Implications of the Resurrection

worship

If you have followed along in this series of blog posts, I trust that you recognize my desire to engage in thoughtful discussions of the matters of the Christian faith. I absolutely understand why topics such as the resurrection seem like fantasy and myth rather than reality and serious history. As I stated in the opening section, I and most Christians I know, also dispute, refute, and disbelieve so-called “miracle” stories. These accounts really have no bearing upon Christianity whatsoever. My faith does not live or die on them. And frankly, I suspect that most of these anecdotes have a purely naturalistic explanation. But the resurrection of Jesus is different on several levels.

In the debate with atheist Antony Flew, Gary Habermas makes the point, to which Flew confirmed, no other founder of a significant religion ever claimed to perform miracles. Jesus is unique. His claims were unique and relatively outlandish. Though many people consider Jesus as one of the “great teachers” alongside Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, and etc., He cannot be classified as such. C.S. Lewis famously and rightly said that one must consider Jesus in one of three categories: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. His teaching included, even founded upon His claims to Deity. To be a great intellect or one among other great men is to undermine His teaching altogether. You see, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The problem for the skeptic is that history proves His claim is valid. The historical record of human history that even makes us aware of the great teachers, attests to the Deity of Jesus. These implications place the greatest demand upon each of us to heed His words. As the writer of Hebrews states “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

Jesus showed us God. He showed us that although God is holy and just who judges every evil though, motive, and deed and there will one day be a day of reckoning, He is also a God who condescends to meet with us, to reach out to us, to offer us hope. In the Bible, We see Jesus talking to the skeptics of the world. We see Him explaining and showing that there is more to reality than the physical world. The miracles He performed had multiple purposes. They validated His claims of Deity.

One of my personal favorite accounts of Jesus was the paralytic who was lowered through the roof before Him (Luke 5:18-25). The story goes that the house was full of people, clamoring to be with him, to be healed, to listen to Him. It was so crowded that this man’s friends decided to remove the roof above Jesus and lower him down. What a sight that must have been. It demanded Jesus’ attention. He was not perturbed by the incident, but instead admired the faith of the paralytic’s friends. Instead of healing the man, Jesus stated “Your sins are forgiven.” How interesting! Imagine being the paralyzed man. Was he disappointed by this pronouncement? He was not restored to health. Furthermore, Jesus knowingly provoked the religious leaders in the room.

These religious leaders, not Jesus’ friends, immediately recognized his claim of deity in that pronouncement. They responded with the greatest disdain, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” The punishment for blasphemy was death. Eventually they had their way on this matter, but for now they were just provoked. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing.

This situation, a paralyzed man before and a spiritual claim made, also shows us that Jesus is aware of the difficulty of believing a spiritual reality exists in a physical world. He addresses this directly by asking, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Certainly it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because you cannot prove that. It is un-seeable. It cannot be proven or refuted. His disciples would believe it, just because He said it. His detractors would not believe it because He said it. Perhaps you would not believe it, because you do not believe in a spiritual reality involving God and the need for His forgiveness of your sins against Him. His claim to forgive the man’s sin could not be proven by the proclamation alone.

Therefore, Jesus took things to the next level. Surely the tension in the air was palpable. Here is a poor, broken man who wants to be healed. His friends have made a spectacle of themselves before everyone. The religious leaders were furious. The crowd was all eyes and ears. Jesus knowingly orchestrated the situation to prove His claim of Deity. He said, “’But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’—He said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’” Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God.

In this instance, Jesus claimed to be God, claimed there is a spiritual reality over a purely naturalistic one, and proved it by performing a miracle. The resurrection was the ultimate validating miracle. It was the greatest demonstration of power and His claim of Deity. The implication is unmistakable. If Jesus is God, then who are we and what else has He said and does He require anything of me?

The resurrection, though validating Jesus’ claims and really all of the history and claims of the entire bible, had another purpose. The resurrection secured the salvation of all those who repent of their sin toward God and have faith in Him. You see, the resurrection is tied to the crucifixion. We understand from the Bible, that each of us has broken the Law of God and the just thing for a holy Judge to do is to punish the lawbreaker. He said that the wages of sin is death. But the “Good News” or “Gospel” is that Jesus’ death carried out that death sentence and was a substitution for your guilt. The wrath of God against sin and evil and disobedience was directed at His Son who was not guilty at all—who had not displeased God, His Father, in any way whatsoever. Here we see what Peter meant when he wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

Like Jesus with the paralytic in front Him, we hear an unprovable, spiritual claim being made—Jesus’ death was a substitution for you and me and our guilt. We deserved the death penalty, but Jesus paid it for us. All He demands of us is to confess our sin, agree with Him that we have offended God, turn our hearts away from our love of self and sin and turn toward Him in love, trust Him by faith. For we are told that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—So, how can we know if this spiritual claim is true? In the case of the paralytic, Jesus healed him. In the case of His claims that His death paid for sin, He rose from the dead just like He said He would. His resurrection established proof and hope that we too will be raised from the dead, forgiven, washed clean of the guilt of our sin.

You see, the “debate” about the resurrection far exceeds winning or losing an argument. See that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical event, proving spiritual claims, with the greatest implications of eternity. The first question I asked in this blog is the question before you now, “Is the resurrection believable?” I hope you see that it is entirely believable and the risen Jesus calls you even now to believe in Him, pleading with you, saying, “Follow Me.”

A Resurrection? I Object!

‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?’

