Resurrection Debate – Vocab’s Closing Remarks

I want to thank Tim for accepting the challenge to debate this very important question. He was easy going through the whole process and very nice to work with. The reason I asked him to do this was because an atheist on a message board was ridiculing the resurrection. I challenged him to a debate on the topic and never heard back from him, but Tim did respond and I am glad he did.

Even though I’m not sure if I can always do this, lately I’ve made a resolution to myself to challenge any naysayer on the Internet to a moderated debate. I think this will help people be held accountable for what they say more. In fact, I would say more Christians should do this more often – in a nice and friendly way, of course. I Peter 3:15 tells us, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." I pray this debate was a model of sorts for that kind of dialogue. If not, chalk it up to my immaturity, for I am still learning and working on developing a more God-honoring character.

I also want to thank Sean ‘Kazz’ Esplin for being willing to host this debate at Better Than Faith.com. I am so glad to see him being willing to give the other side a voice. I honestly hope this discussion drives up their traffic. I also hope that the comments on the posts are very insightful and lead to new learning on this topic. That way, we all can benefit and maybe BTF will do something like this again in the future? Anyway, here’s to hoping!

I also want to thank Shawn White (please do not ask if he is a snow boarder =) of the blog ‘Living Dead Man‘. He did so much work in formatting our responses so they looked more presentable and fixed a lot of potentially embarrassing spelling errors (mainly on my end). He did so much to make this happen and put in a lot of work – we honestly could not have pulled this off without his commitment and dedication to this mini-project.

At this point people may be asking why I am doing a bunch of shout outs instead of doing what folks traditionally do here, which is rehash their arguments in summary fashion? Well, I figure people can read the debate if they want that! Maybe next time I do a debate I will go the more traditional route but all I ask this time around is for people to read the Opening Statements and Rebuttals and draw their own conclusions. I especially want people to read the Cross Examinations, as I feel they may be the most telling part of the whole back and forth. The comments attached to the Cross Examinations are also very significant; I sincerely hope people can read them and follow along and even chime in.

I promise I do not think I am a "Superman debater" or anything but I do think the resurrection of Jesus has been shown to be a valid historical consideration. In fact, it is really the only plausible explanation to the known facts. On this, let me share two brief frustrations I have: one is dealing with those who reject the resurrection outright due to their philosophical bias against the supernatural. I don’t just mean Tim, for many people I run into share this bias and many of the comments belie it as well. Perhaps we can do another debate on the philosophical possibility of miracles sometime soon to look at this?

A second frustration I have is sometimes it seems as if some of the people making comments on these debates and sometimes the debaters themselves seem ill equipped to discuss first century Palestine. This context is absolutely essential to understanding the historical Jesus. Not so much with Tim but sometimes I get the feeling that some folks have never read any scholarly level works on the historical Jesus. It sure would help if people became familiar with the work of NT Wright, Craig A. Evans, Darrel Bock or Richard Bauckham – maybe even John P. Meier, James Charlesworth, EP Sanders or Burton Mack. But if they can’t do that, then even guys like Jon Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk or Bart Ehrman will suffice. But it seems as if more and more atheists have only read Richard Carrier, GA Wells, Robert Price or Earl Doherty. It’s just hard to have an on-the-level serious discussion with those kind of dudes floating in the background because their work is so far afield and speculative. But alas, I digress …

Before I finish, I want to briefly address a few things Tim said in his final statement, such as: “It would be proven if Jesus appeared to each of us daily and had a little chat.” This kind of statement is an illustration of the creature wanting to tell the Creator what to do. It also shows how insanely high Tim wants to set the bar in his state of denial. Tim prophesies in his final remarks that I’ll respond by saying that we have to “access God through faith.” Wrong – we can have access to God’s working by opening our eyes and viewing history. This can bring us to a place where he place our trust in God because of who he is and what he has already done. This is the biblical view of faith – it means a TRUST based upon verifiable evidence, not a blind hoping in the darkness.

Tim made another misstatement about the nature of Christianity when he said,

Religions have always been with us, and the idea of divine men bending the harsh rules of nature, and promising us the benefits of these powers, have always been in the cultural landscape of religions. Many religions have converted great numbers of people with their basic appeal to the wonderful notion that the converts can, though actions or confessions, be saved from the hardship of daily life and be part of a grander scheme, protected by an all-powerful God.

