Did Jesus Commend Faith That Is Blind?

You don’t have to read much of Cold-Case Christianity to realize I’m an evidentialist. The title usually gives it away. As a result, my inbox is filled with email from people who want to convince me that true faith is independent of evidence.

Many of them point to the well-known passage in John chapter 20 where Thomas expresses his doubt that Jesus has been resurrected. When Jesus presented Himself to Thomas, He made an important statement that is occasionally offered as an affirmation of some form of “blind faith”:

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been [f]shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Faith Blind

Without any other context to understand what Jesus believed about the relationship between evidence and faith, this single sentence (“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”) does sound like an endorsement of faith independent of evidential support. But context changes everything. Like other declarations offered by Jesus, this statement has to be reconciled with everything else Jesus said and did before we can truly understand what He believed about the role of evidence.

As it turns out, the Apostle John wrote more about Jesus’ evidential approach than any other Gospel author. According to John, Jesus repeatedly offered the evidence of His miracles to verify his identity and told His observers that this evidence was sufficient:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)

“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

“…the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about Me,
that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)

John frequently described Jesus as someone who offered the evidence of his miraculous power to demonstrate His Deity. In fact, the passage describing Thomas’ doubt is also an affirmation of an evidential faith, if it is read in its entirety:

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:25-31)

John makes an important statement right after the line that is typically offered to “demonstrate” Jesus’ alleged affirmation of a non-evidential faith: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples…” What? Blessed are those who did not see and yet believed, therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples? Do you see the contradiction here? Why would Jesus continue to provide evidence if those who believe without evidence are supposed to be blessed? The answer is found, once again, in the Gospel of John. In Jesus’ famous prayer to the Father, he prayed for unity and He carefully included those of us who would become Christians long after Jesus ascended into Heaven:

“I do not ask on behalf of these (the disciples) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)

Jesus is talking here about all the people (like you and me) who will believe in Jesus not because of what we will see with our own eyes but because of what the disciples saw and recorded as eyewitnesses (“their word”). Yes, Thomas was blessed to believe on the basis of what he saw, but how much more blessed are those who will someday believe, not on the basis of what they will see, but on the basis of what the disciples saw and faithfully recorded. Jesus understood the value of evidence and continually provided “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:2-3) to His followers so they could record their observations and change the world with their testimony. Jesus commended this process; His words to Thomas were not an affirmation of “blind faith”.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 3-The Biblical and Theological Arguments)

By Brian Chilton

For the previous couple of weeks, we have looked into the veritability of the empty tomb hypothesis; that is, that the tomb of Jesus was literally found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We have already confirmed historically that the tomb was found empty due to the burial practices of the first-century Jews and also due to the numerous times that Romans allowed clemency for the families to bury the victims of crucifixion especially during the days of Emperor Tiberius (things radically changed in this regard with Emperor Caligula). We have also noted the failure of alternate viewpoints in explaining away the empty tomb. In this article, we will conclude our research as we investigate the biblical and theological arguments for the empty tomb. The biblical argument will ask the question, “Did the early church really believe that the tomb was found empty the first Easter Sunday?” The theological argument will weigh how much Christian theology revolves around the empty tomb hypothesis. Why would the early church value these important attributes of Jesus if the tomb still held the body of Jesus?

The Biblical Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Did the early church believe that the tomb was empty? Scholars hold that strewn throughout the pages of the New Testament are ancient traditions. These ancient traditions predate the writing of the New Testament and represent the beliefs of the earliest church. Gary Habermas notes that some of the passages considered to be ancient traditions in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “receiving scholarly attention are 1 Corinthians 11:26…Acts, especially 2:22-36, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, 30-31; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; [and] 1 Peter 3:18.”[1] In addition to these passages, Habermas also notes that “Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:20-47; Luke 23:26-56; [and] John 19:16-42”[2] represent ancient traditions that date to the time of the earliest church. Licona adds Romans 6:4 to the forum.[3] Of the numerous traditions listed, the paper will evaluate only two that pertain most directly to the empty tomb: the original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8),[4] and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Scholarly consensus along with evidence in the earliest manuscripts indicates that Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8. Whereas Mark 16:1-8 does not enjoy the consensus that some of the other traditions hold, Licona notes that there “appear to be close similarities between the four-line formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and other passages such as Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.”[5] If Licona is correct, then one can argue that Mark 16:1-7 holds nearly the same force, being an early tradition, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seemingly enjoys. Seeing 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 enjoys strong consensus that the text relates a tradition that dates back to the earliest church, a fact that will be addressed later in this section.

Nevertheless, Mark 16:1-7 provides evidence that Mark believed that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Mark notes that the women “went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). The women wondered who would roll away the large stone from the tomb (Mark 16:3). The women noticed that “the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4). The women “entered the tomb” (Mark 16:5). The women had an angelophany where an angel announced they sought “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women left the tomb with great fear (Mark 16:7). Review the information provided in the text. The women came to the tomb, acknowledging that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb. The women entered the tomb expecting to see the body of Jesus. The women had an angelophany in the tomb where it was announced that Jesus had risen, noting that the tomb was empty. The women left with great fear because the tomb was empty. Thus, Mark’s original ending demands the existence of an empty tomb. It was noted earlier that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 holds universal scholarly consensus as being an ancient tradition. Does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 afford any insight to the existence of an empty tomb?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a tradition that Paul received from the church “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[6] Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is of great historical value. The tradition also allows for the empty tomb hypothesis. The tradition notes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-5). The structure of the tradition assumes that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Craig notes that the reference to the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 makes “it very difficult to regard Jesus’ burial in the tomb as unhistorical, given the age of the tradition (AD 30-6), for there was not sufficient time for legend concerning the burial to significantly accrue.”[7] It notes that Jesus physically died. Jesus was physically buried. Jesus physically raised from death. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, demanding that the previous place of burial was left empty. Therefore, the empty tomb holds biblical support with early church traditions demonstrating that the early church believed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So, what theological value does this hold?

The Theological Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Thus far, the paper has evaluated the evidence for the empty tomb hypothesis. William Lane Craig notes that the evidence for the empty tomb “is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.”[8]However, one must ask, what value does the empty tomb hypothesis hold for the overall scope of Christian theology?

First, the empty tomb serves to demonstrate the divine nature of Christ. The empty tomb serves as evidence for the resurrection. The resurrection serves as evidence of Jesus’ deity. Millard Erickson denotes that “to Jews of Jesus’ time, his resurrection would have signified divinity, we must ask about the evidence for it.”[9] Norman Geisler states that “while the empty tomb in and of itself is not proof of the resurrection, it is an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Jesus).”[10]

Also, the empty tomb provides evidence that God will fulfill the teachings and promises given through Christ, especially that Christ will one day return. Perhaps Paul says it best when he notes that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Theologically, the entire basis of the Christian faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is verified. Furthermore, if Christ was raised from the dead, then obviously one clearly concludes that the tomb which housed his body was emptied of his physical presence.

Conclusion

The empty tomb hypothesis holds great weight historically, biblically, and theologically. Secular naturalism does not offer any appropriate alternatives. If one is to follow the evidence where it leads, one must note that the disciples encountered an empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday. While it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, it is highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Yet, the empty tomb did not transform the disciples. The encounters the disciples had with the risen Jesus empowered the disciples with great courage and boldness. The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Christ has been raised from death and that each person can have an encounter with the risen Jesus by simply calling upon his name. The empty tomb also reminds humanity that Jesus came, Jesus left, and one day Jesus will return.

 

Visit Brian’s Website: BellatorChristi.com

 Copyright, March 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.


 

  Notes

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 39, 65n.

[2] Ibid., 39, 66n.

[3] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 222.

[4] While the ending of Mark is not listed among the early traditions, scholars generally hold to the primacy of Mark’s Gospel as it represents the earliest of the Gospels. Thus Mark represents the earliest tradition in the Gospel narratives.

[5] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 321.

[6] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 53.

[7] Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds. The Resurrection, 253.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 371.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 710.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 1512.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

 

The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions

Sean McDowell, Ph.D.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings—or it is the most remarkable fact of history.” My father has often shared these words to me in person, and he’s written them in his books. The older I get, the more I realize they’re unmistakably true. There’s no middle ground with the resurrection of Jesus. Either it is a colossal fabrication or the most important event in history.

With Good Friday coming soon, many people are thinking about the resurrection. Is it true? What does it mean? Why should I care? In this short post, I have a modest goal: to persuade you of the monumental importance of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, I consider three massive questions that the resurrection, if it is true, answers.

 

  1. Does God Exist?

If Jesus has risen from the grave, and truly conquered death 2,000 years ago, then this seems to be powerful evidence for the existence of God. After all, a resurrection would require an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of knowledge. Nature does not have the resources to account for a resurrection any more than a feather can account for a dent in a car (unless it’s a Chevy). There must be a supernatural explanation.

 

Commenting on Jesus’ claims to deity, Gary Habermas observes, “But were these claims true? To verify them, the Gospels assert that Jesus performed miracles as signs of his credibility. We are even told that he identified his resurrection and predicted in advance that this event would be the ultimate vindication of his message and his own claim to deity. The sum of these teachings comprised Jesus’s personal belief in Christian theism. It makes sense that Jesus was in the best position to interpret the meaning of this event. And he claimed that God’s action in his resurrection would verify his teachings. We need to entertain at least the possibility that Jesus was correct: that this unique historical event combined with Jesus’s unique claims might indicate that his theistic worldview was corroborated.[1]

 

If Jesus rose from the grave, then it seems to provide a positive answer to one of the most pressing issues humans ask—does God exist?

