Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Resurection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

I say fact, unapologeticly and unabashadly so.

However, not all would agree with me. A friend pointed me to this article he came across recently in which a historian, Richard Carrier, attempts to prove that the resurection of Jesus never happened. To the layman, he makes a compelling argument. He appears to have his facts and order and makes the reader think twice about these beliefs on which we hang our faith. My reason for posting this here is for the purposes of preparing Christians to defend their position on the resurection and other related issues. He is not the only person who thinks this way. I am certainly not smart enough to go "toe to toe," so to speak, with this guy (yet). What I will do is make some observations where I think that Carrier and his arguement fall short. Let me first say that my comments will be focused on what Carrier calls his "Main Argument." I would suggest you read the main argument first before you continue onto my comments. It is rather lengthy (13 pages), but worth a skim at least.

To quickly sum up Carrier's main argument, his points are that there is very little historical data on the resurection, that the story evolved through time, and that the first generation Christians never believed in a bodily resurection, that is, the resurection of a corpse, but rather, in only a spritual resurection.

1. Carrier has an agenda

It is important to note a few things about Carrier himself that make this argument interesting. First, Carrier travels around to Universities giving talks on this topic, trying to "convert" people to this idea. As a good friend of mine said, time plus inteligence plus a devilish purpose can do a lot. I am not saying that since he has an agenda it makes his argument invalid. If that were the case, then no Christian scientist would be credible. Rather, I think we need to understand that Carrier is attempting to prove that the resurection is not true from the outset. He is not just sharing information from a non-biased viewpoint. As his bio states, he grew up a "Freethinking Methodist," whatever that means. He must have been really hurt by the church at some point in his life. This is worth noting from the outset.

2. The argument reeks of Early German Liberalism

Early German Liberalism was a movevement in the mid to late 1800's that was concerned with removing any eyewitness accounts that the Bible claimed. This movement eventually evolved into another movement you may have heard of; the Third Reich and eventually the Nazi party. The basic thought process, as I understand it, is that if eyewitness accounts are removed from the Bible, then the Bible is proven unreliable, and we no longer have a responsibility to it. This is a very dangerous endeavor.

3. Some of his assumed facts are wrong

Some of the ponts that Carrier assumes as fact are wrong. There are several examples, but I am not historically sound enough to catch them all, as some of my colleagues are. One is his idea that the books of the Bible were anonymous and that authors names were attached to them half of a century later. There is an army of scholars and hundreds of years of church history that says that is simply not true. Plus, most of the NT books are written in the first generation of Christianity, where it would have been obvious who wrote them, and if the books were being circulated under a different name, the eyewitnesses would have called them out.

4. There are many noticable differences between the New Testament story of Jesus and the mythological fables we see throughout history

Again, this is not my area of expertise, but worth mentioning briefly. The countless fables that we read about throughout history (fables, mythology, fantastic stories, heroes etc.) are night and day different from the New Testament account of Jesus. Literally books have been written on this, and I will try to find some to reference here. The primary differences are in the nature of the outpouring of God and the varification of the incidences. The outpouring of God in these other fables is hyperbolicly extreme. Miricles seem to be for show and are very gaudy in nature. I reference you to The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an apocraphal work from the 2nd century AD (CE). Giving this work a quick scan, you will see how different the miricles are as opposed to the New Testament.

The second reason they are different is because Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, was concerned with accuracy. We see more detailed physical discription in Luke than other writers. We also see Luke nail the historical facts time and time again. We see the resurected Jesus appearing to literally hundreds of people after his resurection. We see miricles that are verified (i.e. the formerly blind man showing himself to the priests (critics)). The New Testament is just a different animal than are these other fables.

5. Paul could not have believed in only a spiritual resurection

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, Paul could not have believed in a spiritual resuresction only. Paul was a Pharasee. He apparently did not stop being a Pharasee when he became a Christian, because he claims the title several times in the New Testament (Phil 3:1-5, Acts 26:1-5). One of the foundational beliefs of the Pharisees was in a bodily resuresction. In fact, Paul's message is basically that he believes in the resurection like all of the other Jews, the only difference is that he believes it has already happened. This is the primary deviding point between Pharisees and Saducees: the Saducees believed there was no resurection.

This is similar to what the Jahovah's Witnesses have done with John 1:1, which, in their version states "In the begining was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." Even though the Greek would allow this liberty with the language, it is inconcievable that John, a Jew from birth and a disciple, monotheistic to the core, would have written "a god" when he could perhaps not even concieve of the idea of their being multiple gods. In a similar way, it is a must that Paul believes in a bodily resurection because of his Pharisaic background.