Sherlock Holmes Quote[1]

-The Sign of Foursherlock

 

I ran Plantinga’s argument (see Blog #4) by my nineteen-year-old son, to see how acceptable the acclaimed philosopher’s thoughts would be taken in a real-world context. My son didn’t buy it. Perhaps his innate common-sense realism just didn’t buy into it. Nevertheless, it could indeed be the case that any naturalist who may read this blog won’t buy it either. Firmly holding to his materialistic ground, the resurrection skeptic sets forth several options that explain the resurrection naturally. This post will consider some of the common naturalistic explanations that have been proposed and the common retorts. Gary Habermas rightfully explains that to say “resurrections just don’t happen” is insufficient. Denial is a claim only and not a theory.[2] The skeptic must provide his own explanation. Hopefully, by the end of this post, reader and author alike will confirm Sherlock Holmes’ point above and accept the truth, no matter how improbable it may seem.

The first refutation of the resurrection of Jesus is found in the pages of the Bible itself. Matthew 28:11-15

Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

The obvious thing to note here is that the text plainly tells us this naturalistic explanation is a hoax, a conspiracy, and the real story had just been presented. If we take the Bible for what it says, the objection must immediately be dismissed. But perhaps the Bible is using some sort of psychological trick to disguise the truth and the hoax actually lies with its own explanation. The author is the conspirator after all and the disciples did steal the body.

For the sake of argument then, let’s consider the events and why that theory is implausible. It is implausible for several combined reasons. First, these tombs were built intentionally to keep grave robbers out, not to keep dead people from escaping. A 2016 article form the Biblical Archaeological Society explains that the traditional thought that the tomb was sealed with a disk-shaped stone is very unlikely. Of the 900 contemporary tombs, only four were disk-shaped. Of course, the rare of anything is set apart for the ultra-rich, nobility. The other 896 were square (cork-shaped) and were used by commoners, even wealthy ones like Joseph of Arimathea. The disk-shaped stones were designed to be re-opened, to entomb multiple family members over the course of time. The cork shaped ones, as seen in the picture below, could not be moved about easily, once set in place.

tomb-with-stopper-260x195

Moving a giant cork-shaped stone would certainly be a very difficult project physically for the disciples. Though perhaps eleven men could do that. However, they would have to perform this feat with a Roman guard on duty. Here “guard” indicates a company, and not a single soldier. Notice the plurality mentioned in the Matthew text above. Having been in the military, I know that falling asleep on watch is a punishable offense. I am sure for a Roman soldier, the penalty could cost him his life. These soldiers would all have to be asleep to such a degree as to remain undisturbed despite such activity all about them. This theory simply replaces one miracle with another. It is highly unlikely that the disciples, who were observed in public soon afterwards, stole the body of such a locally famous person and successfully hid it. Also, it is very unlikely that these disciples would be willing to die for a hoax, and most did die for their testimony of Jesus. Furthermore, the empty tomb is only half the story. The stolen body theory does not answer the eyewitness’ accounts of Jesus’s appearances.

The more common theory in our day is the hallucination theory. Habermas writes:

After a decades-long hiatus, the subjective vision theory [hallucination] is making a comeback and is again the most popular natural response to Jesus’ resurrection. The most influential version is that argued by German theologian Gerd Lüdemann. After a study of the major resurrection texts in the NT, Lüdemann appeals to “stimulus,” “religious intoxication,” and “enthusiasm” as the states of mind leading to the visions seen by Peter, as well as by others who concluded that Jesus was alive. Lüdemann prefers to speak of these experiences as visions rather than hallucinations, but he is clear that nothing literally happened to Jesus himself.[3]

One problem with this theory is that the disciples’ state of mind was far from being euphoric. They were quite the opposite. The disciples were grieving the loss of their leader. The spirit of the objection is the disciples experienced an extreme emotion—great joy or great grief. But the better rejoinder is not to argue the disciples’ emotional state as the stimulus for hallucinating. Rather it is not likely that groups of people experience the same extremities and the same hallucination simultaneously. The 1 Corinthians 15 passage, which is one of the “minimal facts” approved texts, states that Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred brethren at one time.” Furthermore, Paul states there “many of whom remain until now.” The implication is that his readers did not have to take Paul’s word for it, they could talk to the eyewitnesses personally, if they wish to corroborate the story. This theory also does not account for the Apostle Paul’s testimony, witnessed by others, of an experience with the risen Christ three years later. And we must remember that he was not a disciple in a euphoric or depressed state, instead he was an enemy to Christians, a thoroughgoing unbeliever. Paul was not the only skeptic to have changed his position on the matter of Jesus’ resurrection. The story of “doubting Thomas” and Jesus’ own skeptical brother, James, provide two examples of non-euphoric eyewitnesses. For these reasons, the hallucination theory also seems implausible.

The last naturalist theory that gained wide acceptance in generations past was the so-called “swoon theory.” This argument proposed that Jesus did not really die and that he recovered. The swoon theory has largely faded into oblivion. Jesus’ crucifixion is among the most reliable historical accounts in ancient history. The depiction of His death unmistakably describes death. First, the Romans were experienced crucifiers. They employed various techniques to hasten the death if needed. They would brake ankles in to prevent the person’s ability to push himself upward to inhale, ensuring suffocation. This technique was considered, but the crucifier recognized that Jesus had already expired, according to the Apostle John. To ensure death, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ heart with a spear. The famous description “blood and water poured out” indicates the pericardium sac, surrounding the heart, had been punctured. An article entitled, The Science of the Crucifixion by Cahleen Shrier, PhD. explains this. The swoon theory also decreases in feasibility when we consider again the cork-shaped stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. If Jesus survived crucifixion and a stab to the heart, how could he possibly remove the stone seal? Again, the naturalist theory replaces one miracle with another.

