Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Jim Hunter on What It Is to Be a Leader

Dynamic Leadership Event Highlight from Studio46 Media on Vimeo.

Here is my friend Jim Hunter, who knows more about leadership than anyone I know.

Jim has written three excellent, compelling books, that have influenced many of us.

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader

The Culture: Creating Excellence with Those You Lead

Pastoral Leaders - Beware of the Superman Mentality

(My recent book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

In Exodus 18:17-18 Moses' father-in-law Jethro sees Moses doing too much. Jethro says:

What you are doing is not good.
You will surely wear yourself out,
both you and these people with you.
For the task is too heavy for you;
you cannot do it alone.

Moses' leadership flow chart looked like this:

Moses has taken on too much! Just like some pastors. If they don't have a Jethro in their life this will end in disaster. 

Ruth Haley Barton identifies some of the symptoms that might manifest themselves when a pastor-leader is dangerously depleted and may be functioning beyond human limitations.

  • Irritability or hypersensitivity
  • Restlessness.
  • Compulsive overworking. Bryan Robinson writes: "Workaholism is an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work - to the exclusion of most other life activities." (In Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, p. 104)
  • Emotional numbness.
  • Escapist behaviors.
  • Disconnection from one's identity and calling.
  • Not able to attend to human needs.
  • Hoarding energy.
  • Slippage in our spiritual practices.
Barton writes: "If even a few of these symptoms are true for you, chances are you are pushing up against human limitations and you, too, might need to consider that "what you are doing is not good" for you or for the people you are serving." (Ib., p. 106)

Many leaders have a Superman mentality, which is "a grandiosity that we indulge to our own peril." (Ib., 108)

Pastoral leaders who take my spiritual formation courses know that the antidote to spiritual depletion is returning to their first love which is Christ, and a committed life of praying, solitude, and quietness before God.

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God  can help you overcome overworking.


Detroit Public Library

Defining “discernment”
-      Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.

Discernment is different than “decision making.”
NOW WATCH THIS: The word in the Presence-Driven Church is” discern,” not “decide.”
This is not about “decision-making.”
God is making decisions and leading; you and I must discern what God has decided.
Biblical examples of discernment.
1 Kings 3:9-14 – Solomon asks God to give him a “discerning heart” to govern God’s people, and to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Psalm 119:125 – The psalmist prays: I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.
Proverbs 18:15 - The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
          for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Daniel 2:21 - God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
Hosea 14:9 - Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them.
1 Cor. 2:14 - The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

How do I become a spiritually discerning person?
          Cultivate intimacy with God.
Discernment is a function of intimacy.

The basic rule is: The greater the intimacy with God, the more you have discernment.

“Discernment” Is a Fruit… or by-product…  of a Presence-Driven Life.

To know what God wants:
1. Meet regularly with God.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Root yourself in community.

If you don’t have time for God or for praying or for worship or for saturating in the Word.. you will not have spiritual discernment.
Prayerless people dwell in the land of unfamiliarity.
There are three Greek words we translate as "discern." The first is in Rom. 12:1-2:

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind.
What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation.
We must live in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about.
The Greek word we translate as "discern" in Romans 12 is ἀνακρίνω,v  \{an-ak-ree'-no} - anakrino
1) examine or judge  1a) to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinise, sift, question  1a1) specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an  investigation  1a2) to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses  1b) to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of  any person or thing 

A second 
A second Greek word is in 1 Cor. 12:10 - 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

Here the word is διάκρισις,n  \{dee-ak'-ree-sis} - diakrisis
1) a distinguishing, discerning, judging
A third word is in Phil. 1:9-11:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Here the Greek word is δοκιμάζω,v  \{dok-im-ad'-zo} - dokimazo
1) to test, examine, prove, scrutinise (to see whether a thing  is genuine or not), as metals  2) to recognise as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy 

How to become a community of discernment.
Teach your people how to abide in Christ.
If you are a pastor… to do this you must give up control. It’s not about you. It’s all about what God is saying and doing in your people.
A Discerning Community is a Movement, not an Institution

Not Just Nice Words, A Blessing Is an Impartation


"We know that God is present everywhere, 
but he is not manifest everywhere."

