Resurrection: Making Sense of Historical Data

Chris Price Articles 41 Comments

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus not as fiction, not as a product of wishful thinking, not as a beautiful metaphor, or an existential experience, but as an actual historical event. Jesus died for sins in our place, and then three days later God raised Him bodily from the dead in a transformed physical body, a different mode of existence that stretches the descriptive power of our language to its limits. 1This is what makes Jesus’ resurrection very different from the various revivifications that occur in the Gospels, where an individual is raised from the dead only to die again at some later date (Lazarus).

Many people in the ancient world understandably had difficulty believing in the first Christians’ claims about Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is a belief that probably shouldn’t be held by any thinking person without sufficient evidence. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to outline some of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

Jesus Died

In order for Jesus to rise bodily from the dead He would first have to die. No credible historian believes that Jesus didn’t die on a Roman Cross by crucifixion. Jesus’ crucifixion is mentioned by all four gospels, including various epistles contained in the New Testament. Jesus’ death is also recorded by non-Christian historians like Tacitus, Josephus and the Jewish Talmud and, therefore, is witnessed to in early historical sources with multiple lines of evidence, including hostile sources (Talmud).

Moreover, we know too much about how brutal crucifixion was in the 1st century to seriously deny that Jesus didn’t die. For example, if a Roman soldier failed in his duty, his life would be forfeit so they were highly motivated to accomplish the job. To quote a popular pastor and theologian,

Jesus was crucified, and a professional executioner declared Him dead. To ensure Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust through His side and a mixture of blood and water poured out of His side because the spear burst his heart sac. Jesus’ dead body was wrapped in upwards of one hundred pounds of linens and spices, which, even if He were able to somehow survive the beatings, floggings, crucifixion, and a pierced heart, would have killed Him by asphyxiation. Even if through all of this Jesus somehow survived (which would itself be a miracle), He could not have endured three days without food, water, or medical attention in a cold tomb carved out of rock. In summary, Jesus died. 2Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine. p287

For reasons like those stated above, it becomes clear that Jesus died on the cross. And it is worth pointing out that to suggest that God would not allow a prophet of His to endure such a humiliating death, shows a profound lack of awareness about the fate that many prophets in the Old Testament endured (see. Hebrews 11). Moreover, implying that God disguised someone to look like Jesus and had that individual crucified in Christ’s place is to accuse God of radical deception, impugning the trustworthiness of His character.

The Tomb Was Empty

Jesus died and was buried in a tomb. Three days later the tomb was found empty. We can be sure of this, as a matter of history, based on these lines of evidence.

First, if you read the Gospels you find that the women discovered the empty tomb. In the 1st century Judaism women were not allowed to be legal witnesses. Their testimony was not considered valid or taken seriously.

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.

— Josephus

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.

— Talmud (Rosh Hashannah)

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.

— Talmud (Sotah) 3http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-to-believe-in-the-empty-tomb

This is not a very positive view of women that is for certain! In light of this cultural context, if you are going to create a story about an empty tomb you don’t make women the first eyewitnesses. This is a counterproductive detail included by the writer simply because he was committed to telling the truth. In addition to this point, in the stories surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus you have the leader of the disciples (Peter) denying Jesus and many of the other disciples running away discouraged and hiding fearfully behind closed doors when Jesus is killed. The leaders of the church look like cowards! You don’t include these embarrassing details about your leaders unless you are a movement really committed to authenticity and telling the truth.

Second, the disciples started preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus was publicly killed and crucified a few weeks earlier. So, at the very least, this required an empty tomb otherwise the opponents of Christianity, which were many, could have just found the tomb and produced the body. ‘Here is your risen Christ!’ Even a skeleton in the tomb would have done the job!

Third, Joseph of Arimathea provided the tomb that was found empty on Easter Sunday. Joseph was a rich member of the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, called the Sanhedrin, the same council that handed Jesus over to Pilate to be killed. As a result, there was some resentment between the early Christians and the Sanhedrin, which makes it extremely unlikely that the early Christians would create a story that paints a member of the Sanhedrin in such a great light. Moreover, because Joseph was a prominent, well-known man, a burial in his tomb would make Jesus’ burial site extremely easy to locate by people in Jerusalem, making it impossible that the disciples or women could have gone repeatedly to the wrong tomb.

Fourth, tombs of ancient Rabbis and martyrs were often commemorated and celebrated. There is lots of historical evidence for this practice. Noted historian Edwin Yamauchi has uncovered evidence of around fifty would-be prophets and other religious figures whose tombs were enshrined as places of worship and adoration in Palestine around the time of Jesus’ death. 4See also William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. p84 There is no record of this happening at Jesus’ tomb and the most reasonable explanation is that the body wasn’t there!

Fifth, the story passed around by the religious leaders who opposed Jesus was that the disciples stole the body. This, of course, assumes an empty tomb.

As a result of these five pieces of evidence (and others not mentioned), we are on good historical grounds when we conclude that the tomb was surely found empty.

The Appearances of Jesus

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul passes on to the church in Corinth an early Christian creed that he, himself, picked up while visiting Peter (the leader of the disciples) and James (Jesus’ brother) in Jerusalem (Galatians 1). We know Paul did not produce this creed based on his use of the traditional rabbinic formula for passing on received tradition (‘what I received I passed on to you’), the syntax found therein (non-Pauline phrases), and the formulaic manner of the writing. Historians across the board believe this creed to be genuine and date it to within 2 to 5 years of Jesus’ crucifixion. To have a historical source so close to the events it reports is a piece of data that historians are prone to drool over. That is what we find in 1st Corinthians 15, which reads,

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, the to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

When Jesus died the disciples were discouraged and fearful. But a few weeks later they remerge as individuals committed to boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus to the point of death. What caused this radical transformation? They encountered the risen Christ! The James mentioned above is likely Jesus’ brother. Remarkably, James didn’t believe in his brother during Jesus’ earthly ministry, an embarrassing detail the Gospel writers wouldn’t have made up. In fact, John 7:5 just states, “For even his own brothers didn’t believe in him.” But we also know as a matter of history that James becomes a leader in the early church (Galatians 1, Acts 15), worshiping his brother as messiah and Lord to the point of eventually dying for that belief.

Jesus’ appearance to the five hundred individuals is also significant because Paul boldly proclaims that many are still alive, which is an invitation to the Corinthians, they can check up on his story. You don’t give people that opportunity if you fabricated a myth!

Most striking perhaps is that fact that Jesus appeared to Paul. Paul hated Christians and was hell-bent on destroying the church. What transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to a pastor, who was willing to endure extraordinary hardship to proclaim the Gospel? Paul claimed it was the resurrection. This also indicates that Jesus didn’t just appear to friends or followers who might have been predisposed to think high and exalted things about him. Christ appeared to skeptics (James) and unbelievers (Paul) and they were convinced based on the reality of the resurrection.

Minimal Facts

Many people in our culture don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. Imagine if, like most people in our culture, we think that the New Testament is a historical writing with some truth and a lot of error. So, do we have to believe in the inspiration of scripture to be confident that the resurrection truly took place as a historical event? Good question.

There is a scholar named Gary Habermas who has done the most comprehensive investigation of the resurrection to date. Habermas has collected more than 1,400 scholarly works on the resurrection written from 1975 to 2003 by people who approach the Bible as a historical text. These authors all have terminal degrees and some believe in God and some do not; some are Christians, some are not. After surveying all of the literature he has come up with a list of bedrock facts that the vast majority of historians and scholars, across the ideological spectrum, are confident occurred. Here they are: 5Gary Habermas & Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection.

  1. Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion.

  2. He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.

  3. Soon afterwards the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.

  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his burial.

  5. The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.

  6. Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were transformed. They were even willing to die for their belief.

  7. The disciples preaching about the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem shortly after Jesus died and was buried.

  8. The gospel message centered on the preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  9. James, the brother of Jesus who was originally skeptical about Jesus, was converted and became a leader of the church in Jerusalem.

  10. Saul of Tarsus, an enemy of the church, had an experience he believed to be about the risen Christ.

These are the facts that people have to explain historically. And individuals, both scholars and your everyday skeptics have tried and tried to explain this data without resorting to God’s miraculous intervention. The chart below provides us with the most frequently offered suggestions: 6The chart is inspired by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli’s chapter on the resurrection in the, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. P182

1

Jesus died

Jesus rose

Christianity

2

Jesus died

Jesus didn’t rise— apostles deceivers apostles myth-makers

Conspiracy

3

Jesus died

Jesus didn’t rise—apostles myth-makers

Legend

4

Jesus didn’t die

Swoon

5

Jesus died

Jesus didn’t rise – apostles deceived

Hallucinations

As philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, all of these options are logically possible (even the first one) so they must all be investigated historically. In what follows we will explore the non-miraculous explanations.