Given the reliability of the death of Jesus, acknowledged even by skeptics, as recorded in the Bible, no naturalistic theory can account for all of the data. Surely, we can see that all naturalistic theories fall short. When this is combined with the overwhelming historical accounts in the affirmative, the skeptic surely must acknowledge that best explanation is the improbable one; namely, Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is true.

This post is meant to be an introduction to the various alternative, naturalistic explanations that are offered for the resurrection of Jesus. I urge the reader to research the topic using the links I provided. You will find ample material to read or watch which present far more exhaustive and reasoned arguments from both sides of the issue.

[1]http://sherlockholmesquotes.com/ accessed March 10, 2017.

[2]http://garyhabermas.com/articles/trinityjournal_latetwentieth/trinityjournal_latetwentieth.htm accessed March 10, 2017.

[3]Ibid.

How COULD Jesus Rise from the Dead?

naturalism-of-the-gaps1-625x469 

I began this blog series by pointing out the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in Christianity and the warrant for the topic. I then argued that Christians are not different from any other human beings in terms of their rational and intellectual acumen. In fact, some of the greatest minds mankind has known have been Christians. I also made the point that for any rational person to believe such a miracle, they would need to have a personal experience of it or accept the vast weight of historical evidence attested by eyewitnesses. The question in this post is, “How Could Jesus Rise from the Dead?”…with the emphasis on the word of ability “could.” How is it even remotely possible?

The skeptic may reasonably object to any claim of the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection because resurrections simply do not happen. Dead people—certainly people who died a violent and traumatic death, and who remained dead for three days—do not recover. It is not possible. I would ask: But what about the eyewitnesses and the reliable historical accounts? The skeptic may respond by saying that, at best, history proves those people sincerely thought they saw the resurrected Jesus…but there MUST be a natural explanation, because people do not return to life.

This is the classic case of just about every Sherlock Holmes mystery. The keen detective is presented with a set of clues and circumstances that defy reason. Common men, lesser mortals, are struck with fear. With their intellect thoroughly overwhelmed, they resort to concluding the perpetrator must be some supernatural (spiritual) miscreant at foul play. At times, Sherlock appears to be on the tipping point, in doubt himself. Yet, he reminds himself of his faith in naturalism, musters his intellectual powers, and solves the crime. It was not a ghost or devil, but the handiwork of a mastermind criminal, and each step of the plot is explained, debunking any notion of a spirit. Indeed, everything has a natural explanation.

If I were the victim of a heinous crime, I would certainly want my detective to be such a naturalist. However, the world in which Sherlock Holmes operates, his conviction that the natural or material world is all there is, is not sustainable. Let’s now consider how the theory of naturalism fails under its own weight.

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Notre Dame University, Alvin Plantinga, offers the following argument, filtered through my own understanding. First, the naturalist is defined as an atheist. The naturalist believes there is no god, no spiritual, or supernatural reality. The naturalist is a materialist. Matter and energy is all that exists. And a naturalist, or materialist, is also an evolutionist. He believes that the world around us, and more importantly we ourselves, exist solely from the means of natural processes. The activities with which we involve ourselves are the results of purely chemical, electro-mechanical mechanisms. Over billions of years, those chemical and electro-mechanical actions and reactions produced life of various forms which have resulted in their successful procreation—or survival. This worldview gives us words such as “instinct.” There is no rhyme or reason, no cognitive motive, just behavior. These instincts have become hard-wired, passed along from generation to generation to ensure survival.

Beyond the behavior of instinct, lies thought. But thought itself is the effect of electro-chemical activity. We all have heard of neurons firing and crossing synapses in the brain. Thought is the activity of neurons and bio-chemistry. Beyond rational thought, lies belief. Belief is more subjective, but also must be the result of electro-chemical activity only.

A quick search on the internet provides plenty of articles of scientists explaining the natural phenomena of faith. They claim to have located the area of the brain responsible for spirituality. For instance, in this article, a professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri stated

“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.

Belief is ultimately irrelevant. What one believes, that is, the why one acts the way he does, has no impact upon the effect of his actions. Results of behavior are isolated from belief. If a behavior results in survivability, who cares what the person believes? That belief can be true or false. Furthermore, the probability of a belief being right or wrong, true or false, must be about 50/50. The same probability must apply to all thought. Therefore, Plantinga argues, the reliability of one’s faculties “is very low.” Since the naturalists’ reasoning faculties are unreliable, then his notion of a materialist-only reality is unreliable. A true naturalist must admit that he cannot have confidence that naturalism is certain.

One likely response is that reliability in rational thinking is high because experiments are reproducible. Technology works, we see it work, it is reliable. However, I must reiterate Plantinga’s point, if naturalism produces unreliable thought processes, then your experiments and your interpretations of those experiments are unreliable. The experiment has been compromised at every level. Each person has at some time come to grips with having been wrong about something. We all have experienced times when we were certain about a thing, only to be humbled and forced to admit that our “reality” was false. Ultimately, Plantinga argues that if one is relying solely on the chemical activity of neurons in the brain for a reliable interpretation of reality, that one must doubt if his neurons have produced a right conclusion.

