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Friday, March 19, 2010

Debating the Resurrection of Jesus

I have been carrying on a discussion over at about the resurrection of Jesus. It is in the comment section on Liars Make Poor Martyrs with a person named Jamie, one named Brian_G, and another one who calls himself Bossmanham. You can read the entire thread but here is some of what I have said.


You said:
First the premise of the quote was that people who lie do not make good martyrs, as they know the truth, and thus know they would be dying for a lie. You said that you would prefer a naturalistic explanation over a supernatural one. This argument needs to be seperated again into sub categories. First I would ask you what sort of a naturalistic explanation you are referring to. Are you clinging to the ideas that Jesus was either not fully dead, or that His body was stolen? I would hope not, as this is and has been easily refuted for some time now, which part of the refutation is my second point.

I think there are several possibilities. I am not certain which one is the best but I think they are all more likely than saying God did it. My reason is that there have been many things in the history of the world that man could not explain at the time and so the default position became, it must be a supernatural act . This was true of explanations for earthquakes, volcanoes, and many other natural disasters that today we recognize have a fully naturalistic explanation. It was also true for diseases such as leprosy or epilepsy. The Bible is replete with such examples and so are other writings from ancient history.

You said:
Morover, we have independent attestation of these appearences not just from the followers of Jesus, but skeptics, as well as enemies. This is exactly what you would want of you were trying to research a historical event. One of the gospels even mentions that not all were convinced and were even skeptical after Jesus appeared to them after His death, and this is simply not what you would expect had this not been a bodily ressurection.

Once again you are assuming that the gospel records are 100% accurate and report literal history. I will grant to you that if that is true, then yes, Jesus really did rise from the dead bodily, but I don't think there is good reason to assume their accuracy. The fact is that outside of the canonical writings, we have no real evidence of Jesus' resurrection.

You said:
Lastly I would say please look at what Paul says, which is that if Christ be not raised from the dead, then we as Christians are to be pittied more than all men, as our faith is in vain! If Christ did not raise from the dead then Jesus was not the Son of God as He certainly claimed to be.

Yes, I would agree with Paul and thus, I have abandoned the Christian faith that I held for nearly 20 years.

You said:
You say that it is more unlikely for a supernatural ressurection to occur on the basis of what we know about the natural order of things. But your setting up an argument that is circular. You say Jesus couldn't have rose because people cannot rise from the dead, yet you say convince me of a supernatural event.

I am not saying that it is a priori impossible for miracles to occur. What I am saying is that based on what we know from experience, it is much more likely that there is a natural explanation for the belief in Jesus' resurrection than there is for the belief that he literally and bodily rose from the dead. We know that other things, such as the ones I have mentioned above, have happened before but what we don't know is that a person has ever been supernaturally raised from the dead. Historians go with the most probable explanation not the most improbable. Thus, I think its more likely to go with what we know has happened in the past than it is to believe in something that we don't know has ever happened.

You said: For a natural ressurection to occur would not be possible. It had to be a supernatural event. God raising Jesus from the dead was His vindication of His Son. This was telling the world that the radical claims Jesus made were true.

Yes, I know that is the theological explanation that Christians have given for the resurrection. As Ehrman said in his debate with Craig, its perfectly legitimate to believe in the resurrection based on theological grounds but it is not legitimate to believe in it based on historical grounds. If one wants to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the grave on the basis of faith, that is fine.

Jamie has not replied yet but Brian_G did. Here is my response to his post:


Thanks. Yes I am aware that the early dating refers just to the tradition recorded in 1 Cor. 15:3-5. It is less certain if 15:4-6 can be included in the earliest form of the tradition. But that is another subject. If we are to accept Gal. 1 as reliable, then Paul did not meet with Peter and James until at least 3 years after the Damascus Road experience. If we date the Damascus experience to around 3 years after the death of Jesus, then it was at the earliest about 5 to 6 years after the death that Paul first heard this tradition.

