Debating Atheists: Arrival of Jesus (Part 5/5)

By Dan Grossenbach

Ancient history is a funny thing. We depend on the information, but no one was there to see it. Historians meet this challenge with the standard method of historiography.

Historiography is scientific in a sense, albeit different than the hard sciences like physics and chemistry. In both cases, absolute certainty still evades us. Historians seek only to identify what events are more likely than not to have happened. Famous religion skeptic Bart Ehrman says human events that occurred in the past are always a matter of what probably did or did not happen[1].

History’s witnesses contain lore and exaggeration but also facts. It’s inherently problematic that there’s much about the ancient world we’ll never know. In fact, an overwhelming majority of events and people left without a trace. When it comes to Jesus of Nazareth, however; there’s little else we can know so well.

Surprised? It turns out there are a few facts about his life, death, and post-death events that aren’t even contested among historians today. So, it’s safe to say we can know with relative historical certainty that these things actually happened. Don’t take our word for it, but see what the scholars who reject Christianity say about him.

Debate Atheist Jesus

Jesus died by Roman crucifixion in first century Palestine

“Jesus death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” – Atheist Gerd Ludemann[2]

“The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans is one of the most secure facts we have about his life.” – Atheist Bart Ehrman[3]

We can take it “absolutely for granted that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate” Skeptic John Dominic Crossan[4]

Jewish scholar Paula Fredrickson tells us “the crucifixion is the single strongest fact we have about Jesus”[5].

Even the radical and anti-supernatural Jesus Seminar claims that the crucifixion is “one indisputable fact”[6]. Finally, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg articulates for us:

“[S]ome judgments are so probable as to be certain; for example, Jesus really existed, and he really was crucified, just as Julius Caesar really existed and was assassinated. …. We can in fact know as much about Jesus as we can about any figure in the ancient world”[7].

With such strong endorsement by non-Christian scholars who may otherwise be inclined to dismiss this fact, it seems as though no one would oppose it. Nonetheless, there are a few who do. Muslims, of course, are theologically committed to reject this fact at the outset. There are also a handful of scholars who argue the crucifixion was an allegorical story based on pagan mythology. An excellent rebuttal to this view by Greg Koukl can be found here[8]. The interested reader is encouraged to look into the reasons these scholars have for or against all three of these facts about Jesus[9]. The point of this article is to show basic facts most non-Christian scholars concede to when everything is considered.

Surprising as it may be, non-Christian scholars accept most of Paul’s letters and much of the gospel narrative as authentic. Honest historians apply the same standard to the New Testament as they give other available textual witnesses. Almost all scholars give credit to Paul for at least 7 of his 12 letters which give us more than enough for all three points in this post by itself.

Even non-Christian historians don’t dismiss the gospels which provide independent and early accounts. It’s important to realize the passion narratives that provide an account of the crucifixion have distinct differences even among the “synoptic” gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This indicates the written narrative comes from a unique prior source even when other parts of the gospels may share a common tradition. Additionally, the crucifixion is presumed as historical in non-canonical material such as the Shepherd of Hermas and two letters of Clement, Gnostic texts, and the writings of early church fathers.

Contemporary non-Christian sources help too. Admittedly, some Christian apologists have overstated ancient witnesses that mention Christ, but others have dismissed them too quickly (the latter possibly due to the former). At the very least, the extant material left from ancient writers who mentioned Jesus relayed what they took to be contemporary common knowledge. Non-Christians Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar Serapion, and Josephus each have different reasons for mentioning Jesus of Nazareth, but they all assume his execution to be a fact taken for granted by their first century audience. It is also worth noting that ancient writings of the time confirm specific crucifixion details described in the gospels and no ancient source contradict this was Jesus’ fate[10].

Jesus had followers who had experiences they believed to be the risen Jesus

Once again, this point can be made by those who we would expect to disagree. Mike Licona points out that Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide in his work titled, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective,gives a case that the post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament originate from the apostles themselves[11].

Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann thinks the appearance narratives were so well attested that Paul cited them to support his argument. Commenting on the famous appearance narrative in 1 Cor 15, Ludemann thinks Paul referenced the 500 witnesses to encourage his audience to go interview them[12]. Skeptic Robert Funk reports the findings of the hypercritical “Jesus Seminar” who believe the 500 witnesses actually had an appearance, albeit a visionary one[13]. From this and many other passages, we know that the followers sincerely believed Jesus appeared to them both individually and in group settings – both to disciples who knew him well and those who did not – both to friend and to foe alike. The accounts are so well attested one scholar who even proposes the idea that Jesus never existed concedes this point (yes, you read that right). The skeptic Richard Carrier puts it this way…” Obviously, I also agree there were appearances, but I argue the appearances were hallucinations”[14].