This argument is a lot like daily life at my job. As an electronics engineer, I make measurements. I measure voltage, current, resistance, and all sorts of signals. I rely on the accuracy of the measurement tools. To ensure the reliability of those measurements, our equipment gets calibrated each year. If I find, after-the-fact, that my measurements were taken with an uncalibrated instrument, then all my data is suspect and the conclusions are dismissed. I must do my work all over again. Plantinga has shown that if the naturalist is consistent with his worldview, he must admit that his data is suspect and his conclusion is unreliable at best.

If the naturalist’s conclusions are potentially false, then logically the opposite is potentially true. A spiritual reality can exist coincident with a physical reality. In such a case, miracles like the resurrection can indeed occur; and the evidence provided in the previous blog supports the claim that they did occur.

Distinguished professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, John Lennox, explains that the naturalist vs. theist debate is not new. It has existed since antiquity. And he makes the point that the two are indeed simply worldviews—how one interprets the world. The naturalist likes to think that his view is a lock-tight truth based on unbiased empirical evidence, science. But it is not the case. The fact that the community of leading scientists is comprised of both believers in God and non-believers shows that belief exists on a deeper level than science alone. Ultimately, the worldview one adopts is based on faith. I will give an example.

I asked my non-Christian co-worker why he did not believe in Jesus Christ? He answered that the Bible was just too myth-like. He could not accept stories such as a snake speaking or Noah’s ark that drew animals from all over the world. Furthermore, he was unwilling to simply believe what men had written in a book. I asked him that if did not believe the Bible, that God had created the world, then what did he believe? How did everything we see come to be? He answered that he believed in Darwinian Evolution—the Earth is billions of years old and that life formed from primordial soup and over time evolved into what we now see. I went on to ask how he knows that is the case? Have you witnessed the evolution of a life form? Of course he had not witnessed it, for no individual has. So, if you have not witnessed it, then how did you come to believe it? He said that he believed what he was taught in school. I asked, “You read it in a book written by men?” The point was obvious.

The summary of this blog post is that the answer to the question, “How COULD Jesus Rise from the Dead?” is: Jesus could rise from the dead if reality is not limited to a naturalistic materialism. In a theistic world, a man can be raised from the dead. Furthermore, this post points out that naturalism is an assumption, a belief, a worldview and not the “slam dunk,” sine qua non that society has blindly accepted.

 

 

 

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

The question before us in this post is “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” As the two previous blogs indicated, the resurrection is prominent in the good news of Jesus. It is the point upon which all of Christianity pivots. It, being concomitant to the cross, is the nexus of Biblical faith. Furthermore, the resurrection serves to bridge material and spiritual reality. (I may have just lost the materialist.) The cry of the skeptic goes something like this: “show me God and I’ll believe.” The resurrection is his evidence. Rather than God writing His name across the sky or speaking audibly and repeatedly from Heaven, He spoke finally through His Son, Jesus—a living, breathing, person from a remote town in the middle East…the One by whom our calendars mark the years. Yeah, that one.

It is no small point to say there were eyewitnesses to his life:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

 

If Jesus’s resurrection was indeed an historical event, then there should be evidence to affirm it; otherwise there should be evidence to refute the claim. An historical claim can be accurately researched. There are recognized guidelines, techniques, “science” used to investigate past events and people. The homicide investigator uses forensic science to gather information, clues, in order to establish the facts surrounding the past. Likewise, historians of antiquities use science: the study of ancient documents—particularly philology as a study of source criticism especially the Greek New Testament—, archaeology which involves the “hard sciences,” as well as anthropology. Surely, the materialist has no problem with science’s ability to accurately portray the past. Is this confidence not the foundation upon which the studies of the origin of the universe and evolution are built? Our task here should be much easier, as we are going back a mere 2,000 years and remaining on Earth rather than going back billions and billions of years looking into the vast cosmos.

One pertinent academic discipline akin to philology is historiography. The Mirriam-Webster definition is: the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particulars from the authentic materials, and the synthesis of particulars into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods. Having original sources is ideal for historians. When original sources are not available, then secondary sources are used, and so on. Therefore, it is completely logical that the nearer a source is to the time of the person and events, the better. Furthermore, the higher number of supporting sources that corroborate, the better. As with any investigation, a reliable eye-witness, even multiple corroborating eye-witnesses is “golden.”

A major historian of Jesus’s resurrection is Christian professor and author Gary Habermas. Dr. Habermas puts forth what he calls the “minimal facts” argument, which I will summarize in this post. I find it to be a compelling argument. Before the skeptic balks at my using a Christian to defend Jesus’s resurrection, let me offer two counter-points to the objection that a Christian historian must be biased who undoubtedly will produce skewed conclusions. First, if a so-called unbiased person does the homework well, carefully researches a matter, stands up well to academic scrutiny, and the results lead him to act upon those conclusions to the degree that he becomes a “believer,” does that subsequent belief negate the research? It cannot. His “conversion” merely proves his character and integrity to respond personally and consistently with his research. I would be more suspicious of the character of a person who says “I conclude ‘X’ but remain ‘anti-X.’” Or, if a biased person does that same level of good research and his bias is strengthened, does that invalidate the research? Surely not. Though everyone’s research must stand the test of careful scrutiny, one’s bias does not automatically disqualify the research. This is the case with Dr. Habermas. His research was motivated by his own personal struggles of doubt about Christianity.

