies. Consider just these three, The kind of death Jesus would suffer (Isaiah 53), The place of Jesus birth (Micah 5:2), and the very specific time in which the Messiah would be born (Daniel 9:24f). http://www.reasons.org/fulfilled-prophecy-evidence-reliability-bible
http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/prophchr.html#gMZpxI2xHZJ1

David said, " You may wish to simply believe that 500 people saw Jesus or 3000 people saw Jesus, but there is no independent evidence to support this claim." It is true that we can believe anything we want, but simply believing something does not make it true. We have to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Yesterday's essay mentioned the minimal facts. I think we can all agree that Jesus lived, died on a Roman cross, was buried in a known tomb (there may be some debate here), was reported to have been seen alive by many three days after his crucifixion, and the disciples of Jesus made a radical change in their lives. The most coherent explanation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Until a more coherent view can be given, then the bodily resurrection makes the most sence for matching the evidence that we have.

To believe in hallucination or myth means the disciples were willing to accept persecution and a death sentence with nothing more to gain. That to me is absurd. Plus, hallucinations are individual experiences, not group, and certainly not shared experiences.

I'm willing to abandon Christianity if it could be shown that a more coherent reason exists outside of the Christian worldview. Christianity started with a band of Jews who claimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. I find it difficult to believe that the Jewish people of the first century would be mute concerning the the 1st Cor. message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But, as I said earlier, you are free to believe what you want.

Chad said...

Shelby,

Well said and great essay.

Godspeed

RD said...

Russell,

I'm sure that the Mormons would be glad to fill you in on how the early Mormons died for their faith because their beliefs contradicted the status quo. Also, the Mormon movement expanded to include tens of thousands of followers in just a few decades.

David said...

“First, the 1 Cor. passage is recognized by almost all scholars as going back to the resurrection.”

This goes back to the resurrection? Paul didn’t witness the resurrection, and he didn’t talk to Peter and James until several years after the resurrection.

“It speaks of many who witnessed the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.”

But it gives few names, and its claim of 500 witnesses is not credible.

“There are other 1st century sources that speak of Jesus including, Josphus, Tacitus,
and Thallus.”

What are the dates of these sources, and what exactly do these writers say about Jesus? What were the sources of their information?

“I differ in opinion with regard to your view of OT prophesy. Nostradamus does not come close to the specificity of some of the OT prophecies. Consider just these three…”

Three examples are nice, but again, if Jesus is God fulfilling prophecies, you’d expect a perfect match for all prophecies.

“It is true that we can believe anything we want, but simply believing something does not make it true. We have to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

And where is the evidence that hundreds of people saw the flesh and blood body of an executed man strolling around Jerusalem? This is the greatest miracle in the history of the planet, and apparently, very few people noticed at the time it happened. Don’t you think that Pilate would have noticed that a dangerous, executed political prisoner was back in action?

“Yesterday's essay mentioned the minimal facts. I think we can all agree that Jesus lived, died on a Roman cross, was buried in a known tomb (there may be some debate here)…”

Indeed, there may be some debate here.

“…was reported to have been seen alive by many three days after his crucifixion, and the disciples of Jesus made a radical change in their lives.”

What does it mean to be “reported alive”? Paul equates his experience with Jesus to James and Peter’s, and we know that Paul had a “vision”.

“Plus, hallucinations are individual experiences, not group, and certainly not shared experiences.”

See Salem Witch Trails, Fatima's Miracle of the Sun for group hallucinations. Throw in peer pressure, a strong desire to see what others claims to see, group dynamics, etc., and it’s not hard to explain “shared experiences”.

“The most coherent explanation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Until a more coherent view can be given, then the bodily resurrection makes the most sence for matching the evidence that we have. To believe in hallucination or myth means the disciples were willing to accept persecution and a death sentence with nothing more to gain. That to me is absurd.”

Why is it so hard to believe that people will see things that they desperately want to see, even if these things don’t actually exist? A few people may have sincerely believed that they experienced Jesus in some form after his death, but that doesn't mean we have a flesh and blood resurrection. I think that the disciples believed that they had the Kingdom of God on Earth to gain if they just literally kept the faith. They believed that Jesus was coming back soon, and that great and glorious days were just around the corner. If this is something that you deeply believe, that’s strong motivation to suffer persecution and death. While history is chock full of similar examples of this sort of fanatical human behavior, the historical record is not so rich in tales of bodily resurrections. So which explanation is more “coherent”?