Regardless, though, that is not my main issue with the 1 Cor. 15 passage. What I think is significant is that Paul uses the same word to refer to all of the appearances, ὤφθη (ophthe), the aorist passive indicative of ὀπτάνομαι(optanomai) which means in the passive, " to allow one's self to be seen, to appear." He uses the same word to refer to his seeing the resurrected Christ as he does Peter, James, the twelve, and the 500. We know from Acts 9 and Acts 22 that when Paul saw Jesus it was of the nature of a vision. Paul apparently only saw a bright light. The other men with him did not have a clue what Paul was seeing.

My point is that Paul does not seem to make any distinction between the nature of his vision of Jesus and the nature of what Peter, James, the twelve and the 500 saw. Could it be that Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection and not necessarily a bodily one? Could it be that is also what Peter and the early disciples believed but later in the passing along of the stories, it became a physical resurrection? With a physical resurrection one needs an empty tomb and therefore you find one in Mark?

Also Bossman replied and here is my response to him:


You say:
There are a lot of possibilities for a lot of things. It's logically possible that I could sprout wings and fly to Canada. The real question is are these alternative theories you mention plausible when you consider the available evidence? What are the chances that all of this evidence (change of the disciples, James, and Paul's beliefs, discovery of the empty tomb by women, inability of opponents to produce a body) would exist without a resurrection? Is it plausible to believe anything else when this evidence exists?

First, if you think its logically possible for you to sprout wings and fly to Canada, then I can see why you so easily accept the supernatural explanation of Jesus being raised from the dead.

Second, I think all of the things you mention can be explained on a purely naturalistic level. I have given one such explanation already. Let me very briefly recap. Jesus was executed by the Romans. This was proof-positive in the Jewish mind of Second Temple Judaism that he could not be the Messiah. The disciples were despondent and discouraged. They begin to look back at the Hebrew scriptures to make sense of what they had experienced. One of the key elements in Daniel and also in Maccabees was that God would vindicate the martyrs by raising them from the dead. Someone then claimed that they saw Jesus alive. Others also began to have visions. These reports spread and were passed along by word of mouth. Sometime later, Paul has a vision. He becomes the theologian of the church. He writes his letters. Sometime later the gospels are written. By that time, the appearances of Jesus after his death were embellished to be more physical appearances. (Perhaps this was due to the rising influence of proto-Gnosticism which denied that Jesus had a material body). The idea of an empty tomb now becomes part of the tradition. The idea of a guard being placed at the tomb is added, the idea that the women saw the grave clothes, the idea in Matthew that the Jews paid the guards to say the body was stolen, the idea in Matthew (27:51-53) that other saints were also raised (this is a very interesting passage which is only found in Matthew's account. Why? Because as I mentioned earlier, the Jews had the concept that the martyrs were going to be raised in vindication. Its also impossible for me to believe that if these other resurrections took place, there would not have been some attestation to it in some other writing).

I think its very interesting that in the sermons in the book of Acts, while the disciples preach the resurrection, they do not say a word about the empty tomb. It seems that Peter would have said on the Day of Pentecost, "Look folks, Jesus' tomb is empty, he was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and when we went back on Sunday morning, he was gone. You can go over and look for yourself. You can go and ask J of A if what I am telling you is true."

You say that it is not relevant that in ancient history the default position for some unexplained phenomena was the supernatural. I believe its entirely relevant and explains why the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead became so popular. It would have a more difficult time gaining traction in today's world.

One other thought. Lets take the visions of Mary that people claim to have. Do you think some naturalistic explanation is more likely than a supernatural one? I think the same thing about the visions of Jesus after his death.


  1. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, why does my opinion regarding this reputed event affect what happens to me after I die?
    The business of life after death, because of having the correct opinions about Jesus, is the cornerstone of modern Jesus Worship. If you pull that stone out, the house comes tumbling down.

  2. Like the Goddidit comment. Have you read Ken Daniel's book "Why I Believed: Reflections of a missionary"? It is on the infidel website under testimonies,

  3. First the premise of the quote was that people who lie do not make good martyrs, as they know the truth, and thus know they would be dying for a lie.

    They just don't get it, and there's no way to explain it to them. That isn't how the mind works. As I said the other day, they are the least introspective people in the world.

  4. Really:

    Thanks. No I haven't seen that book but it looks very interesting.


    Yes I know its very frustrating.