Secondly, if the “biased” person acknowledges his bias and then applies, not his own criteria, but the criteria of his opponents, to his research, would that help quench the suspicion of bias and appease the skeptic? I hope so. What else could be asked of him? It would respectfully identify common ground upon which both parties could proceed. Surely, that approach would be the only way dialogue and knowledge could healthily progress between them. Someone has to compromise (in a good way) their own beliefs in order to accommodate the other. That is exactly what Dr. Habermas does with his “minimal facts” argument. He restricts his dialogue to these “least common denominators” of agreement, recognized within critical, skeptical scholarship among credible subject-matter experts. It is only right to limit the debates to the academicians for obvious reasons…they are the ones who have done the homework and who have been recognized. It promotes the best possible measures of quality control.

Habermas’s criteria for a minimal fact is:

Each event had to be established by more than adequate scholarly evidence, and usually by several critically-ascertained, independent lines of argumentation. Additionally, the vast majority of contemporary scholars in relevant fields had to acknowledge the historicity of the occurrence. Of the two criteria, I have always held that the first is by far the most crucial, especially since this initial requirement is the one that actually establishes the historicity of the event. Besides, the acclamation of scholarly opinion may be mistaken or it could change.[1]

He also accommodates the skeptic by NOT basing his minimal facts on either the reliability or inspiration of the Bible. He offers these premises regarding the Bible and proof of the resurrection:

  1. If one concedes the Bible is Inspired, then the resurrection happened
  2. If one concedes the Bible is Reliable, then the resurrection happened
  3. IF one concedes the Bible is a book of ancient literature—and everyone does—, then the resurrection happened.

The third premise is his claim.

Some convenient data, but not necessary to the argument, is:

The empty tomb is accepted by 75% of true scholars.

The other data in his minimal facts argument is accepted by 95-100%.

How can such percentages be authenticated? He says it is from empirical data, “I counted.” Habermas claims to have catalogued critical scholars and their positions from 1975-2012 citing 3400 resources in French, German, and English, using 140 subcategories, amounting to 600 pages.

Habermas’s minimal facts include:

  1. Jesus died due to crucifixion.
  2. His disciples had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.
  3. Their lives were transformed because of this conviction.
  4. As a result, they proclaimed this message very soon after Jesus’ death, actually within weeks.
  5. A man named Saul of Tarsus was converted to Jesus Christ by what he

also concluded was a personal appearance of the risen Jesus to him.

These minimal facts present early, eyewitness accounts. They are multiple primary sources. Remember, this is the best possible scenario for historiographers.

The date of Jesus’s undisputed crucifixion was ~30 A.D. Among the seven or so New Testament books that are recognized as authentic is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, dated at 55 A.D or 25 years after the crucifixion. In that letter he claims a personal experience of the risen Jesus, three years after the crucifixion. He also records that at the time of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to 500 witnesses including Jesus’s own skeptical brother James. These eyewitnesses obviously put the time between the sources and the event at “Time Zero.”

The importance of these dates can be understood when you consider again historiography. From a historiography perspective, Paul’s writing twenty-five years after the resurrection is almost a ridiculously close timeframe. By comparison, Alexander the Great whose authenticity is not doubted. No one doubts Alexander the Great lived and conquered the world. There are no copies of historians who wrote during his life.

If you would like to view Dr. Habermas’s lecture on the minimal facts argument, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5znVUFHqO4Q

This blog presents a very brief explanation of arguably the best, critical evidence for the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection. In the forthcoming blogs, I will consider some of the objections raised by skeptics. I would like to leave the skeptic with these thoughts, if you find the historical research to be reliable, then your argument for scientific evidence is satisfied, your exclusively materialistic worldview has been disproven, your demand for God to make Himself plain has been satisfied. The question then is: Will you believe Him? And if not, why not?

[1]http://garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm, accessed March 5, 2017.

How Can Christians Possibly Believe Jesus Was Raised from the Dead?

faith-reasonIs the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?

The first blog post is in this series explained the warrant behind asking the question “Is the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?” and it challenged the Christian church to make Jesus’ resurrection the primary part of personal evangelism and to give it a prominent position in its teaching ministry. The short explanation for that challenge is: because the resurrection is the Gospel. I mean that the resurrection encompasses all of the component parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the resurrection validates the cross; it validates Jesus’ claim of deity, it validates all of Jesus’ teachings; it validates the Old Testament and the New Testament, the entirety of redemptive history from creation to glory even eternity past and eternity future. All of those glorious theological truth claims, all of those supreme matters of faith in a God who cannot be seen rest upon this single historical event. Paul knew this. Otherwise he could not have written to the Corinthians, “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

The remaining blog posts will try to persuade the skeptic, and the Christian alike, that not only could the resurrection happen, but that it did happen. Where do we begin? I’ll begin where I perceive the skeptics are coming from… “it just seems ridiculous.” I get that. Why should anyone give the story of the resurrection of Jesus a second thought? Furthermore, even if Jesus was raised from the dead, how does that validate his claim of deity and all of Christianity? It seems utterly absurd and irrational. People do not, cannot be raised from the dead.