 

  1. Which Religion Is True?

If the resurrection actually took place in historical space-time, then all other religions and philosophies for coping with life fall short. This doesn’t mean other religions are entirely false in everything they teach. Many religions offer profound insights about life. But it does mean that on core issues—the nature of God, salvation and the afterlife—Christianity is uniquely true. And on the flip side, as Paul observes, if the resurrection is not true, then Christianity is utterly false (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

 

Jesus encouraged people to believe in him because of both his teachings and his miracles (e.g. John 5:36-40; Luke 10:13-15). He seemed to view miracles as providing a divine seal on his own ministry. For instance, Jesus reportedly told the Jewish leaders that his miracles were proof that he was the Son of God (John 10:36-38). On another occasion, Jesus pointed to his resurrection as the greatest sign that would confirm his identity (Matthew 16:1-4). Again, Gary Habermas observes:

 

In what the Book of Acts presents as its initial sermon, Peter reportedly declared that Jesus’s miracles, and especially the resurrection, were the chief indication that God had approved Jesus’s teachings (Acts 2:23-32)…By citing an early creed that utilizes at least three Christological titles, Paul proclaimed that the resurrection was God’s confirmation of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:3-4)…the resurrection would have been taken as God’s approval of Jesus’s message.”[2]

 

  1. Is There Life After Death

How could we really know if there is life after death? In the 1990 science-fiction thriller Flatliners, some medical students want to know if there is life after death. Instead of studying religion or philosophy, they decide to flatline one another’s hearts, resuscitate themselves back to life, and then give a report on what happens in the afterlife. While morbid, their thinking does make sense—if we want to know what’s on the other side of life, we should ask someone who has been there and come back.

 

If the resurrection is true, then Jesus has actually returned from the dead and can confirm that there is life after death. In John 14:3, Jesus says to his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (ESV). In other words, Jesus can testify about life after death because he has died, and then returned to life as a witness. Thus, if the resurrection is true, then life continues after death, just as Jesus taught.

 

Can you see how important the resurrection is? Again, either it is a colossal fabrication, or it is the most important event in history. There’s no middle ground.

 

If you haven’t really considered the evidence, then today should be the day. Maybe start by checking out this short piece I wrote with William Lane Craig: “Can I get a Witness?

Leave us a comment about: The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions


 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 66-67.

[2] Ibid., 91.

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 2: Historical Evidence)

By Brian Chilton

The previous section examined the arguments posed against the empty tomb hypothesis. The blog demonstrated in the first article that the arguments against the empty tomb hypothesis fail greatly. This article will provide a historical argument for the empty tomb hypothesis. If the Gospels are correct in that the tomb was truly empty on the first Easter Sunday, then one would expect to find that the ancient burial practices of first-century Judaism would match the type of burial that is presented in the Christian tradition. Did people in first-century Palestine bury their dead tombs like the “new tomb…cut in the rock” (Matthew 27:60)?

The canonical Gospels’ account of Jesus’ burial indeed matches the burial practices of first-century Palestine. Elwell and Beitzel denote that “Bodies were buried in tombs, that is, natural caves or rock-hewn sepulchers, such as that belonging to Joseph of Arimathea where the body of Jesus was laid (Mt. 27:59, 60), as well as in shallow graves covered with rock heaps serving both to mark them and to prevent desecration of the body by animals.”[1] Thus, even if Jesus had been buried in a shallow grave, the practices of the time did not readily allow easy access to predators. Yet, as it was noted earlier, it is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would invent Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Evangelists would invent the empty tomb especially due to the use of a rock-hewn tombs at the time.

N. T. Wright notes that “the burial so carefully described in the gospels was, as we would expect in first-century Palestinian Judaism, the initial stage of a two-stage burial.”[2]Families would bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb. The families would prepare the body with spices. Then after a year, the family would return to gather the bones of the departed and place them in a family ossuary.[3] Why did they conduct this practice? Wright, paraphrasing Eric M. Meyers work, notes that “secondary burial…reflects a belief in a continuing nephesh, [sic] enabling the bones to provide ‘at least a shadow of their strength in life’, with the mortal remains constituting ‘the very essence of that person in death.’”[4]Since the Evangelists’ description of the burial of Jesus matches the practices of first-century Palestinian Judaism, the empty tomb hypothesis again strengthens. But, would Pilate have granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea?

JamesOssuary-1-
This ossuary holds an inscription that it is the burial box belonging to James, the brother of Jesus–traditionally held to be the writer of the Epistle of James and early leader of the church.

History demonstrates that the Romans often granted clemency under certain circumstances. Craig Evans notes that Septimius Vegetus, governor of Egypt; Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; and an inscription from Ephesus all demonstrate that Roman officials often provided various acts of clemency towards various condemned individuals.[5] Evans goes on to say,

 This mercy at times extended to those who had been crucified. Clemency sometimes was occasioned by a holiday, whether Roman or a local non-Roman holiday, or simply out of political expediency, whatever the motivation. We actually have evidence that Roman justice not only allowed for the executed to be buried, but it even encouraged it in some instances.[6]

Therefore, one will find that history provides ample evidence that not only did Palestinian Jews bury in accordance to the method prescribed by the Evangelists, but also that the Romans provided clemency for the body of the condemned to be given to the family to bury. If one remembers that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred during Passover when the bodies of the condemned were not to be allowed to remain on the cross (John 19:31), then the empty tomb hypothesis gains further merit.

This section has reviewed the historical data that confirms the empty tomb hypothesis. However, one must also query whether evidence exists that the early church believed that Jesus’ was placed in a tomb and that the tomb was found empty on the following Sunday. That topic will be evaluated in the forthcoming article next week.

Visit Brian’s Website: BellatorChristi.com

Copyright, March 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 


 

Notes

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 386.

[2] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 707.

[3] Ossuaries were burial boxes where the bones of several family members could be kept after their bodies had mostly decomposed.

[4] Eric M. Meyers, “Secondary Burials in Palestine,” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 15, 26, in Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 91.

[5] Craig Evans, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 75.

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 1: Arguments Against the Empty Tomb)

By Brian Chilton

Surprising as it may seem, several aspects of the life, death, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars, both evangelical and secular alike. In his book The Historical Jesus, Gary Habermas provides twelve minimal facts about Jesus that nearly all scholars agree, but that the empty tomb is “not as widely accepted, [even still] many scholars hold that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.”[1] Why is the empty tomb not as widely a held fact by scholars as other aspects of Jesus’ life? Seeing that scholars agree that “the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus,”[2] would an empty tomb not be implied? It would seem so. William Lane Craig notes that “if the burial story is basically accurate, the site of Jesus’ tomb would have been known to Jew and Christian alike.”[3]

Therefore, this blog will defend the hypothesis that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty on the first Easter morning, demonstrating that it coincides with the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead in a physical and literal body. To demonstrate such a case, the blog will first evaluate arguments offered against the empty tomb hypothesis. Next, the blog will provide historical reasons for holding that an empty tomb was possible. Then, the blog will assess the early church’s belief that the tomb was empty. Did the early church believe the tomb to be empty or was it a later legendary fabrication as some argue? Finally, the blog will evaluate the theological reasoning behind accepting the empty tomb hypothesis. The forthcoming section will first weigh the arguments provided against the empty tomb hypothesis.

Arguments Against the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

As noted in the introduction of the blog, many scholars concede that the disciples saw something on the first Easter morning, although differences exist as to what it is believed that the disciples witnessed. One would assume that an empty tomb would be implied. However, scholars do not always concede that the tomb was actually empty. Part of this skepticism comes from the apparent brief ending of Mark’s Gospel. Most scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel ended with verse 8 with the words, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).[4] Daniel Smith argues that “Several features of Mark’s Empty Tomb narrative (Mark 16:1-8) suggest the possibility that it could have been understood as an assumption story, particularly in view of the fact that Mark describes no appearance of the risen Jesus.”[5] Even if Smith is correct, one would still have to acknowledge the words of the angel who said to the women at the tomb, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The blog will address Mark 16 in a later section. So, how is it that skeptical scholars evade the empty tomb hypothesis? Antagonists to the empty tomb propose one of the following three arguments: the tomb was empty due to a conspiracy by the Christians, no actual burial took place, or the disciples simply traveled to the wrong tomb. While other naturalistic views exist, these three most directly affect the empty tomb hypothesis. The blog will now examine these proposals in greater depth.

Conspiracy by the Christians

The first theory against the empty tomb is the oldest. Matthew records that some of the soldiers who witnessed the resurrection came to the Jewish elders and told them what had occurred. The leaders then said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Matthew 28:13). It is difficult to fathom why the disciples would desire to steal Jesus’ body and proclaim him risen all the while claiming that they were promoting the truth. Two problems immediately emerge with the stolen body theory.

First, resurrection as one finds it in the New Testament was not anticipated in the era of Second Temple Judaism. N. T. Wright notes that “‘Resurrection’ in its literal sense belongs at one point on the much larger spectrum of Jewish beliefs about life after death; in its political, metaphorical sense it belongs on a spectrum of views about the future which YHWH was promising to Israel. The hope that YHWH would restore Israel provided the goal.”[6] Wright adds insight to Martha’s acknowledgement in that she believed that her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24) when Jesus stated that her “brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Richard Miller accurately notes that “most scholars have failed to classify properly how Mark’s ‘empty tomb’ narrative would have registered in its Mediterranean milieu. Indeed, it would have been the body’s absence, not its presence, that would have signaled the provocative moment for the ancient reader.”[7] If the early Christians were not expecting a physical resurrection of Jesus during their time, then why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus in the first place? But, another reason cuts away at the foundation of the stolen body theory.