Dallas Willard

The omnipresent God is able to localize his omnipresence. God can show up in a tabernacle in the wilderness, in the Temple on Mount Zion, on an ancient, dusty road to Emmaus, in your church building's sanctuary, and in your living room. 

God often manifests himself through words. Through the words of Scripture, through words of knowledge and wisdom spoken in the body of Christ, and through Spirit-inspired blessings, given to people. 

Near the end of his life my father blessed me with his words. What a great gift this not only was, but is to me! A blessing is an impartation, an empowerment.

This is the purpose of biblical blessings; viz., that God shows up and accomplishes the blessing in the person being blessed. It's not just nice, warm words that are sweet to hear. When, e.g., I bless someone with peace, I expect the Spirit to bestow peace upon the person. In the words of blessing there is a great doing

In Numbers 6:24-26 we hear the great Aaronic blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

This is more than a slogan on a poster. A Hebraic blessing is an "speech act." That is, it does something. (See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words.) 

The words “The Lord bless you” mean "“God bring good constantly into your life.” “The Lord bless you and keep you.” That means “God protect you. God build around you his safekeeping. The blood of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ be over you and keep you.”" (Willard, op. cit., p. 165)

A blessing accomplishes enduring things. Willard writes:

"The invocation, the blessing, is designed to project that presence of God in a manifest way to the person you are talking to. “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Peace comes in the presence of God, in having God’s shining face over you and in having him looking to you." (Ib., pp. 166-167)

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

My manuscript for Leading the Presence-Driven Church is at my publisher.

Monday, September 17, 2018

On Incompetent Business Model Churches


In my church we have a team of five who oversee our finances. They all have gifts and wisdom in this area. They are fiscally conservative, which I like. 

They put together a proposed budget, sometimes including a proposal from our Elders. They may become aware of a need, and insert it into the proposed budget. 

They are one of our discerning teams. They provide me with reports on budget spending every quarter. 

They are not responsible for making decisions about the direction of our church, although they may discern direction.

Thank God, I don't attend their meetings. They are more than capable of overseeing our finances. More capable, in several ways, than I am.

How grateful I am for them, their commitment, their excellence! I view them as a Discerning Team.

I don't like calling them a "committee." That's a business model term, and we don't do church by a business model. But many churches use business models and have "committees."

Now brace yourself, because I am going to quote A.W. Tozer. Consider this interesting, possible food for discernment. Tozer writes:

"God in His condescending love and kindness often sends a Moses, or maybe a Joshua or an Isaiah, or in latter times a Luther or Wesley to show us that the work of the Lord is not progressing. Times are bad in the kingdom and getting worse. The tendency is to settle into a rut, and we must get out of it...
Someone says, “Let’s form a committee to consider it.” The Baptist preacher Dr. Vance Havner says, “A committee is a company of the incompetent chosen by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.” Perhaps he stated that a little too radically." (Tozer, Rut, Rot, or Revival: The Problem of Change and Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Kindle Locations 174-176)


And yet...   I suspect many of my pastoral colleagues, who have inherited Business Model Churches, will agree.

Tozer admits a committee may, under certain circumstances, be helpful. But when times are bad and the church is in a spiritual rut, let's form a committee?

My book on leadership is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

The alternative to the Business Model Church is the Discerning Community. See Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

Scientism Exceeds its Grasp

Lake Michigan shoreline, Michigan

I meet, on occasion, someone who says, "Science explains everything." From this follows the idea that: If science cannot in principle explain something, then that "something" does not exist. This is called "scientism."

"Scientism" is the belief, indeed the worldview, that claims science is the only valid way of seeking knowledge and truth in any field. On scientism, science explains or will explain (at least in principle) everything there is to be known.