Christians believe Jesus is the one and only God-Man (not merely ‘divine’) who does not just “bend the rules of nature” but rather holds all of creation together by the sheer power of his will (Colossians 1:17). In fact, Mark talks about Jesus calming a storm and the disciples respond in Mark 4:41: “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Christianity does not promise that people can be saved “through actions or confessions” but rather by admitting their sin, turning from it and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. This is not a works-based system, unlike every other belief system on the planet, but instead it is a grace-based system – major difference. Also, Christianity does not promise us we will be saved from the hardship of daily life – on the contrary, Jesus constantly spoke of counting the cost of following him and how his disciples had to pick up their cross!

While we’re doing theology, let me mention the awesome beauty of the resurrection of Jesus. It shows us that our Creator God stepped into the time and space continuum to demonstrate his glory and love. The resurrection tells us death is not the final stop but that we can live with God – forever – in a new and glorified body. No more sickness and no more sorrow and we will eternally be giving God all the praise for what he has done via the resurrection. I am so glad it is fact and not fantasy!

Now let me briefly be the evangelical Christian that I am. In these kinds of discussions, we sometimes act as if Jesus – his credentials and the like – is on trial. I just want to remind everyone that if Jesus really did rise from the dead – and we can know that he did – then he is not really the one on trial, so to speak, but rather, we are (John 5:22, 27). Why? Because Jesus executed judgment against the forces of evil through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection and Acts 10:42 and 2 Timothy 4:1 tell us that Jesus will judge both the living and the dead. Paul informed the Athenians that God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some may say this seems out of place to bring this up (and I understand their concerns) but what really is this debate about if not the implications of a risen Jesus? I pray we all honestly consider these implications as we go about our days.

Vocab Malone

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Resurrection Debate – Tim’s Closing Remarks

Here is a story of a person who performed miraculous things, inexplicable and witnessed by many people. Lots of people follow this person, believing in the divinity they have witnessed and accepting the divine consequence of the stories they have heard from other followers. This person carried a message from Heaven which has been delivered far and wide. And finally, this person died and bodily resurrected.

And here is a story about a book with some amazing, fascinating, radical claims about the way the world is. The book claims that it is historical, and a great many of the historical and geographical details indeed turn out to be true. The book now exists in millions upon millions of copies all around the world. There were many people able to challenge the factual content of this book at the time of the writings, and yet many people – even people who could easily themselves have checked the facts! – were convinced of its truthfulness.

I’m talking, of course, about “the Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. And the person I was talking about first is Mama Domitilla, according to the description by her followers.

My point? A book that claims to be true and containing checkable facts here and there, and which is swallowed as truth by large number of people is not true by default. What is needed is clear evidence, and Vocab can provide no more a snifter of positive, historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ than there is for the ascension of Mohammed to heaven on a donkey or to L. Ron Hubbard’s death-cheating passage from this world to the next.

And a story about a resurrecting person with miraculous powers need not be true even though a lot of people believe it. Mama Domitilla allegedly died and was resurrected (after a tour of Heaven) less than 50 years ago. She is still alive today. There are all manner of fact-checking possibilities available to all of us, regarding this case. And of course, those who have checked her out find her to be either deluded or an outright fraud. (see, for instance, www.csicop.org) And yet, it seems to make no difference – she is still regarded by many, many people as the real deal. I’m not one of them. Nor, I’d wager, are you. You’re too smart to believe a story like that. Go read it if you didn’t already. It’s outrageous!

Religions have always been with us, and the idea of divine men bending the harsh rules of nature, and promising us the benefits of these powers, have always been in the cultural landscape of religions. Many religions have converted great numbers of people with their basic appeal to the wonderful notion that the converts can, though actions or confessions, be saved from the hardship of daily life and be part of a grander scheme, protected by an all-powerful God.

Vocab’s claim is that Christianity, out of all the religions, is more than yet another fanciful dream arising from the breathless hopes, dreams and superstitions of the general population. This is a strong claim which requires a lot more evidence than the type Vocab has provided, which have largely been appeals to authority, arguments of the sort “I can’t see how this happened, so it couldn’t have happened” and a conspicuous lack of anything approaching firm historical evidence for the central tent-pole in the Christian creed – the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The divinity of Jesus is not an ahistorical claim. It can be proven. It would be proven if Jesus appeared to each of us daily and had a little chat. It would be proven if the Bible were an amazing book, full of stuff only an omniscient and omnipotent being could know and say, deep truths that were, and still are, inaccesible to human inquiry but observed to be true. It would be proven if prayers actually worked over random statistical noise. There *are* measurable consequences to the world if Christianity were true – consequences anyone would be able to detect. It doesn’t all happen in a faith vacuum. If anything, the evidence we would have of an omnipotent being should be the strongest, most awe-inspiring and undoubtable evidence we would have of ANYTHING. No-one on earth would be an unbeliever.