Second, conspiracies generally collapse when the conspirators are challenged. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist homicide detective turned Christian apologist, notes that successful conspiracies share the following attributes: “A small number of conspirators…Thorough and immediate communication…A short time span…Significant relational connections…Little or no pressure.”[8] Wallace adds that the “ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime. That’s a conspiracy that would be awfully hard to break!”[9] Since the disciples faced brutal deaths and never stopped proclaiming Jesus as risen, the empty tomb hypothesis is strengthened. In addition, Kreeft and Tacelli add that the “disciples’ character argues strongly against such a conspiracy on the part of all of them, with no dissenters.”[10]Since the stolen body theory is the oldest, it was given more attention than the remaining antagonistic theories. Nevertheless, some hold that Jesus was never buried at all.

No Burial

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman eludes the problems found with the stolen body theory by promoting the idea that Jesus was never buried in the first place. Ehrman believes that scholars must decipher the Gospels “with a critical eye to determine which stories, and which parts of stories, are historically accurate with respect to the historical Jesus, and which represent later embellishments by his devoted followers.”[11] As it pertains to the empty tomb, Ehrman is led to believe that Jesus was never buried and that “the tradition that there was a specific, known person who buried Jesus appears to have been a later one.”[12] Another variation of this argument is propagated by John Dominick Crossan and posits that Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and was “dug up, and eaten by dogs.”[13]Crossan’s argument is basically rendering a variant of the theory that Ehrman proposed. Is there any evidence that Jesus was buried? Since the blog will handle historical reasons to believe that an empty tomb existed, the blog will provide such an answer in the forthcoming section of the blog.

Suffice it to say, it seems unreasonable that the disciples would invent a tomb that could be verified by the people living in the area at the time. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 contains early eyewitness testimony that predates the New Testament, a fact that nearly every scholar concedes. Licona denotes that “the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is quite early, very probably based on eyewitness testimony, and is multiply attested in term of a general outline of the sequence of events.”[14] How interesting it is that the tradition includes the words that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4, emphasis mine). If it is true that the tradition of 1 Corinthians 15 dates to the earliest church, then the idea that Jesus was buried cannot be a product of late legendary development.

Wrong Tomb

Another theory holds that the disciples were truly innocent in their claims, but sadly mistaken. The wrong tomb theory, as Geisler illustrates, holds that “the Roman or Jewish authorities took the body from the tomb to another place, leaving the tomb empty.”[15] This theory is simple to dismiss. If the Romans and/or Jewish authorities knew where the body of Christ lie, the authorities would simply have presented the body thus killing the Christian movement from the outset. Note that the disciples began preaching in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus had been crucified and buried, a mere fifty days after the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:14). In addition, Geisler and Turek note that the Gospel writers “record that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council that had sentenced Jesus to die for blasphemy. This is not an event they would have made up.”[16] If the early Christians had a connection with Joseph of Arimathea, then any move by the Romans and/or Jewish authorities would have been noted by Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, this theory fails miserably.

This article has handled the various naturalist theories that dismiss the empty tomb hypothesis. The next article will provide various historical reasons to believe that the tomb was empty the first Easter.

Visit Brian’s Website: BellatorChristi.com

Copyright, March 13, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015.ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Notes

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011), 158.

 [2] Ibid.

[3] Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall, SJ, and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection(Oxford, UK: Oxford University [4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

[5] Daniel A. Smith, “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q,” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 129, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[6] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Volume 3, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 204.

[7] Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 767, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[8] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 111-112.

[9] Ibid, 111.

[10] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 185.

[11] Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 13.

[12] Ibid., 142.

[13] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 387.

[14] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 323.

[15] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 644.

[16] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 281.

What Can We Historically Know about Jesus of Nazareth?

By  Brian Chilton.

 

As we come close to a Christian holiday, people often begin to ask, “Can we know that these events actually took place?” When it comes to Christmas, greater ambiguity exists as to particular elements pertaining to the life of Jesus (e.g. the date of Jesus’ birth) than it does for Easter. Part of this comes from the fact that the Gospels are part of a literary genre known as “bioi” (Licona 2010, 203), or ancient biographies and only focused on the core attributes of the person’s life. While we may not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth with great certainty, this doesn’t mean that we cannot know the most important aspects of Jesus’ life. Many skeptics will ask during the holidays, “How is it that we can know that anything actually took place in history? What can we know about the life of Jesus?” This article will provide a brief—and that is an understatement—evaluation about how history is evaluated and what can be known about the historical Jesus.

 

Is history knowable?

 

Skeptics will often claim, “We cannot know anything about history because we cannot know that the person recording a particular event is telling the truth.” This mentality is termed historical subjectivism which is defined by Norman Geisler as the argument “that the substance of history, unlike that studied by empirical science, is not directly observable” (Geisler 1999, 318). But if this is the case, then nothing past the present moment can truly be known with any certainty. What about that precious childhood event that shaped you? Well, extreme historical subjectivists would claim that such an event is unprovable as it is possible that you just thought that the event took place. Taken to its conclusion, the historical subjectivist has no means of knowing whether George Washington was truly the first President of the United States or whether King Henry VIII actually initiated the English Reformation. The historical realist believes that history is knowable. Historians obviously fit within the historical realist category. Luckily, there are ways that an event and/or person is deemed “historical.” The historian uses certain methodological tools to gauge the tenability of an event of history.

 

How is an event determined “historical”?

 

Since history is by its nature unobservable, the historian must gauge the probability that an event occurred or that a person lived. Nothing can be known with 100% certainty—not even scientific theories. Thus, history is gauged by the probability that what is written is true. These tools include, but are not limited to, the following.

 

-Multiple, independent sources (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37)—that is, several voices addressing the same event and/or person.

 

–Enemy attestation (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37) is the voice of the enemy of the person of history being studied. One can claim bias by a supporter, but if an enemy says the same thing about a person then the person(s) involved in an event can be deemed historical.

 

-“Embarrassing admonitions” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 38) are statements that are given in a history and/or biography that would bring embarrassment to the writer and/or movement.

 

-“Eyewitness testimony” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 39) is the account of those who witnessed the event and/or person being studied.

 

-“Early testimony” (Habermas & Licona, 39) refers to the time that the biography and/or history is written as compared to the event and/or person being addressed. Thus, a writer in the 1700s would hold more credulity than a person writing in the 2010s about the real life of John Adams.

 

–Arguments to the best explanation (Licona 2010, 108) refers to whether a hypothesis pertaining to an event of history holds the best explanation or whether alternatives do. Licona adds that this practice includes “Explanatory scope…Explanatory power…Plausability…Less ad hoc…[and] Illumination [sic]” (Licona 2010, 109-110). Space will not permit the explanation of these divisions, but may be addressed in future posts.

 

-Arguments from statistical inference (Licona 2010, 114) is the practice of weighing the possibility that a certain person, fact, or event is more probable existing or occurring than not. So, what can we know of Jesus using these practices?

 

Using these methodologies, what can we know about the historical Jesus?

 

Actually, quite a bit! Gary Habermas presents what he calls the Minimal Facts Approach. These are facts about the life of Jesus that are agreed upon by the vast majority of historical scholarship—both skeptical and evangelical alike! They are:

 

“1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.

 

2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.

 

3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.

 

4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.

 

5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.

 

6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.

 

7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history.

 

8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.

 

9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping.

 

11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus.

 

12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus” (Habermas 2003, 9-10).

 

That’s quite a bit! But, Habermas also notes that if one accepts the early creeds and early writings of the church fathers, then one can also know that “Jesus was born of Mary (Ignatius), who was a virgin (Ignatius; Justin), and he had a brother named James (Josephus). Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem, located about five miles from Jerusalem, and it is recorded that his birth could be verified by the records of Cyrenius, who was the first procurator of Judea (Justin). Later, Jesus was visited by Arabian Magi, who had first seen Herod (Justin). He was also from the town of Nazareth (creeds: Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38)” (Habermas 244).

 

Conclusion

 

Seeing that history is knowable, that history can be verified by particular methodologies, and the wealth of information that can be known of Jesus of Nazareth using these methodologies, the Christian should take comfort in knowing that his or her faith is based upon actual events. So, when the believer celebrates this holiday season, they can worship with the full weight of trust in the biblical record without worrying about the doubts that the skeptics may bring. Enjoy the holidays and remember…Jesus is truly the reason for the Christmas season!

 

Click to see Original Article Source.

 


Sources Cited:

 

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

 

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

 

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

 

The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

 

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

A Tale of Two Kings – Part 2 King Jesus

The Legacy of Herod & the Impact of Jesus in History

Part 2

King Jesus

In my previous article “A Take of Two Kings: Part 1 – King Herod,” I presented an overview of the life and legacy of Herod I, (also known as Herod the Great.) Herod was declared King of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 B.C. He left behind a legacy of violence, bloodshed, great political ambition, as well as the archaeological ruins of some truly remarkable buildings still visible today.

When one thinks of Herod, he is usually remembered as a king, even if he was a very bad king, yet Jesus of Nazareth was also a king. When most people think of Jesus today, however, they usually don’t think of Him as a king. Not only was Jesus of Nazareth a king, He was THE King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

As in the previous article on Herod, we will explore some very important questions about one of the most influential lives to ever walk the earth – the life and impact of Jesus since His birth, death and resurrection.