In conclusion, there will always be detractors and smart people who are dedicated to disprove or combat Christianity. The fact remains that the message of Christ is "foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). Our job is to stay educated and in the "current of the river" in order that we may inteligently discuss and defend our positions. I believe that Christians should be the most educated and informed people on earth. If we really love Jesus the way we say we do, we will not stop until we have turned over every stone in order to better understand him and the world in which he lived. In the end, though, no one has ever been reasoned into the Kingdom. God's Spirit must touch a life and change a human heart. Let us continue to be good witnesses to the world for the cause of Christ.


The Zoner said...

The fact remains that the message of Christ is "foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18)

And that is it in a nutshell. Good post Nick.

Josh Belcher said...

I don't know much about Greek mythology but this is definitely interesting to me. I had a folklore class a few years ago and we studied some of the heroes involved in Greek mythology. I remember reading an article about certain themes in Greek mythology. I remember seeing shared things amongst different heroes in Greek mythology. See this link:
It is a challenging thing to consider. At the top of the list is that the hero was born of a virgin. What does all this mean?? Does it mean that the gospels borrowed themes from other mythologies present in the day? Are these similarities mere coincidences?

Nick said...

Interesting point Josh. We do see virgin births as a fairly common theme throughout the literature of that couple hundred year timespan. Again, I think there are differences. The virgin birth of Jesus is recorded by several sources and seems to be more reliable than others. for instance, Luke provides more of a back story about the virgin birth than other mythological accounts do. Matthew connects it with prophecy. Therefore, I think, again, that once you compare the sources, the Bible seems to be the most reliable.

Chad said...

There were two things that really struck me when i read this article.
1. Even if all of the evidence he gives is true (something i doubt) Then all he has done is shown that there isn't enough historical evidence to prove that Jesus physically rose from the dead. I already figured that out myself or it would be taught in every school in America similar to the fact that the french revelution happened or that there are pyramids in egypt. All he does then is offer another explanation which only is more viable if you for some reason think that it is impossible for an all powerfull god to do something that supernatural.
2. If the story of the ressurection is just a fable why has it had such a hugely profound impact on society for the past 2000 years unlike the rest of the tall tales from that time which people then and now seemed to understand to be false.

Anonymous said...

Like Chad said, maybe some of the stuff that hes writing is false. but lets consider it's all true for moment: The monkwrote about the idea of genevieve ordering a tree to be cut down because it was cursed, and monsters sprang from the tree and breathed a fatal stench on men for 2 hours. Couldn't these "monsters" actually be crazy canibal-like people who do all these monster-related things foregn and demonic who, when after having thier tree cut down, go out and be amongst men for 2 hours? Or maye they're evil spirits.
Since miricles exist, the idea of the ships, castings demons out, and other similar fenominoms are possible.
Why dont all these miricles happen today? Let me take you back a little; remember when Jesus walked on the water in the bible? maybe God wanted this happen for the diciples to know that he is the son of god, and so that Peter could walk on the water, and experience everything that was meant to happen there. maybe its a similar case; if god wanted to do bring back the USS ARIZONA with its original crue, he would, but maybe there has to be a good reason for it. In the new testamnet before jesus feeds the crowd of four thousand with only a little bread and fish he tells his disciples that he has compassion for these people. thats a good reason. thats my thought about his question. Im sure that there are other reasons for why these huge miricles dont happen as much, but this is my main argument on this toppic.

From Josh boyer

Chip Burkitt said...

Well, I read the article, and it does indeed sound compelling if we assume that the authors of the gospel accounts were Greeks. But in fact the gospel accounts have very little in common with Greek fabulous tales. They have much in them that is verifiable and known to be true. Unlike most legends that refer to a mythic time and generic places, the gospel accounts set the events very firmly in particular times and places. Moreover, the authors were Jews, convinced that there is only one God, not several. No Jew would ever mistakenly attribute divine attributes to a human being.

The most important evidence, however, comes from what is obviously missing from the gospel accounts. If the gospels were written after 70 AD as so many liberal scholars suggest, how can there be no mention of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple, especially when the gospels include Jesus' own predictions of those events. It is inconceivable that a Jewish Christian writing after the fall of Jerusalem could have included Jesus' prediction without mentioning its fulfillment as shown by such recent events. Therefore, all the gospel accounts predate the fall of Jerusalem, and must have been written during the forty or so years between Jesus' resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem. Certainly such recent accounts of such recent events would not have gained such wide circulation if they were known not to be true. Or does Carrier claim that the persecuted Church within its first 40 years was already trying to consolidate its power by broadcasting lies? I find the idea absurd.

