November 19, 2017

The Linchpin

By Chaplain Mike

I feel badly that I wasn’t able to follow yesterday’s discussion on our friend Garrett League’s post closely. Fascinating! I especially appreciate that we had some folks who joined us who are strongly convinced of and committed to scientific reasoning, even going so far as to claim that religion cannot give us any meaningful knowledge whatsoever.

Rather than enter into a long apologetic for the possibility of religious knowledge to speak truly about the existence of God, the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, and so on, I think it best to cut right to the chase. A comment by Kyle introduces what I have to say here well:

…Christianity isn’t taken in blind faith, but can be believed based on the historical evidence for its truth claims. Unlike some religions, Christianity claims to be about real people and events that are within the scope of the historical method to analyze and evaluate. Issues such as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection can be studied and evaluated for their truth claims on the basis of the available evidence.

And the linchpin event for the Christian claim is Jesus’ resurrection.

As Michael Spencer said in his post, “Why I Am a Christian: A Ten Point Argument,”

…the resurrection of Jesus is crucial to my faith. As far as I know, Christianity is the only religion that has an explicitly confessed point of falsification. That is, it tells you, up front, how to disprove it. Read I Corinthians 15:14 and 17: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith….And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is foolish.” Now this is significant because it is turning the entire worldview onto its head and standing it on one assertion. If this is disproven, then the whole structure collapses.

One of the most thorough recent studies of this critical event is The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3), by N.T. Wright. Wright concludes that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the historical data. He doesn’t claim “proof” as the result of his study. He sees his conclusions as a challenge to other historical explanations. One of yesterday’s commenters who argued strongly that scientific inquiry alone can give us accurate knowledge wrote: “Things are either evidentially supported as likely to be accurate…or not. And it is not all that difficult to make that evaluation. Either the evidence is consistent with the hypothesis you are examining or it isn’t. Either the hypothesis you are examining is validly constructed to enable you to meaningfully evaluate it, or it is not.” On the basis of his research, Wright finds the Christian claim of Jesus’ resurrection supported by the evidence as the most likely explanation.

The following video summarizes one of Wright’s strongest arguments for accepting the early Christian claim that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead in a transformed body:

The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the “meetings” or “sightings” of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had. They developed that faith because of the occurrence, and convergence, of these two phenomena. Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. …In terms of the kind of proof which historians normally accept, the case we have presented, that the tomb-plus-appearances combination is what generated early Christian belief, is as watertight as one is likely to find.

…The widespread belief and practice of the early Christians is only explicable if we assume that they all believed that Jesus was bodily raised, in an Easter event something like the stories the gospels tell; the reason they believed that he was bodily raised is because the tomb was empty and, over a short period thereafter, they encountered Jesus himself, giving every appearance of being bodily alive once more. (Resurrection, 686-710)

Comments

  1. If the literal resurrection of Christ is a key component of the gospel message (1 Cor 15:3-4) those who reject it or demytholigize it are not true Christians. They are still in their sins and need to repent of their grevious heresy.

    • Mark, how come even when I agree with you, I cringe when I read some of what you write? You are always talking about “they” and “them.” Simply stating your opinions (right or wrong) about other people and condemning them to judgment is cowardly and does not lead to anything helpful. Please, enter into a conversation with an actual person and discuss your views with him or her. Stop lobbing grenades at “the enemy” from your safe bunker.

      • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

        Generally speaking, I really dislike the KJV, but in 1 John 4:3 it says that the spirit of antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus IS come in the flesh. Present tense. I take that to mean that the spirit of antichrist is anyone who denies the resurrection.

        Now, none of the other translations (I’ve checked NLT, TNIV, NIV, NASB, and ESV) translate it that way. I’m no Greek scholar, but I can’t help but wonder if they got it wrong because they were thinking it didn’t make grammatical sense to say Jesus IS come in the flesh.

        • Melissa-
          You misunderstand, due to the archaic language. Languages like French, Italian, and German will use forms of the verb “be” to form the present perfect verb tense with intransitive verbs, e.g. come. English used to do that too, back in 1611 when this was written. “Is come” just means “has come” in today’s language. And so you inadvertently provide an argument to support your dislike of the KJV: it leads to misunderstanding.

          • Shakespeare, too:

            Caesar: “The ides of March are come.”
            Soothsayer: “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

            I didn’t realize grammar could be so exciting until I went to a Spanish language school in Costa Rica for a month. They pushed grammar, and to me it was something like philosophy and something like literary archaelogy.

            And it’s true that studying foreign language will help to understand English better. Don’t let them cut funding for languages in public schools.

      • Good word, Chap. Mike. Just wondering (since I do not know ALL the facts) does it take a person some time in development towards maturity to speak, write, and act out of an agape, paracletic language? I am almost thinking of Saul/Paul scenario. Still, a good word to all of us. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Mike, for your post this day. I like it.
    Yes, it is true, but I think it won’t convince the unbelievers. Paul wrote to believers, who didn’ believe in the resurrection of the body. Their faith misses the cornerstone of the resurrection.

  3. Buford Hollis says:

    The case for Christ’s resurrection is about as airtight as the case for Bigfoot. Actually less so, since like most miracles, it is SUPPOSED to be impossible. (Whatever rationalization might be proposed (like the “swoon” theory) would be rejected as not fitting the Christian claim.

    As a rule, claims which are known to be impossible are treated as such in historical scholarship. While biology would be surprised by Bigfoot, it would cope without much adjustment. Leprechauns would pose more of a challenge, assuming we are speaking of magical creatures. Jesus rising from the dead (with no scientific explanations permitted) is kind of like a leprechaun. No matter how many people see it, it’s still going to be more likely that all of them are deluded, lying, fanatically religious, or that the whole thing is a kind of urban legend. (Remember, the Golden Plates of Nephi, or whatever it is from the Book of Mormon, had witnesses too.)

    • It would be nice if you had more than assertions, Buford. Wright himself said he has thrown out a historical challenge. No one has yet answered it, other than to say, as the gentleman in the video he quotes remarks, “I can’t explain what happened, I just know it couldn’t have been resurrection.” Not exactly a solid case from your perspective, either, huh?

      • Dan Allison says:

        Buford, I don’t understand why the claim that Christ is resurrected is “known to be impossible.” By whom? It’s interesting that you couch that phrase in the passive voice, which is always used in polemics to dodge the tough question. More precisely, I think, you are asserting it to be impossible because, to our knowledge, no one else has been resurrected. You’re relying on a fallacy that rationalism, in its empirical, 17th-century straightjacket, promotes, namely the idea that something must be repeatable in order to be true. That”s just parochial, conventional thinking. It was also “known to be impossible” that heavier-than-air craft could fly, or that black people could be as intelligent as white people, or that a person in Miami couls speak in real time to a persoin in Seattle. If you can’t accept the resurrection, at least try to grasp that the Enlightenment Project is dead and that rational empiricism is just another mythic attempt to explain the world. Doubt your doubts!

        • Buford Hollis says:

          Think of it this way:

          Probability of winning a coin toss: 50 %

          Probability of Bigfoot existing: let’s say 1 %

          Probability of “1=2” being true: 0 %

          Jesus swooning, and being revived would be unlikely, but possible–let’s say 1 %. Christianity however wants to exclude all such options. We are asked to believe something absurd (0%), that the dead can live–and not through some trick or detail, like the real-life cases we hear about from time to time.

          • Buford, we are not talking about probability here. We are talking about trying to make sense of the historical evidence and whether the Christian claim is the best explanation for what happened. The fact that it is impossible (not improbable) and that no Jew of that period would have thought to make up something so outrageous seems to me to be stronger evidence of the claim’s veracity.

          • Buford Hollis says:

            No, this is all about probability. You think that it is “impossible” (0% ) for any Jew to make up such stories, but surely it should at least be improbable (1 %, same as Bigfoot?). I think it is considerably higher than that, but never mind.

            A miracle is, by definition, impossible. Any other explanation, no matter how unlikely, is still more likely than a miracle. It seems to me that you’re exaggerating the problems associated with alternative explanations. After all, Second Temple was very diverse, just as people anywhere are very diverse, and full of strange beliefs we don’t fully understand (like Honi the Circle Drawer). The Christ story is a well-known archetype from other cultures, so we can’t think just about Judaism, we also have to think about the Hellenistic mystery religions, for example.

            The “swoon” theory is unlikely, but at least not impossible. If it happened, that might have the same effect on the disciples as an actual resurrection. Given the odds (1 % vs. 0 %), the “swoon” theory is at least more plausible than the Christian belief which denies out of hand any such explanation.

            A parallel would be the virginal conception. Such things HAVE occurred–virgins have conceived, and given birth, in modern times (thanks to some back-seat accident, perhaps)–but the Christian claim rules out ANY such explanation that might make the claim plausible. It is designed as a violation (Catholics would say a suspension) of natural law. In short, we are asked to believe in something which is absurd / impossible.

          • Buford Hollis says:

            By the way, I’m not actually arguing for the “swoon” theory, which is unrelated to the paragraph above it. I only introduce it as an example of a rationalizing explanation (like the famous rocks in the water which Jesus walked on, and the disciples didn’t see). Ehrman suggests a fourth “L” (“legend”) as his answer to Lewis’s trilemma (“Liar, lunatic, or Lord?”), and setting aside the difference betweenn a “myth” and a “legend,” that is my answer as well.

    • But to be fair chaplain, Hollis’ challenge is certainly the most serious one to Christians. All the rest of the bible can be hand-waved away, and the ressurection would always remain ‘miraculous’. And the trouble about miracles is that they are, by definition, things that cannot naturally happen. A break in the established rules. So no amount of showing that our case for the resurrection is reasonable will ever make it a valid historical explanation. At the end of the day, the historical reasonableness of the resurrection is not so much a challenge to secular history as it is a reassurance for Christians.

      And anyway, why would a G-d who calls for faith give us proof? Never forget the babel fish (of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide)

      • “And anyway, why would a G-d who calls for faith give us proof? Never forget the babel fish (of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide)”
        The answer to this question is the God who calls for faith hadn’t yet read Kierkegaard to have his concept of faith contaminated with existential b.s.
        Faith does not have to be without evidence or irrational to be faith. Thomas did actually believe when he saw. Sure Jesus follows that incident up with the “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe” but nevertheless, he admits that Thomas believes, that is has faith.

        • It was meant playfully, I did not mean to offend you :). I respect kierkegaard immensely, and I am myself, “contaminated with existential BS. But that is the crux of the joke Adams was making; how absurd that we have no proof, but a world where proof exists seems more absurd still.

    • Christiane says:

      I love this quote from C.S. Lewis:

      “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – Is Theology Poetry?

      . . . . the Son has risen. And we are called into His Life . . .

  4. The linchpin of the resurrection was clearly established by Paul repeatedly. I would suggest that not all the “believers”: in the early churches were convinced of the resurrection. Like today, many in our churches find it difficult to believe such a fantastic story. This surely is one of the reasons Paul repeats the good news of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his letters to the churches. Current scholarship tells us that the early church was a diverse group not unlike the church today. The resurrection story needs repeating but also interpretation because the very lack of physical evidence proves the case while physical evidence is the hallmark of proof for most people, especially moderns.

