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.

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About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

8 thoughts on “Resurrection Debate – Question #1 From Tim With Vocab’s Response

  1. If 1 Cor. 15:3-5 is “the single best piece of primary historical evidence for the resurrection,” I think the case for the resurrection cannot be very strong. I think a historian has to be troubled by the fact that Paul does not give any indication that he knows when or where the crucifixion occurred, the fact that he seems to know very little about what Jesus said or did during his life, and the fact that the only source Paul cites for what he does know about Jesus is divine revelation.

  2. Vinny -

    Do you doubt the antiquity or authenticity of the creed? If so, why?

    In light of your claim that Paul “seems to know very little about what Jesus said or did during his life” what do you make of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25?

    Also, since you said that “the only source Paul cites for what he does know about Jesus is divine revelation,” how do you interpret Galatians 2:1-10?

    Just curious…
    vocab

  3. Vocab,

    I don’t doubt that the beliefs underlying the creed date back to the beginning of Paul’s conversion and the beginning of his ministry. I don’t know whether Paul is claiming that that particular creedal formulation goes back that far. However, Paul never says anything to indicate where or when the crucifixion took place. Those kind of historical facts are not part of the creed.

    I make of 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 that it is the only point at which Paul purports to directly quote the words of Jesus and that Paul never mentions his miracles or other activities. I also note that Paul doesn’t say that he was told about these words by someone who was at that supper. Rather, he says it is something that he received from the Lord.

    In Galatians 2:6, Paul says that “those men added nothing to my message” which his consistent with his claims in Galatians 1:11-12 that the gospel he preached came directly to him by divine revelation rather than learning it from any man.

  4. Vinny -

    Is it your position that Paul actually did not know when or where Jesus was crucified?

    Also, do you believe Paul quoted a section from the Lord’s Supper narrative and had none of the surrounding Passion narrative at his disposal? Do you think that is possible?

    Lastly, how do you reconcile your position with 1 Tim 6:13, which reads, “Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession”?

    Thx
    Vocab

  5. Vocab,

    It is my position that we are unable to say when or where Paul thought Jesus was crucified because he does not indicate what he thought about the question.

    I do not know whether Paul’s reference to the Eucharistic meal comes from a longer narrative or whether the longer narrative was a later expansion of Paul’s description. I think it is possible that prior to his conversion, Paul learned of a ritual meal that was celebrated by the sect that he was persecuting and that his understanding of that meal was something he believed to be a part of his revelation. On the other hand, I think it is also possible that Paul learned about the meal from someone who was in attendance. I don’t think that Paul gives us sufficient information to definitively choose one possibility over the other.

    If 1 Timothy was actually written by Paul, that would certainly undermine my position. Of course, as you noted, many scholars do not believe that the pastorals are genuinely Pauline. Once again, there are multiple possibilities.

  6. Vinny,

    The case against the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy is weak and wasn’t even mounted until the 19th century. The reasons against Paul’s authorship are subjective, arbitrary, and primarily internally based (ecclesiological development, vocabulary, literary style). The external case for Pauline authorship is strong indeed. Consider:

    1. Irenaeus explicitly cites the letter as Pauline.
    2. There are quotations/allusions from the letter in Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and possibly even 1 Clement.
    3. Early forgers only very rarely forged PERSONAL letters to an individual.
    4. It is always grouped w/the Pauline corpus in early codices (except P46, which is incomplete).

    Textual critic Gordon Fee asks an interesting question in regards to the Pauline authorship of the three ‘disputed’ Pastoral epistles:

    “If one can make a good case for [the occasion of] 1 Timothy [outside the lifetime of Paul], it is equally difficult to understand why then the author also wrote Titus, and above all why, given the alleged reasons for 1 Timothy, [he wrote] 2 Timothy—it simply does not fit those reasons”.

    Later, Fee asks: “Why three letters? For example, why write Titus or 1 Timothy, given one or the other, and why from such a considerably different perspective and historical context? And why 2 Timothy at all, since it fails so badly to fit the proposed reconstruction?”.
    [SOURCE: http://bible.org/seriespage/1-timothy-introduction-argument-outline

    vocab

  7. Vocab,

    It is my position that we are unable to say when or where Paul thought Jesus was crucified because he does not indicate what he thought about the question.

    I do not know whether Paul’s reference to the Eucharistic meal comes from a longer narrative or whether the longer narrative was a later expansion of Paul’s description. I think it is possible that prior to his conversion, Paul learned of a ritual meal that was celebrated by the sect that he was persecuting and that his understanding of that meal was something he believed to be a part of his revelation. On the other hand, I think it is also possible that Paul learned about the meal from someone who was in attendance. I don’t think that Paul gives us sufficient information to definitively choose one possibility over the other.

    If 1 Timothy was actually written by Paul, that would certainly undermine my position. Of course, as you noted, many scholars do not believe that the pastorals are genuinely Pauline. Once again, there are multiple possibilities.

  8. Vocab,

    Since you linked to Dan Wallace’s article, you surely realize that he thinks, “The authorship of the so-called “pastoral epistles” (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) is more questionable than any other letters in the corpus Paulinum.” It is clearly an issue upon which reasonable minds might differ.

    Moreover, why is the fact that the case wasn’t mounted until the 19th century relevant? Is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity any less valid simply because no one proposed it prior to the 20th century? Prior to the 19th century, few scholars asked those kind of questions about the Bible.

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