Friday, August 28, 2015

Article: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? by Mike Licona

This article was taken directly from the Apologetics Study Bible for Students:

Science has taken us to the moon, allowed us to see DNA, and show us that people who are assuredly dead do not return to life by natural causes. Since the apostle Paul wrote that Christianity is a false religion if Jesus was not resurrected (1 Co 15:17), has science disproved Christianity? Is there any good evidence that Jesus' resurrection actually occurred? Despite the hesitation of skeptics concerning the four Gospels, nearly all Bible scholars are confident that there are at least three sure facts concerning what happened to Jesus.

1. Jesus was crucified on the orders of the Roman governor and died as a result.

2. Jesus' disciples honestly believed that He rose from the dead and appeared to them beginning on Sunday morning.

3. A sworn enemy of the Christians named Saul (later called Paul) had an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus, prompting him to become a Christian. This would be similar to Jesus appearing to a Muslim who then leaves Islam and becomes the next Billy Graham! Saul become the opposite of what he'd been because of the risen Jesus (see Ac 9).

Unbelieving scholars form theories that attempt to explain away the above facts. Some used to claim that Jesus' disciples lied about the resurrection appearances or that the reports of Jesus' resurrection were legends that developed over time. But once the second fact above was admitted, that Jesus' original disciples sincerely believed He had risen and appeared to them shortly after His death, the legend and fraud theories fell apart. Today they have been largely abandoned.

Now the theory most commonly held by non-Christian scholars is that the appearances of the risen Jesus were hallucinations resulting from the disciples grief over Jesus' death. But this theory does not explain the third fact (Saul's conversion experience) since, rather than grieving over Jesus' death, he hated Jesus so much that he arrested and killed Christians. And while a hallucination could conceivably explain an appearance of Jesus to an individual like Peter (Lk 24:34; 1 Co 15:5), it does not explain the appearances to Jesus to groups, such as the Twelve, more than 500 at one time, and to all of the apostles when they were together (1 Co 15:5-7). Why not? Hallucinations are like dreams. Just as a friend cannot actually join you in one of your dreams, friends cannot join others in their hallucinations.

In contrast to the theories of skeptics, Jesus' genuine resurrection from death explains how Jesus' devastated disciples and, later on, one of the his best-know enemies, came to devote their lives to proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. By far, this is the best explanation of the three commonly accepted facts listed above.

So, while science has proved that the dead do not return to life by natural causes, historical investigation suggests that Jesus rose supernaturally three days after His execution. Since there are many religions competing for your devotion, Jesus' resurrection verifies that His promises are words upon which you can bet your life and soul.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad A. Gross

For more of Mike Licona's work, see here.

19 comments:

Geoffrey Charles said...

Maybe the disciples had hallucinations and dreams that had other disciples in them.

Regarding Paul, maybe he was almost convinced by the Christians arguments, felt bad about his persecutions, got caught up in messianic fervor, and was a little nutty in the head.

These don't seem like unreasonable explanations at all. What do you think?

Geoffrey Charles said...

The claim about the appearance to the five hundred is not one of the "sure facts" but he speaks as if it is. Though it's an old claim, I'd be surprised if scholars are confident that five hundred different people actually did experience the alleged risen Jesus. Licona kinda sneaks it in there as if it's fact. He probably argues for it elsewhere, though. It's interesting, however, because 500 witnesses are so much more persuasive than any of his other "sure facts" that you'd think he'd focus on them more. Maybe he doesn't cause he realizes that there isn't much evidence for the 500 witnesses, rather just an old claim about them.

Chad said...

Hello Mr. Charles,

Thank you for visiting the blog and taking the time to comment.

Maybe the disciples had hallucinations and dreams that had other disciples in them.

This simply doesn’t fit what we know about hallucinations. Hallucinations are understood to be private, subjective, and individual mental experiences (or projections) that most times do not correspond to objective reality.