    Since the middle ages linchpins were used to secure wagon wheels. Today they are used to secure trailer hitches. Remove it and disaster strikes. A linchpin failure is a fitting example of what would happen if the resurrection was ever empirically disproved by an identifiable body. — the entire vehicle of Christendom would ground to a halt. Of course, we know that is impossible because of the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ life and resurrection, the absence of empirical evidence in the empty tomb and the overwhelming evidence of personal testimony of so many eye witnesses.

    Yet a mystery as great as the resurrection remains. Faced with the same evidence, why do some believe and others not? Some, like Thomas, want to feel the Lord with their own hands, otherwise they can not believe. The New Testament also gives us accounts of those who saw the Lord do miracles that only could be done by the Son of God. Some believed while others refused to believe. There is no lack of examples of unbelievers in the gospel accounts, why even the disciples did not believe the first account given them that Jesus was alive. Given the hardness of hearts in mankind, we are bound to be patient with those who find our Jesus too fantastic to believe. Our task is to humbly give them the reason for our faith and pray the Spirit convicts and counsels those to whom we speak.

    • I very much appreciate this response. I believe this would have been well placed in the comments section of Garrett’s guest post.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A linchpin failure is a fitting example of what would happen if the resurrection was ever empirically disproved by an identifiable body. — the entire vehicle of Christendom would ground to a halt.

      Note that he said “The Resurrection”.
      Not “Young Earth Creationism” or “Noah’s Ark atop Mt Ararat.”

      • Cedric Klein says:

        Not even Ussher’s Chronology???*

        Or the ruins of Sodom at the bottom of the Dead Sea???

        Or the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia or a cave under Golgotha???

        *(which, the more I read about Bishop Ussher, the more I have to say was a monumental work of research & scholarship even if it has been greatly misused)

        • FollowerOfHim says:

          “*(which, the more I read about Bishop Ussher, the more I have to say was a monumental work of research & scholarship even if it has been greatly misused)”

          Word. Ussher takes a beating for no good reason — even if I think he was off by about a factor of a million with the whole 4004 BC thing.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            According to Gould, Ussher’s calculations were only a small part of his actual work — an attempt to write a chronology/timeline of all known human history. And that this was a common scholarly project of the time.

      • I believe, no, I know the subject of this post was the resurrection. The resurrection is the linchpin not the estimated age of the earth by science or Noah’s ark supposed resting place.

        • I could be wrong, but I think he was agreeing with you and contrasting the importance of this subject vs. the importance of the debate over YEC, etc.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          So why do so many Christians make Finding Noah’s Ark or Young Earth Creationism (or Culture War Cause du Jour) their linchpin? It’s like they kicked Christ off the Throne and enthroned Young Earth Creationism — or Culture War Cause du Jour — in His place.

          (I’m still recovering from watching the TCM broadcast of the fully-restored full-length version of Metropolis over the weekend. The imagery of that film keeps intruding as I write this — it was Culture/Class War and “I Am Right, Not You!” that all but destroyed Metropolis in the climax. Don’t know quite how to relate it to the subject, but forget LaHaye & Jenkins’ Hattie the Hottie, you want to see Whore of Babylon Enthroned and Satanic Deception symbology straight on the rocks, check out Das Maschinenmensch/False Maria in action — especially with the backstory and buildup in the latest, long version.)

      • Buford Hollis says:

        Does the first claim strike you are more plausible than the others, or is it just a higher class of superstition? I agree that it is more central (as an armchair theological census will reveal), but if the bones of Jesus were ever definitively discovered, the Catholic Church would probably cope with it rather well. Certainly they wouldn’t close over this. People need comfort in their lives, and mostly understand (even if deep down) that religious claims are a bit dubious.

        • The Catholic Church could, of course, do whatever it wants, although if it were honest it wouldn’t try to keep being what it is now. But I, personally, and many people that I know, would have to change our lives in very fundamental ways if it was proved that Jesus never left the tomb. I would have to be a completely different person. Maybe I would convert to Judaism…

          • Buford, I concur. If Jesus’ resurrection were disproved, I would stop being a Christian.

          • Why? Would the words of inspiration stop inspiring you? Would the morals start feeling like more of a straitjacket than a wise way to live your life. Would hating your fellow man start feeling natural and right?

            I believe in the Almighty. I have no evidence. I have doubts all the time because I have no evidence. And yet, if it were proven that there was no Divine, I would still follow my faith, because what I get out of my faith is worth more to me than Truth with a capital T. Out of my faith, I get a community, a heritage and a system of ethics that enable me to live a decent life. It’s enough.

          • Chaplain Mike writes, “If Jesus’ resurrection were disproved, I would stop being a Christian.”

            Well, I would be a person who believes differently in what Jesus was about than I do now, but, I think I would still be a Christian. IF…and this would be a big “if”….we would still go on believing that Mary was miraculously impregnated and Jesus was the result, then we would still have “God in the flesh.” And that God still would be giving us the wonderful message that he loves us and is searching high and low for us to return to Him. And that God would still be showing that he loves us so much that he would even allow us to kill him in the flesh. I know, I know….if he wasn’t resurrected then many passages in the New Testament books would make no sense since passages clearly have Jesus talking about the fact that he will be resurrecting and the apostles’ letters clearly indicate that this is what happened. So, it’s hard to get my head around how this would work out. I think what I am saying is that if Jesus had not resurrected, then we would not be seeing those passages at all, because they would not have been written in the first place. We would just have the writings indicating that God came to us in the flesh and told us what life was all about. NOW…if you want to even discount the miracle of how Mary became pregnant, then we have Jesus coming to the earth in a fashion that seems…normal. BUT…we could still be Christian in the sense that we could believe that this one person of all persons ever born chose to only do God’s will every second of his life. Because of that perfect life, God spoke through him to us, again showing us the love of God for people and creation. And again, passages in the Bible would not exist as they do today. You may say, “Well, that would have Jesus no better than any other person.” No…it would have Jesus the only perfect person who ever existed and Jesus would be someone whose consciousness existed forever that we could “tap into” in order to become more like Him.

            So, there you have it. I will never leave Jesus (or Jesus will never leave me) no matter what is proved or disproved. I am just happy that none of this will ever have to happen. The record is clear that Jesus was resurrected in a form that was different from the dead people he brought back from the dead. Many people saw him and happily for us, they told others and we can now know and believe that he is God in the flesh, that he loves us and that he wants to share Himself and his goodness with us.

            God’s peace on us all.

          • cermak_rd,

            You asked why CM and I might make this decision. I can’t speak for Chaplain Mike, but for myself, being a Christian is much more than assenting to some inspiring sayings. If Jesus were not raised, he would still be inspiring, but other people are inspiring. I’m not quite sure how to articulate what this means to me, but Jesus’ resurrection speaks to a new reality on earth, a new way for humans to live, a tangible foretaste of a time when God’s kingdom will be evident to us all… So his words might continue to inspire, but they would be integrated into my life in a totally different way than my Christianity is now.

  5. I don’t know who said this – but maybe N.T Wright’s fine (and long!) book is partially based on a simple thesis: the simplest explanation, though improbable, is very often true. The behavior and experience of the early Christians; the rapid rise of belief in the resurrection in a communication-challenged world; and the continued faith in Jesus Christ over many centuries – these could be the ‘signs’ that so many look for, but miss, because they seem too simple.

    • I believe, Rita, there is a great deal of validity to your point. The image, that continually came to my mind while reading today’s post and responses, was the coliseum in Rome. I remember so clearly standing on one of the upper levels looking out over the entire structure pondering what had taken place there.

      Why would any human being surrender themselves to such a horrific death when all they had to do was denounce what they believed – unless they totally without any question of a doubt Believe what they believe and Know what they know to be Truth.

      There have been many martyrs for the faith , even in our time. But most have a preceding history of Christianity that helps to support the faith they have. The early Christians were it – they were part of a new way of thinking about life, the human person, God the Father, all through the life and teaching of one person, Jesus, who they believed rose from the dead. They either knew someone who had witnessed his resurrected appearances or knew someone who knew someone who knew and saw.

      Would any of us be so willing to gladly surrender ourselves to being torn apart alive by lions or tortured and shredded to death by the chariots and gladiators and their instruments of torture.
      Or, would we try to go into hiding to protect ourselves from being found out??

    • Buford Hollis says:

      But other religions manifest those same signs. They can’t ALL be right.

  6. N.T. Wright’s book is absolutely fascinating. He approaches the general topic of “resurrection” wholistically, historically and anthropologically and doesn’t narrowly address the issue of the resurrection of Christ as a single event. He also doesn’t commit to the historical or logical fallacies common to writers on BOTH sides of the issue. He asserts that it’s difficult to explain the shape that early Christianity took if we treat the resurrection as a fictional event. He posits that the early Christian believers would have no framework for a resurrection of this sort, and so no real motive for making it up. Buford, I highly recommend the book to you. It’s not a sales job on Wright’s part; it’s just a good, historical treatment of the subject without the typical piety and fluff.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That’s why Bishop Wright has such a reputation as a scholar and thinker.

      • Buford Hollis says:

        Think about it–why have you guys (and this happens again and again on this site) selected this Wright out of the whole ideological spectrum of biblical scholars? I submit that it’s because his conclusions allow you to keep on believing what you have already decided to believe.

  7. When discussing the resurrection, many skeptics deem it ‘impossible’ based on the quite normal assumption that dead bodies don’t typically come back to life. But the Bible’s claim is not that Jesus spontaneously came back to life on his own, but that God resurrected him from the dead. Christians are quite in agreement that, just as cars or buildings or books don’t spontaneously create themselves, Jesus (and others resurrected) didn’t come back from the dead outside of God’s hand. The only real underlying assumption one needs to make to assume Jesus’ resurrection is that God exists and at least sometimes interacts in the world he created.

    I haven’t read Wright’s book on the Resurrection but I’ve heard very good things about it.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    N.T Wright’s argument with those who do not or cannot accept the validity of the resurrection cuts to the chase. The counter-claim make sense to those whose theology prevents understanding. Belief in the resurrection makes no sense to them or to unbelievers. Marcus Borg, his friend, cannot cope with a real, non-fictional resurrection. His rationalism prevents faith. For us who believe it will always be an act of faith, but not blind faith.

    Without the resurrection I would have many options from which to choose. Now, I have only the One. Someday that One will wake us up, call us forth from the grave and make all things new. And if this does not change the way all of us live, shame on us.

    • Great thoughts.

    • As previously said, great points!

      It strikes me that Marcus Borg’s assertation that a resurrection can’t happen is based on faith in rationalism. I don’t believe it’s possible to have a viewpoint without first investing faith in some basic assumption.

      • Argh. I never can quite say what I want to say. What I mean by faith in rationalism is the belief that rationalism, as a grid for viewing the world, can explain all things satisfactorily, and that nothing outside of that grid is possible. To my mind, that’s a basic faith assumption, and I’m no expert, but I understand this assumption to be an Enlightenment era development.

        • What’s interesting about faith in rationalism is that so many who hold it also hold to the idea that the universe was made without any sort of rational creator. As such, there is no justification for the idea that the universe actually acts rationally. Or that rationality even exists. The reason science flourished in Europe was because of the Christian idea of a logical God that created a logical universe. And now many want to chuck God, but not admit that logic has to go with him.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Argh. I never can quite say what I want to say.

