HOAX? MYTH? or REALITY?
THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’ HISTORICAL RESURRECTION
For Seekers, For Those Who Know Him, And For the Plain Skeptical
"To me the evidence is conclusive…Over and over again in the high court I have secured the verdict on evidence no nearly so compelling [as the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection]."—Sir Edward Clarke, former Justice of the High Court of England
The story of Jesus is either the greatest event, or it is the cruelest hoax in history. If it is a hoax, then the whole of the Christian message crumbles together with the hopes of those multitudes of lives built on His name (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). But if the story is true, then this world has been hit with extraordinary news of earth-shaking consequences. Have you taken the trouble to decide which it is? In a matter this weighty, it is in your interest to explore the truth or falsity of His claims. Amazingly however, many people who don’t believe haven’t ever bothered to explore the evidence in support of Jesus,1 but rather, often run away from it. At the same time, many Christians themselves are not sure, at bottom, whether the claims of Christ are solid. Is the Christian claim a hoax? Is it just wishful thinking? Or is it actually true?
The next few pages will demonstrate that the story of Jesus, and of His resurrection in particular, rests on solid historical grounds. So wherever you may be in terms of belief, unbelief, doubt, or indecision, I invite you to take a new look at this evidence.2
SORTING THROUGH THE CONFUSION
Disagreement abounds today regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. If you were to randomly ask people in a survey who they think He is, you would get a variety of responses. Some might say He is a great prophet who stands equal to Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and others. Some might give Him credit for being a profound moral teacher. Still others might say He was a loving, but weak person who happened to get killed for a noble, but lost, cause.
Who do you think Jesus is? Are the above opinions accurate to any degree? Or are some relevant details missing? Our age rightly demands open-mindedness and intellectual honesty in any investigation. So also regarding Jesus of Nazareth it is essential to have all the facts before deciding for, or against, Him.
CLEARING UP THE FOG
A very relevant detail that cannot be ignored is what Jesus says about Himself. The fact is His claims are staggering! If the Bible is correct, Jesus looms above and stands apart from every other figure in history. No one else with an ounce of sanity ever made the lofty claims He did. He accepted worship (Matthew 14:33, John 20:28), and claimed the right to (as a third party) forgive the sins of other human beings; a privilege every Jew understood to be reserved only for God Almighty (Luke 5:20f). And He said of Himself, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30); a claim that aroused certain parties to plot His death (John 5:18; 10:30-33). Significantly, a wide array of New Testament writers speak of this One born in a Bethlehem stable to Joseph and Mary as no less than the Creator of the universe in His heavenly pre-existence (John 1:1-3,14, Colossians 1:16f, and Hebrews 1:2f). In summary, the claim of the New Testament is that Jesus is God, the Eternal Son, who became a human being in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4, Philippians 2:5-11).
THE INEVITABILITY OF THEDECISION
What is to be done with such astonishing claims? Clearly, these implications are too enormous to just brush to the side. In fact, the choices open to us are surprisingly few. C.S. Lewis, a former agnostic intellectual who became a Christian believer, has set forth the three basic options with crystal clarity:
I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the sort of thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or he would be the devil of hell. You must make a choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.3
WHAT IS THE REAL ISSUE?
Our relativistic age is confusing the whole issue about Jesus by imagining His relevance to be merely a matter of individual taste, like one’s choice of hats! But the issue is really of an altogether different kind. Your eternal destiny and mine is at stake over what we have done with Jesus Christ (1 John 5:11,12). Either this claim of the New Testament is true or it isn’t. If it is falsehood, then let us go on to something else. But if the claim is true, shall we not come to terms with Him and believe in Him as He commands? The answer to that question rests not on what we may happen to prefer, but on whether Jesus of Nazareth stacks up as the One He claims to be. Helping you decide He indeed is the Eternal Son of God (John 8:58) is what this essay is all about. The following THREE ARGUMENTS, now to be elaborated, point to this conclusion:
I.Jesus’ character is consistent with His high claims.
II. The New Testament is reliable testimony to His life.
III. There is superior historical evidence for His resurrection.
Let us look at a more detailed look at this evidence.
I. JESUS: A LIAR? OR DECEIVED?Although deception, either in the form of self-delusion or as a fraudulent parade before His followers, is a theoretical possibility, it is significant that very few skeptics have ever taken this line of attack. The reason is that the available evidence about Jesus points in the opposite direction. His teaching, for example, reveals an astonishing depth, and His moral principles showed an abhorrence of all forms of dishonesty. Indeed, the almost unanimous opinion regarding Jesus of Nazareth is that He was a person of extraordinary character. His appeal has reached across every social class and culture. And His is a character that has lifted up countless followers to a new plane of life. There is not a hint in the New Testament that Jesus was a less-than-level person. Rather, He exemplified strength and virtue. As Jewish scholar, Joseph Klausner has acknowledged,
Nor is this portrait merely the product of imaginative fervor run wild. Real holiness is impossible for either individuals or communities to invent. Attempts at such an enterprise typically result in a perverse portrait where certain qualities are exaggerated to an extreme, while other essential features are omitted. Genuine holiness is finally recognizable only after an encounter with the surprising person of Jesus of Nazareth. His life actually demolished all stereotypes of the term holy.5I invite you to do your own reading of the Gospels just in case you have been relying on faulty and second-hand information about Jesus. Many people are surprised to discover that the Jesus we actually meet in the Gospels bears no resemblance to the "meek-and-mild" caricatures that they had previously held about Him. H.G. Wells, for example, though himself a staunch opponent of Christianity, admitted about Jesus that He was a "soaring personality" who was "too great for His disciples."6 And literary critic and playwright Dorothy Sayers paints the following portrait of Him:
II. IS THE NEW TESTAMENT RELIABLE?Since it is from the New Testament that we gain our knowledge of Jesus, it is fitting to ask whether such literature is sound and historically accurate. Critics often describe the Gospels as pious legend, having no historical competence, and designed only for propaganda purposes. But while it is acknowledged that the Gospels are not biography in the strict sense according to 20th century definitions,8 the following facts give immense weight to the historical accuracy of the New Testament.
A. ARCHAEOLOGY UPHOLDS THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Archaeologists studying ancient civilizations by uncovering ruins and examining artifacts, are with increasing success confirming the accuracy of the Biblical texts. Sir William Ramsey’s vindication of Luke’s writings is a classic example.9 The findings of archaeology have in fact reversed the opinions of a number of former skeptics. Among these are Dr. William F. Albright, who writes:
The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible [by certain schools of thought] has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of numerous details.10
Recent archaeological discoveries include both the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1f), and "The Pavement" (John 19:13)--their existence was doubted just a few decades ago—and the accuracy of the setting of Jacob’s Well (John ch. 4).11 Such findings have caused many scholars to reverse earlier skeptical opinions on the historicity of the Fourth Gospel. Its author demonstrates an obvious intimate knowledge of the Jerusalem of Jesus’ generation, just as we would expect from the Apostle John, the traditionally held author. Such detail would not have been accessible to a writer of a later generation, since Jerusalem was demolished and all Jews scattered for centuries thereafter, under Titus’ Roman army in the year 70 A.D.