As Licona points out in the article- And while a hallucination could conceivably explain an appearance of Jesus to an individual like Peter (Lk 24:34; 1 Co 15:5), it does not explain the appearances to Jesus to groups, such as the Twelve, more than 500 at one time, and to all of the apostles when they were together (1 Co 15:5-7). Why not? Hallucinations are like dreams. Just as a friend cannot actually join you in one of your dreams, friends cannot join others in their hallucinations.

It seems to believe that each of the disciples, at different times, in different settings, had hallucinations that included each other of the risen Jesus contradicts the available data and what we know about hallucinations themselves.

You can find a great article by Dr. Gary Habermas dealing with halluncinations here.

Regarding Paul, maybe he was almost convinced by the Christians arguments, felt bad about his persecutions, got caught up in messianic fervor, and was a little nutty in the head.

This is an interesting theory, but nothing more than conjecture. This is similar to something skeptic Richard Carrier has asserted in the past and while interesting, there is 0 first century evidence to support it. If I am mistaken, I’d love to hear some.

The claim about the appearance to the five hundred is not one of the "sure facts" but he speaks as if it is.

No; but the appearance to the 500 is one of the reasons the above facts are believed by the majority of both skeptical and non-skeptical scholars. The appearance to the 500 is included in the creedal material that was believed to be received by Paul just 5 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For more on this see here.

Respectfully

Chase said...

Hello Mr. Charles,

I also want to express my appreciation for your visit to the blog. I hope you find the resources here helpful.

I have only one thing to add to Chad's comment. It is regarding the theory you presented to explain Paul's conversion.

Not only is there zero first century evidence to support it (which is enough by itself), but Paul, to quote him, was "a Hebrew of Hebrews" and a Pharisee.

All the evidence we have of first century Jewish expectations of the Messiah and how He would come means something dramatic had to have happened for Paul (and all of the disciples for that matter, they were all Jews) to give up thousands of years of tradition, culture, and belief he was grounded in to proclaim Jesus as the resurrected Messiah.

It is far fetched to believe that Paul lost his mind let alone the other disciples as well.

The "Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is" by N.T. Wright discusses first century Jewish expectations of the Messiah in detail.

God bless

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chad,
RE: hallucination theory objections

I don't follow because the hallucination theory is meant to generally explain Licona's point number 2, not each of the biblical claims of appearances and their details, because they're not “sure facts.” Because they're not sure facts, not each of them needs to be explained by separate hallucinations that included all of the details (each disciple, each of different times, each of different settings, etc). Rather, the idea is a few hallucinations that included Jesus and a few real, familiar people caused point number 2.

Geoffrey Charles said...

My theory about Paul is based on circumstantial evidence. Different Jews from the 1st century and thereabouts were persuaded by theological arguments that different people were the Messiah. Also, some Jews were somewhat sympathetic to the Christian position, including perhaps Gamliel, Paul's alleged teacher, who ruled favorably toward the Christians in Acts. Next, there was certainly messianic fervor, fueled by Roman oppression, that produced many seemingly irrational actions among Jews. I'm thinking you probably know that from reading Josephus. Also, there's evidence that visionaries and thinkers, e.g. Paul, can have mental features that, while producing a genius-like, productive mind, also produce new and contrary ideas that push against the ideas of the status quo.

These ideas serve to explain point 3 in a circumstantial way.

Geoffrey Charles said...

I agree that the claim of Jesus' appearance to the 500 influences scholars acceptance of the sure fact #2.

However, by Licona's own arguement, it is not itself a sure fact. Thus Licona is jumping the gun by retorting "hallucinations don't explain the appearance to the 500." Indeed, they're not intended to. Rather they're intended to explain point 2 generally.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chase,

RE: 1st century Jewish expectations of the messiah

Yes, there's evidence Jews believed a suffering Messiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Targum Jonathan interpret the Isaiah 52-53 passages as being about the Messiah. The Dead SeaScrolls link them to Daniel 9, as well. Daniel 9-12 speaks of a dying messiah and the end of the world, and Josephus tells us that Jews thought Daniel's prophecies were coming to pass and influenced Jews to fight. Also Psalm 89 talks about the messiah and God's servant in terms of suffering.