Here Carrier supports the most common critical view in contrast to the resurrection hypothesis. His biased approach of methodological naturalism rules out the existence of God thereby excluding the resurrection option from the start. He’s so committed to avoid the resurrection that he proposes contradictory theories and admits he doesn’t intend to provide a plausible alternative theory – only something that’s possible. In his view (akin to Hume and Ehrman), miracles are the least probable event regardless of the evidence, so any alternative to the resurrection is more likely. The implicit assumption is this: since God isn’t an option, anything else will work better. He can then lob spaghetti at the wall and take whatever sticks because he took the supernatural noodles out before the toss.

Hostile skeptics Paul and James changed from hostile critics to teach the resurrection as their central message and lived an increasingly hostile life of suffering and ultimately faced a violent death for it.

James:

Admittedly the weaker of the “minimal facts” gleaned from his exhaustive study, Dr. Gary Habermas cites the conversion of James as a fact supported by the writings of a majority of scholars who are published on the topic in English, French, or German since 1975. In his book co-authored by Mike Licona, he lists four reasons given by the skeptics:

  • James rejected Jesus’ ministry (Mk 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; John 7:5)
  • 1 Cor 15:3-7 believed by skeptics to be authentic lists James as a witness to the risen Jesus
  • James becomes a Christian leader (Acts 15:12-21; Gal 1:19)
  • James died as a martyr for being a Christian leader (Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria)[15]

Flavious Josephus was a contemporary to both James and Paul and was a Jewish historian financed by the Roman Emperor. His familial heritage was of Jewish elite in the capital city of Jerusalem where he lived while these events were unfolding. If anyone would have known about the early Christian movement, Josephus would. So, what he says about James the Just, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth and leader of the Jerusalem church carries some weight:

Having such a character, Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have the proper opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin, he brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned[16].

The testimony of James is affirmed by Christian and non-Christian sources alike.

Paul:

The fact that Paul was a skeptic who converted to Christianity is so uncontroversial that we can take it directly from the source, Paul himself. There’s no need to do otherwise since the non-Christian scholars endorse his authorship to his testimony. According to skeptic John Dominic Crossan, Paul’s personal testimony exceeds even the events recorded in Acts[17]. Paul writes of his personal conversion experience in Galatians, 1 Cor, Philemon, and 1 Timothy. It’s also accounted for in a separate source on two different occasions in the book of Acts, which ironically, is also the book that most vividly speaks of his prior violent opposition. Virtually no scholar goes against the overwhelming majority consensus that Paul once was a skeptic who became a believer. Given the drastic shift in position, that is a tremendous understatement. Even atheist philosopher Michael Martin has concluded this[18].

Conclusion:

In closing, let’s review what we can know from these facts that non-Christians support: 1) Jesus was crucified, 2) apostles had post-resurrection appearances, and 3) Hostile critics Paul and James converted. Which explanation best accounts for these three facts? Skeptics have offered a range of theories, but far and away, the most common naturalistic explanation offered is grief hallucinations. This is the most common way to avoid a supernatural explanation, but fitting the skeptic’s prior presupposition is where the advantages end.

Hallucinations fail to account for group appearances granted as historical by skeptics and doesn’t work for hostile witnesses like Paul who didn’t even know Jesus but wanted to kill his followers. The best explanation is the one offered by Christianity: that Jesus rose from the dead. The only reason to keep it off the table is if you take God off the table before you start looking.

Dr. Shapiro mentioned many things about the life of Jesus but didn’t face any of these three facts. Instead, he cited clearly inaccurate information to lead the audience astray. For example, he said Jesus may never have existed at all. To this point, scholar and skeptic Bart Ehman pulls no punches. In a friendly crowd, receiving an award from Freedom from Religion Foundation president Dan Barker, Ehrman said:

There is so much evidence that….this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity…There is no scholar in any college or university in the western world who teaches Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field who doubts that Jesus existed…That is not evidence…but if you want to know about the theory of evolution vs the theory of creationism and every scholar in every reputable institution in the world believes in evolution. It may not be evidence, but if you have a different opinion you’d better have a pretty good piece of evidence yourself…The reason for thinking Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources…Early and independent sources certainly indicate that Jesus existed…One author we know about knew Jesus’ brother…I’m sorry, I respect your disbelief, but if you want to go where the evidence goes…I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism, because frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world[19].