          Never mind about that, Matt. Happens to me all the time — especially when I come up with “what I should have said” the day after I get my head handed to me in an argument and/or about five minutes after I hit the “send” button on an email or comment.

      • “It strikes me that Marcus Borg’s assertation that a resurrection can’t happen is based on faith in rationalism.”

        If we view God is Creator of the universe, then what is rational to God would probably transcend what the human brain is capable of viewing as rational.

        Marcus Borg can view the changing of water into wine as metaphor, or the feeding of 5000, but if the resurrection did not happen, then what is this all about anyway?

        This is the point I finally reached. Do I believe that God is Creator of everything/ I do believe.

        Do I believe that in some way that I cannot completely articulate Christ is with us still? I absolutely believe. Therefore, the resurrection does not only seem possible, but necessary.

        But I first needed to reach the point where I believed that Christ is with us now. At that point The Resurrection did not seem so difficult to accept.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Borg is a rationalist through and through. Being a Jesus Seminar scholar he votes with the others using colored beads to arrive at a collective understanding of what is real and unreal about Jesus. He has faith in this methodology.

          • Buford Hollis says:

            His methodology acknowledges degrees of doubt. (The descriptions of the colors were pretty tentative, with lots of “probably’s”.) Anyway, what’s so bad about being a rationalist? Are you all irrationalists, then? (But you seem to be arguing on the basis of reason.)

          • Buford,

            No, not irrationalists. As I said, I don’t ascribe to the view that rationalism is able to explain everything. It places the human mind as the arbiter of truth (“I think therefore I am”), and I reject that view.

            My view is still able to allow reason, but only as a subcreation of God, who is able to do things outside of reason. I feel the Cipher’s description of reason’s relation to God is more articulate than mine, and I agree with him/her completely.

          • I owe Marcus Borg much gratitude. His writings really helped me to think through what I believe, and why. You might say that I sorted my own pile of colored beads.

            His writings also challenged me to think about why I believe certain things. I would read something and think, no, I don’t agree with this. Then, why do I disagree?

            My sister told me that in her New Testament Studies class many of the students had also come out of churches that taught a literal reading. They were shocked by Borg’s writings and for some it created a real crisis of faith. I don’t think that it should. I think it is healthy to consider what we believe and why. Discussions such as this are healthy.

      • Matthew, I know Chaplain Mike doesn’t like links, but if you want to see what your statement looks like played out by readers of the opinion blogs of the New York Times, google “god talk part 2 stanley fish”. It’s quite amazing and (pardon the pun) “enlightening”.

        • I was finally able to read it…excellent article. He was able to pick up on the nuance of the subject…it’s hard to see the lens by which we see.

    • beautifully put – though I will quibble with the oft-repeated contrast of rationality with faith. The choice isn’t between “reason” or “knowledge” and “faith;” the contrast is between faith in rationality versus faith in God. Everyone has faith in something; some deny that their faith is faith, or that reason may lead to something greater than what may be measured or defined

  9. Please don’t jump all over me for asking this question, but it is one that I have been thinking about for quite a while. In the penal substitution model, the important point is that Jesus died for our sins. What if God had allowed the human form of Jesus to remain in the ground? Would that have changed the value of his sacrifice? Our faith would still be in a living God!

    • The belief in a bodily resurrection would be pretty damaged though. And on top of that, penal substitution isn’t even an agreed upon doctrine. But it’s an interesting idea.

      I can’t accept it because I am a monist, and I find talk of non-physical phenomenon awkward at best. But I can see how it would be satisfying for dualists.

    • Michael-
      Christ died for our sins, this is true. However, sin is not merely some act that violates Section 1.1a of the Eternal Law. Sin is a corruption, which plagues mankind (and indeed, all creation) both physically and spiritually.
      God *could* have allowed the body to remain in the ground. He *could* have just wiped us out. He *could* have created a burrito so big He couldn’t eat it. The point is, He *didn’t*. In Jesus, all of creation is rescued from the grasp of Satan and the corruption of sin, which leads to death.
      Here, I point you to the words of St. Athanasius from his work, “On the Incarnation”:

      “Indeed, it would seem that he who disbelieves this bodily rising of the Lord is ignorant of the power of the Word and Wisdom of God. If He took a body to Himself at all, and made it His own in pursuance of His purpose, as we have shown that He did, what was the Lord to do with it, and what was ultimately to become of that body upon which the Word had descended? Mortal and offered to death on behalf of all as it was, it could not but die; indeed, it was for that very purpose that the Savior had prepared it for Himself. But on the other hand it could not remain dead, because it had become the very temple of Life. It therefore died, as mortal, but lived again because of the Life within it; and its resurrection is made known through its works.”

      Of course beyond all this is another question that is, I think, being asked- is the model of substitutionary atonement THE only way to look at salvation, or is there another? Furthermore, what exactly is the nature of penal substitution, and all its ramifications? Too often people have only a narrow vision and understanding of things (I am not accusing you here, Michael, nor anyone else at iMonk), and therefore they do not look for the fullness of such matters.

      Continue pondering, Michael. We may never have the answers we want, but we know the Answer we need.

    • IMO the resurrection was necessary if we were to understand that Jesus remains with us in the present tense. If the body remained in the tomb, we would have been given a mixed message about resurrection. I do not believe that Jesus gave mixed messages.

      I can think of no logical reason why we should talk to Jesus, today, if we do not believe He is with us in some manner.

    • I don’t believe in the penal substitution model, but I agree with your point. The resurrection was irrelevant to the greater message of Christ; it was simply to prove to disbelieving men that Jesus was the Son of God. Had Jesus not been resurrected, He would still would have lived, taught and died and His message would still reign. Perhaps if we’d done a better job of listening to him, He wouldn’t have had to come back.

      • I disagree, JC Bell. I think the resurrection was integral to everything he did and said. And in response to Michael Bell (a relative of yours?), we have to remember that the traditional language of the church has always united sin and death. Sin leads to death; some theologians point out that the fear of death leads to all sin. To rescue us from sin, Jesus had to rescue us from death; to rescue us from death, Jesus had to rescue us from sin. Sorry about the circularity, but it’s necessary. Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for sin; his resurrection set us free from the consequences of sin and the power of death.

        • Not a relative! (That I am aware of anyway)

          I am not quite following your argument Damaris. If the death of Christ atoned for sin, does it not also set us free from the consequences of sin?

          • “If the death of Christ atoned for sin, does it not also set us free from the consequences of sin?”

            What exactly are you talking about when you refer to the “consequences of sin”? Is it a reference to death, or am I misunderstanding your statement?

          • I guess I’m not advancing an argument, really, Michael. I’m wanting to keep closely associated two ideas that have sometimes been separated: sin/death should be thought of as one idea, and crucifixion/resurrection should also be thought of as one idea.

            Would Jesus’ atoning death on the cross really have set us free from sin and death if he didn’t then rise from the dead? Because if he remained dead, then he was man, not God, and his atoning sacrifice was insufficient. By rising from the dead, he proved that he was who he claimed to be, thereby demonstrating that he was the one perfect sacrifice no one else could be.

            Because of his resurrection, he also is the “first fruits” of the eternal life he welcomes us to. By dying he participated in our suffering. By rising he participated in the same resurrection he promises for all of us. Never will we be alone; he has shared all things with us.

          • By the consequences of sin, I meant eternal separation from God.

          • “Because if he remained dead, then he was man, not God, and his atoning sacrifice was insufficient. By rising from the dead, he proved that he was who he claimed to be, thereby demonstrating that he was the one perfect sacrifice no one else could be. ”

            Well, by this logic then he should have stayed alive forever. Certainly God could have chosen not to come back to us in human form. Nothing in God’s nature forces him to prove anything to us…. it is our sinful nature that we require proof to believe that God is God. The sacrifice is the sacrifice; it is not dependent upon what follows it.

          • JC makes my point better than I think I did.

          • I’m out of my depth! I’m struggling to find words, and I’m not sure if I’m even getting at what the issue is here. I find it hard to grasp things that aren’t actual — the “what-if” questions. Since Jesus obviously did rise from the dead, I presume it was as necessary and important as everything else he ever did, including the crucifixion. In a sense nothing is necessary to God, because he is entirely free in what he does and how he does it. In another sense God is constrained by his nature and isn’t free to be other than he is. Perhaps God could have handled the crucifixion and resurrection differently, but perhaps not. I can only accept what he did do and try, if not to understand, at least to accept.

            JC, you say, “The sacrifice is the sacrifice; it is not dependent upon what follows it.” That sounds as if for you the linchpin of the faith is the crucifixion, not the resurrection. How do you deal with Paul’s statement that Chaplain Mike quotes above, where he seems to say that the resurrection is the central event?

          • Damaris,

            You write: “Since Jesus obviously did rise from the dead, I presume it was as necessary and important as everything else he ever did, including the crucifixion.”

            I would argue that you can certainly assign different levels of importance to what Jesus did. I agree that the resurrection is important, more important than the cursing of the fig tree for example, just not as important as the crucifixtion.

            But you are absolutely right when you state that “Perhaps God could have handled the crucifixion and resurrection differently, but perhaps not. I can only accept what he did do and try, if not to understand, at least to accept.”

            You also ask:How do you deal with Paul’s statement that Chaplain Mike quotes above, where he seems to say that the resurrection is the central event?

            I don’t think he is saying that the resurrection is the central event, but that it is the foundation to our faith. How about I put it this way, my faith depends upon the resurrection, my salvation upon the crucifixtion. Now if Christ was not raised (the what if question again) I would still have salvation, but my faith would have to be based on something completely other than the resurrection.

            As you state though, God did not chose to do this, so in some respects in becomes a totally hypotheical exercise.

      • JC,
        Wright actually does not believe that the Resurrection happened “simply to prove to disbelieving men that Jesus was the Son of God.” It was, rather, the beginning of “the age to come”, the inauguration of the New Creation the Jews were expecting, the culminating point where God’s project of freely chosen, loving union between God and humanity was set back on track. A lot of what it takes to get Wright is predicated on a knowledge of 1st century Judaism.

        Damaris,
        I agree that the Crucifixion and Resurrection have to be held tightly together. I have found that the best way to do that is to see the Crucifixion not as a sacrifice as in the Mosaic sacrificial system, but as 1) the lamb slain at the *original Passover* that provided safety and protection, and led to freedom and victory; 2) a human being offering himself to God on behalf of all mankind, to the utmost point of self-giving love, which is what humans – like God – have the capacity to do in varying measures, but don’t because of our fear of death; 3) the demonstration of the total and utter forgiveness of God and the absorption of our sin and suffering in Jesus’ suffering – that is how Jesus was “made to be sin”. The Cross is still about rescuing us from sin, but not because God demands payment. God is love, God doesn’t change, God forgives. Period. Then the Resurrection becomes something, esp. in the historical Jewish scheme of things, that follows “logically” from the Cross. This is why the song of Orthodox Christians at Pascha is, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

        All,
        for the best understanding of Wright, if you have time, his three “big books” are the basis of everything else he says, (including his other writings on Paul):

        The New Testament and the People of God
        Jesus and the Victory of God
        The Resurrection of the Son of God

        Dana

        • Thanks, Dana. Well put.