Also, the recent recovery of a Roman census similar to the census in Luke 2:1f (which had earlier been discounted on the grounds of being outrageous), and the historical confirmation of his "synchronism"12 in Luke 3:1f, underscores the care Luke took in writing His Gospel (1:1-4). Critics of his Gospel often retreat into non-verifiable and subjective opinions, but their writings have not overthrown Luke’s historical confirmations.13 By extension, the other two "Synoptic"14 Gospels of Matthew and Mark, painting essentially similar portraits of Jesus’ ministry, are also trustworthy accounts of His life.
It is popularly held that Jesus’ existence is not mentioned by any person of His times outside of the New Testament. But that is simply false. Numerous contemporaneous non-biblical and secular writers, living within 150 years of Jesus’ life, some of whom are outright hostile, mention Jesus’ existence, including Roman writers Tacitus, Seutonius, Thallus, and Pliny, and the Jewish writings of Josephus and the Talmud.15
B. THE GOSPELS BEAR INTERNAL MARKS OF INTEGRITY.
There are also characteristics within the texts themselves which mark the Four Gospels as sober history and neither legend nor fictional propaganda. Consider that the Gospel writers set the leading disciples in very poor light (Matthew 14:30, Mark 9:33f, Luke 22:54f). Notice as well that they included harsh words and difficult sayings by Jesus, which in fact repelled many hearers (Matthew 21:28f, Luke 9:23f, John 8:39f). One distinction of the Four Gospels is that their famed treasure of good news lies not nakedly on the surface, but hidden behind both challenge (Mark 8:34f, John 12:25f)16 and threat (Matthew 25:31f). Such characteristics would have been counterproductive to propagandists. Their presence in the Gospels demonstrates the willingness of the evangelists to tell the truth, however embarrassing or inconvenient.
C. THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED.
Some express concern that the Bible has been altered down through the centuries. It is to this matter that Textual Critics address themselves. They have discovered hundreds of ancient manuscripts, one portion dating to the beginning of the 2nd Century. The New Testament has far better textual support than do the works of Plato, Aristotle, Heroditus, or Tacitus,17 whose contents no one seriously questions. In addition, the New Testament documents have always been both public, and widely disseminated. Thus it would be impossible for any party to have materially changed their documents, just as the Declaration of Independence, for example, as a public document, could not be altered without raising widespread notice and creating public furor. Sir Frederic Kenyon, former Director of the British Museum, comments:
The interval between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence [i.e. our oldest manuscripts] becomes so small as to be negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.18
IN CONCLUSION, it is not necessary that the New Testament be treated with "kid gloves" and backed up by special pleading. With the single addition of an openness to the possibility of the miraculous (see p5), simply allow it to be subject to the very same historical-critical standards that Classical historians apply to their literature. When equal treatment is permitted its course, the Gospels fully pass the test.19
III. THE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS’RESURRECTION.The most powerful sign of all that Jesus is who He claims to be, namely the Son of God, is His resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:29-36), Romans 1:4). Here again we are faced with a question of huge implications: Did it happen? Is the Easter story the great exception to the "usual dreary end of human life?" Some consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be superstition. But take notice of the following partial review of the evidences supporting it as one of the sure and certain events of history. A critical debate on the question "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" took place recently between world-renowned atheistic philosopher, Dr. Antony Flew, and New Testament scholar, Dr. Gary Habermas. A panel of five philosophers from leading universities judged the outcome. What was the conclusion? Four votes for Habermas. None for Flew. And one draw. One respondent to the debate, philosopher Charles Hartshorne, admitted against his own bias, "I can neither explain away the evidence to which Habermas appeals, nor can I simply agree with Flew’s or Hume’s positions."20 Dr. Flew was judged to have retreated into philosophical sophistry while evading a whole host of widely-acknowledged historical facts.
TWELVE WIDELY-ACKNOWLEDGED HISTORICAL FACTS
These facts include: "(1) Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion and (2) was buried. (3) Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope. (4) ...Many scholars hold that Jesus’ tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later. (5) ...At this time the disciples had real experiences that they believed to be literal experiences of the risen Jesus. (6) ...The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify with Jesus, to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection, even being willing to die for this belief. (7) [The resurrection] was central to [their message] and (8) ...proclaimed in Jerusalem [where critics could easily examine the facts surrounding the tomb]. As a result... (9) the Church was born and grew, (10) with Sunday the primary day of worship. (11) James [Jesus’ skeptical brother], and (12) Paul, the great persecutor of the faith, [were both converted by the resurrection]."21
So momentous was this single event in the First Century, its effects have been described as a "widening circle of ripples" from "a boulder crashing into the pool of History." 22 In one of the oddest turns in history, a message resting on the death of a condemned outcast (1 Corinthians 1:23) came to be proclaimed as the foundation for "good news"—which is what the word Gospel means. Equally amazing was the extent of the transformation of the Mediterranean world following from its proclamation. The impetus for this movement was the conviction that the same Jesus who was crucified was now seen alive again. These facts are admitted even by knowledgeable skeptics.23
The Easter story, of course, has had its critics, ever since Day One. From the account of the first guards in Matthew 28:11f, all the way to the present, there have been efforts to explain away the resurrection. Each new attempt, however, is more perverse than those which came before,24 while still failing to account for the range of indisputable facts. Let’s look at the weaknesses of six objections most frequently leveled by critics.
OBJECTION: "THE EASTER ACCOUNTS ARE MYTH; NOT HISTORY."
ANSWER:Negative critics charge that the Gospels have cloaked the original "primitive" Jesus (who is represented in the hypothetical Gospel of Q—see endnote 19), in layers of legend and myth.25 Yet there are at least FOUR REASONS why the mythological interpretation fails. Firstly, comparative literature demonstrates that myth requires a number of generations to develop. There are simply no parallels in other literature of myth developing and being believed in the presence of eye-witnesses and within the short time-frame in which the New Testament was formed.26 Secondly, many of these eye-witnesses to His public ministry were hostile toward the Jesus the Gospels describe (Matthew 12:22f). These opponents had both the motives and the means to correct falsehoods about Him had the first disciples attempted them.27 Yet their opportunity did not produce a serious correction. Thirdly, the Gospels are demonstrably independent from the mystery religions. Nor do they resemble either pagan myth or Jewish legend.28 Rather, the Gospels are absent of embellishment and naked in their descriptions. They betray no burning desire to persuade. They also lack theological reflection, but to the contrary, use rather "primitive" language ("the first day of the week"—Matthew 28:1, John 20:1, as opposed to "on the third day"—1 Corinthians 15:4). They also contain other details that are counter-productive to the invention of legendary heroes. For example, the following six factors in John chapter 20 are at odds with the tendency of legendary material: a) With great restraint, no attempt is made to describe the actual drama itself of Jesus rising from the dead. b) Mary neither recognized Jesus (the "hero") initially (v.14), c) nor even considered there was anything special about Him (v.16). d) Indeed, even by the end of the day His disciples were still in hiding "for fear of the Jews" (v.19). e) And were the Gospels the product of paternalistic (male dominant) bias, as feminists charge, it is incredible their alleged "inventors" would have chosen to create women as the first witnesses of the Risen Jesus. The testimony of women didn’t even count legally in ancient Middle Eastern cultures.29 f) Yet it was their courage going to the tomb on Easter morning that effectively put the men’s contrasting cowardice to shame. Fourthly, the Jews were the poorest candidates for inventing a mythical Christ. No other culture in history has more opposed mythically confusing deity with humanity, than they.30
OBJECTION: "MIRACLES ARE NOT POSSIBLE."
