Jesus#2, “Where did you come from?”

time mag jesus

Before asking our “To Tell the Truth” contestants some probing questions, I feel the need to explain something. The subject of this brief blog series requires me to take an informational, even corrective approach than I would prefer. If you knew me personally, you would know that I have a dry, witty sense of humor and that I really enjoy making people laugh with clever puns and jokes rather than confronting them over disagreements. Like most people, I am amused by and enjoy reading blogs about someone’s adventures trekking across the globe, complete with amazing photographs of places I will never see for myself. I am entertained by creative people who are able to notice and then transform a piece of garage-sale junk into a stunningly stylish bit of décor.  But that is not my task here. Instead, I am writing about serious matters—things associated with hope in this life and for life after death. These topics are not fodder solely for philosophers and theologians; they are the things that motivate us in our daily lives. I maintain that faith undergirds all we do, for the irreligious and the religious. We all have faith. Faith either trusts that Jesus is nothing or that he is everything. My blog attempts to direct your thoughts to a critical point of intersection between the spiritual and the physical worlds by looking at the historical claims of Christianity. When we deal with the person of Jesus and the historical record about him, we are confronted with a cardinal claim of Christianity: God came to Earth.

When it comes to Jesus, I plead with you to not give in to unfounded conspiracy theories or fanciful imaginations of his life, but rather pursue the facts. I find it ironic that many people in our scientific day seem inclined, even pre-disposed, to accept a revised account of Jesus when the original accounts are so solid. These are people, perhaps yourself, who otherwise rally around the flag of Science, resolute to consider only objective data and draw conclusions on the facts alone, yet they jettison the historical information about Jesus. Have you researched the data for yourself? Have you assumed the unreliability of the Bible and the historical record of the church or have you researched it? Are you really as scientific as you claim? Let’s now do a bit of cross-examination to separate the impostors from the genuine.

In the first blog, I named names. I pointed to two examples of revised history about Jesus. The authors’ perspectives were largely speculative, putting forth a theory and not a biography. They disavow traditional history and the documents from which it is founded, in favor of alternative documents with scant information. With tinted glasses donned, they anachronistically import their ideas into the historical record, seeing what is not there.

da vinci code

I’ve coined the phrase The Da Vinci Code Perspective, for my Jesus #2 candidate. It is short-hand for the popular notion that, The topic can be further narrowed to whether or not the four Gospels were recognized as accurate biographies of Jesus prior to the fourth century. Ironically, this perspective also claims to correct revised history. So, my first question to this Jesus #2 theory is, “Can you show me your ID?” or “What documents stand behind your story?”

nag hammadi

If the answer is, “The lost Gospels of Nag Hammadi,” we have our impostor. That sounds very mysterious and enlightening. Very Indiana jones-like. Revisionist theories have emerged due to an archaeological discovery of ancient documents in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Prior to that discovery, Bible skeptics took an altogether different approach. They questioned the traditionally-held authorship of many of the Bible’s individual books. German scholars based their theories on a book’s internal grammatical, stylistic, and thematic differences. The scholars postulated that Isaiah, for one example, was authored by several people over a long time. Their approach is known as “form criticism” and it has all but gone the way of the dodo in modern scholarship. It proved to be the hunch de jour.

My point to you is that attacks against the traditional historicity of the Bible is nothing new. The reason this blog is about the historical Jesus and not form criticism is because the winds of skepticism changed and now blow toward Nag Hammadi. Any suspicion leading you to question who the “real Jesus” is did not originate with you, but came filtered down from the academies. What do you know about these lost Gospels? For starters, not only is their content severely lacking supportable historical content, their authorship and connections to the events are dubious. Referring to the New Testament Gospels, Dr. Darrel Bock points out, “These [traditional materials] have value because of when they were written, and because of the persons who did the writing and their relationships to Jesus or those around Him. In historical work, sources rule.” (The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities pg. 83.) The opposite applies to the Gnostic, or lost Gospels. They have no value [as biographical documents] because of when they were written, and because of the persons who did the writing and the lack of relationship to Jesus or those around Him. They are relatively late, in a time notorious for false appeals to apostolic authority.

serapionThe late 2nd to early 3rd century church not only knew about these documents, they were battling against them in real-time. The Nag Hammadi documents actually validate the pre 4th century traditional record rather than displace it. Archaeologists did not unearth ancient documents that cause us to correct history; they resurrected the very documents of the false teachers about whom the church was warned to avoid! A compelling example comes from the eighth bishop of Antioch, Serapion, regarding the so-called Gospel of Peter. (The church at Antioch goes back to the first Christians.) Serapion wrote: “For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself. But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us. I supposed that all were in accord with the orthodox faith; and, although I had not read through the Gospel inscribed with the name of Peter which was brought forward by them…But, now that I have learnt from what has been told me that their mind was secretly cherishing some heresy, I will make all haste to come to you again….” See How We Got the Bible, by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 62-63).

Whether you take the side of the New Testament Gospels or the Gnostic Gospels, what cannot be disputed is that the pre-4th century church did recognize the four New Testament Gospels as authoritative. Nag Hammadi may be news to us, but we are a bit late on the scene of history.

I have another question for Jesus #2, a real elephant in the room. But, it will have to wait for blog post #3.