Conspiracy Theory

The disciples stole the body. They perpetrated a hoax. They were deceivers. They made up the appearances of Jesus! The entire world has been changed by a lie! Is this going to work as an explanation?

Chuck Colson started Prison Fellowship, a ministry to prisoners. Colson was a part of President Nixon’s administration and he was involved in the Watergate scandal and the attempted cover up, for which he was imprisoned himself. Here is what he writes about Watergate:

Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States—the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, turned states evidence that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin”—and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on—two weeks! The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all that those around the President were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.

But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, and execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.

Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did. 7http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/ccolson.htm

This is a long quote, but the insight provided is worth pondering because it provides us with the first significant problem facing any one who sincerely proposes that the disciples were part of a conspiracy.

First, conspiracies break down under threat of imprisonment or worse, death, but the disciples proclaimed the resurrection until their deaths. People die for things they believe to be true, or for other various noble reasons, but no one dies for something they know to be false.

Jim Warner Wallace is a cold case detective who appears on dateline; in fact, around the show they call him the ‘evidence whisperer’. Jim writes this:

Many people are willing to die for what they don’t know is a lie. Martyrdom doesn’t confirm the truth, especially when the martyrs don’t have first-hand access to the claim for which they’re dying. But this wasn’t the case for the disciples of Jesus. They were in a unique position: they knew if the claims about Jesus were true. They were present for the life, ministry, death and alleged resurrection of Jesus. If the claims about Jesus were a lie, the disciples would have known it (in fact they would have been the source of the lie). That’s why their commitment to their testimony was (and is) so compelling. Unlike the rest of us, their willingness to die for their claims has tremendous evidential value. In fact, the commitment of the apostles confirms the truth of the resurrection. 8http://coldcasechristianity.com/2015/the-commitment-of-the-apostles-confirms-the-truth-of-the-resurrection/

Second, the disciples didn’t have the motivation to tell this lie or create this story. They didn’t get money, sex or power – the three things that motivate most deception and crime.

Third, the disciples didn’t have the moral character of liars. Jesus’ disciples, from all the evidence we have, were transformed by the resurrection into selfless men who served and loved the poor and provided us with some of our greatest moral teaching.

Fourth, the disciples believed that hell existed and that leading people to worship false gods put your soul at peril. Eternal torment is strong motivation to tell the truth if you believe in it and they did!

Fifth, a conspiracy like this would be dumb. The disciples were, at times, thick headed, but they weren’t this dumb! An early church writer, Eusebius, put this fictitious speech in the mouths of the disciples:

Let us band together to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the shame even to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go into all the nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! Even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit. 9As quoted in William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p24

Can we least agree that, whatever happened, the disciples were at least sincere and perpetuating a conspiracy? The conspiracy theory just doesn’t make sense. So, in your mind can you travel back to the chart above and draw an imaginary line through the conspiracy theory option – it is a dead end.

Legend

Is the story of Jesus’ resurrection simply a legend? There is much that could be written about this suggestion. For example, one could argue that there wasn’t enough time for legend to accumulate around the person of Jesus when these resurrection stories were first being told. There were still eyewitnesses alive, both favorable and hostile to Jesus, that could have contradicted false reportage. You could also point out the accounts don’t contain the literary characteristics of legendary material. However, the truth is, the legend theory is simply the conspiracy theory repackaged. Here is what the disciples says about their own writing:

For we did not follow clever devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16

That which we have heard from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the word of life.

1 John 1:1

The disciples say they were not making up stories, so to accuse them of fabricating stories is to call them liars and we are right back at the conspiracy theory. We’ve already seen that doesn’t work. So let’s cross that off the list.

Swoon

Is it possible that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross? No, for the many reasons we listed earlier in this article. The Romans were very accomplished at killing people on a cross. Moreover, this is also just a repackaging of the conspiracy theory because all of the disciples claimed that Jesus died. And the conspiracy theory is a dismal failure as an explanation for the concrete historical data surrounding the Easter event.

Hallucination or Grief-Induced Vision

Is it possible that the disciples weren’t deceivers; rather, they were simply deceived themselves? The disciples were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong about what they thought they experienced. The certainly believed they had real appearances of Jesus, but they really just underwent hallucinations, or grief induced visions. Perhaps Peter was so torn up about denying Jesus and his death that he conjured up this mental projection of Christ that gave him peace, which he then shared with the disciples and they had similar experiences. The disciples had a resurrection of the heart or something. Does this work as an explanation of the data listed above?

First, hallucinations or visions don’t explain the empty tomb. If the appearances were just hallucinations, Jesus’ body would still be in the tomb and the enemies of the movement would have just produced the body.

Second, hallucinations rarely, if ever, transform an individual’s life. I know of no historical record of a sane, stable person dying for a hallucination.

Third, a hallucination doesn’t explain the appearances of Jesus to groups of people. Hallucinations are not group events, they are individual occurrences and you don’t share hallucinations just like you don’t share dreams.

In the relevant literature, do you know which group is most likely to experience hallucinations? The answer is not teenagers on acid or mushrooms, though that example would work for this illustration. The group of people most likely to have a hallucination is senior adults bereaving the loss of a loved one – in 39 percent of the cases they sensed the presence of their loved one in the room. Only 7 percent have a visual perception of their loved one. In the group most vulnerable to hallucinations only 7 percent have a visual perception, so it is very rare and it is never shared. Therefore, since we know of no group hallucination ever occurring on record, it is extremely unlikely that one could account for the appearances of Jesus to groups of individuals, like the 12 disciples. 10This information comes from Dr. Gary Habermas and his writings on the resurrection. See. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope or Did the Resurrection happen? For Habermas’ debate with Antony Flew.

Fourth, Jesus’ appearances happened to all different types of people, with different psychological make-ups, in all different places, at all different times of the day. Everything we know about studying hallucinations tells us that they don’t occur in this manner.

Fifth, the disciples touched Jesus and ate with him. Hallucinations don’t eat fish at the dinner table in front of a group of people.

Sixth, a hallucination doesn’t explain the appearance to the apostle Paul who was not predisposed to have a grief-induced vision, or some other type of subjective projection, of Jesus.

Seventh, this theory doesn’t explain why the disciples used the language of resurrection to explain their visionary encounters because the word resurrection in 1st century Judaism meant a transformed physical body at the end of history, a re-embodiment after death. 11N.T. Wright makes the point forcibly in his writing. See. The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Eight, a hallucination or vision, as stated above, is a subjective experience with no objective reality. The Greek word translated as ‘appeared’ is ophthe, which refers more naturally to an objective reality seen by the disciples, rather than a subjective experience only accessible by an individual. The Greek word horama is more likely to be used in the case of a subjective vision. 12Dr. Craig Blomberg, 1st Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary. p.302

Ninth, the New Testament literature is careful to distinguish between the resurrection appearances of Jesus, which were of a bodily and physical nature, to later subjective visions of Jesus. For example, compare Paul’s encounter with Jesus, which was clearly objective because his traveling companions witnessed something occurring (a light and a voice), with the vision of Jesus that Stephen had while he was being stoned, which was only noticeable to him. A resurrection appearance is clearly distinguished from a later vision of Jesus by all the New Testament writers. This indicates that the disciples knew about experiences like visions, but that is not the language they used when describing what happened on Easter Sunday.

All of the above can feel a bit like over kill, but I want to convey that this naturalistic explanation is extremely inadequate which, of course, leaves us with the only explanation that the church has ever offered; Jesus died and three days later God raised him bodily from the dead!

Another Option

An individual, after reaching this point in the article, could always shrug their shoulders and say, ‘well, I don’t know what happened, but I know the Christian explanation couldn’t happen!’ In response I want to simply ask, ‘how do you know that’? Is it because resurrections don’t normally happen? The disciples knew that as well. They knew dead people stayed dead. That is why Jesus rising from the dead was such a big event!

When one is confronted with the dismal failure of all the non-miraculous explanations of the bedrock historical data, you are faced with three different, but interdependent, issues: the philosophical issue, the historical matter and the personal response.