ANSWER:The success of modern science in explaining the world in terms of cosmic regularity has led some to rule out miracles as an outmoded and impossible concept. Yet that is an unwarranted philosophical assumption and not a scientific conclusion. And philosophy cannot dogmatically forbid miracle apart from proof of no reality outside of nature. Once the existence of a transcendent, wise and powerful God (as in the God of Israel) is granted as a possibility, miracles can’t be dismissed out of hand. For the actual strength of the case for His existence consider the 2nd reference in both endnotes no. 1 and 36. Skeptical prejudice typically leads to an evasion of the evidence, rather than to that kind of critical analysis which is required on a case-by-case basis.31
OBJECTION: "THE BODY WAS STOLEN."
ANSWER:The tomb was indeed empty.32 Yet neither the Jewish nor the Roman leaders, who had the tomb guarded (Matthew 27:62f), would have taken the body. Rather, both had every motive to produce the body publicly in order to humiliate the first disciples and nip their movement in the bud. And since the scene in question was right at Jerusalem, it was completely within their power to locate the corpse should it still have existed. Yet to their dismay, no such body was ever produced.
In addition to the hostile guards, Jesus’ followers likewise had no incentive for hiding the corpse to pretend the resurrection. The dire consequences of their loyalty to Him included beating, imprisonments, and even death. No sane person chooses these for what they know is false. Under such pressures liars confess their deceptions and betray their cohorts.
Some assert, however, that Jesus was raised only spiritually and not bodily, so that whether the body remained in the tomb is irrelevant. But Jewish anthropology rejected both the body/soul dualism and the notion of the immortality of the soul of Greco-Roman thought. Judaism could not conceive of a "spiritual" resurrection without a body. And if it indeed actually had happened that Jesus’ body remained in the grave, Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15) would have attempted to reconcile the apparent contradiction.33
OBJECTION: "JESUS MERELY RECOVERED FROM HIS WOUNDS".
ANSWER:Crucifixion was in reality an excruciating experience—indeed, these two words are clearly related. The cause of death by crucifixion was multi-factorial and torturous! These factors included exhaustion asphyxia, dehydration, and congestive heart failure.34 That Jesus could have survived such agony on a Roman cross, to limp out of the tomb by His own power is improbable enough! That His bloodied appearance could have been overlooked, so that He could deceive despairing disciples into believing He was the "Risen Lord of Life" is absurd! And such an attempt would have incriminated Jesus as a fraud. Only a supernaturally raised Jesus was capable of healing and empowering the broken hearts of the disciples.
OBJECTION: "THE WITNESSES WERE JUST ‘SEEING THINGS.’"
ANSWER:On one point virtually all scholars of every stripe agree: The first disciples were themselves utterly convinced they had seen the risen Christ.35 The Easter message breathes through virtually every New Testament document. So the real question is, how do we account for their obvious conviction? Were they just hallucinating? While sounding plausible, many factors contradict it.36 For one, the large number of witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), covering the spectrum of personality types (John 20 -- Peter, Thomas, the two Marys, etc.), contradict the theory of hallucinations which, by definition, are not shared experiences. Also, the substantial, permanent, and positive change in lifestyle of many of the converted overthrows any theory of hallucination. Jewish scholar, Dr. Pinchas Lapide, has written:
When this frightened band of Apostles suddenly could be changed over-night into a confident mission society...Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.
OBJECTION: "THE EASTER STORIES ARE FULL OF CONTRADICTIONS."
ANSWER:The Gospels admittedly take work to reconcile. But this problem, as it is typically framed, is vastly overstated. It is important to note that a contradiction goes beyond two parties merely sharing differing sets of observations (which may both finally be shown to be true). Contradictory observations must be shown to be impossible to reconcile. It is true that Matthew focuses on Jesus’ Galillean appearances while Luke gives his entire attention to His appearances in Jerusalem. Yet neither says He only appeared in their respective areas. So there is no reason to infer from either of them dishonesty or ignorance of the larger story. Reporters to any event (secular or religious), following all standards of accuracy and integrity, will each edit their stories differently with their eyes on what is relevant to their readers. Since none of the Gospel writers were "under strict orders" to tell absolutely everything Jesus ever did, the rigid demands of the hypercritics that all four Gospels tell exactly the same story, are arbitrary and artificial. Regarding Easter morning’s first hours, Dr. Sayers provides urgently needed common sense by writing:
One is often surprised to find how many apparent contradictions turn out to be not contradictory at all, but merely supplementary... Divergences appear very great on first sight... But the fact remains that all of the [Easter accounts], without exception, can be made to fall into a place in a single orderly and coherent narrative, without the smallest contradiction or difficulty and without any suppression, invention, or manipulation, beyond a trifling effort to imagine the natural behavior of a bunch of startled people running about in the dawnlight between Jerusalem and the garden.38
FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION
The explosive growth of the Church demands the resurrection of Jesus to account for it. It wasn’t the powerful, backed by armies, wealth, and prestige, but mere commoners,39 burdened with every cultural strike against them (1 Corinthians 1:26f), whose Easter message peacefully overcame the Roman Empire. Who could have predicted such an impossible feat? Yet the "impossible" actually did happen!40
That Christianity had its origin in Judaism41 is further evidence for His resurrection. What else could have led so many Jews who had longed for a military deliverer, instead to accept a shamefully hung "criminal" (Galatians 3:13) as their promised Messiah? And what else could have moved Jews to break their monotheistic42 convictions to worship Jesus as God the Son (John 1:18, Acts 6:7), or change their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday (Acts 20:7)? Jewish bias against the Jesus of the New Testament was massive. A mere invented myth would have been powerless to overthrow their hopes and traditions in favor of a condemned outcast.43 Neither could metaphor have empowered Jews into their willing martyrdom.
In addition, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus points to a momentous miracle. Without question something major happened to this most influential figure of the entire 1st Century apart from Christ.44 Having begun as a violent enemy of the Church (Acts 8:3; 9:1), he was utterly turned around into becoming Jesus’ servant. Henceforth choosing suffering for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 11:23f), Paul gave up all he had, endured persecution, and preached "Christ crucified" in city after city all the way to Rome, where he died a martyr’s death. For reasons described in the previous paragraph, his new faith was "miles" from a natural progression out of Judaism. Nor was his conversion impelled by a sense of guilt and inadequacy. Rather, he had been a proud and satisfied Pharisaic Jew (Galatians 1:13-15, Philippians 3:4-7). Nothing short of an encounter with the risen Christ has remotely explained his major about-face.
