|Cable gondola shuttle to the top of Masada, Israel (near the Dead Sea)|
JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD - DAY 28
Christians didn't celebrate Christmas for the first few hundred years. "There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point... Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born... The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation." (For more see "How December 25 Became Christmas." And note: the popular idea that December 25 is rooted in paganism is itself a myth - see the cited essay for this, too.)
However, early Jesus-followers did celebrate Easter. The cross and the resurrection of Christ were the primary realities of the Jesus-life.
I believe in the birth of Christ. But I have not invested much study time in Jesus's birth. The Cross and Resurrection are THE BIG ONES. I have spent the better part of my lifetime studying these realities. As Paul himself wrote, "If Christ is not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith." Faith rises and falls on the matter of the historical resurrection.
Rewind 42 years. I am 21, and a brand new Jesus-follower. One of my pastors, and one of my two theistic philosophical mentors (the other being J.P.), presented to me a historical argument for the resurrection of Christ. Here it is, updated and revised. Listen to the audio and follow along if you would like to see a defense of the resurrection of Christ. But if not, one more thing.
I am not, nor ever have, been a philosophical naturalist/materialist/physicalist. I am less convinced today than ever of the poverty of philosophical physicalism. I still believe - more now than 42 years ago - in a God who is all-powerful and can, of course, resurrect dead people.
There is a God.
God raised Christ from the dead.
All who are "in Him" shall rise with Him.
I presented this historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus at Redeemer on April 3, 2012. It is largely taken from William Lane Craig's work, with other scholarship added as I saw fit, plus my own comments.
The audio presentation is here. These are the notes I gave to those who came. Listen and follow along.
DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD?
(Adapted from William Lane Craig, debate with Richard Carrier; Question 103 at reasonablefaith.org; “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” at reasonablefaith.org)
A FEW PRELIMINARIES:
· 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 testimony and 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 two independent 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)
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 : 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.
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.
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.
- When early
Christians are asked why they believed in the resurrection of Christ, “their
answers hone in on two things”:
- Stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty.
- Stories about Jesus appearing to people, alive again.
- 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)
- The empty tomb, by itself, would be a puzzle and a tragedy.
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)
- The appearances, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well known in the ancient world.
- Individually, the empty tomb and the appearances are insufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
- “However, an
empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have
presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief.”
- Together, the empty tomb and the appearances provide a sufficient reason for early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.
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?