Therefore, it's not that surprising that the Christian message "worked" on Jews.

BTW, Daniel 9, by Licona's criteria for “sure fact,” is a forgery from the 160s BCE.

Also, re: “give up thousands of years of tradition, etc.” This is over-blown. Paul didn't give up all of Judaism. Rather, he switched to a different flavor of it. There were several to choose from.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Furthermore, according to Licona's criteria, the Isaiah 52-53 passages were forged.

Chase said...

Geoffrey,

My main contention is this: For a first century Jew to claim that someone rose bodily from the dead was strange.

N.T. Wright states in the book I referenced to you in my previous post:

“Resurrection meant embodiment and implied that the new age had dawned. If, therefore, you had said to a first-century Jew ‘the resurrection has occurred,’ you would have received the puzzled response that it obviously had not, since the patriarchs, prophets and martyrs were not walking around alive again and since the restoration spoken of by Ezekiel 37 had clearly not occurred either.”

To Jews the phrase “resurrection from the dead” only made sense in correlation with the end of the world. Yet Paul and the early Christians were teaching and proclaiming “in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” had occurred in the present world (Acts 4:2, 1 Corinthians 15:21). The best explanation for this drastic shift in their thinking is the bodily resurrection of Jesus occurring in this present world. Again, you can find out more about this in detail in N.T. Wright’s book.

Finally, you also posted:

"Also, re: 'give up thousands of years of tradition, etc' This is over-blown. Paul didn't give up all of Judaism. Rather, he switched to a different flavor of it. There were several to choose from."

Here are the shifts that occurred in Paul’s beliefs after he experienced the risen Jesus (All of the early Christian fathers were former followers of Judaism as well):

- The animal sacrifice system is replaced forever by the one perfect sacrifice of Christ
- The binding supremacy of the Law of Moses is now powerless because of the sinless life of Christ
- Strict monotheism is replaced with the trinity (three persons in one divine essence and considered by most followers of Judaism as polytheism then and now)
- The Sabbath is no longer observed even though breaking it was punishable by death (Exodus 31:14)
-Belief in a conquering Messiah replaced with belief in a the Messiah as a sacrificial lamb

J.P. Moreland states in response to these shifts in belief as follows:

“[The Jewish people] believed that these institutions were entrusted to them by God. They believed that to abandon these institutions would be to risk their souls being damned to hell after death.”

I think we can say that Christianity is far from a “different flavor” of Judaism. Again, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for these dramatic shifts in beliefs.

Please present another explanation for these dramatic shifts in thinking and belief that has first century evidence to back it up.

God bless

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chase,

Yes, the early Christians believed the resurrection of the dead had begun, with Christ being the "first fruits" of it, and that soon he'd come back and herald the end of the world. This is based in Jewish thought, e.g. Daniel 9-11. Mark and others thought Daniel's prophecies were being fulfilled, thus they preached that the end was near. It was not.

Regarding changes in Paul's beliefs:

Licona's third "sure fact" has suddenly transformed into a half-dozen. Unfortunately, that Paul experienced these changes is not a "sure fact." Later Christians surely adopted those changes, however not the earliest Christians.

Animal sacrifices: See Acts 21, Paul and some apostles devise to show their devotion to the Torah by asking Paul to make several animal sacrifices.

Powerless Law: They believed Christ atoned for sins, but not annulled the Law itself. Debates over the Law were often about the role and requirement of gentiles or the correct interpretation of the Law and application of traditions. (galatians, romans, acts 15)

The trinity: that Paul was a trinitarian is very weak. I'd be surprised if it was anything more than a minority opinion within modern biblical scholarship. Therefore, this is not a "sure fact." To call the Messiah a Son of God is not that surprising, see 2 Sam. 7:14.