University of South Carolina biologist Austin Hughes (deceased 2015) addressed this in his essay "The Folly of Scientism." He quotes Peter Atkins, who says that science has "universal competence."

Hughes scoffs at this and writes:

"Central to scientism is the grabbing of nearly the entire territory of what were once considered questions that properly belong to philosophy. Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them. For most of those who dabble in scientism, this shift is unacknowledged, and may not even be recognized. But for others, it is explicit."

Atkins, for example, says, “I consider it to be a defensible proposition that no philosopher has helped to elucidate nature; philosophy is but the refinement of hindrance.”"

Hughes shows how this kind of thinking over-reaches. Scientism "exceeds its grasp." To get at this Hughes takes us to the roots, the foundation, of certain scientific and philosophical ideas in which scientism is grounded.

He makes a nice distinction between science per se and what scientists say. For example, there has been a good deal of controversy over stem cell research. While many in the discussion are scientists, there is "little science being disputed: the central controversy was between two opposing views on a particular ethical dilemma, neither of which was inherently more scientific than the other. If we confine our definition of the scientific to the falsifiable, we clearly will not conclude that a particular ethical view is dictated by science just because it is the view of a substantial number of scientists."

Hughes questions the idea that science is essentially "self-correcting," in the sense that self-correction will necessarily occur. He writes:

"Alas, in the thirty or so years I have been watching, I have observed quite a few scientific sub-fields (such as behavioral ecology) oscillating happily and showing every sign of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. The history of science provides examples of the eventual discarding of erroneous theories. But we should not be overly confident that such self-correction will inevitably occur, nor that the institutional mechanisms of science will be so robust as to preclude the occurrence of long dark ages in which false theories hold sway."

Hughes rightly dismisses the idea that science and scientists are above political, petty, and irrational thinking. Those who think science to be epistemtically or metaphysically neutral attain a status quite like cult leaders. It's time to debunk the scientistic "aura of hero worship." Science does not possess some special, transcendent epistemic reliability. And it fails to explain everything, to include the claim that science explains everything.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hoping Beyond Death

So-Fee and me
If there is one thing that is certain, it is taxes. But there is something more certain than taxes. One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. 

I think about death. One result of my conversion to Christ forty-eight years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me. "Death" is a big-time philosophical theme. 

How we think about death influences how we live today. Heidegger told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as a example of a good life and a good death. 

Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant I would be called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death. 

I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. Tomorrow morning I will do a funeral of a beloved friend. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.

I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep" a few years ago. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It also made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.

For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. David was pronounced dead in this hospital. 

My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It feels intense as I write about it.

I never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. 

I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed  deceased were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral home parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service having failed to "drown their sorrows."

Every death as a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. People weigh things, evaluate things, deal with incomplete things, unsaid things that should have been said, the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. 

At a funeral I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in his resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some who live in denial come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment they are looking for some hope, as before them stands the Hope of the World.

How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. Even we are not our own.  

I'm going to die. 

You are too. 

But Christ has been raised. 

Therefore, I have hope, and you can, too. I choose to live in the light of that eschatological hope and connect with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Adultery: It's Not Complicated

Worship at Redeemer - it's not as complicated as it looks
(I'm re-posting this for X.)

As far as I can tell, Facebook popularized the response "It's complicated." I remember reading a woman's Facebook page. She described her extramarital affair as, "It's complicated." 

This silly meme fails to get at the truth, which is: It's not complicated. Not really. Adultery boils down to one truth: she chose not to keep her vows. 

But what about the reasons underlying the breaking of the wedding promise? Are the reasons for the deception complicated? Not really. Adultery is unoriginal and uncreative. It's boring. Reasons for adultery are easy to unravel. They boil down to the binary algorithm "either-or." At some point a choice is made. Adultery presents us with nothing new under the sun.

Truth is not complicated. It may be hard to understand at times, but not because it is complicated. Truth is binary. Truth is either-or. 

