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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

But How Do You Explain the Empty Tomb?

Recently on CommonSenseAtheism, Luke had a post on the Resurrection which featured the following cartoon from

This humorous cartoon, I think, makes an important point. Apologists often maintain that certain "minimal historical facts" cannot be explained apart from a literal resurrection. But, this begs the question because the "historical facts" are part of the story in which the resurrection is reported. As one commenter named Garen said on Luke's blog:

I’m often amazed how even skeptics accept the non-miraculous elements of the Gospels as unbiased history. It comes as a package. If you take the miracles out of the Gospel accounts, of course you will get miracle shaped holes.-- Garren October 18, 2010 at 11:17 am
Another commenter, ShaneSteinhauser, using biting sarcasm, explains how the apologists arguments work:

Luke, don’t you understand?

1. Anything that is reported by at least three ancient non-anonymous scources, and has enemy attestation is fact. This is true because random New Testament historian X says so, and he is not biased at all in anyway whatsoever.

2. The three gospels report the empty tomb. And we know that the gospel writers are not baised at all because they are Jesus’ disciples who died for their belief, and we know this because early church fathers say so and they are not biased either. Also we know that the gospels are totally reliable even though they were written at least 20 years after Jesus died. We know this because studies in africa have shown that Oral Transmission is extremely accurate. And obviously studies of african traditions have merit on middle eastern traditions.

3. The three gospels were written by Jesus’ followers and we know this because the early church fathers who are not biased at all said so.

4. The jews admit that there was an empty tomb and we know this because one of the gospels says so. And that is all we need for enemy attestation. No, we do not actually need a word from an actual jew of the time we just need a gospel saying that he said so. That is good enough.

So now that I have proven that there was an empty tomb how do you explain it Luke? Obviously since you don’t have a good explaination Jesus coming back from the grave wins by default. Also since nobody can explain what made that bumping noise in my closet last night it must be the boogeyman--ShaneSteinhauser October 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm


  1. Doesn't William Lane Craig get away with this all the time? He starts resurrection debates with those three "facts."

    Reading Spong will certainly expand your mind on this. He thinks something happened to Peter in Galilee, and then the whole story got moved to a Jerusalem setting.

    There's no document other than the Bible that verifies any of it, right?

  2. The 911 Truthers use arguments of the same form. They carefully cherry pick the video clips and witness accounts they need and then they proclaim that the only valid historical theory is the one that explains that evidence and only that evidence. Not surprisingly, only their theory that the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolition does the trick. Like Craig and Habermas, they don't seem to get that real historians base their conclusions on all the evidence.

    I will give the "minimal facts" apologists credit for one thing: truth in advertising.


    I just seriously can't believe people let him [WLC] get away with it.... his arguments are so terribly bad.

  4. Vinny, I don't see any analogy between the arguments re. possible controlled demolition of the twin towers and "building 7" on 9/11 and the circular reasoning with LACK of any verifiable evidence in regards to resurrection claims.

    If you've looked into both official and controlled demolition theories closely, and the many lines of evidence involved, I'd be interested in why you perceive the arguments, particularly of the group, which is heavily scientific, and very focused on physical, materials analysis, as so limited.... And it seems to me it accounts for much MORE of the evidence, if not all of it, than does the "official" theory.

  5. Good post, Ken. Here is also a book on problems of the Bible, and getting God "wrong". I've not read it but like the review by Frank Schaeffer in religion dept. of HuffPost at:

  6. I have not read that particular group's work. I have also not read the work of every Holocaust denier, every moon landing denier, or every Birther. Life is too short.

  7. Vinny, I'm with on "not read the work of... every denier.... Life is too short." For sure! In the case of 9/11, this is not so much a matter of "denier," at all, but of a nearly current/ongoing investigation(and some of the issues of importance based on science and reports emerging in just the last couple years). Or the investigation SHOULD be formally, legally ongoing it that the gov't-led aspect was totally inadequate and evasive, and most likely purposely made so. Because of the immensity, the effects, the recentness, etc. of 9/11, it is nowhere near the league of the other examples you mention, or of about any other controversial event I can think of--hardly even comparable at all.

    And of course, on any closer examination at all, one will come up with major questions (not just minor side issues) that are left unanswered by the official theory... things that the controlled demolition explanation DOES answer, and quite satisfactorily. So, if you do care to confirm we were not grossly misled and abused as a people, I suggest you do spend at least a half-hour or so at, and start, with them, on just the physical evidences involved... stuff that is mostly NOT subjective at all, or minimally so.

    Don't get side-tracked with what are secondary, not primary issues like "How could people have had access and the time needed to set explosives, and those not be detected, etc?" If one finds no evidence for explosive demolition, then that's a moot question.... It and similar matters like "How could high enough officials possibly wanted to sacrifice so many lives for an unknown (to most of us) purpose?" are only relevant at a stage beyond what the architects and engineers (about 1300 signers now) of this group are focusing us on. Just be open for 30 minutes or so and see if this is not in a whole different category than virtually anything else often tagged "conspiracy theory."

