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.

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The Fingerprints of God: Proving God Through Science part 6

 

The skeptic of our day thinks he has a lock-tight, impenetrable argument for denying the existence of God by demanding the Christian prove God scientifically before he will believe in God. He makes such a demand because he truly believes it is an impossible task. It is really a rhetorical demand meant simply to proclaim his own faith in materialistic scientism. Nevertheless, the arguments discussed in this blog shows that we can actually provide him with evidence that science can and has proven the existence of God. The Intelligent Design community has provided ample, quality, scientific proof of the existence of God in nature. The type of science used is not quite what the skeptic had in mind; but, he needs to come to grips with the fact that legitimate “science” is not limited to so-called empirical evidence produced in a laboratory. “Empirical Evidence” is often the “best explanation” of secondary evidence. That is what the study of origins is all about. For the skeptic to not accept historical science as science, would mean he would also have to abandon all adherence to evolution that is if he wants to not be a hypocrite.

resurrection

Going Farther Than Intelligent Design

The existence of God is proven scientifically by common observations of the world around us as well as by sophisticated, molecular biology. However, I went further than Intelligent Designers by stating that the same type of abductive reasoning or historical science that Stephen Meyer uses to prove an Intelligent Designer has long been used to prove the veracity of the Bible. The clues gathered in paleography, for one, lead us to the best conclusion that the Bible is a reliable, ancient, historical document. Many volumes have been written about the historical evidence—internal and external biblical information—proving that Jesus also existed as the Bible reports.

Since the historical evidence surrounding the Bible and Jesus is reliable, then the claims of the Bible must be taken as true. They are true because they are not mere religious platitudes, but are based on historical accounts. These words of Jesus are critical: “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.” The point here is that the teachings and claims of Jesus were proven to be true by the miraculous works He performed. It is a bit ironic, that the skeptic also often asserts that in order for him to believe in God, God would have to “write it in the sky.” That is, God would have to perform some miracle that would make His existence utterly undeniable. Well, He did, in the person and work of Christ. But, rather than repeating some sky-writing miracle for every person in every age, Jesus performed many miracles for two years as God incarnate and the accounts are available for us to read and believe. Of course, the most important of His miracles was his resurrection. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (That does not sound like the words of a man trying to deceive the world.)

 creator

Jesus is the Intelligent Designer

What does this have to do with proving that Jesus is the creator and not some Hindu demi-god? The answer lies in the difference between mythology and history. The Bible is an authentic historic document and Jesus is an authentic person of history. The scientifically proven Bible and the scientifically proven Jesus teach us that Jesus is the Intelligent Designer. Jesus is the Creator. The Bible states it emphatically in Colossians 1:16 “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Another verse is Hebrews 1:1-2 “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

The connection between Genesis 1 and Jesus is an interesting exercise in Biblical Theology. Of course Genesis 1 is the account of God creating the world, “In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” Each new day of creation is prefaced with, “Then God said, ‘Let there be….’” We also know that the Spirit of God was an active agent. Genesis 1:2 “…and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Then, we also note that God reveals He is a plurality of persons, Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” The next revelatory milestone takes place at the “burning bush” with Moses.

God, the Creator in Genesis 1, summons his servant Moses while Moses was tending sheep on Mt. Horeb. God identifies Himself as the same God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The purpose of the encounter was to commission Moses to free the nation of Israel from Egypt. Moses asked God what he should tell the people if they ask, “What is His [God’s] name?” God said that his name is, “I AM WHO I AM.” Thus, the covenant name of God was established, which we transliterate as “Yahweh.” This name is what links God, the creator, to the God of Israel, and later to Jesus.

If we fast-forward about fifteen hundred years, from the burning bush to Jesus confronting the Pharisees, the link between the Creator and Christ is completed. The scribes and Pharisees were the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus and His claim of being the long-awaited Messiah. In John chapter 8, these Jews again approached Jesus in an attempt to trap Him with legal questions—this particular episode involved an adulterous woman. In the course of the conversation, Jesus repeatedly refers to God as His Father. He provokes these Jews by contrasting His Father, God, with their father, the devil. They respond that “Abraham is our father.” Later, they ask Jesus “Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died?” Jesus claims, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” That statement confounded them thoroughly because it was impossible for Abraham to have seen Jesus who was by their estimation, “not yet fifty years old.” It was at this point that Jesus makes this supremely important statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” The gravity of that pronouncement prompted the Jews to “pick up stones to throw at Him.” They were, in their minds, doing was lawful and stoning someone who uttered blasphemy. Jesus’ use of the words, “I am” communicated that He was assuming that most holy covenant name of God, Yahweh or “I am.”