What exactly was the lineage of Jesus, and why does it matter? If Jesus was a king, then where did He get His authority? Did the Bible predict His coming thousands of years before He was born? How did Jesus impact history, and why does His life continue to affect millions around the world to this day? Does the Bible predict that Jesus will return to earth to reign as King over the nations?

Background of Jesus’ Early Life and Times

Herod the Great is remembered today as an accomplished builder. Jesus was also a builder – a carpenter. Having been reared by Joseph as an apprentice carpenter, it is very likely that Jesus could have even been a stone mason. A couple of reasons why this was so, was because of the abundance of limestone which was used as a primary building material in the first-century, and the fact that just outside of Nazareth archaeologists have uncovered the fascinating city of Sepphoris.

In 3 B.C., Herod Antipas (Herod’s son) made Sepphoris the site of his new capital of the Galilee region. At its height, Sepphoris reached a population of thirty thousand people! Jesus, along with Mary & Joseph, grew up right near this thriving city. It is very likely then, that Joseph & Jesus would have worked as stone-cutters or builders for the many construction projects that were certainly happening in Sepphoris.[1]

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

The discovery of Sepphoris by archaeologists has given scholars an interesting insight into the boyhood, youth and profession of Jesus.

In addition, New Testament scholar, Craig Evans writes:

The proximity of this city to the village of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and the presence of a number of highways, cautions against the assumption that Jesus and His fellow Galileans were placebound and unacquaninted with the larger world.[2]

Even though archaeologists have not excavated any physical buildings or structures that Jesus built, they have discovered many of the places, people and structures that Jesus visited and conducted His ministry. One of the most interesting of these is the small village of Capernaum located on the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was just a small fishing village in Jesus’ day, yet it served as the base of His ministry in the Galilee region (Matthew 4:12-17 & Mark 2:1). In Matthew 9:1 He even called it His, “own city.”

At the site today are the remains of two archaeologically and historically significant structures. One is the floor of a first-century Jewish synagogue in which Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles (see Mark 1:21ff).

The ruins of the first-century synagogue today are covered by the ruins of a 4th Century synagogue built on top of the floor of the earlier one (see image below)

Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

The other structure at Capernaum is a group of edifices that cover something called the Insula Sacra (a Latin phrase which refers to a group of homes around a central courtyard).

Based on archaeological and historical evidence, including pottery, coins and inscriptions found on site, Franciscan archaeologists believe they have found the home of Simon Peter, the fisherman who became a disciple of Christ and one of the main leaders of the early church along with James, Jesus’ half-brother.[3]

Over the ruins of Peter’s house is an octagonal shaped structure – a basilica which dates to the middle of the fifth century A.D.

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum - built over the house of St. Peter

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum – built over the house of St. Peter

According to archaeologist, Jack Finegan:

There is little doubt that it is the church of which the Anonymous of Piacenza reported in A.D. 570: ‘We came to Capernaum into the house of St. Peter, which is a basilica.’[4]

These remains, as well as many others, illuminate the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and provide independent confirmation, apart from the Gospels themselves of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the New Testament.[5]

Jesus’ Authority & Lineage as Israel’s King

Herod’s rise to political power ultimately came from imperial Rome. But unlike Herod’s lineage as rightful king of Judah, Jesus’ lineage and authority, can be traced back before the foundations of time and history itself.

The Micah 5:2 passage, which is oft quoted during the Christmas season, gives insight into this.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet our of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting

In the garden of Eden, Eve was promised by God, “[a Son] who would crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15b). This is the very first mention of the Gospel (evangelion – good news) in the Bible. Theologians often call this the proto-evangelion (or first Gospel). The reason why it was good news is because of the episode with the serpent in Genesis 3 which brought sin and death to the world. God told Adam and Eve that essentially He would not leave them in that state of affairs (i.e. in a fallen state), but would restore them and destroy the works of the serpent through someone (Jesus) who would come from body the woman.

For thousands of years, the history of Old Testament Israel was filled with prophecies, foreshadowings, images, and metaphors of Israel’s coming king, and anointed One (Messiah). During those intervening years before Jesus came, two pictures emerged of Messiah from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings: one was a Suffering Servant, and the other, a conquering King. When Jesus came the people of Israel paid attention only to the Old Testament passages which referred to their coming King as a great conquerer and warrior – like King David. They paid little or no attention to the passages which speak of their King coming to suffer and bear the sins of the world.

The Son of David

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17). Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and embodies all of Israel’s hopes, ideals and future (Genesis 12; 15; 22). Without the connection to Abraham,  Jesus would have been an imposter. Abraham is foundational.

Jesus’ lineage is also traced back to the Old Testament king David. Why David? Because nearly 1000 years before Jesus was born a promise (a covenant) was given to David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and that the Kingdom would never come to an end (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

To David God said:

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …and your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you, Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

Since that original promise to David in about 1000 B.C., the promise has echoed down through the Old Testament prophets and saints pointing to a future ruler and king who would one day be born. These prophecies would contain detailed information on what the king would do, and what he would be like. In the 8th Century B.C. (700’s) the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of a son who would have the characteristics that only God has:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be on His shoulder, and His named will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Perhaps one of the most remarkable passages in the Old Testament which was written 700 years before Christ was born was Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 speaks of a certain person who would be stricken down and endure great suffering. The reason for the suffering? Verse 5 gives the reason:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.

The passage goes on to describe that this suffering servant of God would be buried in a rich man’s grave.

And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth (v. 9)

When Jesus was crucified and buried these verses as well as many other prophecies were literally fulfilled – including the Micah 5:2 prophecy predicting where Israel’s promised King would be born – in Bethlehem.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry He directly and indirectly made the claim that He indeed was the One true King, who was promised and predicted in the Old Testament. Early in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus asking,

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’ (Matthew 11:3-6).

When he heard these words, John the Baptist would have immediately understood that Jesus was indeed the promised One, because all of the things Jesus mentioned were predicted by the Old Testament centuries earlier.

Throughout His life Jesus’ words and works were a strong testimony to who He claimed to be – namely God, yet the one thing that provided the stamp of authenticity on His identity was His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ Legacy

According to Acts 1:9-11 Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His disciples as well as many others.

Before He departed, He told His disciples:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)

One of the most lasting and enduring legacies of Jesus Christ – apart from securing eternal salvation from sin – was and still is His people – the Church.

To the church was given Christ’s message of good-news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

That message was preached and lived by the early Christians in such a way that in about three centuries nearly the entire Roman world had access to the Gospel.

It would be difficult to measure the full impact of Christ’s life since He walked the earth. Perhaps that impact can somewhat be measured by the devotion of His followers to be salt and light in the world as they were commanded by Christ Himself (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul Copan has documented some of the achievements of Christ’s followers in the two millennia since He lived:

  • The Eradication of Slavery (from the Roman period until now)
  • Opposition of Infanticide (common in Greece & Rome)
  • The Elimination of gladiatorial games (outlawed in the 4th Cent.)
  • The Building of Hospitals and Hospices
  • The Elevation of Women’s Rights & Status
  • Founded Europe & North America’s great universities
  • The Writing of Extraordinary works of literature (Dante, Milton, etc…)
  • Creation of beautiful artistic masterpieces (Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Gothic cathedrals, etc..)
  • Established modern science (from the notion that the world was created by a rational, orderly God)
  • Composition of brilliant musical works (Bach, Handel, Hayden, etc…)
  • Advocating human rights (concern for the poor, human dignity rooted in the truth that people are made in God’s image)[6]

Indeed as Copan summarizes here:

It’s difficult to exaggerate the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had on history and the countless lives impacted by this one man’s life and teaching – indeed, the transforming power of the cross and resurrection. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan remarked that by changing the calendar (to BC and AD according to the “Year of our Lord”) and other ways, “everyone is compelled to acknowledge that because of Jesus of Nazareth history will never be the same.[7]

 

[1] For more on this, see Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pp. 13-37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] for detailed information on this see, Jack Finegan’s, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Life of Jesus and the Beginnings of the Early Church (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 107-11.

[4] See Finegan, pp. 110-11.

[5] For additional information see John McRay’s, Archaeology & the New Testament

 

[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), pp. 218-19.

[7] Ibid., 219.

 

On Miracles and Historiography: Can The Supernatural Ever Be The Best Explanation?

Anyone who has engaged in or interacted with any public discourse on the subject of miracles in the New Testament (especially the resurrection) will have encountered this objection: How can an historian infer that a miracle is the best explanation of historical data, given that supernatural phenomena are, by their very nature, extremely improbable? One might grant that the mass hallucination hypothesis as an explanation for the purported postmortem sightings of Jesus is immensely improbable — but surely it has to be less improbable than the proposition that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Thus, it is argued, any hypothesis which purports to explain the pertinent evidence, no matter how improbable, is a better explanation than invocation of the supernatural.

In his book Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), the agnostic textual critic and notorious critic of Christianity, Bart Ehrman, summarizes the problem (pp. 174-175): Read more

What Really Happened at Jesus’ Tomb?

A Look at “The Creed” Through History & Archaeology

800px-In_Front_of_the_Garden_Tomb

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as one born out of due time (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

One of the earliest records of the events surrounding the first Easter was recorded in an early saying or “creed” which the Apostle Paul mentions in his epistle (or letter) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. It has been called the first Christian “creed” or Credo [Latin for ‘I believe’]. Although Paul refers to it, it is not original to him; it is Pre-Pauline. It very likely dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus – His first Disciples – those who waked with Him, lived with Him, those who watched the drama of His life unfold before their eyes…those who watched Him die…those who ate with Him and spoke with Him and saw Him after He reportedly arose from the dead.