Ken Pulliam said...

Shelby,

Thanks for your reply. As for the creed in 1 Cor. 15, I agree that it reflects a very early tradition, but the earliest I have seen any scholar say is 5 years and most say 10 years after the first Easter. With regard to Josephus, Tacitus, etc. they simply mention that there were people who believed in messiah named Jesus. They didn't investigate any claims as a modern historian would.

I believe that some indvidual disciples, perhaps as few as two had visions and that the empty tomb was a legendary embellishment many decades later.

With regard to the Greek word ὤφθη (aorist passive indicative of ὀπτάνομαι), the Theological Dictionary of the NT says concerning its meaning in 1 Cor. 15 there is no primary emphasis on seeing as sensual or mental perception. The dominant thought is the that the appearances are revelations, encounters with the risen Lord who herein reveals Himself (W. Michaelis, p. 358). The word does not always mean to see with the eyes. σῶμα does not always refer to a physical body. In the same book (12:13) Paul uses the word in a non-physical sense.

The idea that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem (to fulfill Micah 5:2) is dubious. Matthew and Luke have two differnt explanations as to why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. I think this is a case of later writers putting the birth of Jesus there in order to answer objections that Jew may have made about Jesus being from Nazareth and not Bethlehem. Isaiah 53 was never seen by the Jews as referring to their Messiah. Daniel 9:24-27 was not understood to give the precise date for Messiah (Jews would have been anxiously expecting him if it did).

I am glad you say that you are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. That is exactly what I did and thats why after 20 years and with a whole lot invested in the Christian faith, I walked away. Its not easy to do.

I do believe that the "minimal facts" can be explained without resorting to a miracle. The fact that the majority of scholars that Craig refers to who agree on the minimal facts do not agree with his conclusion of a literal, bodily resurrection. They obviously explain the minimal facts in a different way.

Peter Grice said...

Ken, you said that Paul never says he actually saw a human figure or a resurrected body. The fact that he puts his "vision" on the same level with Peter's, James, the 12 and the 500 in 1 Cor. 15, tells me that he might have thought that is what they saw as well.

Actually, Paul makes a clear distinction there saying Christ appeared to him last of all, "as to one abnormally born." What was so abnormal and late about it? It was after Christ had ascended. Contrast this with the rest of the post-resurrection appearances, which were within a 40-day period between Christ's Resurrection and Ascension.

Read again the first chapter of Acts. This was no Medjugorje. They were conversing with Jesus, together, for more than a month. When Luke writes "He presented himself *alive* to them after his suffering by many proofs," it is hard to construe that as a Damascus Road audio-visual. [To say nothing of the wound-inspecting curiosity of Thomas].

It closes out by showing their concern to replace Judas with one who had accompanied them from the very beginning, right up until the Ascension. This person could join them in public testimony to have witnessed the Resurrection.

As you know, Luke was Paul's traveling companion -- it is incredibly strained to suggest Paul wasn't up to speed with what had happened and might have assumed others had also experienced Jesus in a (quasi-objective) subjective vision.

Peter Grice said...

Ken, you said you believe that the empty tomb was a legendary embellishment many decades later.

On what grounds? By "many decades" you must surely mean four or more. But it's not controversial that Romans was written in the mid 50s, hardly more than 20 years on. Not only does v4 proclaim the resurrection of Christ, but it has congruence with that systematic doctrinal survey. It certainly doesn't appear as some embellishment tacked on to the end of a pre-existing system. How else does one explain the motivations and writings of the first Christians if the resurrection is some sort of imaginary afterthought?

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter, when Paul says as one born out of due time , he is referring to himself not to the nature of the appearance. In calling himself the ἔκτρωμα among the apostles, he refers to the suddenness and violence of the transition, while he was still in a state of immaturity. The Twelve were disciples of Jesus before He called them to be Apostles, and He trained them for promotion; Saul was suddenly torn from opposition to Jesus to become His Apostle. Theirs was a gradual and normal progress; his was a swift and abnormal change. (Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St Paul To The Corinthians , p. 339). The word translated out of due time was used with regard to abortions, hence Paul was saying that he was suddenly torn from opposing Christ to serving Christ in an instant.

You say that Acts 1 was no Medjugorje. But you are assuming the accuracy (perhaps the innerrancy) of the text. If the NT is inerrant, then I would agree with you that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. However, I tend to think that many of the details surrounding the alleged appearances in the gospels and Acts have been greatly embellished.