The other Apostles also, overcame fear to brave suffering, imprisonment, and death as they proclaimed the Good News of the Risen Christ across their world. Is it thinkable these people would die so willingly for merely a myth?45 In contrast to others who have died for an unverifiable hope beyond the grave (e.g. mystics seeking reincarnation or Moslem militants expecting reward from Allah), Jesus’ disciples lived and died for the publicly verifiable claim that the grave was empty and He was seen alive again. Legal scholar, Dr. Simon Greenleaf, writes::
Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, [early Christians received] contempt, opposition ...and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate, and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only [continued] their work with increased vigor and resolution...The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of like heroic constancy... and unblenching courage...If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error…From these [considerations] there is no escape but in the perfect conviction and admission that they were good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed...and well knew to be true.46
THAT CONCLUSION WHICH LEADS TO A NEW BEGINNING
"Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge," writes J.N.D. Anderson, late Dean of the School of Law at the University of London "...If it is true, then it is the supreme fact of history, and to fail to adjust one’s life to its implications means irreparable loss."47
Indeed, this essay is not about mere historical curiosity, but about an event of enormous consequences to you. For according to Romans 1:4, Jesus’ resurrection affirms the Bible’s high claims about Him (see p. 2 of this essay), and that He is the way to heaven that God has provided (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). It guarantees there will be a Last Judgment (Acts 17:31), and that there is a Heaven and a Hell (Revelation 1:18). Yet this Risen Christ offers the forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation for whoever believes in Him (John 11:25,26, Romans 4:24,25). Everyone is inescapably affected by these implications. Therefore you cannot afford to remain an agnostic regarding Jesus and His claim on you. While many today are indifferent to such matters, avoiding Him is not an honest proposition. The mounting evidence supporting His claims demands your consideration.
And consideration is demanded not only for your intellect, but for your whole being! For the One who is "Alive forevermore" (Revelation 1:18) says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and [fellowship with you]" (Revelation 3:20). By "door" is meant access to your heart, mind, and will. Jesus wills entry into your life that He may be your Savior and Lord. So "Today...Do not harden your heart" (Hebrews 4:7). Rather, open your heart, and let the One who died and rose for you come in!48
** Separates citations within each note
I gratefully acknowledge Michael Green’s inspiration in producing this essay. His expressive phraseology appears here and there.
1.J.B. Phillips. Ring of Truth. (Shaw, 1967), This noted British scholar observes, "Over the years I have had hundreds of conversations with people, many of them of a higher intellectual calibre than my own, who quite obviously had no idea what Christianity is really about...they knew virtually nothing. This I find pathetic and somewhat horrifying. It means that the most important event in history is politely passed by. For it is not as though the evidence had been examined and found unconvincing; it had simply never been examined" (p.24).
In a recent public debate on the existence of God, renowned agnostic philosopher Dr. Kai Nielsen, was confronted with the evidence for Easter. He admitted his ignorance, saying, "I don’t know much about such things...Suppose there were good evidence for [Christ’s resurrection]. I have no idea if there is or isn’t." See J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen. Does God Exist? The Great Debate. (Nelson, 1990), p.64.
2. Current trends influenced by Soren Kierkegaard in Training in Christianity. (Princeton, 1967), p.28f), ** and described by Francis Schaeffer in Escape from Reason. (I.V.P. 1972), divorce faith from reason. ** Joseph Campbell is a contemporary example. See his book The Power of Myth; with Bill Moyers. (Doubleday, 1988). When Campbell had just admitted to disbelief in a personal god, a Catholic priest asked him whether logical argument might change his mind. Campbell replied, "No, Father, What then would be the value of faith?" (p.243) Yet his answer in fact is a perversion of faith when he regards it as illogical. Of course faith is not sight. But to have faith does imply a discernible trustworthiness on the part of its object. ** Another position, more sympathetic to mine with respect to the credibility of the New Testament, but still minimizing the role of reason in faith, is held by Luke Timothy Johnson in The Real Jesus. (Harper, 1996). ** But in fact the New Testament recognizes a broad range of supporting evidence (John 20:30,31, Acts 1:3, Romans 1:20f), and urges the use of our minds to proclaim it (1 Peter 3:15). Demonstrating the credibility of faith’s object does not nullify faith, but separates true faith from mere credulity. Nor is belief in the facts of the Gospel necessarily in opposition to being in a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Marcus Borg’s either/or assertion that it must be one or the other, in a personal letter to me dated December 1, 1998, commits the black or white fallacy. Rather, both are connected within the context of New Testament Christianity. ** See also F.F. Bruce. The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament. (I.V.P. 1977), ** Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, esp. chs. 1 and 2, "The Nature, Power and Limitation of Apologetics," and "Faith and Reason." (I.V.P., 1994). Incidentally, apologetics doesn’t mean to apologize for, but rather to give a reasoned defense of one’s "hope" in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). ** Martin Luther. Luther’s Works. v.26, (Concordia, 1963). p.29f, ** and v.28, (Concordia, 1973), p.76, 147-155. ** John W. Montgomery. Faith Founded on Fact. (Nelson, 1978). Luther’s defense of the Gospel is discussed on p.129f. **And John R.W. Stott. Your Mind Matters. (I.V.P. 1972).
3. C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. (Macmillan, 1952), p.55,6.
4. Josh McDowell, ed. Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (Campus Crusade, 1972), p.133.
5. C.F.D. Moule. The Phenomenon of the New Testament. (SCM), 1967), writes, "It is difficult enough for anyone, even a consummate master of imaginative writing, to create a picture of a deeply pure, good person, moving...in an impure environment, without making him a prig or prude or a sort of plaster saint. How is it that, through all the Gospel traditions [we find a] remarkably firmly-drawn portrait of an attractive young man moving freely among women of all sorts, including the decidedly disreputable, without a trace of sentimentality, unnaturalness, or prudery and yet, at every point, maintaining a simple integrity of character?" (p.63,4).
6. H.G. Wells. The Outline of History. (Garden City Books, 1920), v.II, p.425,6.
7. Dorothy Sayers. The Whimsical Christian: Eighteen Essays. (Macmillan, 1978), p.14.
8. But N.T. Wright of Oxford University writes that the four canonical Gospels do in fact fit into the broad genre of Hellenistic biography. See his Who Was Jesus? (Eerdmans, 1992), p.73f.
9. Sir William Ramsey. St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen. (Baker reprint: 1949 from 1894 lectures). Intent on discrediting Luke’s writings, in the last century this hostile scholar traveled across the Mediterranean to that end. But he was astonished to discover that his archaeological findings confirmed again and again the customs, locations, and the governing titles (e.g. "proconsul," "magistrate," "tribunal," etc.) Luke had mentioned. He finally concluded, "Great historians are the rarest of writers... [I regard Luke] among the historians of the first rank" (p.3,4).
10. W.F. Albright. The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible. (Revell, 1935), p.127.
11. Raymond Brown. The Gospel According to John I-XII. (Doubleday, 1966), p.XLII. ** W.F. Albright. The Archaeology of Palestine. (Penguin, 1956), p.243f.