  8. In Mark 28:11-15, the author admits that the jews (basically everybody except for that new small cult calling themselves christians) say the disciples stole the body. He also admits that is what's in the police report.

    The guy telling the story is a member of that same cult. He claims that what really happened is that the dead guy resurrected himself, and some unnamed elders paid them off to write a false report.

    Is it more likely that this cult member is spinning this story his way, or, that there really is a god who is his own son and sacrificed himself to himself etc etc. The answer seems pretty obvious.

  9. But they built a church on top of the empty tomb -- all both of them!

  10. Uzza,
    Did you mean a different gospel? Mark only has 16 chapters.

  11. Oops, my bad. I meant Matthew, not Mark.
    Matthew 28:11-15.

  12. I was so sorry to hear that Ken has died. I have really enjoyed reading this blog and Ken's other writings, and I hope his family can take some strength from the tributes he has received.

    On the topic of this thread, it has always struck me that even if we accept all 4 of Craig's multiply recycled points, the actual evidence in the gospels and Paul rules out a real physical resurrection.

    For one thing, points 3 and 4 are entirely explicable by point 2 (granting that point for a moment) and normal human reactions to cognitive dissonance.

    But if we even just accept the gospels at face value, certain other facts emerge:
    1. There was another group of disciples (the owners of the donkey and the Upper Room).
    2. Jesus's family were probably well connected and wealthy enough to keep tabs on him and to have the body transported back home.
    3. The tomb itself was only a temporary morgue; the plan had always been to move the body for definitive burial.
    4. The women arrived after the body had been taken to Galilee (probably Capernaum) for the real funeral; it seems that the memo got garbled as the young man passed it on.

    So we don't need to be troubled by Craig's "4 facts" - even IF they are true (and they are of course hugely suspect), they point to some messed-up funeral arrangements and chinese whispers.

  13. Here is the rub:for the first 300+ years of Christianity there was absolutely no benefit to following the teaching of the original disciples. NONE

    Turning the other cheek, loving your enemies were not the hallmarks of a normal revolution.

    And all the original 11 disciples were killed for preaching the resurrection.They may have been deceived...but they truly believed in the resurrection. No one would allow themselves to be tortured to death for something they KNEW was made up.

    There have been various attempts to explain the resurrection...the disciples stole the body most often. But again why would they die for a lie they made up? There was no church hierarchy to protect, no jobs to secure for their children...

    Some speculate the disciples went to the wrong tomb...but why didn't the Jews just go get the body and put an end to all the foolishness?

    Messed up funeral arrangements and chinese whispers cannot explain the sudden growth of Christianity...enough to cause the Roman Empire to embrace it. From that point on there was both political and social gain to be had by conversion...but there is no explanation for that first 300+ years.

  14. Messed up funeral arrangements and Chinese whispers cannot explain the sudden growth of the People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, Aum Shinrikyo, ....

  15. uzza, People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, Aum Shinrikyo are/were small, fanatical groups that truly prove my point...Why didn't Jesus teaching die an early death like these groups? How did Jesus teaching last for 300+ years and help to topple the Roman Empire? What caused the Roman Emperor to want to use anything related to Jesus teaching?

    Remember Jesus only taught for 3 years or so.

    If it was only a moral, religious teaching like Islam, Buddhism, etc. there would be no conflict. The conflict begins and ends at the resurrection...

    As C.S. Lewis said Jesus was either crazy, a liar, or exactly what he claimed...

  16. BTW, please don't misconstrue my comments...I am not saying that I agree with everything Christianity has become. There are a lot of things in evangelical Christianity that make me want to de-convert, too...but I always come back to the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. It ain't His fault there is so much mess...

  17. I have expressed my condolences at the FB site in memory of Ken... so tragic and sad... I must mention it here, also. He was a true gentleman, kind and loving. It feels strange posting now, but I imagine he'd want us to go on, so here goes:

    Ericknac, There ARE good, solid answers to your points. But building the case is complex and takes a lot of space, so probably the best I can do here is refer to a couple key sources (and there are MANY more).

    For one, the popular "liar, lunatic, or Son of God" is based on appearances and claims created after-the-fact by the Gospel writers and sometimes put in the mouth of Jesus (esp. John) vs. the fairly clear, very different picture observable via Acts and a comparison with Paul (esp. Galatians), indicators within the Gospels, etc. So that argument ignores the elephant in the room! It is avoided (amazingly) almost fully in orthodox NT scholarship, or dismissed lightly when it actually cannot be dismissed (even by the likes of Bauckham, who creates great detail of scholarship while avoiding the issue). A good source here, though little-known, is The Mythmaker by Hyam Maccoby. This guy KNOWS, from deep research, the Jewish situation of Jesus' and the Apostles' day, and he KNOWS the NT.