Part of how we know whether or not something happened in the past or not is through eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses can be reliable or not. One way (certainly not the only way) we can test whether an eyewitness is speaking the truth is through internal and external evidence that is consistent with other verifiable facts in a particular time period. Unlike mathematics or deductive logic, history allows us to make inferences based on the evidence that we have at hand as we study it carefully and determined if it is reliable.

From this early creed – I would like to consider three facts[1] that it is indeed genuine and bears the key marks of an authentic record of a monumental historical event – namely that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

Read more

What was the Crucifixion like?

What was the extent of the physical suffering Jesus endured at the crucifixion?  Consider that the English word “excruciating” is from the Latin meaning “out of the crucifixion.”  I’ve found that the best way to comprehend the magnitude of the Christ’s physical suffering on Good Friday is to read the following description that we’ve adapted from the work of medical doctor, C. Truman Davis (see I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 380-383).  The short video above also illustrates the kind of brutal punishment Christ took to pay for our sins.

WARNING:  THIS IS GRAPHIC (You may have a difficult time getting through it).

The whip the Roman soldiers use on Jesus has small iron balls and sharp pieces of sheep bones tied to it. Jesus is stripped of his clothing, and his hands are tied to an upright post. His back, buttocks, and legs are whipped either by one soldier or by two who alternate positions. The soldiers taunt their victim. As they repeatedly strike Jesus’ back with full force, the iron balls cause deep contusions, and the sheep bones cut into the skin and tissues. As the whipping continues, the lacerations tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss set the stage for circulatory shock.

When it is determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns are plaited into the shape of a crown, and this is pressed into his scalp. Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking him and striking him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from his hand and strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his scalp.

Finally, when they tire of their sadistic sport, the robe is torn from his back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though he were being whipped again. The wounds again begin to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return his garments. The heavy horizontal beam of the cross is tied across his shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution party walk along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss,

is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

The 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed. Jesus is again stripped of his clothes except for a loin cloth which is allowed the Jews. The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild pain-killing mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground, and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tight, but to allow some flexibility and movement. The beam is then lifted, and the title reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The victim Jesus is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tear- ing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It is undoubtedly during these periods that he utters the seven short sentences that are recorded.

Now begin hours of this limitless pain, cycles of cramping and twisting, partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over— the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally he can allow his body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus went through all of that so you and I could be reconciled to him; so you and I could be saved from our sins by affirming, Father, into your hands I commit my life.  If you haven’t done that, why not?

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

Should Women Be Apologists? They Already Are!

In the past couple of decades or so there has been a renaissance of apologetics at the college and seminary level. There was a time when undergraduate and graduate degrees in Christian apologetics did not exist. Now there are a number of great schools and universities that offer degrees in Christian apologetics (i.e., Talbot School of Theology at Biola, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Denver Seminary and lately Houston Baptist University, just to name a few). I am not aware of any specific statistics, but with all of these schools whose graduates are now entering the world of work and/or ministry, the question of the role of women in apologetics was bound to come up.

I have given some thought to this, and as I see it, there are several issues that are really at the heart of this question.  The main question, however, that I wish to focus on is – Is apologetics for everyone in the church or just men only? Some might even ask, Why is this even a question worth considering? Women are already engaging in apologetics and making great strides for the Kingdom of God. One such organization is the International Society of Women in Apologetics which is managed by apologist Sarah Ankenman – to learn more go to – http://www.womeninapologetics.com. Then there are those in the church who believe that a woman’s place is to remain silent and not be involved in teaching in any way.

Perhaps a good place to begin to answer this question is at the very beginning of Christianity. In his excellent book, History of Apologetics, Cardina Avery Dulles makes a salient point in his chapter on ‘Apologetics in the New Testament.’ He writes:

“Before being an apologetic, Christianity was of course a message. It began as a conviction that Jesus was Messiah and Lord, and this conviction seems to have drawn its overpowering force from the event of the Resurrection. As the message concerning Jesus as risen Lord was proclaimed, it gave rise to certain questions and objections from inquirers and believers, and from adversaries. In answer to such objections, and possibly also in anticipation of foreseen objections, the Christian preachers spoke about the signs, and evidences that they found convincing. …To some degree, therefore, apologetics was intrinsic to the presentation of the kerygma [proclamation – Gospel].”[1]

Apologetics, therefore, was and is intrinsic to evangelism. Apologetics, of course, can also be used to strengthen and reinforce the faith of those within the Church. So from this standpoint, the question now is – Should women be involved in the proclamation of the Good News? The answer – I hope – is obvious! We know from the New Testament that women played a key role in bringing people (including men!) to the Jesus, the Savior. One shining example is the Samaritan woman (or the woman at the well in John 4:1-38). After His encounter with her, in verse 27, Jesus’ disciples asked Him an interesting question and His response was even more interesting (especially in light of the first-century Jewish culture!).  After Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and revealed hidden things about herself that only God could know [evidence], she left Him to go tell others:

“…His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or ‘Why are You talking with her?’ The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they [the men!] went out of the city and came to Him.” (Jn. 4:27-30)

This point is reinforced by a closer look at who (if we are truly honest) the world’s very first apologists were – the women at the empty tomb!  All four Gospels record the fact that it was women who were first to arrive at the empty tomb of the risen Christ and they were the very first to report (& proclaim) that Jesus is risen (Matt. 28:5-8; Mk. 16:2-8; Lk. 24:1-8 & Jn. 20:1).

One of but many examples of women in apologetics in today’s cultural context is the necessity of women evangelists/apologists to Islam – the fastest growing religion in the world. In light of Islamic culture (where it is inappropriate for men to build relationships to other women), it is crucial that Christian women engage Muslim women with the Gospel and with Truth. But women apologists are not only needed in to reach Muslim women – but also to reach those in modern Western culture – with its Post-modern, Post-Christian outlook  – women trained in apologetics – who know how to skillfully and gracefully defend the Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). Basically, where there is a need for the Gospel to be proclaimed and defended (which is everywhere!) – then women apologists are needed. Exactly how various churches and ministries utilize apologetically trained & educated women, will certainly vary from place to place and from church to church.

Nancy Pearcy studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She is the author of "Total Truth"

Nancy Pearcey studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship. She is the author of “Total Truth”

I would encourage my fellow female apologists who are probably more highly trained & educated in apologetics than many of their pastors – to be faithful where God has planted you. Wherever and whoever your audience is – proclaim the resurrection of Christ and defend the Faith with gentleness & respect (1 Pet. 3:15). God will open doors of ministry and opportunity for you, in His good wisdom and in His perfect timing. This is not only good advice for female apologists – but (I believe) to guys as well.

Christianity never stopped being a Message which should be proclaimed (& defended). The Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) was given to the Church (to both men & women).  The Church has been in the past, and certainly will be in the future, enriched by the effective witness of women who have found the Savior and who give a reasoned defense of His resurrection.


[1] Cardinal Avery Dulles, History of Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 1-2

Why Do the Innocent Suffer?

The only completely innocent person in the history of humanity suffered for a greater good– the salvation of you and me.  Trust in Him this resurrection day.  If you never choose to do so, God will not force you into Heaven against your will.  He will respect your choice and leave you alone, apart from Himself and everything good, for all eternity.  If you do trust in Him, you will discover what you were created for– to know Him and enjoy Him and His creation forever!

 

Did the Disciples Lie about Jesus’ Resurrection?

Easter season is upon us and it is almost certain that some news papers, magazine articles, documentaries, etc…will seek to discredit the resurrection of Christ or imply that Jesus’ disciples “made up” the resurrection. How do we respond? How should we respond? Did Jesus’ disciples conspire together to say that Jesus had risen from the dead, when in fact He did not?

Detective Jim Warner Wallace has been investigating and solving cold-case homicides in California for over 25 years.  As this appearance on Dateline NBC shows, Jim solves homicides in which the trail of evidence has gone cold. He knows a thing or two about crimes and conspiracies. According to detective Wallace, successful conspiracies share five common characteristics: J. Warner Wallace

  1. Small number of conspirators
  2. Thorough and immediate communication
  3. Short time span
  4. Significant relational connections
  5. Little or no pressure to break the conspiracy

(1) Small number of conspirators – simply put, the smaller number of conspirators, then the greater chances of success with the lie. There were 11 eyewitnesses of the resurrection (not including the women and others who saw the risen Jesus), plus another 500.  That’s typically too big to ensure a successful conspiracy.

(2) Thorough and immediate communication – without immediate communication, conspirators can’t hold their lies together or separate lies from the truth. The apostles were separated over hundreds of miles and didn’t have immediate communication.  Had they been lying, one of them would have recanted under pressure and exposed the conspiracy.

(3) Short time span – If a lie is going to “work” then it must be told over a short period of time. It’s very difficult to maintain a lie over a long period of time.  The New Testament writers lived up to sixty years after the resurrection—far too long to maintain a lie, especially under constant pressure to recant the lie.

(4) Significant relational connections – successful conspiracies have co-conspirators who are family members or related in some way.  Family members are less apt to give one another up.  But most of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection were unrelated and come from various socio-political backgrounds.

(5) Little or no pressure – a lie or conspiracy could be maintained if there was little or no external pressure for the conspirators to change their message. And yet, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection all experienced tremendous persecution and even death for maintaining that they had all witnessed Christ’s bodily resurrection.

Not only did they lack the elements needed for a successful conspiracy, the disciples had no motive to conduct one.  What did the disciples have to gain by making up the resurrection story? According to Detective Wallace, there are three main reasons why someone would want to engage in a conspiracy (a lie): (1) Financial gain, (2) Passion (often sexual), (3) Gain power.