In my logic classes I demystify the nature of rationality and clear away the foggy delusion of "complicated." I explain that a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. A statement describes a state of affairs that either obtains, or it does not. Period. (If that astonishes you, then I wish you had taken one of my Logic classes at MCCC. Or, pick up any university Logic text and begin to read.)

"It's complicated" presents the adulterer as some kind of mysterious genius who has woven a web of relationships that only they understand. They are a complicated person, epistemically inaccessible to common folks. As if they have figured this horror out, when all they really did was old-fashioned cheating and hiding. 

Cheat and hide. Again and again, as they faced ever-growing waves of *Kierkegaardian either-ors and, simply and as old as humanity, chose evil. That's not very complicated, right?

(The same, of course, goes for men.)


*Shall we choose the feeling/aesthetic life, or the ethical life? See Kierkegaard, Either-Or. A choice may be difficult, but not because it is "complicated."

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

My second book is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I'm now in process of writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

After that, Linda and I intend to write our book on Relationships.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Jesus Is Looking for Followers, Not People Who "Make a Decision"

Custer Airport, Monroe

To the Church in America: Focus on making disciples, rather than providing programs to entertain and hopefully retain the deciders

Jesus commanded us to make followers. Invest resources in this. 

Many make "decisions" for Christ and stop there, or fade out. Some of these deciders become disciples - praise God! Others don't.

Jesus is not trying to get people to some decision point, with discipleship as a nice, but unnecessary, add-on. For Jesus it's all about being a disciple and following after him. It's in following Jesus that we come to see that a person's decision was real.

Is it possible to make a decision to follow Christ as Lord and not follow him? No, it's not. It makes as much sense as saying, "I have decided to take up the game of golf," and then not take up the game of golf. Or, proclaiming in front of hundreds of people, "I have decided to eat this banana," and then proceeding to not eat it.

Here is Dallas Willard's definition of a "disciple" of Jesus:

"A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus."

Disciple-making is not popular in American entertainment-driven, consumer churches. For one reason, disciples cannot be microwaved. But a life of slow-cooked Jesus-following is vastly more satisfying, as any of Jesus' disciples know.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Christ

Cable gondola shuttle to the top of Masada, Israel (near the Dead Sea)

I'm re-posting this for my Philosophy of Religion students.

This is largely taken from William Lane Craig's work, with other scholarship added as I saw fit, plus my own comments.


(Adapted from William Lane Craig, debate with Richard Carrier; Question 103 at reasonablefaith.orgContemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” at reasonablefaith.org)


· Focus on the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus.

o Argue NOT from the Bible as God’s Word, but argue HISTORICALLY using the ancient texts as historical records, historical documents.

· All historical truths are probableistic (inductive). The historian asks, re. historical facts – what is the best, most probable explanation for the facts?

· Presuppose the existence of God.

o An atheist will not share this presupposition.

o The atheist will assume, therefore, that supernatural events are impossible.

Defend two major contentions.

#1 – There are 4 historical facts that must be explained by any historical hypothesis.

· Jesus’ burial (Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb)

· The discovery of his empty tomb

· Jesus’ post-mortem appearances

· The origin of his disciples’ belief in the resurrection

#2 – The best explanation of those facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

#1 – the following 4 facts are accepted by the majority of New Testament scholars. (NOTE: If a person wants to study the historicity of the New Testament documents, read the works of New Testament scholars. But aren’t they biased? And, if they are biased, can we trust them? A few points: 1) everyone is biased; 2) bias is helpful, even necessary; 3) a world-famous brain surgeon is biased – if you want to study brain surgery study with those who spend their life on the subject; if you want to study and learn about the guitar do not learn from someone who claims to be “neutral” about the guitar (I think “neutrality” is not an option…).

Fact 1 – after the crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

Evidence: Jesus’ burial is multiply-attested in various independent sources. 

This does NOT mean that the burial stories are in the 4 Gospels. It means that the source material Mark used is different from the source material of Matthew and Luke, and they are all different from John, and these are all different from Paul’s sources.