Chip Burkitt said...

I should add one other thing. Carrier is right about faulting the church for trying to persuade people without miracles. The gospel is frankly incredible, and many who believe it have been persuaded by events that could not be explained by natural laws. I do not pretend to have been so persuaded since I was raised a Christian. However, I have also seen and experienced things difficult to explain without acknowledging that the God of the gospels is real and that the Jesus of the gospels is alive.

One final thought: If Paul's discourse on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15 is to be taken as describing a spiritual resurrection (when he is very careful to root his descriptive language in physical reality), how can it also be that his statement about the importance of the physical resurrection to Christian faith comes from the same passage? Either Paul was describing a "spiritual" resurrection and assigning absolute importance to it, or he was describing a physical resurrection and assigning absolute importance to it. But it cannot be the case that Paul was describing a spiritual resurrection and assigning such importance to a physical one.

Stephen C. said...

Hi guys! These are just some thought that I had after reading some of the essays and comments.. Thanks.

Yesterday, I was thinking about: why did Jesus appear only to His followres? God loves all of could He have appeared to lots of people, thus making them all believe, with no room for doubt or criticism? Then, it seems like eveybody would be saved. And since God loves us, He would like that.
Then, it occured to me: throughout the Bible, Jesus mentions and states that people's "faith" saves them; He heals people because of their faith. Some people do ask Him for proof; he comments on their desire for such "proof." If Jesus had appeared to tons of people, He would have essentially provided "proof," which He did not really want to do. By appearing to a select group, He leaves open the possibility of some people doubting, a choice which He knowlingly gives them. This preserves free will; God gives the choice of our believing in and following Him or not; it's up to you and me to decide. He does not force us to belive in Him by Jesus appearing before large crowds. By exhibiting faith and believing in and following Jesus, we are saved.
Also, perhaps God did it this way to weed out skeptics, or people who are more devoted to their senses than to Him. Skeptics would say since they don't have experience with it, or evidence for it, they won't believe Jesus was resurrected. They would say they believe their sensual experiences over God. Believers, and those who trust God more than their senses, on the other hand, would say God can do whatever He wants to , and if and when He wanted to, He could obviously and easily have raised His Son from death.
Finally, there is some separation currently between humanity and God. Unlike Adam and Eve, we don't necessarily se God the moment we are born. Rather, we come to know Him throughout our lives. He has always been present aroud us and within us, but people realize this at various points in their lives. Some might not even recognize it until the last instant. But anyway, God is with us and always has been, but perhaps with a little more distance than He was with the first two people; because they sinned. So, some people might feel this distance, and perhaps that is why they would doubt that God raised His Son.
We who, for whatever reason (its a blessing) know God did raise His Son, feel very close to Him, and also recognize it, and the way in which it came about and God's record of it, as a great gift to humanity. God is all-powerful , all-knowing, and could easily overwhlelm the lives of humans, if He so desired. He could make His presence so forcefully felt that we would do nothing but pray and fast all day. Perhpas He wants something different for us: to allow us to live our lives, the gift that He's given us, with His love, but by choice as opposed to by force, and not overwhelmed by it. God resurrecting His Son in the way that He did, allows us to choose whether or not to believe in Him! God loves us so much, that even though He created us and the entire worold in which we live, He gives us the choice to believe in Him, and His resurrecting His son; can you believe it?! What love! He doesn't even demand of us that we believe in the resurrection and His power; He allows us to choose! Wow!
God wanted us to be like Him when He created us; He imbued us with powers of intellect and thought, and allows us to use them however we want. Seom might use them to not believe in Him or the resurrection; their choice. I choose to believe in Him, and know that the fact that God even lets people not beleive in Him, or the resurrection, is due to and testament to His divine, powerful love for us.
The power to choose to believe in the resurrection and Him is the divine spark within us. God made us like Him in that way. Wow! Of course, God wants to save us, and for all of us to have eternal life with Him. But He wants us to choose to be with Him, not be forced to. He loves us so much and made us so powerfully that we can choose to turn away from Him (not the wisest decision ever, but whatev...:) In this way, God loves us and wishes to save us, but He so respects us and loves us that He would never force that upon us; He gives us the power and distance to choose.