I can almost hear you saying “that’s not how it works! You access God only through faith, you can’t expect God to reveal himself in this way to suit your desires for evidence, we must have faith that He knows what he’s doing!” Christians have become entirely used to not expecting actual evidence for the existence of their God, to the point that it seems childish and naive to them when someone like me starts asking for it.

However, if Vocab is right, this kind of thing was EXACTLY what happened at the time of Jesus. Jesus DID appear to lots of people, 500+ according to Paul, after his resurrection – proving to them that he was indeed God. If Vocab is right, this experience WAS so awe-inspiring that it converted skeptics. Right here, in the Gospels, we see described an event where God, indisputably, intervened in the world in such a way that it left no room for faith. The early Christians, if Vocab is right, were Christians not of faith, but of reason: they SAW this stuff happen. Paul converted because he SAW Jesus in a vision, not because of faith.

There is something odd about the fact that this debate is being held at all. The resurrection of Jesus, according to the Christian creed, is of fundamental importance. It is this event, more than any other, that showed humanity the way to Heaven and avoiding Hell, and this distinction is entirely dependant on whether or not you accept Jesus as your saviour – in other words, whether you believe the resurrection of Jesus. This makes the event, if it happened, the most important ever in the history of humanity. And God, in sending his son to die for our sins, seems interested in saving humanity from Hell by giving them this choice. And as I stated, to the witnesses of the resurrection, there was nothing to doubt about this revelation. Jesus went as far as allowing people to touch his resurrected body and, essentially, perform small experiments to verify the truthfulness of this most important fact.

What changed? Why are Christians today content with faith and not evidence? They are, because they have to be – the well of evidence, overflowing beyond any reasonable doubt to a number of people in the right place at the right time – has now dried up. The mindset has to change if one is to remain a Christian after Jesus’ ascension. From there on in, you had no more evidence except the stories of other Christians. Truth comes from trust in other people’s stories, not from evidence. Maybe this is why Vocab seems so easily satisfied by his presentation, lacking in evidence that it is, though rich in confident conclusions based on his own or other autorities’ personal convictions. Maybe that’s all there is left. But believable arguments from trusted sources don’t make for evidence. “The Da Vinci Code” is an example of that. As another, we all thought peptic ulcers were cause by stress and lifestyle – it seemed so plausible! – until evidence forced us to change our views and accept that they are caused by bacteria. We can put too much trust in an idea because we love the sound of it, because everyone else believes it, or because the alternative just seems too far-fetched. Skepticism disallows such cognitive luxury.

Evidence is king.

In the end, as always, the burden of proof lies on the claimant. Vocab’s job was to convince his readers of the resurrection of Jesus.

As a reader, I enjoyed the ride. As a debater, I went in with an open mind, I learned a lot and thank Vocab for keeping the debate on a level of seriousness and politeness most apologist/skeptic debates can only aspire to. But in the echoing lack of evidence, I remain unconvinced.

Resurrection Debate – Question #4 From Vocab With Tim’s Response

Q4. Do you think that the Resurrection gave rise to Christianity or do you think that Christianity gave rise to the Resurrection? Why do you think so?

A4. None of the above. I hold that the idea of resurrection from the dead is an ancient idea, way back to the old farmer religions where death and rebirth was a symbol of the season cycle. Like so many other religions, Christianity incorporated many miraculous memes into it, including the concept of a resurrection. Prove me wrong :-)

Resurrection Debate – Question #4 From Tim With Vocab’s Response

Q4. What are your sources of history about the early church? About the earliest Christians and what contemporary people were thinking about Jesus? One of your pivotal arguments seems to be that the elite Jews would have hated Christianity for its message (that whole eye of the needle thing isn’t exactly wooing the rich, for example). History indicates that you are right about this, and that early Christians were not from this class at all. Can you bridge the gap and show us that a portion of these Jews did indeed convert, against their theological convictions? And did they mention why they converted? (As in: did they report being a witness to the resurrection?)