The burial account is part of Mark's source material for the story of Jesus' Passion. 
This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimonyand dates to within several years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Moreover, Paul in his first letter to the church of Corinth also cites an extremely early source for Jesus' burial which most scholars date to within a few years or even months of the crucifixion.

Independent testimony to Jesus' burial by Joseph is also found in the special sources used by Matthew and Luke and in the Gospel of John. Historians consider themselves to have hit historical pay dirt when they have twoindependent accounts of the same event. But we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus' burial, some of which are extraordinarily early.

Mark's Passion source didn't end with Jesus' burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John rely on independent sources about the empty tomb. Jesus' empty tomb is also mentioned in the early sermons independently preserved in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36), and it's implied by the very old tradition handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have multiple, early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb in at least four independent sources. (See reasonablefaith.org, Question 103)

Craig writes:

Notice the focus is on the early, independent sources used by the New Testament authors.

First and foremost is the Passion source which Mark used in writing his Gospel. Whereas most of Mark's Gospel consists of short anecdotal stories strung like pearls on a string, when we get to the final week of Jesus' life we encounter a continuous narrative of events from the Jewish plot during the Feast of Unleavened Bread through Jesus' burial and empty tomb.

The events of the Last Supper, arrest, execution, burial, and empty tomb were central to the identity of early Christian communities. According to James D. G. Dunn, "The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the tradition process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gospels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them" (J. D. G. Dunn,Jesus Remembered, 2003, pp. 765-6.)

The dominant view among NT scholars is therefore that the Passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony (Mark Allen Powell, JAAR 68 [2000]: 171). Indeed, according to Richard Bauckham, many scholars date Mark's Passion narrative no later than the 40s (recall that Jesus died in A.D. 30) (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006, p. 243). So we're dealing here with an extraordinarily early source.

Matthew and Luke, re. the burial story, draw on resources different from Mark. Craig writes:

Now Matthew and Luke probably knew Mark's Gospel, as you note, and used it as one of their sources. But the differences between Mark and the other Synoptics point to other independent sources behind Matthew and Luke. These differences are not plausibly explained as due to editorial changes introduced by Matthew and Luke because of (i) their sporadic and uneven nature (e.g., Mark: "tomb which had been hewn out of rock"; Matthew: "tomb which he hewed in the rock"; (ii) the inexplicable omission of events like Pilate's interrogating the centurion; and (iii) Matthew and Luke's agreeing in their wording in contrast to Mark (e.g., Matt. 27.58 = Lk. 23.52 "This man went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." Also the phrase translated "wrapped it in linen" is identical in Matthew and Luke. How could Matthew and Luke have independently chosen exactly the same wording in contrast to Mark? They both probably had another source. Indeed, as we'll see when we get to the empty tomb account, differences between Matthew and Luke emerge that suggest multiple sources.

What about the Gospel of John? Craig writes:

John is generally believed to be independent of the Synoptic Gospels. As Paul Barnett points out, "Careful comparison of the texts of Mark and John indicate that neither of these Gospels is dependent on the other. Yet they have a number of incidents in common: For example, . . . the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea" (Jesus and the Logic of History, 1997, pp. 104-5).


Finally, the old tradition handed on by Paul to the Corinthian church, which is among the earliest traditions identifiable in the NT, refers to Jesus' burial in the second line of the tradition. That this is the same event as the burial described in the Gospels becomes evident by comparing Paul's tradition with the Passion narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other. The four-line tradition handed on by Paul is a summary of the central events of Jesus' crucifixion, burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, and his appearances to the disciples.

As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that was against Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

NT scholar Raymond Brown says burial by Joseph of Arimathea is very probable. Why? Because: It is almost inexplicable why Christians would make up a story about a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who does what is right by Jesus.

So most NT scholars say it is highly likely that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

Fact #2 – on the Sunday after the crucifixion the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of His women followers.

Most NT scholars also agree with the fact of the empty tomb.

Some who argue against this claim that the story of the empty tomb was a fictional, literary creation of Mark.