 None of these were motives for the apostles.  First, none of them earned a great deal of wealth for preaching that Christ had risen. Most of them had to rely on the support of others and lived “on the run.”  Second, the relationship between Christ and the disciples was one of a leader and His followers and not one of sexual passion or otherwise. And finally, none of the disciples gained any powerful positions for maintaining that Christ had risen. In fact, most of them were in diametrical opposition to both the political and religious authorities of the day, and they suffered dearly for it.

For all of these reasons and others, no serious scholar today believes that the resurrection story is a lie—the result of a conspiracy among the apostles.  It would take too much faith to believe that.

If you would like to learn more about how to defend Christianity with principles gleaned from a top-notch homicide detective turned Christian apologist, you can listen to our radio podcast interview with Mr. Wallace on 1/12 and 2/9 here or check out his new book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.

Better yet, you can learn from Detective Jim Wallace in person along with Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and others this year for one of our most exciting CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy’s yet! Our 6th annual CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy (CIA) will take place in Charlotte, August 8-10, 2013.  There will be more topics and more opportunities for you to hone your apologetics presentation skills this year.  Go here for details.  Apply soon because seats are extremely limited.BANNER6

Chronological Snobbery and the Resurrection of Jesus

When discussing the historical basis for the resurrection, one often encounters a popular misconception that the ancient world was far more gullible about claims of resurrection than people are today. This common presumption amounts to what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” People imagine that, while our post-enlightenment modern world treats claims of resurrection with doubt and skepticism, the ancient world — being full of superstition and credulity abut the supernatural — would have been poised to accept such a claim.

This discredited notion is addressed by N.T. Wright in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, in which he surveys the (Jewish and non-Jewish) ideas concerning resurrection and the afterlife in the first-century Mediterranean world. He shows that the unanimous view in both the Jewish and non-Jewish cultures was that bodily resurrection wasn’t possible. From the point of view of Greco-Roman ideas, the physical world is seen as being defiling and corrupt, while the spirit or soul was considered good. Within Judaism, there were two major sects — the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The former rejected all notions of an afterlife and resurrection, while the latter believed that there would one day come a general resurrection at the end of the world — but this precluded the possibility of someone rising bodily from the dead to glory and immortality in the middle of history, before this general resurrection at the end of time. As Timothy Keller explains in his book The Reason for God (p. 205),

 “The idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of the world continued on burdened by sickness, decay and death, was inconceivable. If someone had said to any first-century Jew, ‘So-and-so has been resurrected from the dead!’ the response would be, ‘Are you crazy? How could that be? Has disease and death ended? Is true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Ridiculous!’ The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek.”

We can also show historically from a number of sources that people in the ancient world had a hard time buying the resurrection story. Consider the late second century Christian writer Theophilus of Antioch. In book 1 (chapter 13) of his apology to Autolycus, he addresses this skepticism:

“Then, as to your denying that the dead are raised — for you say, “Show me even one who has been raised from the dead, that seeing I may believe,” […] But, suppose I should show you a dead man raised and alive, even this you would disbelieve. God indeed exhibits to you many proofs that you may believe Him. For consider, if you please, the dying of seasons and days and nights, how these also die and rise again. And what? Is there not a resurrection going on of seeds and fruits, and this, too, for the use of men? A seed of wheat, for example, or of the other grains, when it is cast into the earth, first dies and rots away, then is raised and becomes a stalk of corn. And the nature of trees and fruit-trees, — is it not that according to the appointment of God they produce their fruits in their seasons out of what has been unseen and invisible?”

There is a similar passage in Clement of Rome’s epistle to the church of Corinth (1st Clement 24), written most likely in the mid-90’s A.D.:

“Think, my dear friends, how the Lord offers us proof after proof that there is going to be a resurrection, of which He has made Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. My friends, look how regularly there are processes of resurrection going on at this very moment. The days and the night show us an example of it; for night sinks to rest, and day arises; day passes away, and night comes again. Or take the fruits of the earth; how, and in what way, does a crop come into being? When the sower goes out and drops each seed into the ground, it falls to the earth shriveled and bare, and decays; but presently the power of the Lord’s providence raises it from decay, and from that single grain a host of others spring up and yield their fruit.”

Finally, the second century apologist Justin Martyr, in his first apology (chapter 19), also addresses the believability of the resurrection. He writes thus:

“And to any thoughtful person would anything appear more incredible, than, if we were not in the body, and some one were to say that it was possible that from a small drop of human seed bones and sinews and flesh be formed into a shape such as we see? For let this now be said hypothetically: if you yourselves were not such as you now are, and born of such parents [and causes], and one were to show you human seed and a picture of a man, and were to say with confidence that from such a substance such a being could be produced, would you believe before you saw the actual production? No one will dare to deny [that such a statement would surpass belief]. In the same way, then, you are now incredulous because you have never seen a dead man rise again. But as at first you would not have believed it possible that such persons could be produced, so also judge ye that it is not impossible that the bodies of men, after they have been dissolved, and like seeds resolved into earth, should in God’s appointed time rise again and put on incorruption.”

Such statements should give us cause to re-consider whether the ancient world was as gullible and credulous as we are often led to think.

Evidences Jesus is ALIVE

My guest on the radio program today was Dr. Tim McGrew, Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.  He provided five lines of evidence that Jesus is ALIVE:

 A         Appearances to his followers (1 Cor 15, Mt 28, Lk 24, Jn 20-21, Acts 1, Josephus and others)

 L          Low status of women in first century Judaism (criterion of embarrassment; Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, Jn 20)

 I           Immediate proclamation of the resurrection in Jerusalem (Acts 2)

 V          Voluntary sufferings undergone by the first witnesses (Acts, Josephus, Tacitus and others)

 E          Empty tomb (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, Jn 20, 1 Cor 15, and others)

Click on Radio Program at left after Sunday to hear the show.  As you listen, you will see that we were not begging the question by saying that Jesus rose from the dead merely because the documents say so.  Listen to two previous shows with Dr. McGrew in the archives from July 30, 2011 and August 11, 2011.  There he provides some very insightful details external and internal to the New Testament documents that show beyond any reasonable doubt that those documents are historically reliable.

For more from Dr. McGrew, including downloadable PowerPoint Presentations, go here.

Blessings this resurrection Sunday.  He is risen!

A Case For The Resurrection: The Empty Tomb

Over the course of six previous blog entries, I have discussed the various lines of evidence supporting the historical proposition that Jesus really did appear to individuals and groups of people following his death by crucifixion. In this blog entry, I want to consider some of the evidence pertaining to the vacancy of the tomb. While an establishment of the empty tomb may not, in and of itself, constitute compelling evidence for the resurrection, when taken in the context of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (which I have evidenced previously), it adds to a very compelling cumulative argument.

Fact#1: The disciples first proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem
When the first Christians started preaching the resurrection of Jesus, they did so in Jerusalem, the very city where it was all supposed to have happened, under the noses of the very people who would have been able (and certainly willing) to dispute their assertions if they were not true. If the Christians had doubts about the historicity of the empty tomb, they would have been far better to do it far away from the city of Jerusalem where there resided a great number of hostile eyewitnesses, who could have checked out the state and purported vacancy of the tomb. The fact that the Christians preached first of all in Jerusalem, and so shortly following the resurrection, denotes tremendous confidence in their case.

Amazingly, Peter addresses the people of Jerusalem in Acts 2, declaring, “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.”

As E.H Day comments, “If it be asserted that the tomb was in fact not found to be empty, several difficulties confront the critic. He has to meet, for example, the problem of the rapid rise of the very definite tradition, never seriously questioned, the problem with the circumstantial nature of the accounts in which the tradition is embodied, the problem of the failure of the Jews to prove that the Resurrection had not taken place by producing the body of Christ, or by an official examination of the sepulchre, a proof which it was to their greatest interest to exhibit.”

Dr. William Lane Craig further remarks, “When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem and people responded, and when religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty. The simple fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, came into existence and flourished in the very city where he was executed and buried is powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.”

Fact#2: The earliest Jewish polemic against the early disciples presupposes the vacancy of the tomb
The earliest Jewish allegation was that Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen the body while the guards were asleep. According to Matthew 28:11-15, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep. If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

The Toledoth Yeshu, (a compilation of early Jewish writings), alludes to the stolen body allegation, as does the record of a second century debate between Justin Martyr and the Jew Trypho, Chapter CVII: “…you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but His disciples stole Him by night from the tomb, where He was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that He has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”

The allegation that someone had stolen the body is an implicit admission that the tomb was empty. The fact that Jesus’ opponents conceded the vacancy of the tomb is strong evidence in the eyes of historians. On top of that, the idea that the disciples stole the body is absurd, and scholars universally reject it today. It is highly unlikely that Jesus’ followers could have schemed to steal the body with the Roman guard protecting the tomb, much less the large stone. The theft hypothesis is a lame excuse. And it won’t suffice to charge them with inventing the account of the sleeping guards – such a story could only have served as apologetic propaganda had the guards remained awake. There is also the fact that the disciples were unlikely to risk their lives for the sake of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb. The Biblical record portrays the disciples as scared, disheartened and discouraged. The transformation from a company of terrified disciples who had lost their leader and feared for their own life to the fearless apostles who boldly preached and proclaimed the Gospel of the risen Lord begs explanation. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the disciples would be willing to suffer extreme persecution and ultimately martyrdom for something which they themselves knew to be an outright lie and deception. The disciples also had no motive for stealing the body, for the reason that the Jewish tradition and mindset precluded anyone rising bodily from the dead to glory and immortality until the general resurrection at the end of time. The disciples, therefore, had no necessary predisposition towards positing a physical resurrection, nor an empty tomb. As John records in his account (20:9), upon discovery of the empty tomb, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Finally, a physical resurrection could have been relentlessly exposed with either the presence of a corpse or an occupied tomb. By speaking of a physical resurrection and an empty tomb, therefore, was an enormous and unnecessary risk to take.