        • One way of looking at Jesus’s death and resurrection is to view it as the opening of a door or passage that did not exist before. By submitting himself to death in obedience to His Father, and then being raised by the Father, Jesus blazed a continuous, unbroken trail through death’s dark forrest and then right on through to the other side and eternal life. And the road He made is still there for anyone who finds it. You might even say that He is that road … or the gate … or the way … or ever how you want to say it. He Who Was Without Sin made a road so straight and true that even depraved sinners like myself can follow it to new life and ultimately life everlasting. And because He is in us and we are in Him, He makes that journey with each of us, again and again, throughout the ages in a continuing exodus from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

    • By the way, just in case anyone wondered, I do believe in the resurrection, and I do believe it is important!

  10. If God created this universe and made man in his image, He could certainly raise His Son from the dead. We live by faith. As a physician for 45 yrs. I have seen 3 or 4 miracles where a biopsy revealed cancer and it disappeared through faith and prayer. This occurred during my agnostic days.

    • Vern, what did your agnostic self think when it encountered those miracles? Did they help to turn you from agnostic to what you are today? (I am assuming Christian, but you could be Jewish or something else too.) Has it helped you to “define” what prayer is and does? Thank you for commenting.

      • JoanieD, I was raised in a fundamentalist church and ran away from all the legalism when I left home at 19. I attended a secular college and being a life science, premed major was inundated with evolution theory. Yes seeing these miracles and watching people who had a faith to rely on in tough times had an effect on me. I finally started reading the Bible again and have returned to being a follower of Jesus.

      • JoanieD. I didn’t comment about, “defining” what prayer is and does. I will have to think about it. I may be weak in my prayer life. You have caused me to consider this, thanx.

    • “If God created this universe and made man in his image, He could certainly raise His Son from the dead.”

      Vern, we have traveled similar paths and reached the same conclusion.

      Personally, I cannot remember the exact day or time that I realized I believed this. There just came a time in my walk with Christ that I realized I did believe this. For me this was a process, a journey over a couple of years.

  11. A few points…

    First:

    “Christianity is the only religion that has an explicitly confessed point of falsification. That is, it tells you, up front, how to disprove it.”

    Is that so?

    Chaplain Mike, what piece of evidence would I have to hypothetically present you with to demonstrate that Jesus hadn’t been resurrected? Please think about your answer carefully.

    Second, Wright makes a simply unjustifiable statement in that video when he goes on about how the disciples couldn’t possibly have come up with the idea Jesus would rise until/unless it happened to put the idea in their heads.

    So… we’re just going to pretend Mark 14:28 doesn’t exist now? Jesus supposedly told the disciples he would rise and meet them in Galilee but they had *no reason* to have this idea in their heads that he would rise? There’s just no explanation for where they got that idea unless it happened? Please, be serious.

    Third, since I see this talk of a “challenge” to better explain the available information… let me engage in a little narrative. Let’s start my talking about Mark.

    Now, it happens that there’s something interesting about Mark. The consensus is it got a little editting to it’s ending at some point in time. It seems the earliest surviving manuscripts of it stop at Mark 16:8.

    Before anyone ever claims to have seen a risen Jesus.

    So all we have in the early versions of Mark is that one day some women went to the tomb, a young man told them Jesus was risen, and they ran off and told everyone. And that’s *it*. Now what are we to make of this exactly? The original author of Mark was unaware anyone was supposd to have actually seen a risen Jesus up and walking around? He didn’t think that was an important enough detail to include in the story? His hand cramped up before he reached that part then he forgot to go back and finish?

    Or, that’s all there was to the story when Mark was written. And then we have the well known phenomenon of the telephone game going into effect, and the embellishments begin accumulating as the story is passed along and retold… no it wasn’t just a young man, it was two young men wearing shining garments that gleamed like lightning! (Luke) …No, it was two angels! (John) Oh, and there was another angel that flew down out of heaven and scared the guards into submission while there was a massive earthquake that shook the stone out of the door, did nobody else mention that? And… and… ok, maybe you heard about the body just being stolen but that’s a conspiracy to cover up the truth! (Matthew)

    (Mark, getting embarassingly out of step with how the story is developping, gets a little touchnig up by an unknown “helper”…)

    Now, explain to me how my explanation is *less likely*, or even on equal footing in terms of it’s probability of occurance, with “a man was magically raised from the dead and walked around talking to people before dissapearing into heaven” as a legitimate historical explanation of the data we have available.

    • Grant, the plain facts that we know from the historical evidence are:

      1. The tomb was empty.
      2. The body was never produced, by friends or enemies.
      3. If Jesus was somehow resuscitated before dying again, no subsequent funeral was ever held for him (unlikely since he was such a revered figure).
      4. Eyewitnesses claim to have had meetings with Jesus, who spoke to them, ate in their presence, allowed them to touch him, etc.
      5. The earliest Christians proclaimed him Messiah on the basis of his having risen from the dead.

      The fact that Jesus may have uttered sayings predicting his resurrection to the disciples has no necessary correlation to whether they actually expected such an impossible, wholly inconceivable event to occur. One only has to actually read the Gospels to see that the disciples were clueless most of the time.

      The fact that the different Gospels record different appearance stories need not trouble us unduly if you stop and think about it. First of all, each Gospel was written to a specific church community to address particular needs, and the authors certainly shaped their telling to fit their purposes. Why did Matthew record the meeting at Galilee with the Great Commission? Why did John include the story of Mary in the garden? Why did Luke include the account of the disciples on the Emmaus Road? These are questions of interpretation about the author’s purpose and the message he is trying to get across, not contradictions between the various Gospel writers.

      Furthermore, as anyone who has ever had a traffic accident will tell you, getting reports about what happened from various eyewitnesses inevitably leads to variations in detail and emphasis.

      As for Mark, the nature of its ending has been a traditional matter of debate that no one can answer with certainty at this point. If 16:8 is the ending, it may be explained by the fact that Mark wrote his Gospel to Christians who were being persecuted in Rome, whose main temptation was to run in fear rather than testify about Jesus. The abrupt ending would be a suitable warning to them. Wright himself thinks that there must have been an ending, but it was lost.

      The plain fact is, you can say all you want about how unlikely it is that such an event happened—and on that we fully agree—but what you cannot do, and what no one else has done, is come up with any actual evidence of an alternate explanation that holds any water.

      • “1. The tomb was empty.
        2. The body was never produced, by friends or enemies.
        3. If Jesus was somehow resuscitated before dying again, no subsequent funeral was ever held for him (unlikely since he was such a revered figure).
        4. Eyewitnesses claim to have had meetings with Jesus, who spoke to them, ate in their presence, allowed them to touch him, etc.
        5. The earliest Christians proclaimed him Messiah on the basis of his having risen from the dead.”

        Please do not try to confuse testimony with “facts”. You’re doing quite a bit of mixing of the two in there. And you’re especially just kind of sneaking #4 in there despite my comments on the ending of early versions of Mark 16 and the potential implications to that point in particular.

        “The fact that Jesus may have uttered sayings predicting his resurrection to the disciples has no necessary correlation to whether they actually expected…”

        …and stop right there. Wright’s argument was that there was *no other plausible explanation* for how they came up with the idea except for if it had actually happened. He goes on and on talking about how there was nowhere they would have gotten such an idea from except for actually having it occur.

        Them being told in advance to expect it refutes that argument. Completely.

        Beyond that, you seem to be spending a lot of time trying to come up with reasons why my explanation might possibly not be the case… that is not what I asked. I am perfettly well aware it is simply one possible explanation of the available data.

        I asked why my explanation was *less likely* than an invokation of a magical resurrection to explain the data. My explanation does not require a single thing beyond perfectly mundane factors we all know exist to be involved. A body being taken from a tomb does not require supernatural intervention. People embellishing a story, esspecially one where the retelling is happening over years, happens all the time. People believing things without sufficient cause happens second by second.

        You, and Wright, are making the argument that “a man was actually supernatually raised from the dead and then transported to heaven”… something that we would normally consider to be impossible and dismiss as absurd… is a *more plausible* explanation of the data than what I have presented

        What makes it more plausible?

        Telling me maybe Mark didn’t want to upset the Romans (an explanation I find frankly silly considering everything else he put in the account) to try and justify the ending of Mark 16 isn’t answering that question. Telling me eye witness testimonies sometimes differ in details is not answering that question. Telling me perhaps the gospel authors simply modified their stories to “serve the needs of different communities” isn’t answering that question.

        “The plain fact is, you can say all you want about how unlikely it is that such an event happened—and on that we fully agree—but what you cannot do, and what no one else has done, is come up with any actual evidence of an alternate explanation that holds any water.”

        I’m sorry, I didn’t see the part where the explanation I just gave you started to leak. I just went back through your response twice and am still unable to locate it. Would you care to point it out for me because I can’t find a single place where you argued that anything I said couldn’t be the case or was even less likely to be the case than an alternative. I just see you trying to come up with alternative explanations for the issues I pointed out.

        • Grant, you gave no explanation, merely the assertion that any number of alternatives is more plausible than resurrection. I say, where’s the evidence for any of those alternatives?

          BTW, I am not confusing “facts” with “testimony.” When it comes to historical evidence, mainly what we have is testimony of one kind or another. Those are the “facts” for the historian.

          • Now you’re just making no sense at all.

            1. The “alternative” I presented to you was an alternative explanation of the available data, so what do you mean I didn’t provide an explanation, just an alternative? They’re the same thing.

            2. As it was a proposed explanation of the data… the evidence that suppports it would be THAT DATA, exactly the same as it is for YOUR explanation of the exact same data.

            The question before us is which of our explanations of the data is more plausible. My explanation does not require us to invoke anything beyond mundane occurance we know exist. yours requires something happened that you yourself acknowledge is incredibly unlikely.

            So what are you basing your claim that your explanation trumps mine for plausibility on?

            • My explanation does not trump yours for plausibility. Resurrection is not only improbable, but impossible from a human perspective. If it occurred, it was a singular event, utterly unique. It was not anticipated. Those who testified to it had nothing in their cultural or religious upbringing to suggest that it would happen. Even when Jesus talked about it (which was not often, and in hard to understand terms, and to people who were clueless about a lot of what he was saying), even his closest friends didn’t grasp its meaning. If plausibility is the standard, count resurrection out.

              If, however, we are talking about analyzing historical records for evidence about what actually happened, plausible or not, then, as Wright suggests, the best and simplest explanation is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, left an empty tomb, and appeared to people who testified to it as eyewitnesses, and came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah.

          • “My explanation does not trump yours for plausibility. ”

            I would say thank you for acknowledging that, except…

            “If, however, we are talking about analyzing historical records for evidence about what actually happened, plausible or not, then, as Wright suggests, the best and simplest explanation is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, …”

            …you appear to have forgotten you said it rather quickly.

            I would very much appreciate some elaboration on how something you call impossible AND something you admit does not trump my own explanation for plausibility (my explanation that does not contain a single impossible thing I would point out) somehow still manages to get the billing as “the simplest and best” explanation.

            Let me tell you a story in an attempt to put you in my shoes here.

            When I was in high school one day the seniors decided it would be really funny to put a car on the roof of the school over the weekend.

            Now, when the principal showed up for school Monday morning and was greeted by that site he could have thought that well, maybe a bunch of kids somehow managed to get their hands on heavy construction equipment capable of lifting a car onto the roof of a building, found a car they could do it to, made all the plans and arrangements necessary and now here we are with a car on the roof… or he could have thought the car was spontaneously teleported there as the entire senior class was swearing must have happened.