We need go no further than the peer-reviewed literature published by skeptics who should otherwise be inclined not to say such things. To be fair, these very same critics don’t conclude the resurrection best explains the facts, but conclusions about things with such weighty implications don’t happen in a vacuum. All sorts of factors influence our conclusions. Remember, history is a science of discovering what most probably happened so the urge is strong to wedge in other factors such as philosophical presuppositions, lifestyle habits, emotional attachment, upbringing, social setting, academic pressure, wealth, and recognition. No matter where we fall on the resurrection question, a variety of influences come into play. It’s at this point where we must part with the skeptics cited above with whom we’ve agreed with so far on key matters of science, ethics, human experience, and history. For those following their desires, just about any theory can be made to fit. For the rest of us who go where the evidence leads, there’s the hope eternal in the resurrection of Jesus.

[1] Bart Ehrman quoted in How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist By John W. Loftus, Peter Boghossian viewed in Google Books preview

[2] Gerd Ludemann, 2004. The Resurrection of Christ. p50 quoted by James Bishop here

[3] Bart Ehrman, http://ehrmanblog.org/why-was-jesus-killed-for-members/)

[4] John Dominic Crossan quoted by R. Stewart & Gary Habermas in Memories of Jesus. p282 quoted by James Bishop here

[5] Paula Frederickson, remark during discussion at the meeting of “The Historical Jesus” section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 22, 1999 as cited at ReasonableFaith.org

[6] Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape as cited by James Bishop here

[7] Marcus Borg, 1999. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. Chapter 5: Why was Jesus killed? as cited by James Bishop here

[8] Greg Koukl, Jesus Recycled Redeemer, Solid Ground, September 1, 2009http://www.str.org/publications/recycled-redeemer#.WJajTVMrLIU

[9] A great resource on the most current peer-reviewed literature on the topic is by Micheal R. Licona,The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, IVP Academic, 2010

[10] ibid, pp303-318

[11] ibid, pp323-324 – citing Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 2002, p99

[12] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry, 2004, p41

[13] Licona (2010), p321 – citing Funk and the Jesus Seminar (1998)

[14] Richard Carrier, March 18, 2009, Missouri State University debate with William Lane Craig at approximately 47 min 23 sec.

[15] ibid, pp323-324 – citing Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 2002, p99

[16] Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (2004) Kregel. Grand Rapids, MI. p68

[17] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:200

[18] Licona (2010), p396

[19] Gary Habermas “The Case for Christ’s Resurrection” in To Everyone an Answer: The Case for the Christian Worldview. “[W]e have only one con­temporary eyewitness account of a postresurrection appearance of Jesus, namely Paul’s.” found here http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/inbook_to-everyone-an-answer/habermas_case-for-xp-res.htm

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25 replies
  1. jcb says:

    I’ve been responding to this all week. That atheists don’t have a probable explanation for the facts such as that Jesus was crucified doesn’t make it at all probable that Jesus probably was resurrected. Stolen body theory, the swoon theory, etc. may not be probably, but 1. neither is Resurrection theory, and 2. Stolen body theory is more plausible than Resurrection, given that we know of many bodies stolen in history, whereas we know of no actual resurrections after 3 days of clear bodily death. Imagine if it were reversed, and for the last 2000 years, 4 times a year, resurrections happened, but never stolen bodies. In that world, it would be more probable that Jesus was resurrected rather than his body was stolen. But, we don’t live in that world. The world we live in shows that stolen body theory is more likely than resurrection theory, even though both are improbable.

    Reply
    • Clinton says:

      History show that a Roman guard consisted of 12 to 30 men.
      So, 11 men went in, rolled a big, heavy rock out of the way, with a Roman seal on it, and made away with a dead body under the noses of armed Roman guards.
      The guards had gone to the priests, and told them what happened. The priests told them to say they fell asleep.
      Can you imagine a conversation with these guys?
      How did Jesus’ body go missing?
      Well, we fell asleep and they got it while we were asleep.
      Really? And they rolled that big rock away? How’d they do that?
      I told you, we fell asleep.
      All of you?
      Couple this with the fact that they undoubtedly searched for the body because they wanted to stop this movement. But they never found it.
      Most of the desciples we’re excited for their beliefs. One was exiled to the island of Crete. If they had stolen the body, why wouldn’t they have renounced the risen Christ to save their own necks?
      You could say that people die for a lie all the time. Maybe. But they believe it’s true. And people don’t give up their lives for something they know is a lie.
      Given all the information, its about the only plausible explanation.
      Even Jesus’ enemies were saying the same things about him.
      Furthermore, if a resurrection happened all the time, even just once every 50 years, it would negate the resurrection altogether. It happens all the time, therefore, it doesn’t make Jesus all that special.
      It’s the same with miracles. I haven’t seen one, therefore, it can’t happen. You probably have seen one, but was too blind to see it. Scientist say it can’t happen because I can’t get it to happen in this little box. Well, only 4 people I can remember did any miracles. So what makes you think you should be able to do one?
      As you seen in the article above, even skeptics seem to think it’s the most plausible explanation.
      There’s plenty hardened athiests out there that converted after taking a hard look at the evidence.
      If you don’t want to believe that’s up to you. But it’s hard to push these facts away like they don’t exist.
      It seems like the only thing people is willing to accept these days is hard science. Like that’s the only thing out there thats real. Well it cannot explain everything.