    And you miss some key things, understandably, in the claim about nothing to gain, tying the first disciples' belief necessarily to a physical resurrection. Maccoby and many others (Burton Mack is another good source) deal with that effectively and biblically. Key point: the disciples who remained in Jerusalem remained fully Jewish, believing Jesus to have been the fully human (as expected) Messiah whose UNexpected death was vindicated by God's raising him, soon to return as human Messiah to bring in the Kindgom of God for Israel, benefiting all nations. The whole incarnation/deity concept came in with Paul, in his branch of belief which was actually in competition and often conflict with the Jerusalem/Apostles' brand, visible though papered over a lot in Acts/Galatians.

    While Acts tries to disguise this, best indicators are that the "Jerusalem Church" never varied from the above and was driven out of Jerusalem just prior to and/or during the great Jewish-Roman war from 66-70, at the end of which the Temple was destroyed, ending any ability to keep Temple practice as Acts indicates they had done, in normal Jewish manner. They were opposed and sometimes persecuted on political, not theological grounds by the Roman-collaborating Jewish leaders, threatened by the ongoing messianic expectation and agitation. (Con't... hopefully)

  18. Further, Ericknac (con't from 7:55 post),

    Taking major risks and often being killed for backing a supposed Messiah was not uncommon around Jesus' time (see even Acts). Sometimes after the claimed messiah was killed, his followers kept up the cause under new leadership... in the case of Jesus, this explains James' (brother--family dynasty) sudden emergence, never outwardly explained in the NT, but his position confirmed by Josephus. A physical resurrection is not necessary. Also related is that the Jews of the time often faced or suffered death in resistance to calling Caesar "Lord."

    Paul's reasons for mocking death (and probably finally being executed) for HIS beliefs probably IS related to Jesus' resurrection. But if you read him carefully, it seems relatively clear (tho admittedly not without room for controversy) that he based his belief of the resurrection on his vision of Jesus on the way to Damascus (and perhaps later also). He does not claim an empty tomb and physical resurrection... Jesus "appeared" to the Apostles and over 500 others, according to Paul, in the same way (same Greek word) to them as he had to Paul... clearly not physically. Note in various places/manners Paul sees his visions and revelations as giving him authority ASIDE from any apostolic teaching, and actually higher than it! His whole well-meaning cause (mixed with his giant ego) was enough for him to defend to the death. Similarly, there was a powerful but not unprecedented dedication with the Christians (usually leaders only in the period up to 180 or so I think it was) who were martyred. And martyrdom provided "seed" for new growth, as famously one was quoted.

    For a detailed study and explanation of how Christianity could (and did) spread via natural growth processes of a new religion without positing Apostolic miracles, physical Resurrection, etc. see Rodney Stark's "The Rise of Christianity." He shows carefully how the common argument is invalid, although he himself is a believer in God in some manner, but apparently not an orthodox Christian (i.e., he is not an atheist with an axe to grind.)

  19. The bottom line is that if you don't want to believe something you won't no matter how much evidence you have. None of you want to believe in the resurrection, so you won't. You have far too much at stake. If you believed in the resurrection, it would also mean that Jesus is exactly who he said that He was. And if he said that He was God, than you would have to be accountable to that God. Truly, the resurrection is the crux of the matter. If it didn't happen, than the entire Christian religion is a big joke.

    Furthermore, we can find people who will argue one way and argue another way. Just look at the way our court system works. It is a charade of lies and pretense. Guilty people are let free based on wise sounding arguments. But are they really innocent? Is there a righteous judge anywhere in America? Is there a righteous judge anywhere in the cosmos?

    But I have a question, and pretend that I don't have an axe to grind (by the way, EVERYBODY has an axe to grind, so lets not kid ourselves):

    IF...IF...IF the resurrection of a historical figure WAS to be placed in a particular time in history (that being 33 AD), and IF this resurrection was to inaugurate a new movement to spread to the entire world...HOW WOULD YOU DO IT?

    I have to admit, I know of no other way to make a strong case that would endure the length of the centuries outside of how it is presented in the New Testament.

    It seems to me that we have excellent arguments about how the resurrection couldn't possibly have happened (even though eye witnesses say that it did). We seem to be so much smarter and wiser than those of antiquity. I fear that we are terribly wrong.

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  21. unfortunately for you people there is non biblical proof for the existence of Jesus and while there is no definitive proof of him ressurecting his tomb is empty with no other plausible explanation not to mention even the talmud claims he used sorcery to disclaim his miracles

    these two websites should help you, i hope you all realize Christ did indeed die for your sins.

    ill remind you its archelogical proof that the tomb was empty and jesus was a real person for logical reasoning for Jesus' Resurrection here are a couple of links