Michael Green cites a secular source of early origin that bears testimony to Jesus’ empty tomb. This piece of evidence is called the Nazareth Inscription. Green remarks, “It is an imperial edict, belonging either to the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) or of Claudius (A.D. 41-54). And it is an invective, backed with heavy sanctions, against meddling around with tombs and graves! It looks very much as if the news of the empty tomb had got back to Rome in a garbled form (Pilate would have had to report; and he would obviously have said that the tomb had been rifled). This edict, it seems, is the imperial reaction.” Green concludes, “There can be no doubt that the tomb of Jesus was, in fact, empty on the first Easter day.”

Fact#3: The gospels record that the primary witnesses to the empty tomb were women

All four gospels (including John, who was almost certainly writing independently of the synoptic gospels) make women the first witnesses of the empty tomb, and Matthew and John make women the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. Male witnesses appear only later and in two of the Gospels. This is incompatible with a dishonest intention to write an untrue but convincing account, because of the lowly status of woman as witnesses in the ancient world.

This fact is significant because in both first century Jewish and Roman cultures, women were lowly esteemed and their testimony was not highly regarded. Further, female witnesses were only permitted to be legal witnesses to matters within their knowledge if there was no male witness available. Women were second-best witnesses, and anyone wanting to artificially bolster a fictional account would have without question made male witnesses the primary discoverers of the empty tomb. The Jewish Talmud remarks, “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women,” and “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer).” Josephus states further, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and of their sex.”

This fact becomes even more significant in light of Luke 24:11, when Luke records that “…they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

The best explanation for why all four gospel writers would have included such an embarrassing and awkward detail is that that is actually what happened and they were committed to recording it honestly and with integrity, regardless of its blow to their credibility.

Fact#4: The breaking of the Roman seal

One point which is worthy of attention is the breaking of the seal that stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. Roman authorities would hunt down the men who were responsible. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus’ disciples displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves. Peter, one of these disciples, went out and denied Christ three times.

Fact#5: Multiple, early attestation

Apart from mention of the empty tomb in the pre-markian passion narrative, the old tradition cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which probably dates just a few short years at most following the events, implies the empty tomb. For any first century Jew, to say that a dead man ‘was buried and that he was raised’ is to say that his tomb was vacated. Further, the expression ‘on the third day’ probably derives from the women’s visit to the tomb on the third day following the crucifixion as alluded to in the gospels.

Fact#6: The Security of the tomb

Jesus Himself spoke of his resurrection on repeated occasions, stressing that it was to happen on the third day following his death. Both his enemies and his followers were told to expect it. Those who sought to smother his teaching took elaborate steps to counter the possibility of His claim, including the placement of a Roman guard at the door to the tomb. The initial Christian proclamation that Jesus had risen was responded to by the allegation that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards were sleeping, to which the Christian retaliation was that the Jews had bribed the guards to say they fell asleep. If there had not in fact been any guards, the exchange would not have gone in such manner.

Archaeological evidence reveals that there would have been a slanted groove that led down to a low entrance, and a large disk-shaped stone was rolled down the groove and lodged into a place across the door. A smaller stone was then used to secure the disk. Although it would be easy to roll the big disk down the groove, it would take several men to roll the stone back up in order to reopen the tomb.

Conclusion

In summary, to quote J.N.D. Anderson, “The empty tomb stands, a veritable rock, as an essential element in the evidence for the resurrection. To suggest that it was not in fact empty at all, as some have done, seems to me ridiculous. It is a matter of history that the apostles from the very beginning made many converts in Jerusalem, hostile as it was, by proclaiming the glad news that Christ had risen from the grave – and they did it within a short walk from the sepulchre. Any one of their hearers could have visited the tomb and come back again between lunch and whatever may have been the equivalent of afternoon tea. Is it conceivable, then, that the apostles would have this success if the body of the one they proclaimed as risen Lord was all the time decomposing in Joseph’s tomb? Would a great company of the priests and many hard-headed Pharisees have been impressed with the proclamation of a resurrection which was in fact no resurrection at all, but a mere message of spiritual survival couched in the misleading terms of a literal rising from the grave?”

A Case For The Resurrection: Part 6

In previous posts in this series, we have discussed some of the evidence for the historical veracity of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples and others, including an examination of some examples of the martyrdom of Jesus’ followers and the counter-Judaic nature of the Christian claims concerning the resurrection. In this blog entry, I am going to discuss some of the evidence from the multiple and independent sources attesting to these post-resurrection appearances.

The appearance of traditions in the Gospels provide several, independent attestations as to the historicity of these post-resurrection appearances. For instance, the appearance to Peter is independently confirmed in Luke’s Gospel and the appearance to the Twelve is independently affirmed by both Luke and John.

Moreover, we have independent witnesses to the Galilean appearances in Matthew, Mark and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John. This adds weight to the case for the historicity of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

We also have some disputed but arguable independent attestation of the appearance to Peter. In addition to the mentioning of the appearance to Peter in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 15, we also have Peter’s own claim to have experienced the resurrected Lord. He writes in 2 Peter 1:13-15, “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” What makes this especially interesting is that this refers to the words spoken by Jesus to Peter in John 21, an incident following the resurrection, as recorded by John’s Gospel.

If Peter’s second epistle (the genuineness of which is disputed), is indeed authentic, then this would be written prior to the writing of John’s Gospel, thus constituting independent lines of evidence. It is necessary at this point to make a few points in favour of the authenticity of Peter’s second epistle:
• Origen mentions that there is some doubt as to this epistle’s authenticity but did not deal with the problem which seems to imply that he did not take the doubts seriously.
• The reason there were doubts about 2 Peter is because the Gnostics were circulating letters with peter’s name on them to try and gain acceptance for some of their teachers. Consequently, the orthodox church was suspicious of letters attributed to Peter. The fact that 2 Peter was accepted and included in the canon in spite of these suspicions suggests its authenticity.
• One of the leading objections to the authenticity of this epistle is the differences in Greek style between the two letters, but this has been satisfactorily answered. Peter wrote that he used a secretary, Silvanius, in 1 Peter. In 2 Peter, Peter either used a different secretary or wrote the letter by himself.
• Likewise, the difference in vocabulary has been adequately accounted for in light of their difference in themes – 1 Peter was written to help suffering Christians; 2 Peter, to expose false teachers.
• There are, in fact, remarkable similarities in the vocabulary of the two books. The salutation ‘grace to you, and peace be multiplied’ is basically the same in each book. The author uses such words as ‘precious,’ ‘virtue,’ ‘putting off’ and ‘eyewitnesses’ in both letters.
• The reference to Paul as ‘our beloved brother’ in 3:15 is not the typical reference a second century writer would have made of an Apostle. Their tendency was, rather, to venerate them.
• Certain rather unusual words found in 2 Peter are also found in Peter’s sermons in the Acts of the Apostles, such as ‘obtained’ (1:2 and Acts 1:17); ‘godliness’ (1:3,6,7;3:11 and Acts 3:12); and ‘wages of iniquity’ (2:13,15; Acts 1:18). Both letters refer to the same Old Testament event (2 Peter 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:18-20).
• Some scholars have pointed out that there are as many similarities in vocabulary between 1 and 2 Peter as there are between 1 Timothy and Titus, two letters almost universally believed to be the work of the same author.
• It seems unlikely that a false teacher would write a letter against false teachers. No original or unorthodox teachings or doctrines appear in 2 Peter. Thus, if 2 Peter were indeed a forgery, it would have been forged for no apparent reason at all.

Conclusion
In conclusion, to quote John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “Could the Christian church ever have come into existence as a result of what had become, after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, a group of disheartened, frightened, sceptical apostles? Not a chance.

Only the resurrection of Christ from the dead can account for motivating the disciples to give their lives to preach about Christ and nurture the Christian church the Lord had founded. It can hardly be overestimated how devastating the crucifixion was to the apostles. They had sacrificed everything for Jesus, including their jobs, their homes, and their families (Matthew 19:27). Everything of value was pinned squarely on Jesus: all their hopes, their entire lives, everything. But now he was dead, publicly branded a criminal.

The apostles were dejected and depressed in their conclusion that Christ was not their expected Messiah (Luke 24:21). In such a condition, they can hardly be considered the subjects of hopeful visions and hallucinations. These were not men ready to believe. The very fact that Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief indicates that Thomas was not the only one who was a hard headed sceptic. At one time or another Jesus rebuked all of the eleven apostles for their unbelief in His resurrection (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:25-27, 38, 41; John 20:24-27). This suggests that they were finally convinced against their will.

As the Gospels show, they rejected the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection. It was only after Jesus appeared to them again and again, talking with them, encouraging them to touch Him, to see that He had a physical body, showing them the wounds in His hands and His side, that they became convinced (John 29:20, 27). If they had expected a resurrection, they would have been waiting for it. But they weren’t, and they needed a lot of convincing when it did happen (Acts 1:3).”

A Case For The Resurrection: Part 5

In my previous blog entry, I started to discuss the testimony of first century Christian martyrs (specifically those who claimed to be eyewitnesses to the resurrection) as part of my cumulative argument for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In this blog post, I will discuss the evidence and circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul.