The philosophical issue is, ‘are miracles possible’? And, if God exists, miracles are certainly possible.

The historical question is, ‘are miracles actual?’ ‘Have they happened in history?’ And, through the course of this article, we have seen that the best explanation for all the relevant evidence is that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead.

The personal question is the crux of the issue: If an individual doesn’t believe in God, they will resist the conclusion of this article, if an individual believes in God, but doesn’t want to follow Jesus, they will resist the resurrection hypothesis as well. Both of these gut responses tell an individual a lot about their psyche and worldview commitments, but it still doesn’t discount the fact that the resurrection is the best explanation of the historical data. As Cambridge historian, C.F.D. Moule, writes,

The birth and rapid rise of the Christian church…remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the church itself. 13C.F. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament. p13

Or as N.T. Wright, who wrote a 700-page book on the resurrection, claims,

The easiest explanation by far is that these things happened because Jesus really was raised from the dead, and the disciples really did meet him, even though his body was renewed and transformed…The resurrection of Jesus does in fact provide a sufficient explanation for the empty tomb and the meetings with Jesus. Having examined all the possible hypotheses I’ve read about anywhere in literature, I think it is also a necessary explanation. 14As quoted in Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today. p136

Conclusion

This article has failed to provide the reader with other significant historical evidence for the resurrection including: the first disciples imparting the saving significance to Jesus’ death, a theological move that would be nonsensical and absurd apart from the resurrection occurring, or their surprising reworking of the standard Jewish messianic expectations that looked for a political military leader overthrowing the Romans, not a suffering servant, dying on a cross and being vindicated by a resurrection.

Space doesn’t permit me to discuss the first disciples changing their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, overthrowing centuries of religious observance, or the radical mutation that took place in their beliefs about the Jewish law in light of Jesus. On and on we could go and if one thinks the above mutations that occurred in the Jewish worldview of Jesus’ followers are insignificant or humdrum, that just shows profound ignorance about the religious life of Jewish people in 1st century Palestine. To make these significant changes in their theology and their understanding of the nature of God, apart from the resurrection actually occurring, is very difficult to understand.

To conclude this lengthy article, philosopher Peter Kreeft writes that,

The form of the argument here is similar to that of most of the arguments for the existence of God. Neither God nor the resurrection is directly observable, but from data that are directly observable we can argue that the only possible adequate explanation of this data is the Christian one. 15Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. p. 182

Even though our investigation has been brief, I think we’ve seen enough to show that we are on good grounds in concluding that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead. I will leave you with the below chart for your consideration.

THE BEGINNING OF THE UNIVERSE

THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS

Unrepeatable, one-time event ‘in’ history (kicking off Creation)

Unrepeatable, one-time event in history (kicking off New Creation)

We have never witnessed anything like it.

We have never witnessed anything like it.

There is good evidence for God’s existence based on the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe and the intelligibility of the universe.

If there is a God, a miracle like a resurrection is possible.

God as an explanation for the existence of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe and the intelligibility of the universe, is a far simpler, far superior explanation than other naturalistic rivals.

The resurrection as an explanation of the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus, the transformed lives of his first followers and the birth of the Christian church, is a far superior explanation than other naturalistic rivals in simplicity and explanatory scope and power.

If there is a God, He created all things out of nothing, which is a greater miracle than a resurrection. So, if you do believe in God, based on the evidence provided by the universe, you already believe in a greater miracle than the resurrection!

Given Jesus’ self-claims and ministry of miracles something dramatic occurring after his death is not improbable. When one considers Jesus’ own predictions regarding his death and resurrection it should have been anticipated by the disciples and should be unsurprising to us who have the whole story.

Notes   [ + ]

1. This is what makes Jesus’ resurrection very different from the various revivifications that occur in the Gospels, where an individual is raised from the dead only to die again at some later date (Lazarus).
2. Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine. p287
3. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-to-believe-in-the-empty-tomb
4. See also William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. p84
5. Gary Habermas & Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection.
6. The chart is inspired by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli’s chapter on the resurrection in the, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. P182
7. http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/ccolson.htm
8. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2015/the-commitment-of-the-apostles-confirms-the-truth-of-the-resurrection/
9. As quoted in William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p24
10. This information comes from Dr. Gary Habermas and his writings on the resurrection. See. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope or Did the Resurrection happen? For Habermas’ debate with Antony Flew.
11. N.T. Wright makes the point forcibly in his writing. See. The Resurrection of the Son of God.
12. Dr. Craig Blomberg, 1st Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary. p.302
13. C.F. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament. p13
14. As quoted in Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today. p136
15. Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. p. 182

Comments 41

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  11. Were Jesus’ disciples capable of differentiating between a vivid dream and reality?

    In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph twice, once to tell him that he should go ahead and marry Mary, even though she is pregnant (not by him), and then again a couple of years later to warn him of Herod’s plan to kill Jesus and that he should take the family to Egypt. The author of Matthew tells us that both of these “appearances” occurred in dreams.

    The question is: Did Joseph believe that God had sent a real angel to him to give him real messages?

    If first century Jews were truly able to distinguish dreams/visions from reality, why would Joseph marry a woman who had been impregnated by someone else just because an angel “appeared” to him in a dream? If first century Jews knew that dreams are not reality, Joseph would have ignored the imaginary angel and his imaginary message. For Joseph to go through with his marriage to a pregnant Mary was a very rare exception to the behavior of people in an Honor-Shame society. His act of obeying an angel in a dream is solid proof that he believed that the angel was real and the message was real.

    And if Joseph understood that dreams are not reality, why would he move his family to a foreign country based only on a dream?

    And how about Paul’s dream/vision? Paul saw and heard a talking bright light in a dream. Paul saw the men accompanying him to Damascus collapse to the ground with him…in a dream. Paul reported that these men also saw the light but didn’t hear the voice…or heard some kind of noise but didn’t see the light…in a dream….depending which passage of Acts you read.

    So it is obvious that first century Jews were just as likely to believe that a dream is reality as some people do today! People have been seeing angels, bright lights and dead people for thousands of years…in their dreams…and have believed that these events are reality.

    So the fact that four, anonymous, first century books contain stories of people “seeing” dead people and even “seeing” large groups of people “seeing” dead people, should come as no surprise.

    They were vivid dreams. Visions. Nothing more.

    1. Hello Gary,
      You raise some unique proposals no doubt; let me attempt to address the questions you have raised —especially your “vivid dream” hypothesis. I wonder with all sincerity and due respect whether you read the entire article, as it addresses your objection rather well and the “continue reading” tab is rather small. I’m going to presume that you have read the whole article and deal with your questions and ideas as constructively as possible. I’m in no way trying to challenge you personally, only your ideas.

      We should keep in mind that the author, Chris Price, set out to “outline some of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.” He has —in no way— built a case for the resurrection based on what’s merely possible, but rather on what is reasonable. Considering the evidence that Price offers, it’s possible that there are perhaps many more explanations; however, we should establish what is reasonable over and above what is possible.

      When we examine the list of minimal facts, as presented by the article regarding the historical events surrounding Jesus, we should accept the hypothesis that has the greatest explanatory scope by abduction [abduction is a form of logical inference which goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation, ideally seeking to find the simplest and most likely explanation].

      Points to Consider

      1) The “vivid dream” hypothesis cannot account for the empty tomb.
      2) Dreams rarely, if ever, transform lives like the disciples experienced.
      3) Dreams cannot account for the group appearances of Jesus to more than 500 people simultaneously.
      4) Different people rarely, if ever, have the same dream over a span of time.
      5) We might dream of eating fish with the risen Jesus but that wouldn’t fill your stomach.
      6) If dreams were the vehicle to this revelation, why wouldn’t the disciples just say so?
      7) When did the dreaming start and end: are we still dreaming? Was Jesus’ entire life a dream? Was only the resurrection a dream?

      As you can see the “vivid dream” hypothesis falls way short of answering the important historical facts and raises yet more questions. Humans globally have millions of dreams per day; however, the claim that Christ rose from the dead is absolutely unique, therefore, it is unlikely that the resurrection account can be explained away because of dreams. The resurrection of Christ is the most reasonable explanation of the historical evidence —as Price has presented in the article.