1 – The historical reliability of the burial account supports the empty tomb.
If the account of Jesus’ burial is accurate, then the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jew and Christian alike.

In that case it’s a very short inference to the historicity of the empty tomb.

Because in that case, the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen.

Why? Because the disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if his corpse still was lying in the tomb.

As long as the corpse of Jesus lay in the tomb, a Christian movement in Jerusalem, founded on the resurrection of Jesus, would never have arisen.

If the disciples went around preaching “Jesus is risen from the dead,” but his body lay in the tomb, hardly anyone would have believed them. Remember that early Christian belief in the resurrection flourished in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified.

More than this, even if a lot of people believed this while the body of Jesus was still in the tomb, the Jewish authorities could have exposed the whole thing by pointing to Jesus’ tomb, even perhaps exhuming Jesus’ dead body.

2 – the empty tomb is multiply attested in independent early sources.

The account of Jesus' burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea is part of Mark's source material for the passion story. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony. (Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Kindle Locations 6492-6493).
Moreover, Matthew and John rely on independent sources about the empty tomb.

The empty tomb tradition is independently preserved in the early sermons in the book of Acts.
And, it’s implied in the very old tradition cited by Paul.in his first letter to the Corinthian church.

Thus we have multiple early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb, in at least 4 independent sources.

So, the story of the empty tomb can’t be a literary creation of Mark.

Craig writes:
What about the empty tomb account? First, it was also part of the pre-Markan Passion narrative. The empty tomb story is syntactically tied to the burial story; indeed, they are just one story. E.g., the antecedent of "him" (Jesus) in Mk. 16:1 is in the burial account (15:43); the women's discussion of the stone presupposes the stone's being rolled over the tomb's entrance; their visiting the tomb presupposes their noting its location in 15.47; the words of the angel "see the place where they laid him" refer back to Joseph's laying body in the tomb.

As for the other Gospels, that Matthew has an independent tradition of the empty tomb is evident not only from the non-Matthean vocabulary (e.g., the words translated "on the next day," "the preparation day," "deceiver," "guard [of soldiers]," "to make secure," "to seal"; the expression "on the third day" is also non-Matthean, for he everywhere else uses "after three days;" the expression "chief priests and Pharisees" never appears in Mark or Luke and is also unusual for Matthew), but also from Matt. 28.15: "this story has been spread among Jews till this day," indicative of a tradition history of disputes with Jewish non-Christians. Luke and John have the non-Markan story of Peter and another disciple inspecting the tomb, which, given John's independence of Luke, indicates a separate tradition behind the story. Moreover, we have already seen that John's independence of Mark shows that he has a separate source for the empty tomb.
The early sermons in Acts are likely not created by Luke out of whole cloth but represent early apostolic preaching. We find the empty tomb implied in the contrast between David's tomb and Jesus': "David died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day." But "this Jesus God has raised up" (2:29-32; cf. 13.36-7).

Finally, the third line of the tradition handed on by Paul summarizes, as I have said, the empty tomb story. The German NT critic Klaus Berger concludes: "Without a doubt the grave of Jesus was found to be empty, and, moreover, the texts about it are not in general dependent upon Mark" (ZKT, 1993, p. 436).

Thus, the burial and empty tomb of Jesus enjoy multiple, early, independent attestation. While some of these traditions could be variations on a common tradition (such as Luke and John's tradition of the disciples' inspection of the empty tomb in response to the women's report), they cannot all be so regarded because they narrate different events. Even in the case of variations on a common tradition, we are pushed back so early, as Dunn emphasizes, that we must now ask what events occurred to leave such an early impression on the tradition, and the obvious explanation is the burial of Jesus in the tomb and the discovery of the empty tomb. While multiple, independent attestation alone would not render the burial and empty tomb "virtually certain," keep in mind that this is but one line of evidence among many, so that the cumulative case for these facts is very powerful, indeed.

3 – The tomb was discovered empty by women.

In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded.