Yet millions of Christians believe it and entrust their never-dying souls to Jesus because of it. Generally speaking, these are not unthinking people. As fellow human beings, Christians do not differ from non-Christians in intellect and rationality. That bastion of unquestionable research, Wikipedia, cites: “According to [the book] 100 Years of Nobel Prize (2005), a review of Nobel prizes awarded between 1901 and 2000, 65.4% of Nobel Prize Laureates, have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference (427 prizes).”[1] Certainly, this does not prove the resurrection and is not an appeal to Nobel Prize winners as authorities, rather it simply supports the point that the Christian faith, grounded in the story of the resurrection of Jesus, is believed by many people whom our society acknowledges as the intellectual elite.

isaac-newton

With Christians intellects like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, John Lennox, Ravi Zacharias, and Alister McGrath (just to list some of my favorite geniuses off the top of my head), I think it is safe to say that the resurrection of Jesus has been believed by some rather brilliant people throughout the ages. Furthermore, I would venture to say that most Christians, at least those I associate with, do not typically entertain fantastical stories as believable stories. For instance, modern day accounts of miracles like resurrections, exorcisms, weeping statues, and healings are rightly met with skepticism by many—me included. I would demand irrefutable proof before accepting any of those things as fact. Furthermore, I really have no desire to even investigate those claims. I do not rely on them as evidence for my faith nor do I fear that if they prove fraudulent that my faith and the claims of Christ are in any way threatened or diminished. I am inclined to think the stereotypical TV evangelists who purportedly demonstrate faith healing and so-called “words of knowledge” are false teachers, maybe even shysters (since I do not know any personally, I cannot say with certainty that they are crooks). But, I outright dismiss all preachers whose message smells of the “health and wealth gospel.”  Paul’s words still ring true today:

For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.

But I digress.

grapevineAdmittedly, most Christians work backwards in the thinking process, in their logic. Of the many Christian testimonies I’ve heard over my 50 years in the church, almost always I hear of faith coming before intellectual pursuit. That is, most Christians do not come to faith after a logical review of the historic evidence of the resurrection of Jesus; rather, they attribute their belief to a personal experience with the risen Christ, then they begin to make sense of it and study the Bible. Understanding the events as historical comes later. Just because faith is not first deduced from scientific or historic evidence, does not make it irrational. Actually, the process is quite rational. Think about it, the only way a rational person would be persuaded of a miracle is to witness it firsthand. Do we not all relate to the skeptic’s mantra from Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine, “People say, believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear?” The genuine Christian will tell you that something spiritual happened TO him. Something—rather, some-One— from outside of himself penetrated him, reached into his soul and changed him. They did not physically see or hear the risen Jesus, but they did, and still do, experience Him. The Bible expresses this experience in terms of being “born again” or having been spiritually deaf, they now hear, spiritually blind they now see, and having been spiritually dead, they are now alive. With new spiritual eyes, they read the Scriptures and believe them to be true. It is after-the-fact that the Christian goes on to investigate the historical evidence and are intellectually satisfied to find the record is “legit.” Some investigate first, but most people I’ve heard experience what I described.

I would also propose that it is the very rare Christian who can defend the legitimacy of Jesus’ resurrection using empirical data. As a result, Christians become easy targets for claims of “fideism,”—a negative term for having “blind faith,” where “blind” means irrational, unthinking, or ignorant. When challenged, most Christians can only refer to some Bible verses. And so, they come off looking like “fundamentalists” or “Bible thumpers” whose only argument is “because the Bible says so.” This works if they speak only among themselves, with other Christians. Other Christians get it. After all, Jesus taught that childlike faith is genuine faith. It can be argued perhaps that the doubters are the weaker ones…only doubters seek affirmation from empirical support, e.g. “Doubting Thomas.” I’ve known Christians, myself included, who teach that since “The Gospel is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16), we ideally just need to get unbelievers to read the words for themselves or at least present a Gospel formula to them—pearl-string verses like quoting “the Romans road.” But to the skeptic, a Christian who exudes “because the Bible says so” is enough to squelch any further dialogue. Jesus often confounded His detractors with superior reasoning, which included Bible verses, but more often he presented Bible truth in a logical and relatable way—like parables. Also, the Apostle Paul regularly argued from the Scriptures. Paul was a highly educated religious lawyer. His letter to the Romans, his “Magnum Opus” is a well-reasoned argument. The point is that while childlike faith is to be lauded for its trusting God, there is a time and place for adult reasoning for the faith. That was obviously true then, and it is just as true for today.

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Perhaps to some readers I’ve merely confirmed the skeptic’s suspicions that Christians are using “circular reasoning,” which is not reasoning at all. Did I not state that we Christians come to the debate with pre-conceived conclusions, biased toward seeing only what we want to see rather than using pure, objective research…like they do. Or do they?

Getting back to my alien and the Iowa farmer analogy…why would otherwise rational people (Christians) believe the resurrection of Jesus, especially 2,000 years removed from the supposed event? And why should Christians press the skeptic to believe when they seemingly do the same thing the skeptic does when confronted with fantastical stories?

I begin answering with, and arguing for, the uniqueness of Jesus’s miracles and especially His resurrection. While I am skeptical of modern-day miracles, I do allow for the possibility of miracles. One reason why they can happen is because they have happened. One difference between the Christian and the skeptic is the Christian believes in a very particular theism while most skeptics, secularists, believe in naturalism or materialism. That means Christians believe in an unseen, spiritual reality, specifically that which the Bible accounts for, while most skeptics believe in a purely material world.

The next blog post will present a detailed argument for the historical evidence drawn largely from Gary Habermas’s “minimal facts” argument. It should interest the skeptic and Christian alike that the resurrection can be substantiated using the skeptics’ own criteria!

 

[1]Wikipedia, “List of Christian Nobel Laureates,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_Nobel_laureates#CITEREFShalev2003, accessed December 24, 2016

Evidence

 

I polled my Facebook friends and asked a few co-workers which of these assignment topics is more important to them?

(1) “Is the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?”

(2) “Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven?”

(3) “Why Would God Judge People for the Way They Live?”

(4) “Isn’t It Arrogant to Claim Your God Alone is Real?”