The sabbath: there's little evidence Paul thought the sabbath was annulled, so this is not a "sure fact." In Acts, Paul taught nothing against the law (Acts 25:8), and he taught in synagogues on the sabbath like a good Rabbi should, not just to proselytize.

Conquering Messiah: For Paul and the first Christians, belief in a sacrificial messiah didn't replace belief in a conquering one. Paul taught that Jesus was coming back to do the rest. (1 thess. 5)

Ultimately, none of the changes you described are "sure facts," so they don't need explanation like the true "sure facts" do. Thus, my circumstantial case against Licona's point 3 stands.

Early christianity, not later christianity with the beliefs you've described, was a different flavor of judaism. I would say this is almost a "sure fact."

RkBall said...

As evidence of just how badly things are going for skeptics of the historical evidences for Jesus' resurrection, one of the latest theories being offered as a "solution" is that Jesus had a twin brother who appeared on the scene after Jesus' death and took up his cause.

Talk about waiting in the wings!

Kind of like the desperation of the multiverse theory, writ small -- "see, if we have enough Jesuses, one of them is bound to be still alive".

Tim said...

Geoffrey,

The principal reasons that Paul's claim about 500 witnesses is taken seriously are

(1) that it was written early, and

(2) that it was written to an audience that included people hostile to Paul who would have been only too happy to call his bluff if he said something that was not widely known to be true.

As for the absence of further details, Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is not "There were such-and-such witnesses; therefore, you should change your mind and agree with me that Jesus rose from the dead." Rather, it is, "You already know that Jesus rose from the dead -- remember your catechetical creed? So you should not listen to those who claim that there is no resurrection for the rest of us: Jesus' resurrection is a foretaste of what will happen to us all."

If you would like more detailed argument in defense of the historicity of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, just ask!

Chase said...

Geoffrey,

First, I just want to say thanks for the respectful dialogue!

You posted:

“Yes, the early Christians believed the resurrection of the dead had begun, with Christ being the ‘first fruits’ of it, and that soon he'd come back and herald the end of the world. This is based in Jewish thought, e.g. Daniel 9-11. Mark and others thought Daniel's prophecies were being fulfilled, thus they preached that the end was near. It was not.”

Thus the reason it was strange for former followers of Judaism (the early Christians) to proclaim this to followers of Judaism. Why would they proclaim the occurrence of the resurrection from the dead when the Jews could look and see that the Roman authority had not been defeated, the Temple had not been rebuilt, and they had not regained their land? It seems foolish to do so unless it actually had occurred in a way the Jews were not expecting, through the resurrection of Jesus.

You posted:

“Early Christianity…was a different flavor of judaism.”

For being just a “different flavor” of Judaism, Paul and the twelve sure did receive much punishment from the Jews for it (Ex. Acts 5:17-42, 7:54-60, 9:23-25, 14:9).

You may have the last word if you like as I feel we have reached an impasse. I have enjoyed the discussion.

God bless

Chad said...

Hello Mr. Charles,

I wanted to ask a few questions to better understand your position:

Rather, the idea is a few hallucinations that included Jesus and a few real, familiar people

Which of the appearances do you believe are best explained by hallucinations?

2. Do you accept the Book of Acts as reliable source material?

Respectfully

Chad said...

Tim,

Thanks so much for visiting the blog and your comment is well put!

Godspeed

Chad said...

For those who are interested, Chase's review of The Challenge of Jesus can be read here.

Godspeed

Mariano said...

"Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus."
—John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145

Geoffrey Charles said...

Chase,

1. I don't have an specific accounts in mind, rather just Licona's fact #2, which doesn't necessitate that any of the accounts we have today are accurate.

2. I don't know enough about Acts and whether there's any scholarly consensus about its historicity in whole or (probably more likely) in part, to say that I accept it as historical.

My quotes of the book of Acts I intended only to serve as examples of early Christian ideas that may support a position different from that which Chase or N.T. Wright hold about the time period. Whether or not those ideas are true is a different question.