Peter you say Romans but I think you mean 1 Corinthinans was written in the 50's? Perhaps so, but it doesn't mention an empty tomb. There is no mention of an empty tomb in the book of Acts. Mark is the first to mention it. I can't go into detail here but there is good reason to see it as a later addition to the tradition. I don't deny that Paul had an experience in which he truly believed he had seen Jesus and I think that a few other early Christians did as well. The others believed them and ran with it.

Peter Grice said...

Ken, thanks. No I understand the reference is to himself [that is clear even in English], but the salient point (which your quote reinforces) is that his experience took place last in a unique context: both in terms of being after the Ascension and in terms of being an abrupt intrusion [while in transit, no less] on Saul's persecuting ways. The Ascension demarcates "where" Jesus is claimed to have been: beforehand, on Earth; afterward, in Heaven. Both aspects together strongly suggest, in light of Acts 1 etc., that Paul's own unique experience shouldn't be used to define the plainly stated pre-Ascension "normally born" experiences.

When I say Acts 1 was no Medjugorje, I am assuming the reliability intentionally (not spuriously), that is, for the sake of argument. I don't think doctrines of inerrancy or even inspiration are relevant here. In fact, neither really is the historicity of it for the point I wanted to make, which is that if the text is taken at face value [not swallowed but merely processed], the comparison with visions/apparitions is not warranted. That may be what actually happened, but one has to reject the sense of the written testimonies, and argue against it on a different basis. Which you have confirmed you do, so this point seems resolved.

I did mean Romans, which is quite early and both mentions and theologically integrates the resurrection of Christ. If you are suggesting the "empty tomb" is a late embellishment as distinct from the resurrection that seems to me implausible and hair-splitting. I mean, from whence does one resurrect if not a tomb? Doesn't the Lazarus account provide a precedent?

Galatians is widely accepted as mid-50s, and opens with saying Jesus was raised from the dead.

1 Corinthians also, which mentions that he "was buried [and] raised on the third day" (15:4).

2 Corinthians similarly.

You said There is no mention of an empty tomb in the book of Acts. Mark is the first to mention it. I can't go into detail here but there is good reason to see it as a later addition to the tradition.

OK, I acknowledge the constraints if you can't elaborate here at this time.

Apart from my hair-splitting concern and the potential argument from silence, content in Mark's gospel should not really admit of any "later embellishment" interpretation. Sherwin-White suggested that development of legend takes at least two full generations. James Crossley (not a believer) recently argued for a very early date for Mark (late 30s). O'Callahan's Qumran fragments [four being from Mark] approximate 50AD (implying earlier autographs). Radical critic John Robinson [of "Death of God" fame] argued for Mark being written between 45-60AD. Etc.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter, thanks for the dialogue.

I think you still miss the point of "born of due time." Paul is not talking about the nature of the appearance in contrast to the other appearances; he is talking about the nature of his apostleship in contrast to the other apostles. They became apostles in a "normal" way and he became an apostle in an "abnormal" way--they spent 3 years following him and Paul had not. His apostleship came instantaneously. This is the essence of the quote from the commentary.

I agree that if the text is taken at face value [not swallowed but merely processed], the comparison with visions/apparitions is not warranted. I agree but I think its wrong to take them at face value. Just as I don't take at face value reports of bizarre events in other ancient writings. You say: one has to reject the sense of the written testimonies . But Acts and the Gospels are not written testimonies, they are written reports of testimony handed down by oral tradition. I don't automatically accept anything that a historian says, especially if its obvious that their writing has a polemical purpose.

Okay, Romans does mention the resurrection, but as in all of Paul's writings, does not mention the empty tomb. I have no doubt that the appearance stories came about very early. In Paul's case, the Damascus road experience would have been about 5 years or so after the first Easter. I suspect that Peter and perhaps others claimed that Jesus appeared to them within weeks or months after the first easter.

You ask: from whence does one resurrect if not a tomb?. I tend to think that Jesus was probably buried in the criminal graveyard which was customary for the executed. This is shameful for the Messiah and as time went on, the story of J of A giving his tomb to Jesus and the women finding it empty, etc. were additions to the story.