            The former explanation is arguably more complicated, but has the virtue of conforming to processes we know actually occur, the latter is to the best of our knowledge impossible.

            How would YOU react if the principal had acknowledged all of that, then immediately proceeded to call spontaneous teleportation the “best and simplest” explanation? Would you perhaps be in a state of complete beffuddlement as to how he possibly reached that conslusion?

          • “You missed an important phrase. Impossible from our human point of view. I am a theist after all.”

            Unless being a theist makes you not a human I fali to see the point of your qualifier. Especially considering we happen to be discussing the justification for you being a theist in the first place.

        • Grant, you wrote:

          Wright’s argument was that there was *no other plausible explanation* for how they came up with the idea except for if it had actually happened. He goes on and on talking about how there was nowhere they would have gotten such an idea from except for actually having it occur.

          Them being told in advance to expect it refutes that argument. Completely.

          I disagree. Completely.

          First, Wright’s argument is that there was nothing in their cultural or religious worldview that would have allowed for such an event to happen to an individual before the Last Day, when all would be resurrected. The fact that Jesus talked about seeing them again, being raised from the dead, etc., was probably as confusing to them as some of my seminary classes were to me when profs started talking about supra-lapsarianism. Wright’s book is 800 pages long. The 2-minute video clip is just a bare summary of one small bit of his research.

          Second, Jesus himself also told the disciples on several occasions: What I am telling you now you do not understand, but you will understand later. Many of his sayings only became clear to them in hindsight, after having experienced what they did after his death and resurrection. In fact, this is what the Gospels ARE—historical narratives about Jesus for specific communities, which tell his story and bring out the meaning of his life, death and resurrection by those who witnessed it and then looked back upon it post-Pentecost.

          Anyone with the least bit of experience with human nature would have to concede that it would be tenuous to assert that the mere fact of someone telling me something—especially something obscure, hard to understand, and completely outside of my worldview—could be causally connected with my understanding of it at a later date.

          • “First, Wright’s argument is that there was nothing in their cultural or religious worldview that would have allowed for such an event to happen to an individual before the Last Day, when all would be resurrected.”

            …as long as we pretend that Jesus telling them it would happen doesn’t exist in the bible so doesn’t count as anything “in their worldview”. Which I am not inclined to do..

            “Second, Jesus himself also told the disciples on several occasions: What I am telling you now you do not understand, but you will understand later.”

            Irrelevent. The idea was supposed to have been placed in their minds prior to the event, that is all that is required to refute Wright’s argument. Anything else is placing armchair psychologist on people who have been dead 2000 years, which you can do if you want but doesn’t negate anything I’ve said.

            (And I know I told you to think it through carefully, so not to rush you or anything… but I’m not forgetting that I asked you for what evidence would have to be presented to you that would falsify the hypothesis that Jesus was resurrected…)

            • What evidence would falsify the hypothesis?

              A body. Records or testimonies that show that Jesus was transferred to another tomb. Roman military or Jewish judicial records indicating they had moved or destroyed the body in some way. Other testimony that the Christians’ claim was false, backed up by contradictory evidence. Evidence that Christians held a second funeral for Jesus after a resuscitation. An ossuary with Jesus’ bones in it, clearly labeled. Inner circle documents giving evidence of a conspiracy to make the whole thing up and pass it off on the public. An additional legitimate “Gospel” that tells a different story. Testimony from an early defector from Christianity who said that the apostles and others were lying.

              Stuff like that. Evidence.

          • “A body.”

            Of course by this you mean “Jesus’s body”.

            Ok, I go out into the desert, I dig up a body, by some ridiculopus fluke it actually IS Jesus’s body… and I determine this, how?

            Ask God for a tissue sample so I can perform a paternity test on the remains? Help me out here Mike, what am I supposed to give you here?

            “Records or testimonies that show that Jesus was transferred to another tomb.”

            Oh? Because Matthew quite clearly says that there was testimony at the time that the body had been stolen. He does so in the process of calling them the lies of conspirators but that’s beside the point, it’s still there. It simply gets denounced and people plow right on unfazed. I fail to see how roman or Jewish claims they had moved or destroyed the body fall in a seperate category.

            And why exactly did it have to be “transferred to another tomb” specifically? Where does that requirement come from?

            “Other testimony that the Christians’ claim was false, backed up by contradictory evidence. ” Like, for example, the claims i just mentioned that the body was stolen, perhaps combined with the fact that the accounts of the resurrection are wildly inconsistent with each other? Something like that? Because here I was under the impression that you didn’t consider that anything resembling evidence sufficient to falsify the claim based on the fact that you’ve been saying so for our entire conversation.

            “An ossuary with Jesus’ bones in it, clearly labeled.”

            Obviously a hoax designed to discredit the early Christians!!!! Just like those pernicuous lies about the body being stolen!!! Plus see my earlier comments about identity verification. A LABEL? You expect me to believe that you show people THAT and they abandon chistianity as having been proven false? You do know a Christian or two, right?

            “Testimony from an early defector from Christianity who said that the apostles and others were lying.”

            That liar! Clearly sold out to the Roman authorities.

            Detecting a trend yet?

          • “Wow, Grant, talk about missing the point. We’ve had 2000 years to straighten this out. No evidence has been found supporting an alternative hypothesis.”

            Wow, it seems like just 5 minutes ago I was reading your concession that my hypothesis at least as plausibly conformed to the evidence as yours did… you change your mind *really* fast, it makes discussing this with you exceedingly difficult.

            • Grant, one more time. You have not presented, nor has anyone else presented any evidence to support an alternative hypothesis explaining the resurrection. The Christian claim has the weight of all the historical evidence we know about backing it up. Your argument is simply: Since we know resurrections don’t happen, therefore Jesus did not rise from the dead. That is the extent of your argument. You suggest other explanations are more plausible, but you have no evidence to back any of them up. You cannot go into court and just say, “It is more likely that this happened than that.” The judge will rightly ask, “Where is your evidence?”

          • “Grant, one more time. You have not presented, nor has anyone else presented any evidence to support an alternative hypothesis explaining the resurrection. ”

            We’ve been over this part already Mike. Does this sound familiar?

            1. The “alternative” I presented to you was an alternative explanation of the available data, so what do you mean I didn’t provide an explanation, just an alternative? They’re the same thing.

            2. As it was a proposed explanation of the data… the evidence that supports it would be THAT DATA, exactly the same as it is for YOUR explanation of the exact same data.

            You appeared to accept that… you certainly did not refute it,. You acknowledged that your explanation of that evidence did not trump mine for plausibility… and then appeared to have suddenly suffered a sudden onset of total short term memory erasure and started acting as if none of this had happened.

            Would you please stop doing this and try to maintain some semblance of consistency in your statements?

            • No, you don’t get off that easy. You are confusing “evidence” with the events and claims in question.

              1. The events, as recorded by Christians, were that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus met with them on various occasions personally in a transformed body.
              2. The evidence is the eyewitness testimonies we have of those events.
              3. The evidence supports their claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
              4. The claim led them to the theological conclusion that Jesus is therefore to be regarded as Messiah and Lord.

              Now on the other hand,

              1. You claim resurrections do not and cannot occur, and that therefore there must be a more plausible explanation.
              2. The evidence you give for an alternate explanation of the events is _________________. (You haven’t given any)
              3. Your lack of evidence leads me to ask you, “Where’s the evidence?”
              4. Despite the lack of evidence from history that something else actually occurred, you cling to your assertion that since resurrections do not and cannot occur, there must be another explanation.

          • “No, you don’t get off that easy. You are confusing “evidence” with the events and claims in question.”

            No, I am most certainly not.

            “1. The events, as recorded by Christians, were that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus met with them on various occasions personally in a transformed body.”

            That would be the claim made by early Christians.

            “2. The evidence is the eyewitness testimonies we have of those events.”

            By calling it “eye witness testimony” you are begging the question of their accuracy and authenticity. You do realize that right?

            “3. The evidence supports their claim that Jesus rose from the dead.”

            As I have already established, that *exact same* “evidence” supports my hypothesis just as well. And my hypothesis has the advantage of not requiring that things otherwise considered never to happen have to happen for it to be true.

            “1. You claim resurrections do not and cannot occur, and that therefore there must be a more plausible explanation.
            2. The evidence you give for an alternate explanation of the events is _________________. (You haven’t given any)”

            Are you serious? I made my short term memory comment in jest but I’m going to switch it to a serious theory any minute now. I am not repeating what I JUST SAID in the post you are replying to here. This is getting not funny real fast.

            • Ok, let’s try it this way. Let’s make it simple, since I’m obviously not in your intellectual class. Please fill in the blanks for me.

              I am Grant.

              My explanation for what happened after Jesus’ death that Christians claim was the resurrection is ______________________________.

              The evidence I have for believing my explanation is better than the Christian claim is ____________________________.

          • Ok Mike, just let’s get one thing sorted out.

            We are both offering proposed explanations of *the exact same evidence*. Is that not clear? You saying I have not presented evidence is to deny the topic of our discussion exists. The evidence for my proposed explanation is the exact same as that for yours. The gospel accounts, etc…

            Your proposed explanation is Christianity’s explanation. That the best explanation *for that evidence* is that Jesus was actually resurrected and all four accounts are generally historically accurate.

            My proposed explanation is that the evidence is more consistent with an empty tomb and a whole lot of embellishment and runaway story telling, and I have explained why I reach that conclusion.

            Are we clear that far at least?

            • Now we’re getting somewhere I think. Thanks, Grant. Can we agree…

              1. That something unusual must have happened in the days and weeks after Jesus’ death?
              2. That the primary documents we have which report something about whatever unusual events occurred are the four Gospels and passages in Paul’s letters (especially 1Corinthians, one of the earliest NT documents)?
              3. That the events were apparently unusual enough to cause a group of men and women who had been associated with Jesus to claim that they had found an empty tomb and had had personal encounters with a person they identified with the Jesus who had been crucified, but who now appeared to them to have been raised from the dead and transformed?
              4. That we have no other reliable testimonies or records from those days that contradict this claim?
              5. That those who made this claim became transformed from a small group of relatively powerless people who had wandered around Palestine with a rabbi into a movement that spread throughout the Roman world within a generation, convincing people far and wide of the validity of their claim?
              6. That even sworn opponents, like Saul of Tarsus, became convinced that their claims were true, leading them to become Christians?
              7. That the documents which were written to encourage people who had accepted the Christian claims, contained accounts of purported eyewitness testimony to real events that occurred in and around Jerusalem after Jesus’ death?
              8. That no other documents from that period of history give any alternative account of what did or didn’t happen?
              9. That no body was ever produced and no inhabited grave was ever marked as the tomb of Jesus?
              10. That no further funeral was ever held for Jesus, and no grave site became a destination for pilgrims to come and venerate the founder of their faith?
              11. That Christians in the early church continued to hold that this account of what happened was true, even though it meant their persecution and death?

          • Shoot… you wrote yours while I was writing mine… I think my post addresses yours in broad strokes however. I’ll add detail after you have a chance to respond to mine.

          • In order..

            1. Depends on what exactly you mean by “unusual”. If you mean it’s not every day that a major world religion gets founded then yes, I’d say we’re agreed that the events of the time could be called unusual.