      Most dreams are cognitive successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur usually involuntarily and without significance —which we wake up from. Nonetheless, there is another type of dream used for Divine communication. You acknowledge the verse (in Matt 1:20) as such. There are very few dreams that can be considered direct Divine communication and in each case the recipient is well aware of the significant nature of the dream (i.e. Genesis 15:12; Genesis 20:3; Genesis 20:6; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 31:10-11, 1 Kings 3:5, Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:12-13; Matthew 2:19; Matthew 2:22; Matthew 27:19 — note that these exclude symbolic Divine Communication which appears far more frequently in the scriptures). In the case of Joseph for example, he was aware that his betrothed was with child and her explanation would have included the angelic visitation that she encountered. Mary would have also mentioned the angelic visitation of Zachariah and Elisabeth as a comparison to their own situation. Joseph was aware of the context and his dream of direct Divine communication was confirmation to him regarding the truth and nature of Mary’s pregnancy.

      Joseph had a vivid dream of Divine communication and he was well aware of it. In the same way Jesus’ disciples would —most definitely— be able to distinguish between the two states of dreaming (involuntary reality you wake up from) and non-dreaming (voluntary reality when awake); any argument to the contrary would be less obvious than our normal human experience.

      You state that “seeing dead people should come as no surprise,” but —alas— it does. This is addressed in the blog by James Bishop called The Hallucination Hypothesis. A Historical Inquiry. | Historical Jesus studies. And I quote:

      “A physical resurrection of a single person before the final day of judgment was an un-Jewish belief, as exegete Craig explains: “Therefore, given the current Jewish beliefs about life after death, the disciples, were they to project hallucinations of Jesus, would have seen Jesus in heaven or in Abraham’s bosom, where the souls of the righteous dead were believed to abide until the resurrection. And such visions would not have caused belief in Jesus’ resurrection.” -Craig, W. 2010. On Guard p. 255.”

      So we can rest assured that it was indeed a surprise to see the resurrected Christ —instantly life changing actually.

      Only one thing then, remains, with regards to motive. I’m curious why would you lean more heavily on the “vivid dream” explanation for the historical evidence than on the resurrection hypothesis? Is it a dogmatic reliance on physicalism, which excludes the existence of anything non-physical? Is it perhaps the notion of God that you don’t like? Or is it an aversion to Christianity specifically?

      The central claim of Christianity is that it is true, whether a person likes it, or not, cannot change the objective nature of the claim. Just because I don’t like medicine, doesn’t make it false.

      All the best Gary, in your personal journey and in your pursuit for truth.

  12. Post
    Author

    My Two Cents:

    I am going to treat hallucinations and various visionary phenomena as basically equivalent because the main thrust of this explanatory approach is to imply that the disciples witnessed something that was not objectively real or publicly accessible. Hallucinations, in all of their various types, whether auditory, tactile, or visionary, are false perceptions of something that is not truly there. Whereas almost all serious scholars in the last century or so have abandoned the proposals discussed earlier in this book because of their numerous deficiencies (the legendary theory not withstanding), various versions of the hallucination hypothesis still have some traction having been suggested by some able and current scholars like Gerd Lüdemann, Marcus Borg, Geza Vermes, John Dominic Crossan and others. But does a hallucination or some sort of vision work as an explanation?

    What About the Empty Tomb?

    Hallucinations or visions don’t explain the empty tomb. If the appearances of Jesus were just hallucinations or visionary experiences, His body would still be in the tomb and the enemies of the early Christian movement would have just produced the body. To quote Dr. William Lane Craig, “Jesus’ body was not to be found. That is the decisive argument against the religious hallucination hypothesis. For it is impossible that Jesus’ followers could have believed that He was raised from the dead if the corpse were there before them in the tomb.” With a definite statement like Dr. Craig’s I could almost stop right there, but I have seven more noteworthy criticisms of this theory to communicate below.

    The Things Navy Seals See

    Hallucinations rarely, if ever, drastically transform an individual’s life. Navy Seals, during a period of training referred to as ‘hell week’, experience conditions of hunger and exhaustion that are conducive for hallucinations to occur. As a result, some researchers have studied the nature of hallucinations by investigating the experiences of Navy Seals during this intensive stretch of training. For example, in one instance the soldiers were out on the water and an individual was so convinced that he saw a train headed straight for the boat that he jumped into the water, abandoning ship! Other interesting hallucinations, like a waving octopus, were also reported. Yet in each instance the soldiers were talked out of the reality of their hallucination by two common factors: first, those types of things don’t happen and, second, their fellow soldiers did not see what they saw. The result was that no lasting life transformation or altering of prior beliefs occurred after the hallucination event. This is, of course, exactly what did not happen with the disciples!

    Hallucinations Fly Solo

    Clinical psychologist, Dr. Gary Collins writes, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people…Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.” Therefore, a hallucination doesn’t explain the appearances of Jesus to groups of people. Just as we saw with the soldiers, and as corroborated by the expert witness, hallucinations are not group events; they are individual occurrences. People don’t share hallucinations just like people don’t share dreams.
    In fact, in the relevant literature, do you know which segment of the population is most likely to experience hallucinations? The answer is not teenagers on acid or mushrooms, though that example would work for this illustration. The group of people most likely to have a hallucination is senior adults bereaving the loss of a loved one. In 39 percent of the cases the seniors studied sensed the presence of their loved one in the room. Only seven percent have a visual perception of their loved one. This means that in the group most vulnerable to visionary hallucinations only seven percent actually have a visual perception of their loved one, so it is both very rare and it is never shared. To conclude this objection, we know of no group hallucination ever occurring on record, therefore, it is extremely unlikely that one could account for the appearances of Jesus to groups of individuals, such as the twelve disciples or the 500 people mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
    James & Paul

    A hallucination resulting from grief doesn’t explain the appearance to the apostle Paul who was not predisposed to have a grief-induced vision or some other type of subjective projection of Jesus. The same would likely be true for James, the brother of Christ. To quote Dr. Gary Habermas, an expert in these matters:

    Although we do not have as much information about James and his frame of mind after Jesus’ death as we do for Paul, there is no indication that James was stricken by grief over his brothers’ death. As discussed earlier, during Jesus’ life, James did not believe that his brother was the Messiah. In fact, it seemed that he was among those who thought that Jesus was deluded. It is unlikely that a pious Jewish unbeliever – who would have viewed his crucified brother as a false messiah who had been cursed by God – was in the frame of mind to experience a life-changing hallucination of the risen Jesus, a hallucination so powerful that it would motivate him to alter his religious beliefs in an area that he believed would cost him his eternal soul if he was mistaken.

    In fact, building on the above two criticisms, Jesus’ appearances happened to all different types of people, with different psychological make-ups, in all different places, at all different times of the day. The diverse circumstances and environments in which people encountered the risen Christ count strongly against the hallucination hypothesis. Though this could be a stand-alone objection, it may also be worth mentioning in passing that hallucinations are mental projections resulting from pre-existing beliefs and the first disciples, like all first century Jews, had no pre-existing belief that the Messiah would die, rise from the dead and receive a transformed resurrection body in the middle of history.

    Hungry Hallucinations Don’t Happen

    The disciples touched Jesus and ate with Him. It should be obvious to the reader that hallucinations don’t eat fish at the dinner table in front of a group of people. For example, in Luke’s Gospel, the basic reliability of which has already been established earlier in this book (at least in part), he records this appearance of Jesus:

    While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
    They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
    When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:26-43)

    Though these types of stories assume the basic reliability of the Gospel narratives, the idea here is that the Gospel writers did not record the appearances of Jesus as a vision or a hallucination, which means that, if this is what truly happened, the Gospel writers were deliberately deceiving their readers. And to accuse the Gospel writers of intentionally misrepresenting what occurred lands us right back at the conspiracy theory, which is a dismal failure.

    A Failure to Communicate

    The visionary or hallucinatory theory doesn’t explain why the disciples used the language of resurrection to explain the proposed visionary encounters with Jesus. This is significant because the word resurrection in first century Judaism meant a transformed physical body at the end of history, a re-embodiment after death. First century Jews, and later Christians, had language to describe a visionary experience, but the first disciples didn’t use visionary language when they spoke about Jesus’ resurrection. All of the stories we have, including our earliest source material, find authors and eye-witnesses going out of their way to suggest that Jesus had some type of trans-temporal, weirdly unique, but altogether physical body that could walk through walls, but also be touched and eat fish. This is an odd manner of trying to communicate that Jesus had only appeared as some-type of visionary apparition.
    This is why, lastly, and building on the above point, the New Testament literature is actually careful to distinguish between the resurrection appearances of Jesus, which were of a bodily and physical nature, to later visions of Jesus. For example, compare Paul’s encounter with Jesus, which was clearly objective because his traveling companions witnessed something occurring (a light and a voice), with the vision of Jesus that Stephen had while he was being stoned, which was only noticeable to him. Again, the resurrection appearance is clearly distinguished from the later vision of Jesus by all the New Testament writers. This indicates that they knew about visions, but that they chose not to use that language when describing what happened on Easter Sunday.