12. "Synchronism" means the tying together of unrelated events into a single timeline.
13. Hans Conzelmann’s Theology of St.Luke. (Harper and Row, 1958) is virtually devoid of archaeological discussion, while pretensions of seeing through Luke’s unstated theological intentions pervade his pages. Yet where Conzelmann charges Luke with an error on a matter that can be explored objectively, he is easily refuted. Specifically, on p.94 he writes that Luke contradicted himself by assigning Jesus’ ascension to Bethany in Luke 24:50, but to the Mount of Olives in Acts 1:12. Yet the former does not say "into" (eis) Bethany, but rather, literally, "until toward" (heos pros) it. That is, in the Gospel Jesus is leading His disciples up the road onto the Mount of Olives until it begins its descent toward Bethany. ** Also, Conzelmann’s charge that Luke confused the location of Judea and Galilee has been refuted in recent scholarship. See I.H. Marshall. Luke: Historian and Theologian. (Paternoster, 1970), p.70f. Marshall’s work is a direct challenge to Conzelmann’s position that Luke had only theological interests. ** A.N. Sherwin-White. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. (Oxford, 1963), a renowned Classical historian, writes, "It is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the 20th Century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no-less-promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the developments of form criticism...As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit in Jerusalem [e.g. Herod and Pontius Pilate] confirmation begins. For Acts [authored by Luke], the confirmation of historicity is over-whelming" (p.107f).
14. "Synoptic" means to describe Jesus in a similar way (syn = together; optos = sight).
15. Gary Habermas. The Verdict of History. (Nelson, 1988), p.169. Cited are 39 ancient extra-biblical sources, including 17 non-Christian, that witness from outside the New Testament to over 100 details of Jesus’ life. While each detail might be called sketchy when taken individually, they amount to a very significant whole when added up together.
16. G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy. (Image, 1959), p.157.
17. The closest we get to the original documents of each of the mentioned secular Classical writers is between 900 and 1300 years. By contrast, the "John Rylands Fragment" of the New Testament, containing John 18:31-33, has been dated as early as 130 A.D. Entire manuscripts of the New Testament can be dated to within 300 years of its completion. Virtually complete New Testament books as well as extensive fragments can be dated to within 100 years of its close. Nearly the entire New Testament can be found in quotations by the early Christian writers. See F.F. Bruce. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (I.V.P. 1972), p.14f.
18. F.F. Bruce. Ibid, p.20.
19. Military historian C. Sanders lists three tests in his Introduction to Research in English Literary History. (Macmillan, 1952), p.143f. ** And seven factors are cited by C. Behan McCullagh in his Justifying Historical Descriptions. (Cambridge, 1984), p.19f., as criteria for valid analysis of historical documents. ** Using these sets of standards, John Warwick Montgomery. History and Christianity. (Bethany, 1965), and ** William Lane Craig in "Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?" M. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, ed. Jesus Under Fire. (Zondervan, 1995), p.141f, respectively, roundly vindicate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. ** See also endnote no. 13.
Among those who work outside of the normal canons of historical research is The Jesus Seminar, a gathering of the skeptical-minded whose conclusions are published in Robert Funk, ed. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. (Polebridge, 1993). The most public part of their undertaking involves their voting with colored beads (red, pink, gray, and black) in an attempt to determine the relative "authenticity" of each of the "Jesus sayings." Their negative "conclusion" is that He said as few as 18% of the sayings that the Four Gospels attributed to Him. Yet far from even attempting historical objectivity, their project is actually a stacked deck of hostile presuppositions. Their negative prejudice, nakedly driven less by a search for the truth than by an obvious desire to stick it to those fundamentalists (p.1f,5), is far afield from valid historical inquiry.
First, they reject miracle stories out-of-hand as fiction on the allegation that miracles aren’t possible. On this count alone their whole enterprise is poisoned at the outset because in advance of any inquiry, every "conclusion" is already decided.
Second, they presume the Gospels to be error-ridden and implicitly inferior to all other contemporaneous sources (p.4). Thumbing their noses at the judgement of the early Christians (who, after all, propagated their portrait in the presence of hostile eye-witnesses and then willingly went to their deaths for their message), they give the highly problematic apocryphal Gospel of Thomas at least equal if not greater weight than the canonical Gospels (p.15f, 26). They also argue that a so-called Gospel of Q (p.13f.), which they allege is older than our Four Gospels, portrays a "primitive" and non-miraculous Jesus who also had no messianic trappings.
Third, they presume the faith-motivated first Christians weren’t interested in history, and willingly put words into Jesus’ mouth to fulfill their own needs. Under their brand of criteria of dissimilarity, which they rename distinctive discourse (p.30f), the only words they accept as authentically from Jesus and thus not borrowed, are those which differ from both the concerns of the early Church and from the surrounding Judaistic culture.
Fourth, many assert that Christians invented aspects of Jesus’ life to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. For example, John Dominic Crossan describes the Gospels "not [as] history remembered, but prophecy historicized," in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. (Harper-Collins, 1995), p.145.
Fifth, on the basis of sociological probabilities, they disallow from consideration unique events just because they would not normally happen (e.g. the honorable and private burial of anyone who had been crucified as a criminal).
For additional firsthand reading of Seminar writers see also Marcus Borg. The God We Never Knew. (Harper, 1997). Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. (Harper, 1999). ** John Dominic Crossan. The Birth of Christianity. (Harper, 1998). ** And Robert Funk, ed. The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? (Polebridge, 1998).
IN REBUTTAL, first, the above opposition to miracle is based on an outmoded, 19th century view of science and, in the context of naturalistic criteria, commits the logical fallacy of begging the question (assuming what they seek to prove). ** See also p.5 and note 31 of this essay. Now this is not an appeal to uncritically accept every miracle claim that comes our way. But G.K. Chesterton, Op.cit. (16), correctly assigns the term dogmatist where it actually belongs by writing, "Somehow...an extraordinary idea has arisen that disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them...It is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence, being constrained to do so by your creed" (p.150).
Second, their saddling of the burden of proof onto the Gospels instead of onto the critics, violates the entire tradition of historical research. Wayne Booth argues rightly that "Abstract commands to ‘doubt pending proof’ [ought to be replaced] with [what is] the ancient and natural command to ‘assent pending disproof,’" in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent. (University of Chicago Press, 1974), p.101. ** Dr. Montgomery turns us back to "Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself," in Op.Cit. (19). p.29. ** Such is the principle of Classical historians, notes Michael Grant in Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. (Scribner’s, 1977), p.201. ** As for The Gospel of Thomas, contra the Seminar, that apocryphal work was heavily influenced by gnosticism (second-century, secret-knowledge cults whose teachings were wide-afield of the Four Gospels and the New Testament Letters), and is for this reason alone dated by the broad majority of scholars to the middle of the next century after the close of the New Testament. See John Meier. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. v.I. (Doubleday, 1991), p.124-166. ** In addition, since the Gospel of Thomas reflects material from "every layer" (so-called) of all four Canonical Gospels, it is far more likely Thomas used them as his sources than that all four of the latter used The Gospel of Thomas, notes Craig Blomberg in "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" in M. Wilkins, etc. Op.cit. (19), p.23. ** Likewise the Seminar’s reliance on the so-called Gospel of Q is not sound. While other Gospels undoubtedly circulated before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John appeared (Luke 1:1), Q is nevertheless merely a hypothetical construct. There is, in other words, no actual Q document to examine. Nor, consequently, is there the slightest documentary evidence of a "Jesus" who was more "primitive than the one whom the four Gospels portray. To the contrary, the documentary evidence is that belief in Jesus’ deity was very early. See note 26.