            2. Yup

            3. See one.

            4. The documents themselves clearly and explicitly state that there were contradicting claims being made. Matthew 28:13-15. So no we are not in agreement here. Matthew documenting that people were contradicting these claims constitutes documentation that the claims were contradicted by people of the time.

            5. No dispute, obviously.

            6. Yes, religion conversions occur.

            7. Not sure of the relevance, but yes.

            8. Yep, although I think you’re not appreciating what a double edged sword this one is.

            9->11… yep, yep, yep.

            • OK, so we are generally in agreement with the data. Your explanation of the data is that the early Christians made up the tale of the resurrection. Mine is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. You base your explanation upon the plausibility of someone rising from the dead vs. an alternative explanation that does not require something supernatural. Have I got this right?

              I say one difference between us is in our underlying presuppositions. I am a theist, who allows for God to work in his creation in ways we cannot explain. If I believe in an infinite-personal God who is really there and who has revealed himself to humankind, then I would think the one time he would do something beyond the bounds of human plausibility would be during the time of Jesus, because (once again, I take the Bible at face value) it seems to me that the whole Biblical testimony points to his life, death and resurrection as the focal event in history.

              Furthermore, I am more convinced about the reliability of the NT documents and their testimony than you are. The “problems” you have mentioned regarding Mark, the apparent contradictions between resurrection accounts, and so on, aren’t as troublesome to me for various reasons.

              Frankly, I also can’t grasp what the motivation of the early Christians would be to make up such a fanciful story so beyond the bounds of their cultural and religious perspective when many lesser claims could have been made (Wright records, for example, that other so-called Messiahs had family members who took up their claims and missions after the original claimant died). This makes little sense to me, especially when it led to no advantage in society at the time, only ridicule and persecution.

              Grant, I don’t claim any of this is absolute “proof.” I simply think it is reasonable to suggest that something amazing and beyond the bounds of what we consider “plausible” may have happened on Easter Sunday. I respect that you doubt that.

              I will not be able to continue this conversation throughout the day. Feel free to give your answer and then interact with other commenters, but for the most part I will not be available to discuss this further for now. Thank you for a stimulating discussion. You helped me think, and I hope, state my views more clearly.

          • “OK, so we are generally in agreement with the data. Your explanation of the data is that the early Christians made up the tale of the resurrection.”

            “Made up” is a tad harsh, it implies a deliberate act of deception. Exageration and embellishment of these kinds of stories is just something that has a tendency to occur. A story “growing in the telling” is hardly something new in history.

            “I say one difference between us is in our underlying presuppositions. I am a theist, who allows for God to work in his creation in ways we cannot explain.”

            Yes, and a great deal of the point of the principles I have been explaining here about why unfalsifiable hypotheses are things to be rejected goes to demonstrating the lack of justification for holding such presuppositions.

            “Furthermore, I am more convinced about the reliability of the NT documents and their testimony than you are.”

            Clearly, as the subject of our discussion is our disagreement over their accuracy.

            “Frankly, I also can’t grasp what the motivation of the early Christians would be to make up such a fanciful story so beyond the bounds of their cultural and religious perspective when many lesser claims could have been made (Wright records, for example, that other so-called Messiahs had family members who took up their claims and missions after the original claimant died). ”

            I repeat… yet again… Mark 14:28. They were *told in advance* Jesus was supposed to rise. Not that his second cousin twice removed was supposed to step in and fill his shoes. Arguing that it’s incomprehensible where they could have come up with such an idea when we are specifically told the idea was given to them beforehand is completely insupportable.

        • <>
          Is there any such thing as 100% bulletproof “facts” of any purported historical event that can be evaluated apart from the testimony of others? I don’t think so.

          Heck, even when I see something with my own eyes, my brain processes it in the English language -a form of “testimony” that was handed down to me by my ancestors – with all the attendant vagaries and contingencies of analogy inherent in language itself.

          • You’re right, Steve. And Wright makes it clear that he is not offering “proof” for the resurrection. He has examined the historical evidence, and come to the conclusion that what the early Christians claimed happened must have actually happened. He can’t prove it. He can only put it out there and say, “OK, now you examine the evidence and see if you come to a different conclusion.”

          • I’m a little confused as this reply seems to be to my post but the content seems to be directed at Mike… was this a general comment or were you directing it at one of us?

        • Grant, I’ve enjoyed reading through your discussion with CM. I am left wondering if you are playing honest by your own rules. In the discussion a few days ago, you stated that unfalsifiable faith-based claims are detrimental to the scientific process. Yet you seem to hold the position that all historical phenomena must have a naturalistic (non-supernatural) explanation. Is this an unfalsifiable position for you? If not, what theoretical evidence could exist that would convince you a supernatural event had occurred?

          • “you stated that unfalsifiable faith-based claims are detrimental to the scientific process. Yet you seem to hold the position that all historical phenomena must have a naturalistic (non-supernatural) explanation. ”

            The “yet” does not belong there. Tose two statements mean the same thing.

            Supernatural hypotheses are, by their nature, unfalsifiable as it is quite impossible to claim any possible test result refutes them as any test result can subsequently be declared null and void due to supernatural effects which obey no defined rules.

            So to rewrite your statement up there…

            “You stated that unfalsifiable faith-based claims are detrimental to the scientific process. Yet you seem ot be saying you would not accept an unfalsifiable faith based claim

            Welll… yeah. Unless of course you come up with a way to falsify a supernatural event… I’m entirely open to suggestions. Mike took a shot at it but as you can see it didn’t quite work out, and I didn’t even have to resort to counter-invoking the supernatural to demonstrate it. (Like, for example, since the supernatural is being considered as a valid explanation of our observations the ossuary with supposedly Jesus’s bones in it was magically placed there by Satan to deceive us and test our faith!)

            Is the problem clear? As soon as the supernatural is invoked, all bets are off and testing is rendered meaingless. I have yet to encounter any way around that problem but if you have one then I’m all ears.

          • Sorry to cut in but there are a couple of problems here I think:

            “I say one difference between us is in our underlying presuppositions. I am a theist, who allows for God to work in his creation in ways we cannot explain. If I believe in an infinite-personal God who is really there and who has revealed himself to humankind, then I would think the one time he would do something beyond the bounds of human plausibility would be during the time of Jesus, because (once again, I take the Bible at face value) it seems to me that the whole Biblical testimony points to his life, death and resurrection as the focal event in history.”

            It seems the presupposition here is a little more than merely being a theist and seems to be, as you have pointed out, a conviction rooted in the New Testament narrative. I’m not sure if this is a presupposition that you want to bring to a dispute regarding the authenticity of said narrative.

            “Frankly, I also can’t grasp what the motivation of the early Christians would be to make up such a fanciful story so beyond the bounds of their cultural and religious perspective when many lesser claims could have been made (Wright records, for example, that other so-called Messiahs had family members who took up their claims and missions after the original claimant died).”

            There are, of course, many other explanations aside from merely making up a story. The narratives composed could not have been composed to be read as historical facts but rather as strictly symbolic. Parables if you will. There’s also of course mass hallucination, deception, etc.

            “This makes little sense to me, especially when it led to no advantage in society at the time, only ridicule and persecution.”

            How do you explain someone like Joseph Smith or David Koresh? It may not make much sense but people aren’t above acting contrary to good sense, even if it results in no worldly gain.

            • 1. I overstated the first point and included too much. I believe God is there. That is my theism.

              2. I was answering his specific alternate explanation. I don’t find the others compelling, particularly those about the narratives being “symbolic” or parabolic. There is too much emphasis on the physicality of Jesus’ body and recognition of him as a person. See the later epistolary summary of apostolic doctrine in 1John 1:1-3.

              3. Easy. David Koresh was mentally unbalanced, a sexual predator, and a megalomaniac who fooled a handful of gullible people and led them to their destruction. Joseph Smith was a documented charlatan and the church he founded has been backing off of his teachings and replacing them with new “revelations” ever since. Nothing we know indicates that Jesus or any of his followers fit the “crazy” mold.

          • Grant, my point is that “all historical phenomena must have a naturalistic explanation” is itself a faith based claim. It is drawing a conclusion about the event apriori to analyzing any evidence, based on the faith assumption that super natural events do not occur. You are asking us to prove to you that our faith based claims are (at least theoretically) falsifiable. I’m asking you to act in kind and prove to us that your faith based claim is (theoretically) falsifiable. That is your own rule, no?

            I would claim that the more scientific approach to any data is to not draw apriori conclusions, but to employ deductive reasoning to reach the conclusion most supported by the data. Unfortunately , we are all human and we all have biases that color our deductive capabilities, resulting in equally reasonable people drawing vastly different conclusions from the same data.

          • “Grant, my point is that “all historical phenomena must have a naturalistic explanation” is itself a faith based claim. “

            As I just pointed out that statement is simply another way of saying “we don’t accept unfalsifiable hypotheses”.

            And that is nothing resembling a “faith based” claim, it is a basic principle of the scientific method, extensively logically supported. I have spent a not insignificant amount of time in this discussion explaining its justification and at no time have I veered anywhere near an appeal to faith to do so.

            “I would claim that the more scientific approach to any data is to not draw apriori conclusions, but to employ deductive reasoning to reach the conclusion most supported by the data.”

            Alright, let’s see how that works then:

            I have just hypothetically presented the data: An ossuary labelled “Jesus of Nazareth” with human remains inside. Preliminary tests indicate it’s the right age, etc…

            We are permitting supernatural explanations of historical events.

            Tell me how I employ deductive reasoning to determine if it is more likely this data supports the contention that:

            A: Jesus was in fact never resurrected.
            B: Satan supernatuallly created this “evidence” to cause people to lose faith in Jesus.
            C: God supernaturally created this “evidence” to TEST people’s faith in Jesus.
            D: This is all a big trick being played on people by Loki the trickster god and the remains aren’t really there it’s just a magical illusion that fools every instrument of measurement we are capable of directing at it… bcause Loki thinks that’s *hilarious*…
            E: The *entire resurrection narrative* is a big trick being played on people by Loki the trickster god for the same reason, he set up the whole thing and he’s been laughing his guts out for 2000 years over it.
            F:…

            …and, well, an effectively unlimited number of alternative hypotheses if I flex my imagination just a little more.

            How exactly are we supposed to proceed? If you have some proposal for how I am supposed to follow your advice while permitting supernatual explanations to be considered as viable causes of the evidence I am examining I would really like to hear it. What are we supposed to do here?

            • Grant, sorry but I’m with Theo here. You have put your faith in a fundamental principle that underlies a method.

              As for how we narrow the options with regard to your hypothetical “supernatural” theses, you either trust the people who made the claim or you don’t. I do.

          • Just because an event is supernatural in nature does not mean it is necessarily unfalsifiable. If there are falsifiable details linked to the event then the event is falsifiable. I think you are avoiding my challenge. But anyway…

            A. Yes, that is a possible conclusion. I’m sure there would be at least a few Christians who would choose it.

            B. – F. These are explanations that I would not fall to for reason that they are not supported by scripture. Yes, according to scripture God is all powerful, etc., but we do not see that it is in his character to use trickery. The devil does use trickery, but we do not see that he has the power to create as God does and so at best he would influence people to create a hoax. Etc…. Just because we believe the supernatural is possible does not mean we get to invoke it willy nilly (although I’m aware many Christians do).