A4. This question actually contains about five questions. I cannot answer them all here, especially since I feel I have answered some of them already during the course of this debate. One thing Tim is confused about is he seems to think that lower class Jews had entirely different theological beliefs than upper class Jews. There is a small grain of truth in this; for example, the unpopular Saducees were an elite aristocratic power group who did not even believe in a general resurrection of the dead. They were a small minority, though. The Pharisees did believe in a general resurrection and most common people theologically aligned with them on a large host of issues. We know why many of these working class folks, such as fishermen and tax collectors, changed their theological convictions – it was because they claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Many of them give their reasons and we have many of their stories documented – in a first century Jewish Christian work now called The New Testament.

Although we have the seen the foolishness of discounting the Gospels as historically reliable, I do want to briefly mention some writings of the early church dealing with the resurrection so we can look at some early evidence for the resurrection outside of the NT.

One early non-canonical Christian source – I Clement – is highly significant because it is so early – 96 AD. This means Clement was writing contemporaneously with the last author of the NT itself – John. Some folks who deny the bodily resurrection as the central early Christian belief will say resurrection belief evolved and grew later. But here we have Clement, writing from Rome, attesting to this belief several times in his little letter. NT Wright, who wrote a whole chapter on the resurrection in non-canonical early Christian texts had this to say about Clement:

"Clement is quite clear that the future resurrection is based upon the resurrection of Jesus himself." [1]

Another clear example of resurrection belief outside the NT was Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote around 107 AD:

"For I know and believe that after the resurrection he was in the flesh. … After the resurrection he ate and drank with them as a fleshly being …" (Smyrn 3.1-3).

Wright provides a longer list and more precise exposition that shows resurrection belief was indeed alive and well outside of the NT from the first century on.

Those were from Christian sources and very clear about belief in the resurrection. These next two are from non-Christian sources and are not very clear. I would not build an entire case around them. Still, they are worthy to mention as a sort of ‘closing excursus’.

A governor in Asia Minor named Pliny the Younger, writing around 112 AD, relates some information he has learned about Christians (via torture):

"They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god…"

The phrase ‘certain fixed day’ refers to Sunday and is proof from a non-NT source that early Christians met on a specific day and then worshipped Jesus as a god." Historically, we know the certain day would be Sunday – in honor of the event of the resurrection. As a side note, Pliny’s statement "as to a god" implies “unlike other gods who were worshipped, Christ was a person who had lived on earth.” [2]

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote this about Jesus:

"Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. . ."

Tacitus reports the Christians had derived their name from a historical person, Christus (from the Latin). His details about Jesus’ crucifixion comport to the NT record. But there’s something else here: what of the odd statement by Tacitus where he says this “most mischievous superstition,” was "checked for the moment" but then it "again broke out not only in Judaea, but also in Rome?" One historian thinks Tacitus is “bearing indirect . . . testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave." [3] We can’t be certain, of course, but that would help explain how a movement based upon a disgraced criminal could have spread to the capital so quickly.

NOTES:
[1]N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 483.
[2] M. Harris, “References to Jesus in Early Classical Authors,” in Gospel Perspectives V, 354-55.
[3] N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale, 1969), 19.

Resurrection Debate – Question #3 From Vocab With Tim’s Response

Q3. What kind of evidence would it take to convince you that Jesus bodily rose from the dead? Please explain why you chose this particular criterion. Would you honestly say you are objective in regards to your reading of the historical evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus?

A3. I truly think that any event like the resurrection from this period in time would be difficult to prove conclusively. It’s simply too long ago, and the narrative style of the day too prone to distortion. Even if an unambiguous extra-Biblical contemporary resurrection account could be found, it would still need to be dated reliably and so forth (even though such an account would surely get my attention!).

However, there are some consequences if the Christian creed is true. Then the resurrection not only took place, but Jesus is an omnipotent being occupied with the salvation of those who accept him as saviour. This is something that could conceivably be proven at any time and therefore, retroactively, prove the truthfulness of the Gospels and thus the resurrection. This could – as an example – be a miraculous event like the stars suddenly spelling out “ACCEPT JESUS AS YOUR PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOUR AND ESCAPE THE FIRES OF HELL!” and the gates of Hell and Heaven being opened to touring visitors. This miracle would convert 1,000,000 times as many people as any number of missionaries and preachers in one swift move, and it would provide proof anyone could accept. I choose this type of proof because it is open to objective and independent analysis and removes the element of faith, which is a generator of false positives like no other. I don’t choose it to be facetious. If it seems absolutely absurd, it may be because we have gotten used to not expecting omnipotent things from an omnipotent god…

I have never read any historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, so I can not assess any objectivity. The resurrection stories in the Gospels and that one dodgy passage from Josephus fail any objective standard of historicity, which is exactly why you don’t read about the resurrection in history books as if it were a historical fact.