Principles behind their third presumption were rejected by secular historians decades ago as Edgar Krentz admits in The Historical Critical Method. (Fortress, 1975), p.78f. Consistent use of their principles absurdly leads to a Jew who is more or less stripped of His Jewishness, and to the founder of a Church whose followers rarely bothered to actually quote Him, least of all correctly. And their "Jesus" fails to account for the strong reactions of His contemporaries. The few words they judge authentic reduce Jesus to an insipid eccentric who would have been powerless to create the strong reactions either against Him that resulted in His death, or for Him in the movement that turned their world upside-down. The notion that the first Christians weren’t interested in Jesus’ pre-crucifixion words is so improbable as to require direct and substantial evidence of a kind not remotely produced. And who is supposed to have created those world-changing words critics allege were put into His mouth? Not communities, which at most shape, but never create, profound discourse. See Vincent Taylor. The Formation of the Gospel Tradition. (Macmillan, 1935), p.107f. ** Likewise, the oft’touted notion that "anonymous Christian prophets" created Jesus’ words is shown to be without legitimate analogy. See Ben Witherington. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. (I.V.P. 1995), p.200. ** Also, David Hill. "On the Evidence for the Creative Role of Christian Prophets." New Testament Studies. (April, 1974), p.262f. ** Writes John Bright, "It is far easier to credit such...insight to Jesus Himself—who, on the very lowest count, was one of the great creative minds in history—than to His early disciples, who were, for the most part, humble and very ordinary men." The Kingdom of God. (Abingdon, 1953), p.209.
Fourth, for reasons described on page 9, there were no motives whatever for Jews to have been interested in a crucified peasant, that would have led them to invent words and deeds corresponding to Old Testament prophecy.
Fifth, while open-eyed hesitation about the acceptance of unique material is a valuable critical skill, steadfast refusal to grant even the slightest exceptions betrays itself as hostile prejudice. This is especially so in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, whose entire life is broadly-acknowledged to have been marked by the extraordinary. Consider Raymond Brown’s observations in endnote 32.
For in-depth critique of the tendencies of the Jesus Seminar see Paul Barnett. The Truth About Jesus. (Aquila, 1994), ** Borg and Wright. Op.cit. (19). ** Paul Copan, ed. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. (Baker, 1998). ** R.T. France. The Evidence for Jesus. (I.V.P. 1986). ** Richard B. Hayes. "The Corrected Jesus." First Things. (May, 1994), p.43f, ** Luke Timothy Johnson. Op.cit. (2). ** C.S. Lewis. "Fern Seeds and Elephants." Christian Reflections. (Collins, 1980), p.191f. Eta Linnemann. Is There a Synoptic Problem? (Baker, 1992). ** Josh McDowell, ed. More Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (Campus Crusade, 1975), p.179f. ** John Meier. Op.cit. (19). ** M. Wilkins, etc., Op.cit. (19). ** Ben Witherington. Op.cit. (19). ** N.T. Wright. The New Testament and the People of God. (Fortress, 1992). ** Ibid. Jesus and the Victory of God. (Fortress, 1996). ** Ibid. Who Was Jesus? (Eerdmans, 1992).
20. Gary Habermas and Antony Flew. Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (Harper and Row, 1987), p.XIIIf, 142. ** Similarly Crossan and his associates fail to answer Craig’s widely-acknowledged historical arguments in Paul Copan. Op.cit. (19). ** E.P. Sanders lists eighteen "almost indisputable facts" of Jesus’ life in his Jesus and Judaism. (Fortress, 1985), p.11.
21. Ibid. p.19,20.
22. Karl Barth. The Word of God and the Word of Man. (Harper, 1957), p.63.
23. Will Durant. The Story of Civilization. v.III. (Simon and Schuster, 1972), p.553f. ** Arnold Toynbee. The Crucible of Christianity. (World, 1969), p.234.
24. John Shelby Spong. Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (Harper, 1994), writes that Peter felt so bad about Jesus’ death that he imagined Him back to life (p.255). ** Gerd Luedemann argues similarly in The Resurrection of Jesus. (Fortress, 1994), p.97f. ** William Lane Craig vs. Robert Greg Cavin. Dead or Alive? A Debate on the Resurrection of Jesus. (Simon Greenleaf University, 1995). Dr. Cavin of U.C. Irvine argues that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who began a hoax about the resurrection. ** Barbara Thiering. Jesus The Man: A New Interpretation From the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Doubleday, 1992), argues that the Gospels are in "coded" language which she has cracked through her reading the Dead Sea Scrolls. Her bizarre theory says Jesus was drugged, crucified by the Dead Sea, yet He survived. He married Mary Magdalene, and then another, and then died of old age. Notice the ludicrous improbability here: The entire early Church is alleged to have been completely fooled, while Thiering, 20 centuries later, singly gets it right. ** C.S. Lewis anticipates by several decades and exposes such pretentions in Op.cit. (19), p.191f.
25. Rudolf Bultmann. Jesus Christ and Mythology. (Scribner’s, 1958). ** Robert Funk. The Acts... Op.cit. (19), p.2.
26. Historical research is on the side of immediate belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Dr. Borg misleads readers when he implies the resurrection stories developed over a period of 100 years (Op.cit. (19), p.95). A credal summary of the resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:3-11) has been dated to just 3 to 5 years after Jesus’ passion, and presumes prior public belief leading up to the creed itself. See Reginald Fuller. Foundations of New Testament Christology. (Scribner’s 1965). p.142. ** Even the Jesus Seminar concedes this early date in Robert Funk. The Acts... Op.cit. (19), p.454. ** Scholars agree that the first letters by the Apostle Paul appeared within 20 years, and the Four Gospels within 35 to 65 years of Jesus’ ministry. See F.F. Bruce. Op.cit. (17), p.11f. ** Indeed, while still debated among scholars, John A.T. Robinson argues that given its silence on the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D., the entire New Testament must have been completed prior to that date. See his Redating the New Testament. (SCM, 1976). ** Also, Earl Ellis. "Dating the New Testament." New Testament Studies. (July, 1980), p.487f. ** For since the Temple’s demise would have fueled Christian preaching that Jesus had replaced the Temple sacrificial system (John 1:29, Hebrews 10:11f, Jacob Neusner. Jesus in the Beginning of Christianity. (Fortress, 1984), p.91.), the New Testament would certainly have referred to its destruction as a past event. In addition, the Gospels would have distinguished it from the end of the world (Luke 21:25-28), had it already happened.