    So those are my two bits. Hope it helps.

    Chris

    1. Vivid dreams are not hallucinations. Did Joseph have a hallucination when an angel appeared to him and told him to marry a pregnant woman? Did Joseph have an hallucination when an angel appeared to him and told him to move his family to a foreign country?

      No. These were dreams. VIVID DREAMS. But Joseph believed that they were real events, truly coming from God, even if they were in dreams.

      And that is what probably happened with the disciples. They had vivid dreams in which Jesus “appeared” to them, and to large groups, even groups of “five hundred”.

      But this simple, common sense logic will be ignored by most Christians.

      But Christians don’t want to hear about common sense and the probabilities of rare, but natural events being more likely than a supernatural event. Instead, they want skeptics to read Christian Bible scholars’ books. But Christians are never satisfied with the number of books that skeptics must read. The truth is that what Christians really want is that skeptics read enough books to be convinced in the reality of the supernatural. But the supernatural, by definition, cannot be tested. In order to believe in supernatural events one MUST make a leap of faith.

      I am no more willing to take that leap to believe in your reanimated/resurrected first century Jewish preacher than I am to take a leap of faith to believe in the reality of leprechauns and fairies.

      If you want to believe in reanimations/resurrections, water-walking, and ghost-impregnated virgin births by faith, go right ahead. But please stop trying to prove the reality of these supernatural events with “evidence”.

      There is no evidence.

      There is no evidence for the reanimation of Jesus. Zero. No one claims to have watched the body come back to life. No one claims to have watched this body exit his sealed tomb. The only evidence you have is for post-death sightings. And tens of thousands of human beings, throughout history, have claimed to see dead people.

      It is a supernatural tale and nothing more.

      1. Hello Gary.

        Let me begin by stating that I found your reply rather disappointing, for a few reasons, which I will endeavour to elaborate on momentarily, but mostly for the lack of engagement with the arguments and evidence.

        Let me reiterate that: Chris has used well-founded historical evidence to draw the most reasonable inference (through abduction) in the article. This argument is in no way an argument from ignorance; therefore, to make your point you need to provide evidence in support of your position, just as Chris has.

        The blatant negligence in your reply was failing to acknowledge or engage with the reason for treating dreams and hallucinations the same. As Chris mentioned,

        “I am going to treat hallucinations and various visionary phenomena as basically equivalent because the main thrust of this explanatory approach is to imply that the disciples witnessed something that was not objectively real or publicly accessible.”

        It is reasonable to conclude that the “vivid dream” hypothesis and the hallucination hypothesis are only different in degree and not kind.

        You repeat that “vivid dreams” are not hallucinations, and granted you do try to make a distinction between the two, unfortunately you didn’t engage with Chris or me, you simply restated your initial observation.

        The veracity of both “dreams” and hallucinations are limited in the broad sense, and, of the two, “dreams” are the weaker. Without good historical evidence to support your “vivid dreams” hypothesis or without an attempt to explain the evidence we do have in the light of your hypothesis, all you are really presenting at this point is your opinion – albeit a very persuasive use of capitals.

        When I mentioned Divine Communication, you make no effort to affirm, deny or dispute my position.

        Whenever someone mentions that the probability of an event, it is most often supported with sufficient justification. However, your assertion regarding “what probably happened” is merely an unsupported claim. If this is the best explanation, then there should be good reason to believe this. What is it, and how does it corroborate the evidence we do have?

        Claiming that Jesus “appeared” to the disciples in a dream (subjective experience) has no purchase on an objective historical event – like the empty tomb.

        Right before your plea with Christians to use “common sense” you make the statement that “large groups” of people had a simultaneous and identical dream. If this qualifies as common sense then your objection raises more questions that it answers, I’m afraid.

        Neither Chris or I have ignored any of your claims: we have tried to engage with all of your ideas and points as logically as possible. Also, it would be prudent to note that not all New Testament Scholars are committed to Christianity; yet they would grant the minimal historical facts surrounding the resurrection. This is directly addressed in the article and I quote,

        “Habermas has collected more than 1,400 scholarly works on the resurrection written from 1975 to 2003 by people who approach the Bible as a historical text. These authors all have terminal degrees and some believe in God and some do not: some are Christians, some are not. After surveying all of literature he has come up with a list of bedrock facts that the vast majority of historians and scholars, across the ideological spectrum, are confident occurred.”

        We can see from the quote that the article is credible and unbiased.

        Then your response takes a radical turn to naturalism. After imploring Christians to use “common sense logic,” you state that “natural events…[are] more likely than… supernatural event[s];” yet, naturalism cannot coherently account for laws of Logic in the first place.

        Furthermore, we are not looking for the best naturalistic explanation; rather we are looking for the most reasonable explanation, which relates to the evidence with the greatest explanatory scope and power. The crux of the article is that a reasonable inference can be made for what the eyewitness accounts claim actually happened and that the miracle of the resurrection is where the evidence necessarily leads.

        Your reasons for rejecting the conclusion would only be based on a priori assumptions and not based on the evidence. By restricting the outcomes, the evidence simply cannot fit into a solely naturalistic box. I would suggest you get a box large enough to hold all the evidence, instead of discarding the evidence to dogmatically cling to your favourite box.

        I take it that you have confidence in naturalism and perhaps that is why you are convinced that we shouldn’t “make a leap of faith.” But consider the very word “confidence,” from the Latin word “fide” for a trusted belief or faith. Faith is a requirement for a person to hold to naturalism. I think, based on the evidence, you need more faith to tenaciously cling to naturalism than to simply follow the evidence where it points.

        The evidence for the resurrection presented in the article is robust and scrupulous. But claiming that there is “zero” evidence does nothing to dismantle the evidence accepted by scholars and presented in the article. The most it would amount to is exposing the cognitive dissonance underlying the matter.

        When you end your reply with the words “no one [saw] the body exit the sealed tomb,” this is rather weak because empiricism is not a reliable measure of all knowledge. Firstly, who witnessed the Big Bang to verify that is was true? Yet, we treat it as a scientific fact. Secondly, the claim that we can only know something that is verified by the five senses cannot itself be verified by the five senses and proves to be self-refuting.

        You close by stating the resurrection is a mere “supernatural tale,” but it is so much more. The resurrection has the greatest explanatory power and scope concerning the historical evidence. The resurrection of Christ flipped Jerusalem, and the world, upside down. After every effort to eradicate the claim that Jesus defeated death, Rome bowed the knee. Christianity survived Rome and every other civilization that sought to eliminate it, to subjugate it, and to restrain it. In 2,000 years no one has been able to stop the speared of Christianity because it’s far more than a lie, a legend and a dream. As John Ortberg aptly states in his book, Who is this man?, and I quote:

        “it is in Jesus name that desperate people pray, grateful people worship, and angry people swear. From christenings to weddings to sickrooms to funerals, it is in Jesus name that people are hatched, matched, patched and dispatched. From the Dark ages to postmodernity, he is the man who won’t go away.” pg.14

        The resurrection has transformed history and the men of old, and it transforms us still.

        All the best in your journey for truth Gary.

        1. Thank you for your detailed reply. We could go back and forth on this, but I suggest we do the following. Let’s look at Gary Habermas’ Twelve Minimal Facts and see if we can come to some type of agreement on these twelve “facts” and go from there.

          Here they are:

          1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

          2. He was buried.

          3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.

          4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).

          5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).

          6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.

          7. The resurrection was the central message.

          8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.

          9. The Church was born and grew.

          10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.

          11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).

          12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

          I will accept all the above except the wording of #11, which I would amend to say this: “James was converted to the faith when he BELIEVED that he saw the resurrected Jesus.” If we know as fact that James actually did see the resurrected Jesus then there would be no debate. The whole point is whether or not the disciples literally saw a resurrected Jesus or simply BELIEVED that they had seen a resurrected Jesus.

          So if we can agree on this revised version of Habermas’ Twelve Minimal Facts, I have this question for you: Do you believe that it is possible that all these twelve minimal facts can be explained by natural/non-miracle explanations? If not, why not? I am not asking whether you believe a natural explanation is the most probable explanation, just whether or not a natural/non-miracle explanation is possible.