Resurrection Debate – Question #3 From Tim With Vocab’s Response

Q3. You have been quite emphatic about your claim that the resurrection story happens in a sort of idea vacuum; that it is inconceivable that any of the Gospel writers could have had any cultural outside influence while writing the Gospels. Yet, you point out correctly that the Jews were waiting for a God-man to save them, and indeed, there were many contenders to the throne at the time. Also, ancient texts are notorious for their fictionalizing to create a compelling narrative structure. The intellectually honest thing to do – and the default position of historians – on any text from this time, secular or religious, is therefore to analyse it critically with regards to these problems. You have claimed repeatedly that it is too much of a stretch to do so.

What actual evidence (not mere armchair speculation) do you have for your positive claim that the Gospels are literally trustworthy in form and content in such a landscape, and that they should therefore be exempt from such critical scrutiny? And why would texts such as the Illiad, the Quran or the book of Mormon NOT be exempt for the same reasons?

A3. I never said the resurrection story arose in an idea vacuum. It most certainly arose within a certain cultural framework and plausibility structure; that of first century Palestinian Judaism. The problem is Tim keeps on wanting to posit the wrong context over Christian resurrection belief so as to make his case ‘work’. I am not saying it is simply a ‘stretch’ for him to do this, I am saying it is wholly incorrect and completely amiss for him to do this. It has been easily demonstrated by current mainstream scholarship that this is the case and I think it has also been demonstrated in this particular debate.

Please note, I never said the Gospels should be exempt from critical scrutiny. In fact, one way we know how incredibly accurate they are is because they have been exposed to so much critical scrutiny. I think it would be accurate to say that no other ancient work has received so much critical scrutiny as the Gospels. The amazing thing is they have come out vindicated time and time again.

Lastly, for Tim to put the Gospels in the same league as The Quran or the Book of Mormon serves as a reminder to all of us reading this that Tim is unfamiliar with modern archaeology and historiography. Either that, or he is unfamiliar with these other works, especially the Book of Mormon (my understanding is that even The Illiad fares better, as it seems to have some actual history and geography in it).

Resurrection Debate – Question #2 From Vocab With Tim’s Response

Q2. Can you give your own brief definition of ‘miracle’? Why do you define it that way? Do you think miracles are possible? Why or why not?

A2. A miracle cannot be defined outside of culture. If a group of people observe, or examine evidence of, a certain event and are unable to explain this event in terms of the explanatory tools they have at their disposal, then this event is a miracle to these people. Rain would be a miracle to primitive peoples. An iPhone would be a miracle to 13th century scholars. This definition of miracle does not require the event itself to be supernatural, simply unexplainable. It also allows event formerly classed as miracles to be re-evaluated as explicable events at a later date. I imagine that I am not in the majority when I use this definition, but I think it is a reasonable one.

Any miraculous event needs to be evaluated by its own merits, and examined using the best tools of the day. The reason the age of miracles is over is because our tools of analysis and understanding are becoming more honed. In an age where most people experienced miracles many times during a lifetime, people would tell stories of miracles, amplify them (miracles, by their very nature, need not be plausible or comprenhesible and therefore suffer litte risk of fact-checking) and pass them along, thus causing the plethora of supernatural legends from that age. This still happens in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, as an example, and for much the same reasons.

Resurrection Debate – Question #2 From Tim With Vocab’s Response

Q2. You mention in your rebuttal the fair and true point that creeds evolve over time, and that the pertinent question is not when the faith started, but when a particular *idea* within a faith came about. The earliest christian writings, i.e. Paul and Mark 1:1-16:8, make no mention of bodily resurrection. Indeed, Paul speaks to Jesus only in an ethereal vision. Later writings become more and more emphatic about the “fleshiness” of the resurrected Jesus, to the point of groping his feet and wounds and feeding him fish. This indicates to me that the bodily resurrection is a later addition to the resurrection story. Can you provide me with solid evidence that the concept of a BODILY resurrection has been present in Christianity since its inception?

A2. It is incorrect to say Paul makes no mention of a bodily resurrection, as the previous answer demonstrates. Furthermore, Jewish belief at the time does not allow for any other kind of resurrection except a physical ‘standing up among the corpses’ type of resurrection. All one needs to do to see what kind of resurrection Paul meant is refer to a Greek lexicon. To see this point being illustrated superbly in a debate, check out the pertinent section in Richard Carrier’s debate against William Lane Craig at Northwestern Missouri State University in 2009. You will see it is hopeless to argue against the physicality Paul uses in regards to Jesus’ resurrection.