John Macquarrie. God Talk: an Examination of the Language and Logic of Theology. (Harper and Row, 1967), writes, "Myth is usually characterized by a remoteness in time and space...as having taken place long ago." The Gospels by contrast concern "an event that had a particular definite location in Palestine...under Pontius Pilate, only a generation or so before the New Testament account of these happenings" (p.177,80) . ** A.N. Sherwin-White. Op.cit. (13), writes, "The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time...than can be the case...Heroditus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core" (p.189,90).
27. Eta Linnemann. Op.cit.(19), writes, "The eyewitnesses [both sympathetic and hostile] did not disappear from the scene in a flash after two decades. [Many are] likely to have survived until the second half of the A.D. 70’s...Who at the time would have dared to alter the ‘first tradition’ beyond recognition?" (p.64).
Michael Grant. Op.cit. (19), writes, "Modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory [that inspiration for Jesus’ death and resurrection was drawn from the Egyptian and Mesopotamian nature myths of Osiris, Mithras, etc.] It has again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars" (p.200). ** J.Gresham Machen thoroughly refutes the theory in The Origin of Paul’s Religion. (Eerdmans, 1925), especially chs. VI and VII on mystery religions in the Hellenistic age. He notes for example, that most of those pagan sources asserted to have inspired Christianity are actually dated after Christ by one to three centuries. To name just one, the first mention at all of any Roman Taurobolium rite was the 2nd Century, and the full-blown rite in which blood from a slaughtered bull covered the candidate who was then "reborn forever," is dated the third century after Christ. The few sources which preceded the First-century were so superficial in their similarity to Christ as to fade into irrelevance. And they were theologically abhorrent to monotheistic Israel. ** See also endnote 30 ** Also Edwin Yamauchi. "Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History?" Christianity Today. (March 15 and 29, 1974
N.T. Wright challenges Bishop Spong’s assertion that the Gospels are Jewish midrash and therefore fantasy in Op.cit. (8), pointing out that the two are different genres. And midrash is not fantasy anyway, but "tightly controlled and argued" material (p.71f). ** See also Paul Barnett, Peter Jensen, and David Peterson. Resurrection: Truth and Reality: Three Scholars Reply to Bishop Spong. (Aquila, 1994). ** And R.T. France. "Jewish Historicity, Midrash, and the Gospels." R.T. France and David Wenham, eds. Gospel Perspectives, v.III, (JSOT, 1983), p.99-127.
Michael Green. The Empty Cross of Jesus. (I.V.P. 1984), p.115. ** Joachim Jeremias. New Testament Theology. (SCM, 1971), p.306.
28. Michael Grant. Op.cit. (19), writes, "Modern critical
methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory [that inspiration for Jesus’
death and resurrection was drawn from the Egyptian and Mesopotamian nature myths
of Osiris, Mithras, etc.] It has again and again been answered and annihilated
by first-rank scholars" (p.200). ** J.Gresham Machen thoroughly refutes
the theory in The Origin of Paul’s Religion. (Eerdmans, 1925), especially chs.
VI and VII on mystery religions in the Hellenistic age. He notes for example,
that most of those pagan sources asserted to have inspired Christianity are
actually dated after Christ by one to three centuries. To name just one, the
first mention at all of any Roman Taurobolium rite was the 2nd Century, and the
full-blown rite in which blood from a slaughtered bull covered the candidate who
was then "reborn forever," is dated the third century after Christ. The few
sources which preceded the First-century were so superficial in their similarity
to Christ as to fade into irrelevance. And they were theologically
abhorrent to monotheistic Israel. ** See also endnote 30 ** Also Edwin Yamauchi.
"Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History?" Christianity Today. (March 15
and 29, 1974
N.T. Wright challenges Bishop Spong’s assertion that the Gospels are Jewish midrash and therefore fantasy in Op.cit. (8), pointing out that the two are different genres. And midrash is not fantasy anyway, but "tightly controlled and argued" material (p.71f). ** See also Paul Barnett, Peter Jensen, and David Peterson. Resurrection: Truth and Reality: Three Scholars Reply to Bishop Spong. (Aquila, 1994). ** And R.T. France. "Jewish Historicity, Midrash, and the Gospels." R.T. France and David Wenham, eds. Gospel Perspectives, v.III, (JSOT, 1983), p.99-127.
29. Michael Green. The Empty Cross of Jesus. (I.V.P. 1984), p.115. ** Joachim Jeremias. New Testament Theology. (SCM, 1971), p.306.
30. Michael Grant. Op.cit. (19), writes, "Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seems so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit" (p.199).
31. Thus David Hume’s noted skeptical study, "Of Miracles." An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. L.A. Selby-Bigge, ed. (Clarendon, 1902), doesn’t grapple with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection even once. And his arguments have been repeatedly answered and refuted. For example, his contention that no amount of evidence is ever sufficient to overturn unbelief in the face of a miracle-claim, commits the logical fallacy of begging the question. This is especially so since he conveniently excludes from consideration, and denigrates all persons who fall outside his self-defined uniformity of human experience category. One person has wisely described such tactics as philosophical gerrymandering. See C.S. Lewis. Miracles. (Macmillan, 1960), **John Warwick Montgomery. Op.cit. (2), p.43f, ** and Ronald Nash. Faith and Reason. (Zondervan, 1948), p.225f. ** Even atheistic philosopher Antony Flew concedes that David Hume’s touted objections to miracles involve "gross weaknesses," in Habermas and Flew. Op.cit. (20), p.34. ** See also note 19.
32. Wolfhort Pannenberg.
Jesus-God and Man. (SCM, 1968), quotes Paul Althaus approvingly that the
resurrection message "could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single
day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as
a fact..." (p.100). ** William Lane Craig observes, "Conflicting
traditions [to the empty tomb story] nowhere appear, even in Jewish polemic, in
Michael Wilkins, etc. Op.cit. (19), p.149. ** Elsewhere, Dr. Craig cites
45 prominent New Testament Scholars who hold that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty
on Sunday morning. See his "The Empty Tomb of Jesus." R.T. France and David
Wenham, eds. Gospel Perspectives, v.II, (JSOT, 1981), p.190.** Renowned
Oxford Classical historian Michael Grant, writes, "If we apply the same criteria
that we would apply to other ancient literary sources, the evidence is firm and
plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found
empty." Op.cit. (19), p.176. ** And Paul Meier. "The Empty Tomb as
History." Christianity Today. (March 28, 1975), writes, "If all the evidence is
weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons
of historical research, to conclude that [Jesus’ tomb] was actually empty...And
no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or
archaeology that would disprove this statement" (p.5).
Contrary to Crossan’s earlier work, Jesus.. Op.cit. (19), the notion that the Romans must have forbidden Jesus’ private burial, so that He was rather thrown into a common pit where His body was lost into oblivion (p.154c), is not sustainable. ** Raymond Brown shows rather that Roman burial policy varied with circumstances. Specific examples are cited showing they actually allowed the personal burial of some of the crucified, in his The Death of the Messiah. v.II. (Doubleday, 1994), p.1205f. ** Crossan’s common-pit scenario also contradicts the consistent Jewish protest that the body had been removed. See Justin Martyr’s "Dialogue with Trypho," and the "Toledoth Yeshu," a Jewish tale that the owner of the grave sold the body of Jesus which was then dragged through the city streets. Both are discussed in Gary Habermas. Op.cit. (15), p.99f. ** Furthermore, the Gospels could not have successfully invented as owner of the tomb one so public and specific as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin named Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43). Such an alleged falsehood would have let to swift correction and ridicule from the Jews.