In fact, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus says that, on account of their boldness and levity, women should not even be allowed to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law.
In light of this fact how remarkable it is that it is women who were the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb.

Any later legendary account would surely have made male disciples find the empty tomb.

The fact that it is women rather than men who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the discoverers of the empty tomb.

The Gospel writers faithfully record what for them was an awkward and embarrassing fact.

4 – the story of the empty tomb is simple and lacks theological embellishment.

Mark’s story of the empty tomb is uncolored by the theological and apologetical motifs that would be present if the story was a Christian creation.

For example, it’s remarkable that in Mark’s account the resurrection of Jesus is not actually described at all.

Contrast later, forged “gospels,” in which Jesus is seen emerging from the tomb in glory to multitudes of crowds.

In Mark we have little or no embellishment. At most, the critical historian might want to call the angel a later embellishment.

But Mark’s account of the resurrection is stark. Simple.

Mark’s story has all the earmarks of a very primitive tradition which is free from theological and apologetical reflection.

This is powerful evidence against those critics who argue that Mark’s account of the empty tomb is a literary creation.

5 – The early church polemic presupposes the empty tomb.

In Matthew 28 we find a Christian attempt to refute a Jewish polemic against the resurrection.

Disciples of Jesus were in Jerusalem proclaiming “Jesus is risen from the dead!”

How did Jews respond to this?

By saying Jesus’ body is still in the tomb?

By say the disciples are crazy?

No – what they did say was this: “The disciples stole away the body.”

Think about that for a moment.

The earliest Jewish response to the situation was itself an attempt to explain the fact that the tomb was empty.

Fact #3 – Jesus’ post-mortem appearances.

On different occasions and under various circumstances individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus now alive from the dead.

This is a fact that’s acknowledged by virtually all NT scholars, for the following reasons.

1 – Paul’s list of resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple, Peter.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to the 12.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to 500 at once.

· Paul tells us that Jesus ten appeared to his younger brother James, who apparently at that time was not a believer.

· Paul then tells us that Jesus appeared to all the apostles.

· Finally, Paul adds, “Jesus appeared also to me.” And Paul was at that time still an unbeliever.

Craig writes:

Undoubtedly the major impetus for the reassessment of the appearance tradition was the demonstration by Joachim Jeremias that in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5 Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts According to Galatians 1:18 Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission, during which he conferred with Peter and James over a two week period, and he probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, this means that the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Thus, it is idle to dismiss these appearances as legendary. We can try to explain them away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late NT critic of the University of Chicago: "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." This conclusion is virtually indisputable.

Given the early date of Paul’s writing this, plus Paul’s personal acquaintance with the persons involved, these appearances cannot be dismissed as unhistorical.

NOTE: the early date ensures that the appearance stories cannot be “legendary.” Legends take many years to develop. Craig writes: “For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical.”
2 – The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide multiple independent attestation of the appearances.

The appearance narratives span such a breadth of independent sources that it cannot be reasonably denied that the original disciples had such appearances.

Even the skeptical scholar Gerd Ludemann says it cannot be denied that these early followers of Jesus did have such experiences.

N.T. Wright, in The Resurrection of the Son of God, gives a 7-step argument in support of these two claims. 
  1. When early Christians are asked why they believed in the resurrection of Christ, “their answers hone in on two things”:
    1. Stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty.
    2. Stories about Jesus appearing to people, alive again.
    3. These stories were formulated within the context and worldview of Second-Temple Judaism. “No second-Temple Jews came up with anything remotely like them.” (688)

  • Neither the empty tomb by itself, nor the appearances by themselves, would have generated early Christian belief in the resurrection.
    1. The empty tomb, by itself, would be a puzzle and a tragedy.
  • i. Perhaps, e.g., the grace had been robbed? “Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury.” (688)

    ii. “Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question.” (688-689)

    iii. “Certainly… the disciples were not expecting any such thing to happen to Jesus.” (689)