Trinitarianism is a cardinal doctrine of Christian theology. Episodes like the one above clearly teach that Jesus was God, God the Son. The Athanasian Creed gives the fullest expression of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity where it states

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

For these reasons we know that Jesus, the Son of God, co-equal with the Father and Spirit, was present and active in creating the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1.

iceberg

Conclusion

Dear reader, I hope you have found this blog series helpful for your own faith and in your defense of the Christian faith to the skeptic. I have presented merely the “tip of the iceberg” on the topic of proving the existence of God using science. Perhaps in an upcoming addendum to this series, I can address those brothers who take issue with the very thought of trying to “prove” God using science. What I hope that you and they take away from this venture is that we live in a world where scientism is the religion du jour. It is a false religion, but it is a prevalent religion in which our neighbors are indoctrinated from all areas of society, especially in education. Therefore, if we can winsomely, respectfully, and lovingly offer them reasoned, informed, perspectives about God from their worldview, we may very well be turning the soil of their consciences in preparation for the seed of the Gospel.

Christian Apologetics and Homosexuality: Jesus, The Loving Lawgiver

 mt sinai

This post marks the conclusion of this series dealing with the question, “How can Christians claim the Bible forbids homosexual acts, but then ignore all the other Old Testament laws? In rebutting the question, I’ve made several negative arguments. I disagree with its implications and its presuppositions. I disagree with its theology and its mischaracterizing orthodox Christianity. So, is there anything positive I can say? There is, but nothing about the question.

Instead of dealing any more with the question, I want to offer a positive argument about the topic of homosexuality and the Law of God. If the question presents wrong thinking, then what is right thinking? What is Christ’s teaching? I touched on this in the third post when I stated, “By describing the law as ‘holy and righteous and good,’ Paul juxtaposes the character of the law with the character of the Lawgiver.” That is key. Understanding the Lawgiver provides clarity, confidence, and comfort regarding His Law.

Surely the boldest statement I’ve made thus far in the series is this: “The New Testament firmly upholds the prohibition [of homosexuality] as seen in the teaching of Christ….” This is primary not because I said it, but because it points to the only begotten Son of God. If Jesus Christ has revealed His position on a matter, then it is forever settled.

Who is Jesus and why should I listen to Him?

This may come as a shocking revelation to some: Jesus is God. Actually, it should shock each of us. Try to take in the severity, meaning, and implications of that. I will take it even further. Jesus is Yahweh. That is right. Jesus is the Covenant-making, Law giving God of both testaments. There are some who erroneously speak of God by addressing the Father as Yahweh and the son as Yeshua. Don’t misunderstand me here, I know that God the Father is not God the Son. I am saying that the names Yahweh and Yeshua refer to the same Person, the Son. Where is the proof of that? We have to look at both the Old and New Testaments.

Exodus 3. Moses approached a bush that was on fire but was not consumed. The burning bush was a theophany, a tangible manifestation of God. God instructed Moses to remove his sandals for he was on Holy ground. God did not pick a holy place, suitable for Him to appear. No. The ground was made holy because of the very presence of the thrice-holy God upon it. God is impeccable, utterly righteous. At this occasion God commissioned Moses to be His spokesperson. He ordered Moses to return to Pharaoh and demand Israel’s release. Moses then asked God a question: “Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God revealed His covenant name “YHWH”, the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”) from which our English Bibles translate the Hebrew “Yahweh” as “I AM.”

Now fast forward to the New Testament. John 8 records Jesus’ confrontation with the Jewish leaders, the scribes and Pharisees: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” Why did the Jews pick up stones to kill Him?  Because they were carrying out the punishment of blasphemy from Leviticus 24:10-16. Jesus indeed made His point and they got it. By saying “I am,” He laid claim to the covenant name of God that had been revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Perhaps it could be translated this way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born YHWH.” It is a double entendre communicating His eternal self-existence and His identity as Yahweh. Philippians 2:9-11 says it well “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

All of this proves the importance and the profundity of the truth, Jesus is the Lawgiver. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Sovereign who makes the Laws. He is the one who established the Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Law of Moses.

God’s Law is delightful

What is the correlation to our topic? I merely have to connect these dots: just as the Lawgiver is holy and benevolent, so are His Laws, including those about sexuality. Surely most, Christians and non-Christians, agree that at a minimum Jesus was holy and good. The Bible is filled with descriptions of the utter benevolence and lovingkindness of God demonstrated by the giving of His law. Just read Psalm 119.

Since Jesus, the Lawgiver and Creator, has made men to marry and have sexual relations with women exclusively—one man married to one woman—then this is what is noble, good, holy, and right. It is not restrictive, it is best. The Psalmist writes, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.”

For my final conclusion, I say that I can understand how the biblical truths conveyed here can be utterly frustrating to someone struggling with same-sex attraction. The truth may defy your “natural” feelings and even conflict with your understanding of God. But I want to encourage you to consider that while such emotions are real, they are sinful, and they can be changed into peaceful conformity of righteousness through the saving and sanctifying work of God in Christ. And we all have equally deep struggles against sin. These same things apply to every boy, girl, man, and woman who struggles with heterosexual promiscuity as well. You are not a worse sinner than any other. The God of Romans 8 can forgive you too by paying your penalty, removing the curse of the Law, and changing you by giving you a new heart, making you a new creation  with a renewed mind, “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Flee to Him by faith and with repentance. Jesus says to you even now, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”