          Thank you for your time.

          1. Hello Gary,

            I truly appreciate your willingness to look at the evidence. Before I grapple with your questions I would like to ask a clarification question. This is not an attempt to deflect your questions but to work towards the root of the matter. Thank you for thoughtfully considering this question.

            If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?

    1. Hello Gary

      Thanks for responding to my question, I appreciate that you are willing to allow truth to dictate what you should believe and not feelings or popular opinion. Good for you. That kind of rationality is admirable.

      Now one might want to make decisions based on absolute certainty before we commit ourselves to them; however, we rarely do this in everyday life. If you have ever driven in a car or flown in an airplane you have taken a significant risk—risked your life—without knowing with 100% certainty that you will actually reach your destination. The reason you were able to fully commit yourself to driving or flying is because of a reasonable understanding that an accident is not very likely. No one is trying to give you 100% certainty on the historical claims about Christ; instead, the evidence either justifies a commitment to the historical claims or it doesn’t. I personally have found the historical evidence for the resurrection very compelling—compelling enough to commit myself to it and my hope is that you’ll find it compelling enough to commit yourself to it also.

      Personally, I don’t mind you adding the word “believed he saw” to #11, my source has it in there already so it’s uncontroversial. I will mention though, that as far as Dr. Habermas is concerned, all you need to make a compelling case for the resurrection is:

      #1: Jesus died by crucifixion
      #4: The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later
      #5: The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus
      #6: The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection
      #12: A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus

      The rest is just gravy.

      Now to address your question, I recognize that there are actually plenty of naturalistic explanations for these 12 minimal facts. That’s beside the point because a detective isn’t interested in separate explanations for the evidence; moreover, the detective is actually looking for how the evidence corroborates to form the most robust explanation of all the data. Here we have excellent inculpating evidence FOR the resurrection and excellent exculpating evidence for naturalistic explanations (due to lack of explanatory scope and power, etc.). In every case —I’m aware of— a naturalistic explanation fails to account for two or more pieces of the historical data.

      The bottom line is if we cannot trust the eyewitnesses of antiquity we simply cannot trust them today in a court of law either. So we can either cast doubt on all eyewitness testimony throughout history (which is obviously unreasonable) or we can allow the eyewitnesses the opportunity to inform us about what they saw.

      Thanks for taking the time to think through these matters and all the best in your journey for truth, my friend.

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  15. You said, “The bottom line is if we cannot trust the eyewitnesses of antiquity we simply cannot trust them today in a court of law either. So we can either cast doubt on all eyewitness testimony throughout history (which is obviously unreasonable) or we can allow the eyewitnesses the opportunity to inform us about what they saw. ”

    This is another major Christian assumption. The majority of scholars today do NOT believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels, therefore this claim is false. In addition, it must be pointed out that there is no certainty that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus and subsequent events shortly after his death was alive at the time of the writing of the first gospel. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the stories of Jesus walking on water, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead, the Empty Tomb, the detailed post-death appearances, and the Ascension are later Christian embellishments.

    Could all the fantastical, supernatural claims in the Bible be true? Yes. But so too could the fantastical, supernatural claims of Islam, Hinduism, and Mormonism be true. You are correct, we can never be 100 % certain, however, we can make assessments of truth based on prior human experience. In the case of Islam, how many men have been confirmed by experts to have the ability to fly in the night sky on a winged horse? None. In the case of Hinduism, how many water buffalos have experts confirmed have the ability to speak in a human language? None. In the case of Mormonism, how many times have experts confirmed that angels appear to human beings to give them golden plates? None. And in the case of Christianity, how many times have experts confirmed that a three-day-brain-dead corpse has walked out of his sealed tomb, spent forty days hanging out with friends, and then levitated into the clouds? None.

    These are all superstitions, Petrus. And we see the dangers of superstitions in the newspaper headlines practically every day now: bombings, shootings, beheadings, and torture of innocent people all in the name of some ancient deity.

    It’s time for modern humans to abandon the belief in ancient superstitions.

  16. I posted a comment on Habermas’ research regarding the Empty Tomb but because it contained a URL it was not posted here. Here is a summary of this comment:

    Habermas never claims that 75% of all relevant scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb, only that 75% of scholars who have written an article on the Resurrection between 1975-2005 and have mentioned a position on the historicity of the Empty Tomb have favored the historicity of the Empty Tomb? Have ALL relevant scholars such as scholars of the Near East and the Roman Empire, along with NT scholars, written an article and expressed an opinion on this topic? Most likely not, as Habermas says that the majority of “scholars” writing on this subject were “theologians and NT scholars”. This is a biased sampling of the experts. Who is most likely to write an article on the historicity of the Empty Tomb? Answer: Evangelical and other conservative Christian theologians and NT scholars whose very worldview depends on a bodily resurrection from an Empty Tomb. Therefore, this research CANNOT be used to claim that most scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.

    And without the Empty Tomb, the Christian evidence for this fantastical, supernatural claim is reduced to believing the claims of a small group of mostly uneducated, first century, Galilean peasants, who claimed that their recently departed friend appeared to them…no different than the claims of tens of thousands of grieving family members throughout history who have claimed to have seen their loved one shortly after their unexpected death.

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  18. Hello Gary,

    It appears you’re hung-up on whether or not the New Testament contains eyewitness accounts. Let me address this matter because it is the most substantive of your rejoinders, as I fear you would take it personally if I detailed the many fallacies in your most recent responses. My aim is not to deconstruct your opinions, you’re entitled to them; however, I do want to give you a few resources that I found helpful in my personal journey to truth regarding whether or not the gospels were written by eyewitnesses.

    Any eyewitness would be able to clearly describe the local places, names, environmental conditions, customs, and circumstances with regards to events as they occurred. The author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts set out to “carefully investigate everything from the beginning” and write “an orderly account… that you may know with certainty the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4) regarding the events surrounding Jesus. Notice that this is Luke’s motivation for writing his accounts, his thesis, if you would. The Classical Scholar and Historian Colin Hemer, identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research (See Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990))!

    Also consider Craig Bloomberg that did a similar study that examines John’s gospel account verse by verse and identifies 59 facts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research (See Craig Bloomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1981))!

    Moreover, the fact is, there are excellent reasons to believe that the gospel accounts were written by eyewitness, who valued the facts and were not interested in “embellishments” –as you claim. Consider:
    1) New Testament writers included embarrassing testimony about themselves (Mark 8:33, Luke 18:34, Matthew 26: 33-35, John 12:16).
    2) They included difficult sayings of Jesus that no one would make up (John 7:5, Matthew 11:19, Mark 3:22).
    3) They left in demanding sayings of Jesus (Matthew 5:28 & 5:48).
    4) They distinguished Jesus words from their own (1 Corinthians 7:10-12 and throughout the gospels).
    5) They included events related to the Resurrection that no one would make up (Luke 8:2, Acts 6:7, Matt 28:11-15).
    6) They included more that 30 historically confirmed people in their writings that no one could make up (throughout the gospels).
    7) They were careful to include divergent details (eyewitnesses rarely see the same details and this is the case in the gospel accounts regarding how many women at the tomb for instance, among others).
    8) They challenged their readers to check out verifiable facts, even about miracles (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 26, 1 Corinthians 15).
    9) They describe miracles with simple unembellished accounts, like other historical events (Mark 16: 4-8, Luke 24:2-8, John 20:1-2, Matt 28:2-7 and a total of 35 miracles in Acts). And finally,
    10) The NT writers abandoned their long held sacred beliefs and practices, adopted new ones, and did not deny their testimony under persecution or threat of death.

    To conclude, I’ll leave you with the words of William M. Ramsey who was very skeptical as he began his investigation into Acts, but his discoveries helped change his mind.

    “ I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts]… It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It has gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth” -William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (New York: Putnam, 1896), 8

    Ramsay goes on to say, “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness,” and “Luke is an historian of the first rank … He should be placed along the very greatest of historians.” -ibid., 90-91.

    I truly hope you find this helpful as you weigh the evidence in your personal journey, in the pursuit of truth and may it be accompanied by satisfaction and peace of mind.

    Petrus.

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  24. Hi Gary,

    A few thoughts about the question you’ve raised:

    As you have been weighing the evidence for the resurrection, in what ways has the evidence for the angelic appearances​ of Moroni outweighed the historical evidence presented in this article?