            On the whole, I would treat it as I would any historical evidence that conflicts with other historical evidence. Attempt to determine how trustworthy the evidence is before overturning all my views. For instance, if the box of bones said Julius Caesar on the lid but was found in, say, the middle of China… inconsistent with the historical narrative. I would be skeptical and religion would have nothing to do with it.

          • Theo, please say that was an attempt at humor that fell short because otherwise that response was more than a little insulting in it’s incredibly flippant dismissiveness.

            I asked you in all sincerity how I follow your suggestion of what you claimed was *the more scientific approach*… that I employ *deductive reasoning* to establish which of those options are most likely given that we are going to allow the supernatural to be considered as a plausible explanation for observational data…

            And the response I get is a blanket refusal to even look at any of the example supernatural hypotheses i presented with a declaration that you’re not going there because… those aren’t supported by scripture!?!?!?

            I find myself slightly unsatisfied by your new proposed scientific methodology for employing deductive reasoning to examine claims invoking the supernatural Theo. Somehow I don’t see “just check and see if it agrees with the bible” as being a valid means of deductive scientific investigation of claimed supernatural occurances.

            Want to take another shot at that?

            @Mike: As i pointed out to Theo, I have extensively logically supported the principle that unfalsifiable hypotheses warrant rejection. At no time did I appeal to faith in the slightest way to do so. If you disagree, show me where you think I did it.

          • “Grant, I was just agreeing with Theo that everyone necessarily starts out with fundamental presuppositions. What are yours?”

            Short list?

            1.That fundamental presuppositions should be minimized to the greatest extent possible.

            2. To the extent that is not possible those presuppositions must be recognized, and constantly re-axamined for consistency and valdity as they have the potential to completely undermine all your other thinking if you mess them up (Hence, by the way, #1).

            3. That I am not being systematically and infallibly deceived by my senses and my senses are not being systematically and infallibly deceived. (Refer to my exchange with Theo on the topic of solipsism for how 1 and 2 are applied here)

          • Sorry, didn’t intend to be funny or flippant. I thought you had asked me how I would use deductive reasoning in the given scenario. I didn’t realize you were asking how you would.

            I consider the Bible the authority on supernatural issues, so if any supernatural explanation does not align with the teachings of scripture I would dismiss it. I am reluctant to call anything a miracle that the Bible does not specifically teach is a miracle. This provides me with a foundation for deductive reasoning.

            So, if you were to allow supernatural explanations, but did not adhere to any authority on how the supernatural realm behaved… I don’t know.

          • Theo… we’re specifically btalking about how we can falsify a claim *the bible made*.

            Using “if the bible says it it’s fine, if it doesn’t say it it’s falsified” is not deductive reasonoing, it’s textbook circular reasoning.

      • Buford Hollis says:

        Rather than “plain facts,” what we have are *assertions* made by a family of ancient religious texts which do not impress me with their overall sobriety.

        • We have historical claims, Buford. Claims that involve real human beings in real space-time history saying that they witnessed something wholly beyond our human reason and imagination. I’m sorry you do not find the texts that make these claims convincing. I hope you will allow that some of us do.

          • Buford Hollis says:

            Well, we have claims by texts, which of course “involve real human beings” in the sense that somebody wrote them. The texts have human characters in them, who may or may not correspond to any real human beings. You assume that these characters correspond to real people, that the texts accurately reflect their testimony, and that this testimony is true. If you think about it, this is quite a leap. Why would you believe this in the case of the New Testament, and not in the case of “Out on a Limb” by Shirley MacLaine? It probably has something to do with the power and influence of Christianity as a social system, which puts enormous pressure on everybody.

            So yes, of course I “allow” that some of you believe in the resurrection and so on. But that much is obvious. Perhaps your words carry some sort of subtext…? I can’t imagine you speaking this way about extraordinary religious claims other than your own.

            • Buford, I simply think the claims of Christianity, as inconceivable as they may seem to you, are better attested and more believable than other claims. See my last response to Grant for a summary. I’m glad you have participated. We who believe these things need to be challenged in our thinking and ability to state what we believe.

    • Richard Bauckham has written a very good book regarding the gospel narratives called
      Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He goes and looks at some the earliest Christian writings that are available from antiquity and looks at what people were saying about the gospels within one or two generations of them being written. Regarding Mark, he makes a very good case that Mark received eyewitness testimony from Peter.

      He also presents strong evidence against the idea that the gospels were somehow a product of the early Christian community in the sense that there are layers and layers of editing upon the original testimony. Basically, that simply isn’t how oral tradition worked in ancient cultures. If people made changes to the original narrative, there were others around who knew the original and who would correct them. It wasn’t really analogous to a game of telephone.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Forgotten here is that the Gospels were written later than Paul’s epistles, which are the earliest written records we have of the resurrection. In particular, take a look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul passes on to the Corinthians what he had received when he first became a follower of Jesus. The phrase “handed on” (NRSV, verse 3) is a technical term used to describe the transmission of authoritative tradition from one person to another. Paul wrote the Corinthians in the early or mid 50’s of the first century, and his conversion presumably goes back 20 years before that, when he himself received it. What Paul “handed on” to the Corinthians also included a list of post-resurrection appearances. Paul’s original readers in Corinth, if they choose to do it, could verify what Paul passed on to them by taking a trip to Palestine and speaking with one of the “500 brothers” (verse 6) who were still alive when Paul wrote. (That would not have been all that hard to do, by the way.) Historically, this gets you very close indeed to the original resurrection event.

      Does this “prove” the resurrection? No, but for me, at least, it is very strong evidence indeed.
      The earliest NT texts unanimously witness to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, even if all the accounts of the resurrection don’t harmonize neatly in the details.

      One could also look at even earlier Pauline letters, such as 1 Thessalonians, for other evidence.

      A useful book on this, if anyone is interested, is James Dunn’s “The Evidence for Jesus.” It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for someone with serious issues about the resurrection, it’s a good place to begin. Dunn, a British New Testament scholar and a believer, writes as a historian within the parameters of that discipline.

      • Excellent point, Randy. We must not discount Paul’s testimony.

      • FollowerOfHim says:

        I’ve often thought that even if the Synoptics’ last chapters, and John’s last two chapters, were lost to us, the remainder of the Epistles and of Acts would still abundantly attest to the belief within the early church in Christ’s Resurrection. It’s not like the whole notion of the Resurrection hangs on one or two “proof texts.”

        In a sense, we have something of an embarrassment of riches in the Gospels’ somewhat disparate accounts of this event.

  12. @ Chap Mike: I’ve only been able to skim the comments today because I’ve had to work at work….. but from what I’ve read of your interchange with Grant and others, this thread has been, and will be, VERY HELPFUL to me in the future. Thanks for taking the time to comment and think things out. You have built well on the foundation that Wright and others have laid. A very big difference, it seems, between “solid evidence for….” and “we can prove that……” A lot of christian apologetics seems like a bridge too far: our case doesn’t demand proof, and yet our faith is not anti-rational. Great balance.

    Thanks again;
    GregR

  13. Without the resurrection, Christianity becomes nothing but broken promises and eternal disappointment. The resurrection is, indeed, the linchpin of our faith.

    I do “believe” the accounts of the new testament to be factual.

    One may discount the resurrection in a number of ways.

    However, there is a certain amount of credibility that comes with a story that has been with us as long as the resurrection has; one that has influenced so many people. If there is a similar example, I am not aware of it.

    Because of Its unique claim, it must be dealt with. It must be accepted or rejected. Anyone not willing to face the question of the resurrection has really rejected it.

    In educational circles, the highest level question is “why?” I think Ephesians 2:8-9 explains the “how?” Verse 10 of the same chapter explains the “why?”

    • Randy Thompson says:

      I completely agree with you.

      However, I’m also struck by how insane this Good News sounds sometimes. Paul himself noted that the preaching “of Christ crucified” was a “stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV). I think there’s something deeper and more mysterious than human reason going on when the Gospel is preached, for “God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . to bring to nothing things that are” (1:28, ESV). Paul reminds the Corinthians that his preaching to them was not “in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your [our] faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:4ff, ESV). I think Christians sometimes forget that what makes sense to them, doesn’t necessarily make sense to the non-Christians they’re talking to.

      Might not Paul be suggesting in 1 Corinthians that believers (and perhaps potential believers) have first encountered the resurrection power of God in the “foolishness of the cross” and only later come to see that the evidence for this insanely amazing Gospel really does make sense? Maybe we have the cart before the horse here. First the Spirit of God (the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power”), and then the sense-making.

  14. Excellent points, Randy. And you’ve backed them all up with wonderful scriptures.

  15. I’d love to read NT Wright’s book, and will start looking for it soon. Beyond that, however, does anyone know of other primary sources for Christ’s life (besides Josephus). I suppose that, given my nature, I want other primary sources. We have the four gospels, written over 30 years after his death (which I believe goes a long way to explaining the discrepancies- human memories are beyond horrible at storing actual events in order) at a minimum, and the letters of Paul, who never met the human version of Jesus.

    I’ve read about mass hysterias spreading across a population, where a single person has an idea and it spreads like wildfire. The examples I can think of off the top of my head are negative, not positive, but it is relatively easy for a novel idea to spread quickly. It’s also easy for normal people to remember things that, in truth happened differently. So I don’t accept his thesis in the video that an idea like that couldn’t spread among this group except if the events had happened.

    It’s my knowledge of psychology and neurology that prevents me from believing in a personal god, not my knowledge of biology or physics.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the apostle I admire most is Thomas. I want to stick my hand in the side. I want to know. I find myself unable to believe in the normally impossible otherwise.

    • As has been said several times, no one can give “proof” of the resurrection one way or the other. One can cite testimony. In the end, it comes down to one’s view of the reliability and believability of the witnesses. Personally, I find them believable and think it is reasonable to conclude that the documents which contain their testimony are reliable.

    • Jason,

      ….just curious. What is it about neurology that prevents you from believing in a personal God?

      • Wow, I stared writing this an hour ago and I think I have it into a workable form. It’s a long piece, attempting to explain, but not convert, although like any essay laying out an opinion, it does contain arguments. It’s a firstish draft (a few edits here and there), so there are most likely a few holes in the arguments, but then again, there always are.

        The answer to what part of neurology that makes me not believe in a soul is the case of Phineas Gage. He had a metal spike travel through his head and his personality changed completely. Who he was as a person. He stopped being kind and generous, gained a temper.

        Which was the real Phineas Gage, the before or after? And if there is a heaven, which one would be there? The nice one, or the one who lived the remainder of his life?

        In a much smaller way, we’re similar. Our concept of ourselves is in constant flux, changing in small ways on a regular basis. Our memories, which shape us, are, while incredibly useful, not great for accurately remembering information.

        All of these, plus more of how our brain works and what I saw happen with my grandparents after their strokes makes it impossible to believe in a soul. If I did, I’d be forced to conclude that my grandparents’ souls left their bodies before their death, changed radically upon their strokes (all lost some faculties), or somehow upon their death was mysteriously changed back to an ideal version of them. But if its changed into an ideal version of them, to me, it’s not really them. It ignores the person they were in the months leading up to their death.