      Reply
      • jcb says:

        This is the typical theistic reply: other explanations for why The tomb seemed empty, etc. are not well explained by other theories (true), thus Jesus probably was bodily resurrected (false). This is a non-sequitur: it doesn’t follow. “if a resurrection happened all the time…it would negate (show that it didn’t happen) this next claim of a resurrection.” This is clearly false. You have it upside down. Knowing that resurrections happen a lot makes it more likely that the next claim of it is true. Knowing that resurrections (virtually) never happen makes it more likely that the next claim of it is false. No, I probably have not seen a resurrection, but yes I have seen some improbable things happen. I never said I think I should be able to do a miracle. No, the facts do not show that Jesus was probably resurrected.

        Reply
        • Clinton says:

          Well, if a resurrection happened all the time, then Jesus would not be special. Why would anyone follow one particular man if his resurrection is no different than old Johnny the philosopher over here.
          Negate by the way, doesn’t mean didn’t happen. It means, to make ineffective.
          There is no other valid explanation. They’ve tried for a long time to find something that would work.
          I never said you have seen a resurrection. I said you have probably seen a miracle.
          You also throw away the fact that the desciples were in hiding after Jesus’ death. They were scared. Peter even denied that he knew Jesus.
          Yet, they came around, preached the gospel and then died for their faith because they had seen a risen Jesus.
          Paul was very hostile to the whole movement. He was even present when they stoned Stephen. Yet he converted and became the most outspoken apostle which spread Christianity across a lot of Europe. After an encounter with the risen Jesus.
          Paul in one of his letters, told the church he was writing to that more than 500 people had seen Jesus.
          James, the brother of Jesus, was hostile to the movement too. And he converted and wrote one of the most theologically packed letters.
          The whole movement would have stopped in it’s tracks as soon as they produced the body. One of the apostles would have more than likely produced the body to save his neck if he had it.
          And yet the movement continued and has lasted till the present day. No other religion stands up to this much scrutiny and has the historical facts to back it up.
          Another case of, if I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

          Reply
          • Clinton says:

            Oh. I didn’t mean that you should be able to do miracles. I was talking about the scientist that say they proved it wrong.

          • jcb says:

            You are switching the goalposts. We were talking about whether the resurrection happened, not if Jesus was special. Yes, if Jesus did something that we all do regularly, that would not be too special. But, if none of us resurrect, then when Jesus said he did it, prima facie, he is wrong/a liar, etc.
            How would many resurrections make a future resurrection “ineffective”? That seems false.
            There is no valid, probable explanation, period, that we know of. That other explanations are improbable doesn’t show that another explanation is probable.
            I agreed I’ve seen miracles: improbable things happen. This seems irrelevant to anything here.
            I didn’t “throw away” the point about the disciples. Those facts don’t make it probable that Jesus was bodily resurrected.
            Yes, apparently they died for their belief, but that doesn’t show that Jesus probably was resurrected. (If Joe dies tomorrow for his belief that he jumped to the moon, he still probably didn’t).
            This is a case of: science shows such events to be improbable, and minor increases in that probability don’t overcome the vast improbability of the event.

          • Clinton says:

            I admit that its an improbable event.
            Joe thinks he jumped to the Moon and dies for it? If he knew it was a lie, he wouldn’t have stuck with it if it meant he was to die.
            People don’t normally die for something they know is a lie.
            These men saw Jesus be beaten, put on the cross, and watched him die on that cross. If you think he didn’t die, ask a doctor.

            Then three days later they see him alive again. Thomas, one of them, doubted this until he seen for himself.

            Science says the event is improbable. That’s what miracles are. They are improbable events that validate the message being put forth.

            I never said that if resurrections happen all the time, they would make future ones ineffective. I said if they happened all the time, then Jesus’ resurrection would have been ineffective. Like I said. What would be different between him and another resurrected person.

            According to the Bible, there will be a future resurrection but we won’t get into that.

            If you think you’ve seen miracles, then why is this one so improbable?

            Another good question is, how do you explain all the transformed lives all throughout history?