    Now, you’re entitled to any theory you wish, however I would suggest to follow the evidence with the greatest explanatory scope and power by avoiding perceived one-off theories that are far more convoluted and ad hoc than the resurrection accounts themselves. That would be the reasonable thing to do.

    Secondly, to ask how something is “any different” would require me to simply present one difference in comparison to defeat your premise. In the light of this please indicate how the angelic appearance and the resurrection appearances are identical? The article provided doesn’t connect with the evidence in this article, at best it’s a piano with a couple notes.

    Thirdly, to assume these two accounts are identical without presenting evidence to support that theory would be begging the question or arguing in a circle. Evidence first please.

    Finally, let’s assume you’re​ correct, that they are identical, would that be a sufficient reason to reject or accept the historical evidenced for the resurrection? You would still have to supply an account of the evidence that has the greatest inference to the best explanation. You see this is a bit of a red herring, I’m afraid, because it has nothing to do with the article. We should evaluate the historical evidence on it’s own merits or failures without outside influences centuries, and world’s, apart.

    1. Hi Petrus,

      Let me clarify: I don’t see a big difference between the Mormon appearance claims and the ORIGINAL Christian appearance claims. What do I mean by “original”?

      If you believe that the detailed appearance claims in the four Gospels are 100% historically accurate descriptions of real events, then of course the Mormon appearance claims and the Christian appearance claims have nothing in common. But I think Christians are hard pressed to prove that the four very discrepant Gospel accounts are historically accurate descriptions of the same supernatural event. After all, the modern consensus of New Testament scholars is that eyewitnesses did NOT write the Gospels. So it is completely possible that the Empty Tomb story was invented by the author of Mark, whose Gospel originally had no appearance claims, and then the later authors simply added(invented) appearance stories, each with his own twists and turns, to the very gripping Empty Tomb pericope. It is fascinating literature, but whether it is historical is anyone’s guess.

      If we look at the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15 which many scholars believe is the earliest account of appearance claims, what do we see: No physical descriptions of the appearances whatsoever! For all we know, the earliest Christians saw exactly what the author of Acts says that Paul saw: a bright light. And that’s it. And that is not too different from what the Mormon witnesses claim to have initially seen: a bright light.

      It is very probable that in both cases, very superstitious, hyper-religious people misperceived something very natural as a supernatural phenomenon…and the rest as they say…is history.

      1. Hello Gary, I appreciate the clarification.

        “After all, the modern consensus of New Testament scholars is that eyewitnesses did NOT write the Gospels.”

        I supplied evidence for why I believe eyewitnesses wrote the New Testament, yet you’re jumping on a bandwagon to make the “consensus” claim. First, deconstruct the evidence I have provided (above in previous comments) from the likes of Colin J. Hemer and Craig Bloomberg who combined identify 143 historical and archeological facts which strongly suggest the gospel writers were direct or indirect eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. Secondly, there simply wasn’t enough time for legend to develop because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD, which Jesus predicted, and this key fact was not referenced by any of the NT writers. Dr. Craig L. Bloomberg notes that: “the two earliest biographies for Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, yet historians consider then generally trustworthy. Though legendary material did develop over time but it was centuries after these two accounts” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Zondervan: Grand Rapids Michigan, 1998). Any fabrication of actual events in the NT would have undermined their efficacy to a contemporaneous audience. Therefore it is highly probable that the NT was written prior to the destruction of the temple, before legend could develop and by people who actually, directly or indirectly, witnessed the events they wrote down.

        “Mark, whose Gospel originally had no appearance claims,”

        If Mark’s account did end at 16:8 then Mark intended his readers to assume the women would do as they are told (by the angle inside the EMPTY tomb). The reading provides a mental image of the resurrected Jesus heading to Galilee and the women and the disciples doing the same, their minds full of the inescapable and wonderful conclusion “This man really is God’s Son!” However the Greek syntax of verse 8 and the fact that all the other Gospels include the announcement to the apostles and subsequent resurrection appearances lead some scholars to conclude that Mark’s original ending has been lost.

        “to the very gripping Empty Tomb pericope.”

        Frank Morison (Who Moved the Stone?, London: Faber & Faber, 1944) also found the empty tomb “gripping” and converted to Christianity because the evidence was undeniable. His argument proceeds as follows: (1) If Jesus didn’t rise, someone must have stolen the body; (2) the only people involved were the Roman authorities, the Jewish religious leaders, and Jesus’ disciples; (3) the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders would certainly not have taken the body, since to do so would have been against their own interests (Romans wanted to keep Palestine quiet and the Jews wanted to preserve their religious influence, see Matt 27:62-66) and (4) the disciples would hardly have stolen the body and then died for what they knew to be untrue; (5) ergo–by process of elimination–Jesus rose from the dead as the firsthand accounts declare.

        It will literally take the body of Jesus to defeat this logically airtight argument. So why didn’t anyone go to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Jewish leader), where the guards were sent (by the Romans) and produce the body? …Do you see my point?

        “If we look at the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15”

        We clearly see that Paul’s encounter with Jesus was not the first one mentioned, that started this so-called “superstitious misperceived natural phenomenon” but it was actually the last one mentioned in the list with all other accounts preceding Paul’s. As far as descriptions of Jesus’ appearances, you’re correct there is no detailed description what Jesus looked like, that is besides the point of the early creed. We are still more concerned today with WHO Jesus is rather than what he looks like.

        Now your theory in general is beset with many difficulties.

        First, on none of the occasions mentioned did the disciples go away with any doubt in their minds that it was really the same Jesus they had known intimately for years and who appeared to them in the physical form. Their doubts were only initial and momentary. By the time the appearance was over, Jesus had convinced them by his scars, by his ability to eat food, by their touching him, by his teaching, by his voice, and by his miracles that he was the same person with whom they had spent over three years. Second, your theory doesn’t account for the empty tomb as presented above. Third, your speculation does not account for the transformation of the disciples from scared and skeptical nomads to the worlds greatest missionaries overnight. Fourthly, how could so many be duped for so long, including the skeptics like James and Saul of Tarsus, it is less miraculous to believe in the single supernatural resurrection of Christ than to believe that all these people on all these occasions were totally deceived and yet so totally transformed.

        Finally Gary, the issue is not some metaphysical preference for either the biological miracle (the resurrection) or the psychological miracle (the disciples dying for what they knew to be false) rather the issue is the evidence itself. No such evidence exists to support a picture of psychologically aberrant disciples, while tremendously powerful testimonial evidence exists to the effect that Jesus physically raised from the dead.

        There simply is no Mormon equivalent.

  25. Petrus,

    You said this: ” Therefore it is highly probable that the NT was written prior to the destruction of the temple…”

    Even most conservative Christian scholars would refuse to make such a brash statement. The Gospel of Mark, yes, but the entire New Testament???This is truly a fringe position.

    You are jumping to conclusions to assume that the author of the Gospel of Mark intended the women to flee…to tell the disciples, and, you assume that the original ending of the Gospel of Mark has been lost. The oldest manuscripts end at verse 8. They have zero appearance stories. Now, that doesn’t mean that the author of Mark didn’t believe that Jesus had made any appearances, but we will never know for sure if he believed that Jesus had appeared in the manner that Matthew, Luke, and John later said Jesus appeared in their Gospels.

    Any number of persons could have moved/stolen the body: grave robbers, family members, disciples, the Sanhedrin, Mary Magdalene, Pilate. You discount these options, but I say that any one of these options is more probable than that a dead corpse came back to life to later fly off into outer space.

    You said, “It will literally take the body of Jesus to defeat this logically airtight argument. So why didn’t anyone go to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Jewish leader), where the guards were sent (by the Romans) and produce the body? …Do you see my point?”

    It is only airtight because you have made many assumptions. One, you cannot be 100% sure that Arimathea’s tomb was historical fact. The typical custom was to leave the traitor’s body on the cross for the birds and dogs to pick apart and then throw what was left into a common grave. The body would have been unrecognizable and probably “unlocateable”. You also assume that Jesus was the big deal the Gospels make him out to be. Maybe he was wasn’t. Maybe his death was no big deal. Maybe neither the Romans nor the Jews cared if a few dozen Galilean peasants were claiming that their dead leader had come back from the dead.

    You said, “First, on none of the occasions mentioned did the disciples go away with any doubt in their minds that it was really the same Jesus they had known intimately for years and who appeared to them in the physical form. Their doubts were only initial and momentary. By the time the appearance was over, Jesus had convinced them by his scars…”

    Hold your horses! You can’t get any of these details from the Early Creed, the earliest reference to Jesus’ alleged appearances. You are attempting to insert the Gospels into the Early Creed.