        Douglas Adams had a more flippant, but shorter accounting of this in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “I don’t want to die now. I’ve still got a headache. I don’t want to go to heaven with a headache, I’d be all cross and wouldn’t enjoy it” I have regular bouts of depression. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am. Depression is a negative thing, something that if I could banish, I would. However, If I was able to do so, if a truly effective medication came along, I would change as a person. My personality would change, as would my core, inner being. Probably not that much, but there would be a change. To truly capture who I am, any soul would have to have the depression in it. A soul that truly captured who I am would have that as part of it forever. And how could you be depressed in heaven? I can understand depression in hell, in fact I suspect it’d be part of the program. But is the soul that does not contain the whole of the individual actually a soul? I feel similarly for babies. The thought of babies suddenly acquiring language and a full understanding of the world upon death, with no way to experience it, breaks my heart. The world is amazing and beautiful and wonderful and painful and fantastic. And knowing all that, but being denied it, seems to me an act of unbearable cruelty.

        So I don’t believe in a soul. And without a soul, well, if you want to be good, humanism looks really good, as do some of the Kantian ideals (specifically treating people as ends, not means, never forgetting that each and every person you meet is a living, thinking being with just as much right to happiness and peace as you). And without a soul, the question, in a lot of ways, about the existence of a god becomes moot.

        Without an afterlife, all a personal god can do is interfere in the physical world. The only miracles that you hear about these days that are approved for people becoming saints are medical in nature. We never hear of the laws of physics being suspended. Several old saints in Catholicism are said to have levitated/flown, but that is never seen these days. The body is an incredible thing, more resilient to damage than we give it credit for, but more susceptible to other damage than we suspect. Until we know just what laws of reality these miracles are breaking, I find it hard to actual classify them as supernatural acts. (Ok, so I was wrong. Some of my knowledge (albeit an educated layman’s) of biology and the structure of the body also contributes to me disbelief.)

        Without miracles and without a soul, what interventions can God make? While I acknowledge that there could be unseen miracles, they lose the power of conversion if they are not witnessed and seen.

        So I am left wondering about a disinterested creator. One who set things in motion and then found other things to do, or who sits back and simply watches. And I have no idea if that kind of god exists or not, but in all honesty, I find it kind of irrelevant.

        This isn’t meant to invalidate Jesus’ goodness, as, to quote a better author than I (Kurt Vonnegut) “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

        I hope I haven’t offended anyone here or caused any crises of faith. I’m not trying to convert anyone to my point of view, just explain how I reached it.

        • I appreciate your honesty, Jason. But when you speak of the soul, I get the feeling you’re refering more to the ancient Greek concept (which was adopted by Roman Catholocism during the Middle Ages) than the original biblical definition. The soul, as refered to in the Bible, just means a person’s thoughts and emotions and is not meant to be regarded as something seperate or detachable from the body. As modern medical science has discovered, our thoughts and emotions are observable physical events — neurons and chemicals interacting in our brains. I think the point where we often get hung up is that God created a physical universe that is thoroughly and completely physical, from supernovas down to the smallest subatomic particle. And there is nothing in this universe that is not physical and thereby subject to physical laws like gravity and cause and effect. But God Himself is spirit — meaning something completely other than physical and completely undetectable through any physical means. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work in the physical universe — it merely means that nothing physical can access the spiritual without the Spirit’s intervention. In and of ourselves, we can never access heaven or even percieve the presence of God. And, in and of ourselves, we have no eternal quality and have no power to manufacture eternal life or create a realm in which one could live eternally. Apart from God’s direct intervention, we are completely physical, breakable, mortal, and temporary. And I believe that Jesus, while he had an eternal, spiritual existence with the Father, willingly became just like us, though without sin. He suffered a brutal death, all brain activity stopped, and, for a brief time, He ceased to exist in death. But His FAther intervened and raised Him up as a new creation. I don’t claim to fully understand, but, somehow, he became something that is both physical and spirit at the same time and the first seed of an entirely new kind of reality. And, through Christ and with His Spirit implanted within us, we have been offered eternal life — not the eternal continuation of something we already are or already possess, but eternal life as a completely new creation.
          Try this experiment. Get a flashlight and a clear glass. Turn out the lights in the room and then shine the flashlight through the glass. If you look real close, you will see the places where the light and the glass intersect. The light is still energy and the glass is still solid matter, but where they intersect, they are occupying the same space at the same time. I thinks that’s how we are with God’s Spirit. When He chooses to intersect with us, we are still physical piles of organic stuff, but we are also a space which God is occupying … a vessel or a temple, if you will. And the eternal life we hope for is not the light preserving the glass forever, but something new entirely being born out of the intersection of the light with the glass.
          I guess what I’m trying to say here is that both our body and soul (which are really one and the same) are just a cocoon out of which God will bring forth a new form of life consisting of both Spirit and imperishable substance.
          So as far as people who suffer brain trauma and become totally different people, that would have no bearing on whether or not the light is intersecting with the glass, even if it’s a broken glass. Everything in the physical realm is changeable and breakable, human beings most certainly included — but that is not the case with the Spirit of God. We just have to place our fragile, breakable existence into His transforming hands.
          I hope maybe this helped. And I hope it even made sense. It’s five in the morning and I”m getting a little foggy in the head.

        • Jason,

          You have given a very thoughtful answer. I certainly have no answers to the questions you asked about Mr. Gage. If I had more detail, I still would not presume to answer the questions “why?” or “which one?”

          My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia only one year after graduating from the Air Force Academy. He, like Mr. Gage, has never been the same.

          Like your grandparents’ strokes, my brother’s illness has left him a different person. We treat him with respect and as an adult, but much of the time he acts like a child.

          I have no answers about Mr. Gage because I have no answers about my brother. I will admit that I do wonder “why” at times, but I know I will never get an answer on this side of heaven.

          At the same time, I cannot stop believing that God knows the numbers of hairs on our head; that he knows when a small bird falls from the sky.

          Those scriptures tell us that our Creator is very interested and knows every situation intimately.

          There is a scripture that I lean on heavily. I will never “get it down,” but I am getting better at listening to the recommendation given. I am not quoting this verse to preach. I am only sharing my experience as you have yours.

          “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding…” The verse finishes with another admonition and a promise.

          I believe, like the Word says, that it is “living and active.” The words “lean not on your own understanding” have had great power in my life.

          I would agree with the words that you quoted by Mr. Vonnegut. In fact, during two years of extreme stress in my personal life, I read the Sermon on the Mount daily. It was the power in God’s Word that got me through that time.

          In the words of Jesus, “…do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?”

          I say, “so there” to those who would accuse Job of sin. Or Mr. Gage, or your grandparents, or my brother.

          Thanks for sharing…

  16. Jason-

    “Paul, who never met the human version of Jesus.”

    Paul did indeed meet the “human” version of Jesus. The man whom Paul saw in a vision was the resurrected Jesus, in the flesh. When Christ ascended into Heaven, He didn’t discard His body. Grant it, Paul may have not walked with Jesus for three years as the others. However, to say He did not meet the “human version of Jesus” is amounting to Gnosticism, intentionally or not.

    “I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the apostle I admire most is Thomas. I want to stick my hand in the side. I want to know. I find myself unable to believe in the normally impossible otherwise.”
    Join the club. All Christians (well, most anyways) long to see Jesus again- and soon. However, Jesus did say “blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe”.

    If you can, put aside psychology for a moment. Leave it behind. Approach God on His own terms. You might just find that God will flesh (or perhaps mind? 😉 ) out psychology in ways you would never imagine.

    Don’t give up. Keep on seeking. If you truly seek God, you will find Him. You needn’t look far- He is closer than you can think.

  17. Donald Todd says:

    When I ceased being an atheist, I found that I believed that the Author of the universe could suspend the laws He had put in effect, should He find the need to do so.

    When I was going through that conversion, I found I had no trouble believing that an old man and woman could have a son. I found I had no trouble believing the miraculous surrounding the later life of Moses.

    I found that I believed that a virgin could give birth. I found her Son, a Man Who could change water into wine; Who could take a very small amount of food and cause it to feed thousands. I found a Man Who could walk on the water, and give His friend the ability to do the same thing. I found a Man Who could command the wind and the waves to relax. I found a Man Who could bring people back to health, and bring the dead back to life. I found a Man Who could command evil to depart from human beings and be obeyed.

    I found a Man Who would be obedient through death, and Who rose from the dead. I found the Savior of the world.

    Later I read as both Peter and then Paul re-enacted a great deal of what that Man did as those servants, witnesses and friends of HIs went about their assigned tasks of growing the Church He founded. Both Peter and Paul found miracles being worked through them for the good of those who were being called as a sign of God’s presence with them.

    The resurrection of the dead is a suspension of the law given by the Author when the progenitors of the human race failed. I believe in the resurrection of the dead as it is written in the Gospels, and hope to share in that same resurrection when He comes to call His own to join Him. I believe that there is also some very good historical information related to this that bears weight on its own.

    One might read about this offshoot of Judaism through the eyes of someone like Josephus, a Jew who records the destruction of Jerusalem, and who is certainly not a Christian.

  18. @ Chap Mike: would it be fair to say that Grant and others might be using the term “falsifiable” in ways more connected to the scientific method ?? Does your disagreement partly lie in relative strength one would give to the scientific method when considering matters historical ?? Just wondering. It seems to me that “believable” or “trustworthy” are not exactly in the same category as falsifiable.

    GregR

  19. I hate that I came in late on this discussion. I’ve been without internet for a few months.
    But if you’re looking for solid, tangible stuff too boost your faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection and the reliability of scripture in general, then I challenge you to do a detailed comparative study of the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. When you do it, it’s important to place Paul’s letters in the chronological order in which they were written (1-2 Thes., 1-2 Cor., Gal., Rom., Col., Eph., Phil., Phil., 1 Tim., Titus, 2 Tim.) rather than the traditional order in which they appear in the Bible (longest to shortest). It’s also important to keep in mind that they were written by different authors with an expanse of decades between Paul’s first letter and Luke’s works.
    With all that in mind, start at the beginning of Acts, and when you get to Luke’s narrative of Paul’s life and ministry, start looking for correlations in Paul’s letters. Look for matching names, places, references to events, and the chronology of those events. What you’ll find are hundreds of precise correlations and matching details between Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys and adventures and the content of Paul’s letters to the churches. Now compare what Paul is teaching about Jesus in his letters and in his speeches in Acts with what Peter and the other apostles are teaching about Jesus in the first part of Acts. You’ll find they’re proclaiming the same Jesus and the same resurrection.
    Having done this myself, it leads me to the rational conclusion that the writter of Acts had first-hand knowledge of Paul and his ministry and made a point to record that knowledge accurately. And if the general accuracy of the later part of Acts is established in that way, then there’s no reason to suspect that the writer of Acts was just making up stuff when he described the earliest days of the church. And, considering that the writer of Acts also authored an account of Jesus’s life — which he claims to have done through meticulous research and interviews with those who knew Jesus — then it would be by no means irrational to assume that the Gospel of Luke contains a considerable helping of factual content, as well.
    Of course, none of this proves that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. It does, however, provide some strong evidence that the first century church was thoroughly convinced and was boldly proclaiming that Jesus had indeed been bodily raised from the dead right out of the gate. And I think it shows that those who argue that the belief in the resurrection was a later invention of the church or a gradual embellishment simply don’t have the weight of historical evidence on their side.