          • jcb says:

            Exactly. Both cases are improbable. They probably didn’t happen. And the evidence we have doesn’t make them now probable. If you say you won the lottery, that is improbable. If your friends all say, he did! That doesn’t make it probable. Having the one ticket shown and scanned for hidden ink and special coding makes it probable.
            The Joe in my story didn’t know it was a lie, but he was willing to die for it. His willingness to die for it doesn’t make his assertion probable.
            People don’t normally die for something they know is a lie: true. But being willing to die for a lie doesn’t thereby make the assertion probable.
            Yes, if someone was beaten badly, he would probably die. And likewise, he would probably not bodily resurrect after 3 days. And no, 500 people saying he did still doesn’t make it probable, any more than 500 people saying he jumped to the moon.
            Improbable events are likely to be true. Some things that WERE improbable, like you winning the lottery, are later probable, once you have the ticket in your hand that has been triple verified to be the winning ticket. That Jesus was resurrected has no verification similar to that, just like no verification of Joe jumping to the moon that we know of makes it probable either.
            Your discussion of “effectiveness” is a different conversation that we are having about the probability of the event. You seem to be saying, if many resurrections happened before, sure, it would make the next one more probable, but it wouldn’t be as effective at “something” that you don’t define, such as causing a stir, generating a buzz, etc. That’s true, but it doesn’t show that Jesus probably was resurrected.
            Yes, the Bible makes other false (unsubstantiated) claims.
            If you’ve seen one person win the lottery, that doesn’t mean that you should expect the next guy with a ticket to probable win the next lottery.
            Lives are transformed by all sorts of false beliefs. (Consider other religions for a start).

          • Clinton says:

            Ok. So all these people who witnessed Jesus die. Then saw him alive again, with the scars. If all his desciples say they saw him alive. And 500 other people don’t deny they saw him alive. How do you explain that?
            Why would these people have been beheaded and crucified and stoned?
            Their verification was that they saw him alive.
            Someone didn’t just come and tell them, they saw with their own eyes.
            Another thing is, why would a bunch of severely monotheistic Jews make up a new movement in which they believed a man to be God?
            Hey Thomas, we’re making up a new religion.
            Cool, what’s it gonna do for us?
            Well, it’ll probably get us beaten, tortured and killed.
            Ok. Sign me up.
            It was verified by eye witness.
            Some people say these people had a mass hallucination. But psychologist say that’s impossible.
            If someone told you they won the jackpot on lottery, but they said they gave it all away to charity. Of course that’s an improbable event. But, then when you talk to his friends. And they all say, yeah he won the lottery. We were with him when the numbers were all matched and when it was turned in. We even saw his bank account statement.
            Would you still be inclined to say they’re all liars?

            I would also like to see an example of a criminal that never heard of a religious belief that was thoroughly changed for the better.
            I don’t doubt it can happen. But the genuine experience of Jesus in a life can change it for the better, almost overnight in some cases.
            As a matter of fact. I was hearing some stories about Muslims in the middle East having an experience of one sort or another, and converting.
            Just because something doesn’t happen all the time, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
            Science can’t explain them because they don’t have that sort of power.
            Well that violates the laws of physics!
            Sure. But because one can’t do it, doesn’t mean another never did.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “And 500 other people don’t deny they saw him alive”
            .
            What 500 people? What were their names, where did they live? What can you tell me about them? Who interviewed them, what exactly did they say they saw? If one person claims 500 people saw something, that’s ONE person’s account that needs explaining, not 500.

          • toby says:

            So all these people who witnessed Jesus die. Then saw him alive again, with the scars. If all his desciples say they saw him alive. And 500 other people don’t deny they saw him alive. How do you explain that?
            What Andy said. You could say 5 or 500 or 50,000. If you don’t say who they are you’re just making some baseless assertion.
            |
            Why would these people have been beheaded and crucified and stoned?
            Why wouldn’t people die for a lie? All it takes is one person “interpreting” what happened to be for the glory of god and all that mysterious ways garbage and his ways are not ours and we’re just not good enough to understand. So then the true believer can rationalize lying about an event and hold on to their faith. Do you not think believers have done heinous things they knew were wrong in order to support or further their faith and used that faith to justify it?
            |
            And what proof do you have that the followers died for anything more that just being labeled christian? I think believers have this persecution complex that leads them to believe of these grand schemes that Romans or whoever asked them to recant and they wouldn’t so they died. I think they simply died for having claimed to be christian. And consider this, if someone did recant under torture, would you believe they really recanted their belief? No. Because you know you’d say anything to make torture stop.
            |
            Their verification was that they saw him alive.
            Someone didn’t just come and tell them, they saw with their own eyes.