Further, Mark does mention the resurrection! He mentions Jesus’ resurrection 4 times explicitly – Mark 8:31, 9:9-10, 9:31, 10:34 – and two times implicitly – Mark 14:28 and 16:6. A notable fact about some of these resurrection related statements is that a number of them include the phrase ‘Son of Man,’ which is undoubtedly a phrase that goes back to Jesus himself.[1] Another indicator that certain portions of Mark are ultra early is the pre-Markan Passion narrative. Here, Mark talks about the high priest but does not mention him by name (14:53-63) – this makes it likely that Caiaphas was still the high priest when this section originated so there would be no need to state his name. The latest date for this tradition is 37 AD because Caiphas was the high priest from 18-37 AD.

Lastly, Tim makes it plain in his question he thinks Mark and Paul leave out bodily resurrection but that Matthew, Luke and John include it. Is he seriously asking us to believe that bodily resurrection managed to simply creep into Christianity between the years of 65 (when Mark was written) and 70 (when Matthew was written)?

[1] This phrase – Son of Man – even passes all of the idiosyncratic criteria laid out by the Jesus Seminar. Nonetheless, they reject it because it suggests a Messianic consciousness, which they will not ‘allow’.

Resurrection Debate – Question #1 From Vocab With Tim’s Response

Q1. Do you believe Jesus existed as a historical person? If so, what do you think we can know that’s historically probable about him? Why do you think this?

A1. I don’t really think we have enough evidence either way. The arguments for and against are equally convincing to me, but I don’t think it’s important. The Christianity we have came from traditions and theologies from the early Christians and those ideas are the ones that matter, historically. Nobody knows exactly who the earliest Christians were – the history is simply lost. But the ideas attributed to Jesus were, and still are, hugely influential. That is the main thing, which I could wish Christians could focus on. The ideas are in no way devalued by conceding that the person who said them might not have been an all-powerful God.

Resurrection Debate – Question #1 From Tim With Vocab’s Response

Q1. Much of this debate has centered on sociology rather than evidence from both sides (from my side, about the nature of belief, from yours, about the likely behaviour of early Christians and about transfer of religious ideas). I agree with you that we need more history. So, name your single best piece of primary historical evidence for the resurrection. Can you also give a reason why you chose that particular piece of evidence over all others, and why you think it’s the best?

A1. A particularly good piece of evidence for the resurrection can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

I believe Paul wrote all thirteen epistles attributed to him. Most ‘critical’ scholars think he wrote seven: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians and Philemon. These same critical scholars recognize there are primitive creedal statements – such as the aforementioned passage – within these documents (another example is Philippians 2:5-11, read an article on that here). 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 has been almost universally recognized as an early pre-Pauline creedal statement. Here is why this matters: 1 Corinthians is usually dated around 54 AD, which is early, but the creed is even earlier. Here is a likely timeline:

30 AD – Crucifixion
31 AD – The creed is first formed
34 AD – Paul’s conversion
37 AD – Paul confirms creed from Peter, James and John in Jerusalem [1]
55 AD – 1 Corinthians written

This is using conservative numbers, meaning it could even be earlier. Either way, this puts us right on top of the actual event of the resurrection. The upshot is that the creed originated far too early for legend and myth to have crept in. There are a number of technical details that solidify this creed as early: for example, it uses the Aramaic name for Peter, Cephas, and leaves out the women as witnesses; both of these facts demonstrate its antiquity. Only a person with limited knowledge of current NT scholarship can doubt these facts. The evidence is so compelling that uber-skeptic and NT scholar Robert Price uses an ad hoc argument against it, claiming the creed is a late interpolation, even though there is no literary evidence of this.

Gary Habermas writes the following (source):

Whenever these early sources are also derived from eyewitnesses who actually participated in some of the events, this provides one of the strongest evidences possible. Historian David Hackett Fischer dubs this ‘the rule of immediacy’ and terms it ‘the best relevant evidence’. When scholars have ancient sources that are both very early and based on eyewitness testimony, they have a combination that is very difficult to dismiss….This is even conceded by atheist scholar Michael Martin. [2]

[1] The way we know about Paul’s Jerusalem meeting is via Galatians 1:11-24 and Galatians 2:1-10. Galatians is another book even critical scholars recognized as being authentically Pauline.
[2] Of course, Martin merely believes Paul thought he saw the risen Jesus.