You say: Sherwin-White suggested that development of legend takes at least two full generations. This is inaccurate. He mentions the case of Herodotus, who even though there was legendary embellishment, was still able to recover the historical core two generations later. Thus, he suggested that it must take more than 2 generations for legend to outstrip history to the point that the history cannot be recovered. But then he adds a caveat-- does not automatically and absolutely prevail (Roman Society and Roman Law in the NT, p. 191). In the same book, on p. 193, he says: there was remarkable growth of myth (about Alexander the Great) within the lifetime of his contemporaries . The fact is, and Sherwin-White, as well as most historians know, that legends begin to accumulate sometimes within the first generation. A good modern example is the Roswell story about an alien spacecraft in 1947.

Peter Grice said...

Ken, thanks, no I have not missed the fact that Paul refers to himself rather than his vision with that phrase. As I just clarified, that's obvious even from the English. Since you had referenced the passage from 1 Cor 15, I chose to springboard from that phrase to discuss what I again, just clarified, is the salient point: the fact that this appearance of Christ comes to Paul in quite different circumstances. That it was an abrupt intervention from a 'stranger' in an instant rather than a congruent personal relationship over several years, that it was described in the relevant texts differently to what was described in the relevant texts for all the other appearances, that it was not in the ensuing weeks after the resurrection, and most especially, that it was after the Ascension when Jesus was no longer claimed/believed by early Christians to be physically present on Earth; all combine to undermine your argument reliant upon the equivocal sense of the word translated "appeared." We simply have much more information to consider. So the appearance to Paul was not regarded as being "on the same level" as the others.

You seemed to agree with my point about *processing* texts at face value, but immediately equivocated. To be clear: I did not suggest anyone "automatically accept" them. What I had in mind is this: first treat them as claims in principle - however outlandish you might think they are - before putting them to the test. You haven't laid out your full reasoning process so I can't be sure, but from some of your comments I suspect you have determined on other grounds that they should not be taken seriously, and then when you come to the texts you are already deconstructing them piecemeal. This introduces a cascading effect as to the reliability of an author in general, undermining the relevance of their relationships to other authors, and introducing the "higher" criteria of "I suspect this is what really happened." Perhaps this is a case in point:

The only argumentation you provided for the suggestion that Jesus was buried in a criminal graveyard was that it was customary [where the hidden premise seem to be that what is customary always occurs], and the argument you provided against the account of the tomb was that it was concocted on the motivation of embarrassment/shame. But there is simply too much else in the texts that should be construed as shameful and insulting of Jesus: he was mercilessly tortured, mocked, insulted and brutally killed ALONGSIDE CRIMINALS. Nowhere in the gospels do we see attempts to sugar-coat attitudes and treatment of the Messiah in order to avoid shame/indignity: the very opposite is the case! If Jesus had been buried ALONGSIDE CRIMINALS, that'd drive home the point being hammered all along. Moreover, Jesus could equally have been sighted by women having risen from a criminal graveyard, on the "later legend" thesis. If anything, any last-ditch "molehill" attempt to save Jesus from the "mountains" of indignity freely recorded would seem not to facilitate the victorious resurrection, but to render it less climactic: the suggestion seems to be implausible speculation.

Peter Grice said...

I believe I correctly stated Sherwin-White's thesis, other considerations notwithstanding. I had in mind such comments as "a deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the events" (p187) and "even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historical core of the oral tradition" (p190).

You may have had in mind what he relegates to a footnote:

"Mr. P.A. Brunt has suggested in private correspondence that a study of the Alexander sources is less encouraging for my thesis. There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds within the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate. But the hard core still remains, and an alternative but neglected source – or pair of sources – survived for the serious inquirer Arrian to utilize in the second century A.D. This seems to me encouraging rather than the reverse. The point of my argument is not to suggest the literal accuracy of ancient sources, secular or ecclesiastical, but to offset the extreme scepticism with which the New Testament narratives are treated in some quarters. One might compare the comparative excellence of certain early martyrologies, such as the Scillitan Acta, or the historical element in the documents known as the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs."

Notice that he says this is a challenge to his thesis, not his thesis, and what he sees as the point [or purpose] of his argument.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

In my opinion, you are eisegeting rather than exegeting 1 Cor. 15. I maintain on the grounds that the same word is used to describe each appearance and the parallel nature of the grammatical construction that Paul is equating his experience with the others.

As far as the text goes, I begin by taking it at face value or as literal history but then I factor in a number of things: 1) what is the literary genre; 2) what were the beliefs of the author(s) and his audience, and so on.