            I’ll only go so far as to say, “There is an anonymously written account that says so.”
            |
            Another thing is, why would a bunch of severely monotheistic Jews make up a new movement in which they believed a man to be God?
            Why did mormonism catch on?
            |
            And they all say, yeah he won the lottery. We were with him when the numbers were all matched and when it was turned in. We even saw his bank account statement. Would you still be inclined to say they’re all liars?
            Mmmm, I would say I’d believe it when they produced the proof of donation, which would be easy to do.
            |
            Science can’t explain them because they don’t have that sort of power.
            Why couldn’t it? Anything that happens in this universe is measurable in some way. The problem is that anything that happens in this universe can be assumed to be natural by definition.
            |
            All of your arguments are based on an old, anonymously written book, the copies of which it is pieced together are no closer to the events described in them than about 100 years. People analyze the writings in it and use a number of methods to interpret it. And these methods they use they REALLY want to make seem that they’re scientific. Because the scientific method can produce facts far better than theology. You’re basing your belief on textual interpretation that is basically assumption of historicity (by some, not all) and armchair psychology.

          • toby says:

            What if the roman guards took the body away to stick a thumb in the eyes of the Jews? Surely they thought the christians had already been dealt with so why not give a poke at the jews too?

  2. Andy Ryan says:

    How come the blog writers are happy to cite the authority of historians on this subject, but when it comes to biology they’ll have us believe the vast majority of scientists have got it wrong?
    .
    An argument I often see is that Christianity would never have got off the ground in the first few decades after Christ’s death unless the details stated in the Bible were true, because people could have easily checked. They could have interviewed people, gone to see the empty tomb etc. I don’t find this convincing. During the 2016 election, Trump made a speech referring back to an event just a few days before when Obama was heckled by an elderly army veteran. Trump claimed that Obama had been rude to the man, shouted at him, etc. In fact, Obama had told the rest of the crowd not to boo the man, he said: “You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him”. So Trump just lied. And there was clear video evidence that he was lying. Anyone could check this. And yet none of Trump’s supporters seemed to think he was lying. Trump was their man, if he said Obama had been screaming at an elderly war veteran then it must be true. So people are quite happy to dismiss evidence when it’s on TAPE. How much harder 2000 years ago to show people evidence they’re believing falsehoods.
    .
    So what if a few people DID go and check out the tomb, and there with a body in it, or they couldn’t even FIND a tomb, and they couldn’t find any of the claimed 500 witnesses to the risen Christ – so what? They tell a few people, maybe LOTS of people, that the results of their search wasn’t convincing… but how many who are already ‘true believers’ will accept it? Perhaps some do take it on board, but others don’t, or their bad news is swamped by other people spreading the ‘good news’. Or people just say “Maybe you found someone ELSE’s body, or you were looking in the wrong tomb, or you didn’t find the tomb because you weren’t looking hard enough. Maybe you’re a Roman spy trying to discourage us, or perhaps you’re actually Satan, spreading lies”.
    .
    Two thousand or so years later it’s very hard to know what investigating people did and what they would have found. It’s a lot of assumptions to make to base a whole religion on.

    Reply
  3. David says:

    Jesus was either a historical figure mythologized or a mythical character historicized. Neither scenario is very hard to imagine. On the other hand, what you’re asking us to believe Mr. Grossenbach is very difficult to imagine.

    Reply
  4. Andy Ryan says:

    An argument presented here is that we should trust that 1,950 or so years ago a large group of people found convincing evidence of a risen Jesus, because they were in a position to check out the facts for themselves. In other words, it was close enough to the time that people could seek out the supposed witnesses and interview them, or they could look for the empty tomb themselves. I don’t find this a convincing argument. We’re putting a lot of trust into a group of people who lived a very long time ago who we know nothing about. What’s more, recently I’ve seen a lot of evidence that people are willing to discard solid proof that challenges a world view they’re keen to hang on to.
    .
    During the dog days of the 2016 election, there was an incident at a campaign rally when Barack Obama was heckled by an elderly war veteran, a Trump supporter. Others in the audience booed the man and Obama attempted to quieten them, saying “You’ve got an older gentleman who is supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him”. A very short time later, at a Trump referred to the incident at his own rally, but made out that Obama had been screaming and shouting at the war veteran. Not only was it a straight up lie, it was an easily debunked lie – we had video evidence that things had actually played out very differently. But none of his supporters seemed to conclude he was a liar – perhaps none of them checked out the real video, or they just ignored it, or they justified it in some other way.
    .
    So around the year 70AD, perhaps some people want to investigate this growing new religion. What if they look for the 500 witnesses and can’t find them. What if they look for Jesus’ tomb and find a body in it, or perhaps can’t even find the tomb – what then? They might easily just figure they didn’t look hard enough. Or they might decide this Christianity thing is nonsense and decide to worship some other God, leaving other believers to continue believing. Or perhaps they evangelically decide to spread the news that Christianity is based on fakery – what then? Who says they’ll find a willing audience? People on this website keep telling me there are no transitional fossils. They don’t believe me when I say I’ve seen them, and they don’t want to visit a museum themselves to look at them. Just like Trump supporters didn’t want to watch the video of Obama being courteous to the elderly Trump supporter.
    .
    How much harder to convince people 1,950 years ago before videos, audio recordings, photos etc were available.