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Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

tell the truth

 

In the 1950’s the popular television game show “To Tell the Truth” entertained audiences by having panelists cross-examine three persons sitting before them in order to determine which was the real, semi-famous though unrecognizable person, they all claimed to be. The two impostors tried to fool the panelists by lying, leaving only the genuine to tell the truth. The show concluded by revealing the true person with the famous phrase, “Will the real [person’s name] please stand up!” With so many new theories about the “historical Jesus” presented to us nowadays, can we determine who the real Jesus is?

time mag jesus

Jesus was only a man. Obviously, there was something special about him, or there at least came to be something special about him, for him to garner such a following AND to have the years of human history calendared according to his birthday. But, he was likely nothing more than an ancient peasant, a political zealot, or a radical rabbi who lived an otherwise ordinary life, complete with a wife and kids. His noble acts and inspiring, anti-establishment words became legendary—think King Arthur or Robin Hood. Because Jesus lived during the time of Greek and Roman mythology, his legend became the stuff of gods. Think about it…the New Testament Gospels tell us he had a human mother and a divine father, walked on water, calmed a raging sea, dialogued with Satan, and cast out demons. And to top it off, just when his followers thought their movement was over, lo and behold Jesus came back from the dead!

 

Deification and Jesus-worship emerged over time. It took about three hundred years for the veneration to become official, public policy. In the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea gave Christians political power, social status, and the doctrinal framework necessary to build an organized religion for the masses. Oh yeah, did I mention they now had MONEY, and LOTS of it? Constantine’s religious legacy remains with us today. It remains somewhat like the Colosseum in Rome, a behemoth harkening back to a grand old past, but of no practical use in our modern world. Prior to the emperor and the ecclesiastical power-councils, the canonized Gospels were simply four legends among many: The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to name a few. After all, we know that history gets written by the winners. Back then, the winner was the church. Once in power, the church dictated what documents were “God’s word” and declared the four Gospels were not legend, but truth, and promptly canonized them—conveniently disposing of all the other stories.

Therefore, to determine who the real Jesus is and what really happened prior to the 4th century, we must read what the losers wrote. When the dust settles, we will see Jesus was just a man. Perhaps he was even a great man, but he was nothing more than a man. Can I get an “amen?”

How does that portrayal of Jesus and the early church strike you? Is it more palatable than the Bible’s rendition and traditional church history? Before you go your way thinking I have affirmed what you suspected about the real Jesus and organized religion, I must tell you that there is a problem with my story. It is made up. It is nothing more than pearl-stringed notions. Like all historical fiction, there is just enough of a connection with history to make it seem plausible to the uninformed. I compiled the ideas from things I’ve heard other people say and from what I’ve read by revisionist historians and skeptics. However, the fact is, it is purely speculation fraught with the skeptic’s bias.

 

Before diving into some facts, I think it is important to name some names. There have been several books in recent years that have offered alternative stories, or revisionist history, about the life of Jesus—some have made the New York Times Bestsellers list. One such book I was given by a former Bible-believing family member, was Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013). Ten years before Zealot, there was The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003). That book is one of the best-selling books of all times at 80 million copies sold by 2009. It was made into a movie in 2006, featuring Tom Hanks. According to Wikipedia, “The film grossed $224 million in its worldwide opening weekend and a total of $758 million worldwide, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 2006.” Collectively, Dan Brown’s novels have sold more than 200 million copies!

Granted, The Da Vinci Code was marketed as fiction because it was a murder mystery novel. However, the murder story was intertwined with “the historical Jesus” concepts. (Those “in the know” recognize that term associated with scholars from the Jesus Seminar dating back to the 1980’s.) But, in these books, the real fiction is its historical narrative!

My criticism is nothing new. Both works I mentioned have come under fire for their poor history—see here for Zealot and here for The Da Vinci Code. I suspect, however, that of the millions who have read the books and watched the movie, a disproportionately low number are concerned about their historical integrity. In my case, my family member appealed to Reza Aslan’s credentials for credibility. He has a PhD. And he had his own show on CNN, Believer (which was a casualty of the volatile world of political correctness). So, there you go, Zealot IS reliable after all [tongue-in-cheek]. The point is that opposition to biblical orthodoxy and traditional Christian history left the distilleries of academia, was sold through the speakeasies of mass media outlets, and has inebriated ordinary Americans.

Earlier this year, I dialogued with a co-worker about some of the things you’ll read next in this blog. I attempted to correct his Da Vinci Code perspective. I asked how he knew what he was saying about Constantine, conspiracies, and church history was accurate. His answer was that he had watched documentaries about it; and “not to be rude,” he told me, “they are historians.” Oh my! I see. I couldn’t resist (not to brag, but to make a point), “I do have a Master of Theology degree in Church History and am pursuing a Doctorate [D.Ed.Min] in Apologetics from world-renown seminaries. Does that qualify me as a historian?”

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What exactly is a historian and how does one “do history?” Do professional historians follow standardized processes to maintain quality control? Is there anything resembling a bar exam for membership into their associations? Are their governing boards dedicated to ensuring professional and historical integrity? Is the popular, “The Da Vinci Code perspective” accurate or is it a false trail?

In these posts, I’ll examine a couple of prominent claims—the pre-4th century Christian church did not recognize the four Gospels as authoritative and that non-canonical Gospels fill in historical gaps about Jesus, debunking traditional Christian history. By the end, we will separate the genuine from the impostors and have the real, historical Jesus to please stand up.

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.

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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?

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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.

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.

faith-reason

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.