The function of a historian is try to figure out what really happened. He knows that not all documents are completely reliable. He knows that if he can't check his documents against other documents reporting the same event, he is at a disadvantage. He knows that if his documents were written by only one side that they may have distortions or exaggerations (for example, what if we only had documents for WW II written by the Germans?)as well as propaganda for their side.

As for the shame surrounding the burial, I wasn't clear. What I meant was that since years later, early Christians may have been embarrassed that Jesus was not given an honorable burial, so they invented the fancy tomb of the rich man J of A. It could also be a polemic against any objections that were surfacing about the resurrection in which people said, "well I thought the body was just thrown in the criminal graveyard." Christians responed with "no, he was given an honorable burial in a tomb." I admit this is speculation but given the nature of the documents that we have, unless we just blindly accept what they say, we must look for the probablility of what really happened.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

Regarding Sherwin-White, I think apologists have overemphasized any value that might derive from his statements.

First, even if he said what apologists claim he said, he is only one scholar and there are many others who disagree with him.

Second, he is not really saying all that much. He is admitting that legendary embellishments or myths as he calls them can spring up around a person even while that person is still alive but he is saying that usually (not always), according to his studies, it takes two or more generations for the legends or myths to outstrip the historical core. It seems that if you applied this to the NT, you would admit there are some myths or legends that need to be removed in order to arrive at the historical core of the NT (which is precisely what I do).

Peter Grice said...

Hi Ken, you seem to be reiterating your earlier points so I mustn't have been clear enough in my response to indicate that I had understood and interacted.

"In my opinion, you are eisegeting rather than exegeting 1 Cor. 15."

Well I am doing neither. You seem to be fixated on this particular text, whereas I've made it clear that I used it only to springboard discussion about what was in fact different about Paul's context, which we derive from other texts. You keep affirming what I affirm, about "one abnormally born" referring to Paul's abrupt conversion rather than his vision per se, seeming to ignore the factors I've highlighted, particularly the chronology of appearances with respect to the Ascension. I can only surmise that you're uninterested in the Ascension because on your view it didn't occur, but it seems to me critical that all the claims should be assessed together.

Your argument from a single text contains no necessity. 1 Cor was written around the same time as Galatians (give or take a few years in either direction depending on which theory one takes), and from Galatians 1:18 and 2:1 we learn of Paul's interaction with the principle disciples (Peter and James) at least 14 years earlier (seemingly within the first decade after the first Easter). It is absurd to think they would not have discussed the world-changing experiences the disciples had had together as recorded by Paul's companion Luke in Acts 1. But if you assume a priori that these were just visions, you must disallow the possibility that Acts 1 is reliable, which in turn means Paul's connections to the early disciples is of no relevance. But then by dismissing these you have not really secured your interpretation of 1 Cor. 15, since it comes through circularity.

"As for the shame surrounding the burial, I wasn't clear. What I meant was that since years later, early Christians may have been embarrassed that Jesus was not given an honorable burial, so they invented the fancy tomb of the rich man J of A."

Yes, that is what I understood you to mean. But your reasoning falls flat as I said because not being honored was the rule rather than exception for Christ. Moreover, "years later, early Christians" would not have been embarrassed by such a detail, since the belief in the victorious risen Christ is a total vindication of his honor and innocence. Who would want to undermine that by softening the "dishonor"? Who needs "a polemic" about a dignified burial when one has the ultimate vindication in the resurrection?

On Sherwin-White, I can't speak for other apologists or what they claim he said. I am aware of the tit-for-tat over the interpretation of his thesis, and perhaps this renders appealing to it unhelpful in hindsight. But I obviously don't really agree with you that if one applies his qualified thesis to the NT one then has to "admit there are some myths or legends" -- that is determined on the specific case basis from all the pertinent details.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

Thanks for the dialogue. You say: You seem to be fixated on this particular text, whereas I've made it clear that I used it only to springboard discussion about what was in fact different about Paul's context, which we derive from other texts.

The reason is because apologists like Craig, Habermas and Licona all put a lot of weight on this passage because it reflects the earliest tradition on the resurrection. Thus they are fixiated on it as well.

The miminal facts approach taken by the apologists do not include the ascension as well as all of the details associated with the appearances. They do this because they know that unless assumes inerrancy, its very hard to establish any historical certainty for them.

I should have said that if one accepts Sherwin-White's thesis then one has to admit the possiblity of myths or legends in the NT documents. His point is that the historical core could still be found up to two generations after the events not that no legends might be present in ancient document prior to the passing of two generations.