    Reply
    • Clinton says:

      Ok. First of all, the argument isn’t that people found evidence of a resurrection. The apostles witnessed a risen Jesus.
      As for the 500 others that witnessed it, we don’t know what their names were. It doesn’t tell us. But, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:16 that Jesus appeared to more than 500 brethren.
      The Corinthians, being in the culture they were in, probably had questions and doubts about the claim of resurrection. Paul is basically inviting them to go and talk to these witnesses. All they would need to do is travel to Jerusalem and look for them. At this point it shouldn’t be that hard to find someone when asking around for the identity of someone.
      If they did, and nobody was found, the person investigating could have easily come back and say it’s false, and dispell the whole thing.
      People die for lies all the time….
      Sure. People have died for lies all the time. Joe says he jumped to the Moon. Now someone is going to hang him for his belief that he did. Now, if he willingly hangs, he either did, or he is a mad man. If Joe knew it was a lie, would he still willingly die. Not likely.
      Muslims around the world blow themselves up to advance their religion. They actually believe that that’s what Allah wants. If they knew it was a lie, they wouldn’t do that. And the belief they have is on a second hand account. They didn’t witness any miracles or a risen Mohammed and didn’t claim they did.
      The apostles all witnessed the miracles, witnessed the death, and then witnessed Jesus alive again and gave up their lives for this.
      Peter and John were thrown in jail for preaching Jesus. They were beaten in Acts 5 and warned not to speak in the name of Jesus again. They did anyway. I
      Paul, in acts, after he was converted got put in prison more than once. People sought to kill him. He was even stoned once and survived. The Bible doesn’t record his death. He wrote to Timothy about his impending death while he was in prison.
      He was beheaded outside Rome. This was recorded by I Clement, Ignatius, eusebius and tertullian.
      The first martyr we know of was Stephen. Record in acts 7. He was not an apostle and didn’t claim he saw Jesus risen, but he lived in the area and there’s a good chance he might have witnessed something. He asked for forgiveness for the people who stoned him.
      Peter’s death was prophesied by Jesus in John 21. Church fathers were unanimous in claiming he was crucified. There are traditions that he was crucified upside down but that is less clear.
      Tradition in India was unanimous that Thomas was the Father of their Church. Plutarch records some of it. They say he was martyred there but im not sure how.
      Josephus the Jewish historian, records James and others, accused of crimes, and stoned them.
      Andrew, according to tradition and church history was crucified in the city of patras after refusing to sacrifice to the Roman God’s.
      James, brother of John was killed was killed with the sword.
      Almost all of the apostles were martyred. John was the only apostle to die a natural death.
      I don’t know why I even bother because you claim that the church fathers were liars. With the Gospels, you look at the most skeptical and liberal positions, I imagine, and take them to be the most factual.
      As you seen in the article, and as you’ll see in actual scholarship, not Google, even athiest don’t doubt that Jesus existed, and a lot of them can’t really offer much in the way of an explanation.
      There has been some scholars, even athiest that have found evidence and dated the original Gospels to 5 to 10 years from the events.
      Another thing is, something like this were to happen 30 or 40 years ago, you could be sure that the eyewitnesses could remember it very well.
      Ww2 veterans can describe was happened during their time of service to the smallest details.
      As far as the crucifixion goes, it seems the core message was the same through the Gospels.
      If we can’t trust a single thing within the new testament documents, then we really can’t know much of history at all, because they have passed the same standards as other ancient historical literature.

      Reply
      • Clinton says:

        As for evolution. I’ve seen what they thought to be transitional fossils. And here some good stories too. I’ve also seen a single shard of bone and an entire story about a tribe of Neanderthals that this bone supposed to belong to.
        Everything I’ve read about what they call speciation. It always been changes within a kind, or species observed. Such as a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler mating and a new breed occurs. Different species of cat, dog, bird or plants mating and a new breed is made.
        But I’ve never seen nor heard of an observed instance of a lizard turning into a bird. Or a land animal turning into a fish.
        They work with bacteria and bugs of certain sorts because of their quick lifespan and try to get them to turn into something else and it never does happen. Bacteria seems to have been unchanged for a very long time.
        And what about living fossils. They had this fish fossil They said it was millions of years old. They then found a living specimen in 1938, and it was unchanged from the fossil.
        As far as man goes. It makes no sense that an ape of some sort would change to a man.
        A strong, furry, thick skinned ape, turns into a almost bald, easy to kill human, with the only defense being intelligence and couldn’t hardly survive in the same environment without clothing and weapons. What did they mate with, or what environment were they in to cause that. And why is it that different kinds cannot mate with each other and produce viable offspring?
        Some evolutionist have given up on the slow progression of millions of years of change, due to the rare fossil support. Now they claim that it happened quickly and thats why they don’t have a trace. A snake laid an egg and a bird popped out.
        Not only would this miraculous event have to happen once, it would have to happen more than once to produce a male and female.
        If one looks at animals like a giraffe, you would discover that it would have to have been built with all it’s parts correctly the very first specimen, or they wouldn’t survive the first drink they took.