I took the poll to find out which question really matters to people, rather just crank out the easiest assignment. I hope this blog series will be a help to someone. I think the question I chose is the most important, challenging the non-Christian and the Christian alike. So, before I dig into the question, I need to explain why I picked it.

The results of my polling were very interesting, mainly because of the diverse group of people I approached. My FB friends are predominately evangelical Christians from the South. By contrast, my co-workers are a slice of New England—a mixed bag of practicing Catholics, nominal Catholics, non-religious secularists, and the anti-religious. Several are electrical engineers with Master’s degrees, including two Russian, secular Jews—one of whom I’d describe as “spiritual” and the other an agnostic-leaning atheist (his words) who said all the questions are the same:  “unimportant” because they come to the same conclusion of a “God” who does not exist.

So, which question won? (drum roll please)

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The most popular response was number 2: “Is Jesus really the only way to Heaven?” That is not too surprising considering that pluralism is so heavily promoted in our culture. The second most popular choice number 4: “Isn’t it arrogant to claim your God alone is real?” I think that question is pretty much the same question as number 2, only with an emotional component. Speaking of emotion, one of my co-workers responded to the list with a hearty, “Oh Hell yeah, number 4!”  Number 3 was next in line with surprisingly very little fanfare: “Why Would God Judge People for the Way They Live?” With the mantra “Don’t judge!” so prevalent in our society, I thought for sure it would garner a higher ranking. The unequivocal loser of the poll, and therefore the LEAST important and LEAST relevant to Christians and non-Christians alike, was number 1: “Is the resurrection of Jesus believable?”  Now here’s the plot twist: that is the question I picked to write about! Hmmm…If I want to write about that which is MOST relevant, why pick the one that everyone agreed is LEAST important?

I asked myself, “Why did that one evoke the least interest?” The more I thought about it, the more I determined it HAS to be the one I write about because it is the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Think about it. Modern Christians don’t talk about the resurrection much, especially to non-Christians; and non-Christians dismiss it as myth. I can understand why non-Christians dismiss it. But why aren’t Christians thinking and talking about it in order to confront the non-Christian with it? After all, is it not the most spectacular demonstration of God’s existence and validation of Christ’s claims? Is it not at the very heart of our faith? I think if Christians were transparent, they’d agree that talking about the resurrection is very awkward. Do we really believe it? Or could it be that we subconsciously adopt the skeptic’s mind and feel a sense of absurdity behind such a claim? Do we inwardly agree with them…that we might as well claim that a UFO landed in a remote cornfield in Iowa and a space alien told some farmer to tell others to believe him or else the earth will be destroyed by his “Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?” (My millennial readers can check out that iconic cultural reference here.)

martian

I think Christians and non-Christians alike unwittingly and wrongly dismiss the resurrection as irrelevant. My experience is that Christians do not bring up the resurrection in their evangelism—I know I haven’t—even though we read throughout the New Testament that it is THE VERY MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL. (Sorry for e-yelling, but it is that important.) We try to relate to our non-Christian friends by talking to them about common experiences such as life’s many problems and tell them that Jesus gives us hope, love, and answers. Or the more bold (and precise) of us confront unbelievers about the problem of sin and rebellion against a holy God and tell them that the only way of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God is through repentance and faith in Jesus. All of those things are true. But they still don’t mention the resurrection.  Should we mention it? If we follow the example (dictate?) of The Apostles, then absolutely. The resurrection was foremost in their evangelism.  Consider the very first sermon ever preached by a Christian, recorded by the preeminent Christian historian, Luke, in Acts 2:14-ff. He writes that Peter proclaimed

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

Also, the Apostle Paul preached Jesus’s resurrection and defended his message as the genuine Christian gospel, confirmed by the most imminent authorities of the Christian church— those closest to Jesus Himself— James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and John. He said, “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain and those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.”  (Galatians 1 and 2).

 

Paul clearly cited the resurrection as essential to salvation in 1 Corinthians 15:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then [He appeared] to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then [He appeared] to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul went beyond his fellow Jews with his gospel of the resurrection, and preached to the Greeks. Remember, that was in ancient Athens—the birthplace of philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle— at the Areopagus itself. Granted, it was about 350 years after Aristotle. But considering we, 2400 years and a world away, know who Aristotle was, it is safe to say the Greeks in first century Athens were serious about philosophy   Luke recorded the event and commented, “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

Furthermore, (back to 1 Corinthians 15) Paul explained:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthlesswe are of all men most to be pitied.

There you have the skeptic’s mind on the matter. They say to us that Christ has not been raised from the dead and Christians are to be most pitied for believing such foolishness.

Again, I think my friends and co-workers have exposed a most significant problem in our day by NOT picking question number 1. They are communicating that the resurrection of Jesus is unimportant and not even on the radar of interest. Modern Christians typically do not include the resurrection in their evangelism—which begs several questions: Do they really believe it? Are they overwhelmingly hesitant to admit it for fear of appearing foolish and pitiful in our scientifically advanced world? Or, have pastors failed to communicate the importance of it? Whatever the reasons, the church has marginalized the resurrection. If Christians ignore the resurrection message, then non-Christians surely aren’t going to think about it either!

In this blog, I must first challenge the church with this observation. If we fail to include the resurrection in our conversations, are we unwittingly guilty of Paul’s rebuke to the Galatian church and dangerously close to preaching a false gospel?— “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! …For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?

Secondly, I have to do what I am challenging the rest of the church to do—persuade the non-Christian of a few things; namely, that not only could the resurrection of Jesus happen but it did happen, that belief in the resurrection is rational, not irrational, and finally, there are subsequent life-changing implications due to the fact of the resurrection.