33. Paul Barnett, etc. Op.cit. (28), p.14. ** In a recent set of addresses, Marcus Borg proclaimed that the first Christians would have believed in Jesus’ (spiritual) resurrection, even if His body had remained in the grave. Yet in an earlier debate entitled, "A Conversation on the Historical Jesus," N.T. Wright challenged Borg on that very assertion, saying, to the contrary, that a bodiless resurrection would not have occurred to the Jewish mind. (Regent College Videos, Vancouver, B.C.), part 3. ** See also Borg and Wright. (Op.cit. 19). ** When this writer publicly questioned Dr. Borg about that interchange, he conceded the truth of Dr. Wright’s objection, while claiming a few Jewish Scriptures (Daniel 12:1-3 and The Book of Jubilees) to be exceptions to the prevailing Jewish view. But the problem for Borg is that his few questionable exceptions don’t even begin to make his point (questionable, for example, by interpreting highly symbolic Daniel literally in order to interpret historical narrative in the Gospels metaphorically). In addition, he was caught in a contradiction. For if it really was true that the body was irrelevant to belief in Jesus’ resurrection, then what possible motive did the Christians have for inventing (as he alleges) the empty tomb stories? Borg’s answer that, in part, it might have helped "simple-minded" believers is absurd. For that would have meant a willingness to misrepresent the status of a publicly known tomb for the sake of a view of death Jews (by Borg’s reckoning) didn’t believe in anyway. This discussion took place at his series of lectures on October 31, 1998, at Bethel Lutheran Church of Shoreline, Shoreline, WA. ** For further insight on Jewish insistence on a bodily resurrection see also Pinchas Lapide. The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective. (Fortress, 1988), p.44-65.
34. William Edwards, MD., et.al. "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ." The Journal of the American Medical Association. (March 26, 1986), p.1455-1463.
35. Michael Grant. Op.cit. (19), writes, "These accounts do prove that certain people were utterly convinced that [Jesus had risen.]" (p.176). ** Even historical skeptic, Rudolf Bultmann, concedes the disciples certitude to be a "fact" in Kerygma and Myth. v.I, (SPCK, 1953), p.42. ** Also, John Shelby Spong. Op.cit. (24), who admits, "The change [in the disciples] was measurable and objective even if the cause of this change is debated. [It] was part of that first-century explosion of power that cannot be denied by any student of history" (p.26).
36. Luke Timothy Johnson. Op.cit. (2), p.139,40. ** Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. Op.cit (2), p.186f. Cited are 14 fatal flaws with the hallucination theory.
37. Pinchas Lapide. Op.cit. (33), p.125. This acknowledgment of Jesus’ historical resurrection is by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi!
38. Dorothy Sayers. The Man Born to Be King. (Harper and Brothers, 1943), p.19f. Her comments are in her introduction to the radio plays on the life of Christ she prepared for B.B.C. Radio. ** G.E. Ladd. Op.cit. (33). Eerdmans, 1975), p.79f. ** John Wenham. Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Baker, 1992). He says NO! ** The Jesus Seminar’s unanimous assertion that Luke contradicted himself on the time-span of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, is dishonest. They wrongly charge that his Gospel confined Jesus’ appearances to one day, while the Book of Acts stretches it to forty days. See Robert Funk. The Acts… Op.cit. (19), p.439f. But the Greek language clarifies what is ambiguous in English. In Greek, the conjunction de is a non-temporal particle that can’t even sit first place in a sentence. It is more like a stringer of like-events than it is a designator of measured chronology. Luke’s choice of this weaker word de, as opposed to kai for the word "and" in Luke 24:50, made clear to his first readers that he was neither giving an exhaustive list of appearances, nor assigning a length of time to them. His over-all reliability has already been noted in endnotes 9 and 13. Luke’s preamble (Luke 1:1-3) assumes both his own care in writing, and the wide-spread public knowledge of the time-frame.
39. Kenneth Scott Latourette. A History of the Expansion of Christianity. v.I. (Harper and Row, 1970), writes of Roman historian Celsus’ objection that Christianity was advancing so rapidly through "workers in wool and leather and fullers and uneducated persons" (p.116f).
40. Elton Trueblood. Philosophy of Religion. (Harper and Brothers, 1957), writes, "That the Christian movement could have succeeded, so that the humble men who fished on the shores of the Sea of Galilee are today better known than the very Caesars who ruled the world...is so amazing that it would be incredible if we did not know it to be the case" (p.140).
41. Acts 2:5-43; 6:7. ** In Christianity Today. (January 18, 1963), renowned archaeologist William F. Albright observed, "In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew." (p.3).
42. "Monotheism," drawing on Deuteronomy 6:4 ("The LORD our God is one Lord"), set Israel’s belief in contrast with the polytheism of its’ neighbors. It appeared to exclude, even in principle, Jesus’ claim to be deity. In reality however, the same Hebrew word for one (echad) is also used in Genesis 2:24 ("two become one flesh"), Joshua 9:2, and Judges 20:1, and implies a composite unity. The Hebrew word for absolute singularity (yachid) is not used in this context. Thus while Jewish bias strongly opposed Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son, the word in question actually allows and even implies such a possibility.
43. Millar Burrows. More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Viking, 1958), writes, "Jesus was so unlike what all Jews expected the Son of David to be that His own disciples found it almost impossible to connect the idea of the Messiah with Him" (p.68). It is as the New Testament states, Jesus’ resurrection, that singly overcame that "impossibility" (Acts 2:24).
44. Sir William Ramsey’s opinion cited in Wilbur Smith. Therefore Stand. (Wilde, 1945), p.246f.
45. Josh McDowell. Op.cit. (4), writes, "Each of the disciples, except John, died a martyr’s death...because they tenaciously clung to their beliefs and statements" (p.255). ** Marcus Borg’s metaphorical interpretation of the Gospels (Borg and Wright. Op.cit. (19), p.4) is utterly impotent to explain the rise of the early Church in the face of horrendous opposition.
46. Simon Greenleaf. The Testimony of the Evangelists. (Kregel, 1995-reprint from 1847 ed.), p.31f.
47. J.N.D. Anderson. The Evidence for the Resurrection. (I.V.P. 1966), p.4.
48. Scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. (Zondervan, 1971).
I am eager to engage in dialogue with any reader. Whether you
wish to challenge my thesis, have certain points clarified, share what has been
personally helpful to you, or inquire into how to become a Christian, you may
contact me at the address below:
© Rev. Gary Jensen, M.Div. Epiphany 1999
St. Paul’s of Shorewood Lutheran Church (ELCA)
11620 21st Ave. S.W. Seattle, Washington 98146