    So once again, we get back to the reliability of the Gospels. You believe that they are historically accurate because, you believe, eyewitnesses wrote them. But the overwhelming majority of experts (the consensus) say you are wrong. The overwhelming majority of experts say that the Gospels are NOT confirmed, primary sources, therefore, they say, we cannot be certain that the detailed appearances stories are accurate. I know that you and a few evangelical scholars very much want them to be, but that is not how most educated people look at evidence. We look at evidence and let the evidence speak for itself.

    As an example: The Tobacco Industry has paid millions if not billions of dollars to create research which appears to contradict the consensus of medical experts and their belief that tobacco smoking causes cancer. Do they do this because the medical research supporting the consensus position is poor? No. They do this because they don’t like the consensus position! (They don’t like the facts.)

    I suggest that conservative Christians have a similar agenda when it comes to rejecting the expert opinion on the authorship of the Gospels. Conservative Christians should listen to NT Wright when he says,

    “I don’t know who the Gospel authors were, nor does anyone else.”

  26. Hello Gary,
    Yes I admit that claiming the New Testament was written before 70 A.D. is a mistake, sorry this was unintentional.

    With regards to the end of Mark, I would agree we can’t be certain what “he believed” about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. This in no way discredits the other independent sources we have for Jesus’ appearances though. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it’s only silence.

    “Any number of persons could have moved/stolen the body: grave robbers, family members, disciples, the Sanhedrin, Mary Magdalene, Pilate.”

    So you grant the fact that the tomb was empty? I’m pleased about that little bit of progress. I’m not all that interested in the POSSIBLE explanations, because the article covers the varying types and degrees rather well, I am interested, however, in the explanation that accounts for all the historical facts.

    “but I say that any one of these options is more probable”

    Perhaps, only if you refuse to consider the evidence—a priori—could it be more probable. I have yet to see any evidence that provides the scope and vigor of the Resurrection hypothesis. As John Warwick Montgomery said in, his book History, Law and Christianity (NRP Books, 2014) “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the N.T. books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the N.T.”

    “a dead corpse came back to life to later fly off into outer space”

    If it was that fanciful then why are you spending any effort arguing against it? Your actions betray your own position as this question regarding the resurrection is actually very important.

    You balk at the cogent argument that Morison published and offer —speculation— as a rebuttal, without any evidence or reference! I agree that we cannot have 100% certainty about where Jesus was buried… Can we have 100% certainty about any historical event? I’m not arguing for 100% certainty, I’m simply drawing a reasonable inference to the best explanation given the data we DO have.

    “You are attempting to insert the Gospels into the Early Creed”

    My comments were in response to your general Mormon theory. How the multiple appearances of Jesus are unique given the physical evidence of his scars, his eating of food, his physical contact with the disciples, them hearing Jesus’ voice, his demonstrations of miracles in their presence and by his familiar teaching. This evidence is independent of the early creed and unique in comparison to your angelic “bright light” hypothesis.

    “the Gospels are NOT confirmed, primary sources, therefore, they say, we cannot be certain”

    I’m not making the claim that the Gospels are “primary sources”. Lack of certainty doesn’t affect our ability to know what the writers were trying to communicate in their writings, and that it has shaped history and permeated western culture. As Aristotle said, in his Art of Poetry (paraphrase), the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself. Now, you could be correct that I’m uneducated but I definitely don’t have some “similar agenda” as your biased analogy projects. Straw-man and ad homenim won’t advance your stance –one iota– I’m afraid.

    I’m glad you view N.T. Wright as an authority, so do I; let’s look back at the original article where Price quotes N.T. Wright:

    “The easiest explanation by far is that these things happened because Jesus really was raised from the dead, and the disciples really did meet him, even though his body was renewed and transformed…The resurrection of Jesus does in fact provide a sufficient explanation for the empty tomb and the meetings with Jesus. Having examined all the possible hypotheses I’ve read about anywhere in literature, I think it is also a necessary explanation.”

    I fear that you are forgoing reason by continuing to hold onto the hope that the resurrection hypothesis is factually false in some way. I would encourage you to continue to look into the evidence presented in the article. And I’m grateful that you’re still willing to engage regarding this most important topic. God speed my friend.

    Petrus

    1. Good morning, Petrus. You used this quote to support the historicity of the appearance stories in the Gospels: ” “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the N.T. books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the N.T.”

      I have discussed this quote with Christian apologists before. They have admitted that Montgomery was simply saying that the copies of the Gospels that are in existence today are so good, so similar, and so numerous that we can be near certain that they accurately reflect the original stories as written by the authors. I agree. However, this in NO WAY proves that the ORIGINAL stories as written by the original authors were TRUE. Many scholars believe that the Gospels belong to a genre of writing known as Greco-Roman religious biography. In this genre, adding fictional details to the core historical story was perfectly acceptable. The core facts of the Jesus story were these: Jesus preached the impending Kingdom of God; he claimed the be the King of the Jews; he was arrested; he was tried; he was crucified; he was buried; shortly after his death his disciples believed that he appeared to them. All other details that we find in the Gospels MAY BE literary embellishments.

  27. I recently discussed the issue of Gary Habermas’ research on the Empty Tomb with New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on his blog:

    Bart Ehrman:

    To my knowledge non-conservative scholars do not generally read the work of Habermas. They tend to stick to the writings of critical New Testament scholars.

    Gary:

    So when Christian apologists tell me that the majority of New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb based on Habermas’ research, I can tell them they are wrong?

    Bart Ehrman:

    You can tell them that the majority of NT scholars have never *read* Habermas (and may not even know about him).

    1. Hi Gary,

Appreciate you comments and input. I’m a little confused by your assertions. It is strictly stated that Joseph had a dream, you’re correct there, however there’s no correlation to suppose that the disciple’s post-crucifixion resurrection appearances where dreams, you assert that but with all due respect, deprive it out of nothing. To quote you in an earlier comment, “there is no evidence… Zero.” 

Plus, you fail to interact with the text itself which states that these resurrection appearance experiences were polymodal in nature (John 20:26-27; Luke 24:15, 43 just to name a few), incorporate both individuals as well as large groups (1 Cor. 15:5-6), and happen over the period of over a month (Acts 1:3). Are you saying that the development and spread of the entire early church was due to multiple people, at multiple times, in multiple places, all dreaming the exact same thing, in the exact same fashion, at around the exact same time? If anything seems illogical that certainly strikes me as a good candidate.

You also don’t account for Paul and James’ resurrection experiences. James in particular is a striking case due to the multiple witness corroboration evidence of Jesus’ siblings being hostile to his ministry. And yet, we have multiple attestation in both the Paul and Josephus that James was a key leader in the primitive Christian movement. Grief dreams would not account for Paul, a persecuted of the church, and James who thought his brother to be misguided at best and mad at worse. 

As someone within the field of NT academia I would also push back on your assertion that most of those writing articles on the empty tomb are evangelical and conservative Christian theologians and NT scholars. There are many, yes, however, when I look up the subject on any online academic database the number of believing/unbelieving scholars is pretty 50/50. 

The difference between the “mostly uneducated, first century, Galilean peasants” (as you put them), and the “tens of thousands of grieving family mementoes throughout history” is that the Galilean peasants uprooted the entire ancient world (and arguably the entire world from then onward) with their message. I would say that’s a pretty significant qualifier. 

Paul is clear throughout 1 Corinthians, within his creed and expansion on the Christian faith as a whole, that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The Greek language used itself gives this away, as ἀνάστασις is a physical act. 



      1. Hundreds of devout Christians claimed to have seen a 2,000 year old dead woman in Knock, Ireland last summer. Am I “depriving out of nothing” the idea that these people probably saw an illusion?

        It is claimed that some of the disciples had individual experiences of a risen Jesus; some had group experiences. I suggest that the most probable explanations are: vivid dreams, in the case of individuals; illusions, in the case of groups.

        Just because the anonymous authors of three of the Gospels say in their books that people saw, heard, and touched Jesus, doesn’t mean that these claims are historical. It is entirely possible that these details were literary embellishments and never intended to be understood literally. The authors were not writing modern biographies or history texts.

  28. Pingback: O ARGUMENTO DA RESSURREIÇÃO DE JESUS | Logos Apologetica

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