Addendum for Presuppositionalists The Fingerprints of God: Proving God Through Science part 7

 

This addendum to my blog series is given as a disclaimer of sorts, and as another teaching opportunity. I think it is necessary for me to explain my current position on why and how I could publicly post a reasoned defense of the existence of God using science, when I consider myself a Reformed Baptist. For, most adherents of Reformed Theology in our day align themselves exclusively with Presuppositionalism…seeing absolutely no place or purpose for such a discussion. Actually, there are those who go so far as to say it is unbiblical to do so. But I disagree. I also am an evidentialist, because I believe the Bible uses both apologetic philosophies. I believe they both have a proper place in defending the faith.

van-til

Presuppositionalism

The term “Presuppositionalism” refers to that apologetic philosophy set forth by Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1929 to 1972. The term refers to those things that Christians know, or presuppose, about God as revealed through the Bible. From verses such as Romans 1:18-ff, we learn, via special revelation, that mankind inherently knows there is a God, but that alone is insufficient for saving faith. In fact, the passage tells us that men even suppress the minimal knowledge of God they do have. By contrast, Christians have been given the very Spirit of God who sheds the light of truth, saving knowledge as set forth in the Bible, in them. Saving faith is a gift of God, supernaturally and Providentially given to them. Therefore, they have a completely different worldview than the unconverted. And since salvation is imparted TO men, the only worthwhile communication in our apologetics is the Truth of God’s word.

Christian theologian John Frame explains, “These facts pose a problem for apologetics. Non-Christians do not share the presuppositions we have discussed. Indeed, they presuppose the contrary, as they suppress the truth. The job of the apologist, trusting in God’s grace, is to persuade the non-Christian that the biblical presuppositions are true.” (“Presuppositional Apologetics”  May 23, 2012. Article found here.)

Frame further explains the position by showing us that if the apologist (evangelist) attempts to meet the unconverted man where he is in his thinking, accepting the atheist’s own presuppositions for the sake of argument, then he cannot help but come to wrong conclusions. It is argued that the Christian’s place is to proclaim Christian truth so that God can use that appointed means to bring salvation. To apply this to my blog, the presuppositionalists would point out that it does no good to defend the faith using science, because science and human reasoning will not bring the soul to be in conflict with his sin and show him his need for Jesus as Savior.

Those are all points well taken. And I indeed agree that there is no salvation via science. I disagree that it is the ONLY weapon in our God-given arsenal.

Classical Apologetics

I have to admit that my adoption of evidentialism, along with Presuppositionalism, into my apologetic system is in large part due to the book Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics by R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley. (You can view a brief summary by R.C. Sproul in this video clip.) The book argues that Presuppositionalism is really nothing more than fideism. Fideism as defined by Webster’s dictionary is “A reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth.” Sproul uses it pejoratively, claiming that the Christian church, merely followed liberal theology and post-modernism having “been severely crippled by the Enlightenment. Ours is perhaps the most anti-intellectual era of Christian history, despite our positive support for scholarship, research and technology (Classical Apologetics, pg. 12). He argues in the book that the very goal of the Apostle Peter’s appeal for us in 1 Peter 3:15 is to give a reasoned defense of or faith. I have to agree with Sproul, et.al., on this. We see Paul reasoning with the Jews. Acts 17:2 “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” True, it says “From the scriptures.” But later in verses 22-31, we read of Paul also standing the midst of the Aeropagus and using the Greek gods as a launching point for reasoning with them.

doubting-thomas-jessie-boston

Evidentialism

Evidentialism is part of Classical apologetics. I separated here to point out that it is the specific rational argumentation that focuses on “Evidence.” And evidence was such a huge part of my blog series as it dealt with Intelligent Design. The Intelligent Design philosophy is one sophisticated and detailed presentation of the Cosmological and Teleological arguments. That is, it looks at the universe and all it contains and reasons that the complexity and orderliness and grandeur of it all proves God. Furthermore, due to the basic knowledge that every effect had a cause, the first cause is God—the only truly eternal, and self-existing being. I am fine with using this approach as well because I think Jesus also used evidentialism.

In John 10:38, Jesus was again confronting the Jews and proclaiming His deity to them. They naturally picked up stones to kill Him for it. In His discourse with them, Jesus said to them, “do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 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.” In this one episode, we see Jesus both proclaiming truth (score for the presuppositionalists) and also appealing to them using evidence (score for the classicists and evidentialists).  Also there was the time Jesus dealt with “Doubting” Thomas as recorded in John 20: 27 “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.’” Clearly Jesus condescended and met Thomas where he was, so to speak.

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Personally

For the reasons given above, I am inclined to incorporate both systems of apologetics in my evangelism. I think it is perfectly biblical and Christlike to be—as John said of Jesus—full of grace and truth. Being full of grace, I would argue, means being respectful to people and starting the conversation from where they are.

I have had many occasions to do this in my line of work in the technology field. I work with people who are highly educated in the field of science, typically Electrical Engineers. They are thoroughly a thinking, and highly analytical group of people. And like most in our world, they have been indoctrinated into the evolutionary theory of origins. The Bible to them is simply myth and they see Christians stereotypically as fideists who ignore science. Admittedly, I have never “reasoned” anyone into the Christianity. I do not think the classical apologist would every claim that could be done either. But what a classical and evidentialist approach has done, is gain there respect and challenged their worldview. And when it is done winsomely, it surely puts us and him in a better position to proclaim the truths of God’s word.