      1. The appearances, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well known in the ancient world.
      2. Individually, the empty tomb and the appearances are insufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
    1. “However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief.” (Ib.)
      1. Together, the empty tomb and the appearances provide a sufficient reason for early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.
      2. “From

  • “The meaning of resurrection within Second-Temple Judaism makes it impossible to conceive of this reshaped resurrection belief emerging without it being known that a body had disappeared, and that the person had been discovered to be thoroughly alive again.” (Ib.)
  • Alternative explanations for the emergence of the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead do not have the same explanatory power.
  • “It is therefore historically highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the third day after his execution, and that the disciples did indeed encounter him giving every appearance of being well and truly alive.” (687)
  • The past and most important question is: What explanation can be given for these two phenomena?

  • Fact #4 – The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead despite them having every predisposition to the contrary.

    Think of the situation these followers of Jesus faced after his crucifixion.

    1 – Their leader was dead. Jewish Messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who would triumph over his enemies by being humiliated and executed by them as a criminal.
    2 – Jewish beliefs about the afterlife did not allow for some individual to rise from the dead before the expected general resurrection from the dead.

    But the early disciples felt so strongly that God had raised the individual man Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief.
    Then… the question arises… what caused them to believe such an un-Jewish, outlandish thing?

    N.T. Wright says – “That is why, as an historian, that I cannot explain the arising of Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind.”


    The following 4 facts are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars.

    1. Jesus’ burial

    2. Jesus’ empty tomb

    3. Jesus’ post-mortem appearances

    4. The origin of the disciples’ belief

    This brings us to the second major contention, which is: the best explanation for these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    6 Tests Historians Use to Discover What Is the Best Explanation For a Given Historical Fact (from historian C.B McCullough)

    The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all of these tests.
    1. It has great explanatory scope – it explains all 4 of the facts before us

    2. It has great explanatory power – it explains each fact well

    3. It is plausible – give the historical context of Jesus’ own life and claims, the resurrection occurs as divine confirmation of those claims.

    4. It is not ad hoc or contrived – it requires only 1 additional hypothesis; viz., that God exists.

    5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs – the hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead does not conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead.

    6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1-5. No natural hypothesis does as good a job at explaining the 4 facts.

    I think the best explanation for the historical facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    ADDITION - N.T. Wright on the Resurrection of Jesus, from his The Resurrection of the Son of God.
    These two things must be regarded as historically secure:

    1. The emptiness of the tomb

    2. The meetings with the risen Jesus

    “These two phenomena are firmly warranted.” (686)

    Wright gives a 7-step argument in support of these two claims.

    1. When early Christians are asked why they believed in the resurrection of Christ, “their answers hone in on two things”:

    a. Stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty.

    b. Stories about Jesus appearing to people, alive again.

    c. These stories were formulated within the context and worldview of Second-Temple Judaism. “No second-Temple Jews came up with anything remotely like them.” (688)

    2. Neither the empty tomb by itself, nor the appearances by themselves, would have generated early Christian belief in the resurrection.

    a. The empty tomb, by itself, would be a puzzle and a tragedy.

    i. Perhaps, e.g., the grace had been robbed? “Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury.” (688)

    ii. “Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question.” (688-689)
    iii. “Certainly… the disciples were not expecting any such thing to happen to Jesus.” (689)

    b. The appearances, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well known in the ancient world.

    c. Individually, the empty tomb and the appearances are insufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

    3. “However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief.” (Ib.)

    a. Together, the empty tomb and the appearances provide a sufficient reason for early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

    4. “The meaning of resurrection within Second-Temple Judaism makes it impossible to conceive of this reshaped resurrection belief emerging without it being known that a body had disappeared, and that the person had been discovered to be thoroughly alive again.” (Ib.)
    5. Alternative explanations for the emergence of the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead do not have the same explanatory power.

    6. “It is therefore historically highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the third day after his execution, and that the disciples did indeed encounter him giving every appearance of being well and truly alive.” (687)

    7. The past and most important question is: What explanation can be given for these two phenomena?