Peter Grice said...

Ken,

The two poles of "assume inerrancy" and "historical certainty" both seem to me bogus.

First, since inerrancy ought to be a conclusion, it is properly never assumed [so I can readily admit the possibility of myths in the NT on this basis, rather than upon the commendation of Sherwin-White's thesis].

Second, since history involves inductive reasoning it can't be said to provide certainty.

A "minimal facts approach" for arguing to the resurrection may be well suited to an apologetic setting (i.e. against committed skepticism). But this does not obviate the modern historian from weighing pertinent data in general [such as the critical relevance of the claim to an Ascension to other claims about appearances]. The historian does not set out as a committed skeptic (having concluded a hypothesis is false), but rather, as a methodological doubter - quite an important distinction.

Abductive reasoning seems the best approach to the claims overall. Disallowing potential coherence from the outset by excluding data not afforded 95%+ scholarly agreement is not how historical analysis should proceed.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

I pretty much agree with everything you just said. I don't think one would ever conclude however that the ascension was literal history UNLESS one had adopted the faith position that the Bible is the Word of God just as no one would take the report that Muhammad rode to heaven on a winged horse as literal history UNLESS one had adopted the faith position that the Qu'ran was the Word of God.

Peter Grice said...

Ken,

I don't see why accepting the Ascension needs to come via a "faith position" (whatever that means) regarding biblical Inspiration, however if one has not accepted AS POSSIBLE at least some fundamental features of a Christian worldview (eg. divine action in the world), then one is not going to admit the Ascension as literal history. Some things need to be weighed in tandem. In fact, it's best to consider the range of claims as a whole/hypothesis.

Having yourself a significant familiarity with biblical claims, I'd hope you wouldn't put Qur'anic claims on a par with them (although I appreciate the point of the hypothetical). I say this because wresting them each from their contexts (sciptural, historical) makes them equally farcical, whereas weighing them each as whole systems places their credibility far apart, in my view. The Ascension of Christ is never going to be plausible in isolation.

You said: I don't think one would ever conclude however that the ascension was literal history UNLESS one had adopted the faith position that the Bible is the Word of God

But is it even possible in principle to investigate the possibility of the ascension historically? If one construes historical investigation such that it cannot, then this is inadequate on its own and must be conjoined with philosophy or some such. The claim is both historical and metaphysical, so it should be approached with adequate methodology.

Ken Pulliam said...

Peter,

I just don't see how one can believe that a person floated up from the ground into heaven unless one has already made the determination that what the Bible records is true. It seems incredible to me to think that a material body would float through the sky into outer space and wind up in heaven (wherever that is). To modern man its incredulous. To the ancients who believed that heaven was straight up (due to their cosmology, i.e., the earth is flat, the gods are just above us looking down, etc.)it was much more credible. That is why you have stories in other literature describing people riding to heaven on winged horses and so on.

Peter Grice said...

Ken,

Are you saying you have a philosophy and/or methodology that precludes the very possibility?

On the contrary, I think 'modern man' has adequate resources and analogs for appropriating the notion of the Son of God ascending: discorporation of material form, matter-energy transformation, dimensionality, etc.

There's no problem with it being accommodating of human perspective with respect to philosophical cosmology, and I think that if you took a poll of "modern man's" cosmology regarding an appropriate direction to indicate the Creator they are not going to say North, South, East, West or Down. If they said Within they would be confounding Creator and created, and if they say "Bah!" that's irrelevant to the issue at hand. If one were to argue from the fact that today we understand the universe to exist also "under" our planet, while this is technically accurate, it remains cumbersome and unnecessary for us to conceptualise things that way. I hardly think the accounts should be faulted for failing to portray Jesus boring his way through the Earth's core. If on the other hand you would prefer some sort of visible transformation then we have that kind of thing depicted in the Transfiguration.

It is necessary to accept the possibility of "divine action in the world" in tandem with the possibility of the Ascension, otherwise one will portray the latter in language laden with connotations of ignorance, such as "a person floated up from the ground." There is a fine line between [warranted] incredulity and [fallacious] ridicule -- if one is going to take the step of reasoning with proponents of a view then it becomes appropriate, in my opinion, to regard their stance in the most charitable, contextually intact light. Let the hypothesis stand or fall as a whole. The Ascension of Christ is an entirely contingent claim (as is Inerrancy for that matter), that should not be processed in isolation, modern incredulity notwithstanding.

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