        Reply
  5. Andy Ryan says:

    Clinton: “People don’t normally die for something they know is a lie. These men saw Jesus be beaten, put on the cross, and watched him die on that cross”
    .
    For this argument to work we need to know the following:
    a) The disciples were put to death specifically for professing they say Jesus alive after he died
    b) They were given the chance to save themselves by recanting this claim
    c) They rejected this chance.
    .
    Which of the disciples qualify for all three of these points? As far as I’m aware, very few if any. If they got killed for making the claim but weren’t given the chance to recant then maybe they knew they were lying but didn’t realise they’d die for it. And all this time later, what hard evidence is there of how any of them died? For most it’s merely ‘church tradition’ that they were martyred. If one of them was actually executed for committing some other capital offence against Rome, and 30 years later someone just said he’d died because he was claiming he’d seen the resurrected Christ, how would we know? Perhaps the Romans kept decent records, but what if he’d just died in a fight, and his friends later claimed it was because of his faith? We just don’t know. That seems more likely to me than reckoning he must have seen someone rise from the dead.
    .
    Certainly most of us day to day figure that supernatural explanations are more unlikely, even if they themselves are pretty unlikely. Certainly no court accepts the supernatural as an explanation for a crime.

    Reply
    • jcb says:

      This is a reply to Clinton as well:
      It may probably that they saw Jesus die. It may be probable that they think they saw him alive again. That doesn’t make it probable that he was resurrected. Why not? Because of what science has shown about the vast improbability of one resurrecting. It’s more probable that the witnesses were either mistaken in thinking Jesus was dead, didn’t know about comas, or were mistaken in thinking they saw him alive, than is “X rose from the dead after the equivalent of bodily cremation”.
      If I fail to explain why the people think they saw Jesus, etc., it doesn’t make it probable that Jesus was resurrected.
      If a psychologist says that people having a mass hallucination is impossible, then that psychologist doesn’t know what “impossible” means. Yes, it may be improbable, but so too is resurrection theory.
      Your lottery example isn’t as good as my Jumping to the moon example, because we know lotteries exist, and winners of lotteries exist. In contrast, we don’t know of anyone jumping to the moon, or being resurrected after 3 days of clear, bodily death, as if cremated. In the jumping to the moon story (like the resurrection story), if all his friends say “it really happened”, it still probably didn’t. Yes, I’d be inclined to say they are all liars.
      Yes, ideas can change people, even ideas that are false.
      Yes, even if something never has happened, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It just means, when someone next proclaims that it did, it probably didn’t.

      Reply
      • Clinton says:

        First, read the text about the way Jesus died. Talk to a doctor about it, and see if that doctor thinks its possible that Jesus survived.
        You brought up the lottery example.
        Hild on and I will answer the other questions.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “First, read the text about the way Jesus died”
          The text written decades after the event, you mean? How do you know how accurate it is?
          .
          Also, why is ‘he’s a God’ the only explanation for someone rising from the dead? I can think of a bunch of really unlikely, silly-sounding explanations for how someone can rise from the dead. They all involve elements we’ve never observed – aliens, superhuman etc – but why are any of them less likely than an all-powerful God?
          .
          My own view is that there’s no evidence anyone saw a risen Jesus. At least, no more evidence than we have for Elvis faking his own death or alien abduction.

          Reply
          • Aaron says:

            My own view is that there’s no evidence anyone saw a risen Jesus. At least, no more evidence than we have for Elvis faking his own death or alien abduction.
            What do you think about the minimal facts that Mr. Grossenbach presented? do you think that they are true?

  6. ANTHONY says:

    What interests me more is that some of these people (Crossan, for example), have spent their lives immersed in the New Testament, yet rejected Christianity. Crossan was a Catholic priest.

    Reply
  7. AB says:

    “My own view is that there’s no evidence anyone saw a risen Jesus. At least, no more evidence than we have for Elvis faking his own death or alien abduction.”
    Andy, what is your view on the minimal facts that mr. Grossenbach presented? Do you think that they are true?

    Reply

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