The Martyrdom of Peter

Of particular significance is the martyrdom by crucifixion of the Apostle Peter. In accordance with Jesus’ prediction, Peter had denied the Lord three times during Jesus’ interrogation, in the interests of preserving his own life, for he was terrified of the possible outcome if his allegiance to Jesus became known. The stakes were high, and it seems that the prospect of crucifixion truly terrified Peter. According to Mark 14:66-71 – “While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. ‘You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,’ she said. But he denied it. ‘I don’t even know or understand what you’re talking about,’ he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, ‘This fellow is one of them.’ Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”

This incident is almost certainly authentic for the following reasons:
• The embarrassment factor – it puts Peter in a bad light, and makes him out to be a coward of the worst sort. Despite Peter’s emphatic affirmation that “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you,” the fear became too much for him, and he cracked under the pressure.
• It appears in Mark’s Gospel – which Peter played a large part in contributing to.
• This incident is attested to in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and independently in John (being included in all four of the Gospels).

And yet it can be taken as historically certain that Peter boldly went to his death by crucifixion for his testimony that he had personally seen the resurrected Lord. The earliest sources for this date back extremely early indeed. John 21:18-19 anticipates Peter’s death in this way: “…when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and take you where you do not want to go.”

Not only is Peter killed by crucifixion, but even upside down at his own request because he did not feel himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. Peter’s death is attested to by Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Jerome and also by Origen. Origen, for example, writes that “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.”

Such a radical transformation demands explanation. My contention is that by far the best explanation is, in the words of 1 Corinthians 15, “…he appeared to Peter.”

Peter’s martyrdom experience also authenticates his claim to be a first-hand eyewitness. He writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”

The Martyrdom of Paul

We know from multiple sources that Paul – who was then known as Saul of Tarsus – was an enemy of the church and committed to persecuting and killing Christians. Paul himself says that he was converted to a follower of Jesus because he had personally encountered the resurrected Lord.

In addition to Paul’s writings, we have six ancient sources (Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth and Origen) reporting that Paul was willing to suffer continuously and even die for his beliefs. Again, liars make poor martyrs.

Thus we can be sure that Paul not only claimed the risen Jesus appeared to him, but that he sincerely believed that he had. Paul’s emphasis on the resurrection is iterated in 1 Corinthians 15: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

One cannot make the claim that Paul was a disciple of Jesus who was primed to see a vision of him due to wishful thinking or grief after the execution. Saul was a most unlikely candidate for conversion. His mindset was to oppose the Christian movement that he believed was following a false messiah.

Paul’s radical transformation from persecutor to missionary and martyr demands an explanation – the best of which by far is that he is telling the truth when he says he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.

While the testimony of martyrdom may carry weight only in so far as it demonstrates the sincerity of one’s beliefs, it nonetheless — at the very least — is suggestive that the disciples were sincere when they claimed to have met, and interacted with, the resurrected Christ. With respect to the disciples’ claims, there are basically three possibilities: (1) They were lying; (2) they were honestly mistaken; and (3) they were telling the truth about what they actually saw. This argument militates against the first of those possibilities. The number and variety of the post-resurrection appearances, in combination with the counter-Judaic nature of the claims in question, militates against the second of those possibilities.

In my next blog post in this series, I will discuss the multiple and independent sources attesting to the resurrection appearances of Jesus.

A Case For The Resurrection: Part 4

In previous blog posts (part 1part 2part 3), I began to examine the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, building a cumulative argument based on ancient Hebrew and pagan beliefs regarding the resurrection, in addition to the Jewish Messianic expectations and the early oral creed which I discussed in part 3 of this series. Over the course of the next couple of articles, I want to take a look at some of the evidence from first century Christian martyrs.

What is the value in studying the martyrdom of the first-generation eyewitnesses of the resurrection? For one thing, the persecution and martyrdom of these early disciples serves to confirm that, at minimum, they sincerely believed their message to be true. But since their claim was that they had been first hand eye-witnesses, their willingness to face persecution and in most cases martyrdom was not based on a religious or faith-based commitment, nor an oral tradition. Rather, it was based on something which they had actually seen first-hand with their own eyes. Many people have been martyred over the centuries for a religious belief. But how many have died for the advancement and propagation of a known lie? To the contrary, when life or liberty is at stake, multi-party conspiracies invariably break down.

As J.P. Moreland explains,  

“The disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility and martyr’s deaths. In light of this, they could have never sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie. The disciples were not fools and Paul was a cool-headed intellectual of the first rank. There would have been several opportunities over three to four decades of ministry to reconsider and renounce the lie.”

One must take caution with such an argument, however, since many of the accounts of the fates of the disciples come too late to be of substantial value, and many of the accounts have clearly been legendarily embellished. We can, however, establish the martyrdom of some of the alleged eyewitnesses for their faith. My case, will largely be based, therefore, on those whom we can confidently affirm did meet this fate. In this particular blog entry, I will discuss the martyrdom of James, the half-brother of Jesus.

The Martyrdom of Jesus’ Brother James

According to John 7, “After this, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” Thus, there is good evidence to believe that neither James (Jesus’ half brother) nor any of Jesus’ younger siblings believed his message, nor his personal self-claims, during his life. This is further supported by Mark 3:20-21 – “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

It seems absurd that the early church would invent fictitious stories about the unbelief of Jesus’ own family had they been faithful followers all along. For a Jewish rabbi to be lacking the support of his own family undermined his perceived credibility. Yet it can be confidently established that James and his brothers later became active Christians following Jesus’ execution and subsequent resurrection, even being martyred for their confession. According to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:9:1,

“And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.” [emphasis added]

Some skeptics have claimed that the James mentioned in this passage is actually the brother of Jesus, the son of Damneus (a high priest who is mentioned towards the end of this passage). The title of “Christ”, we are told, is to be expected because Josephus would consider any high priest to be a “Christ”. The problem with this argument is that Josephus does not call any priest elsewhere in his writings a “Christ”. Jesus ben Damneus was not a high priest at the time of James’ trial but only became one at the time of his later mention. Thus, there is no basis for thinking that Jesus ben Damneus would have been called “Christ”. Moreover, when Josephus tells us of a character’s parentage, he always does it the first time the character is introduced (not in subsequent references). This means that Josephus’ later mention of Jesus ben Damneus has to be the first time the character is introduced. The passage is also thought by Origen to be speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.

Furthermore, Hegesippus (110-180 A.D.), in the fifth book of his memoirs (as quoted by Eusebius), writes,

“James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James…[W]hen many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, ‘We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christy We entreat thee to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we bear thee witness, as do all the people, that thou art just, and dost not respect per sons. Do thou therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position thou mayest be clearly seen, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.’ The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have: confidence, forasmuch as the people are led, astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’ And he answered with a loud voice,’ Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’ And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another,’ We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘ Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.”

And so we have confirmation from Josephus and Hegesippus as to the fact that James was martyred for his faith. How much would it take to convince you that your elder brother is God in the flesh to the point that you are willing to die for that belief? By far the best explanation is that, in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘he appeared to James’. We also know from the book of Galatians that Paul visited James in Jerusalem three years following Paul’s conversion to the Christian faith. Here’s the question I like to put to the skeptics: How much would it take to convince you that your elder brother was God incarnate — indeed, the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible — to the point of martyrdom? Just think about that.

A Case For The Resurrection: Part 3

In previous posts (onetwo), I explored the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in the context of the Jewish Messianic expectations and the prevailing concepts regarding resurrection in the first century world. Over the course of the next few blog entries in this series, I want to consider some of the circumstantial historiographical evidence for the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, friends and foes, starting with that early Creedal summary given in 1 Corinthians 15. What information can be learn from this early creed? Embedded below is one of the best videos on this subject, which provides a succinct yet informative summary of the importance, significance and evidential value of this passage regarding the resurrection.





What does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 say?

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

The vast majority of New Testament scholars affirm that this passage is an old creed that goes back as early as Paul’s fact-finding mission in Jerusalem around 36A.D., when he spent a couple of weeks with James and Peter (Galatians 1). Paul is writing 1 Corinthians between 50 and 60 A.D., which is early in and of itself, the preserved creed takes as far back as no more than 2 or 3 years removed from the crucifixion event. The creed, therefore, must date back further still. Thus, it dates to within a short window of time following Christ’s death – such a short time span and personal contact makes the concept of the development of legendary accounts highly improbable. The fact that Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatian church his meeting with Peter and James, both of whom are mentioned specifically in the creed, gives this testimony extra weight.

Among the facts which have convinced scholars as to the creedal nature of this text are the following:

1. The creed comprises a summary that corresponds line by line with what the gospels teach.
2. Paul introduces it with the words ‘received’ and ‘delivered’, which are technical rabbinic terms indicating he’s passing along holy tradition.
3. The writing is highly stylised with non-Pauline characteristics
4. The original text uses Cephas for Peter, which is his Aramaic name. The Aramaic itself could in fact indicate a very early origin.
5. The creed uses several other primitive phrases that Paul would not customarily use, such as ‘the Twelve’, ‘the third day’, ‘he was raised’, etc.
6. The use of certain words is similar to Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew means of narration.

Facts such as those stated above have led Joachim Jeremias, an eminent scholar, to refer to this creed as ‘the earliest tradition of all’, and Ulrich Wilckens to conclude that the creed ‘indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.’ Moreover, the Jewish New Testament scholar Pinchas Lapide affirms that the evidence in support of the creed is so strong that it ‘may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.’