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THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS REVELATION OR HISTORICAL CLAIM

Prize quotes from From Doubting Jesus' Resurrection by Kris Komarnitsky.

 

Wolfhart Pannenberg: “A single judgment of a sober historian easily outweighs a majority vote, in my opinion. Historical judgment must remain a matter of argument. A majority vote may express the dominant mood of a group, possibly its prejudices, but is not very helpful in judging claims to historical truth or authenticity.”

 

Jan Vansina explains why the Gospels, and the oral traditions that lie behind them, are not independent sources in this sense: …We cannot assume that the testimony of two different informants from the same community or even society is really independent. This is very important. In history, proof is given only when two independent sources confirm the same event or situation, but…it is not possible to do this with oral tradition wherever a corpus exists and information flows are unstemmed (i.e., in most cases). Feedback and contamination is the norm….No one will consider the three synoptic Gospels as independent sources, even though they have different authors…they stemmed from one single oral milieu, from one corpus in one community. Once this is realized, it is easy to see that it also applies to John, the fourth Gospel…

The Gospels are an understandable exception to what classical historians normally deal with, because classical historians rarely if ever deal with the written records of a highly revered religious figure who had very little contemporary significance to anyone but his followers when he was alive and to his worshippers after his death and where the entire written record comes only from those who worshipped him. Because of this, using the myth growth rates observed in other ancient records as a baseline to say what should be observed in the Gospels is a mistaken approach.

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Bart Ehrman writes in Did Jesus Exist? - "Technically, we cannot prove a single thing historically. All we can do is give enough evidence (of kinds I will mention in a moment) to convince enough people (hopefully nearly everyone) about a certain historical claim" (page 38).

 

Historians can say if a source or evidence says somebody rose from the dead and it’s a good source or good evidence.  But that does not mean they can conclude the resurrection happened.  It is a comment on the evidence - and evidence does not necessarily demand a conclusion.  History does not find the evidence that Jesus was alive after the crucifixion satisfactory.  I am deliberately being neutral.  If Jesus was alive resurrection might be one possible reason for that.  But we don't have sensible grounds for simply being able to say he was alive.  A historian saying Jesus rose and history says so is going too far and failing to be neutral and impartial.  

 

Christianity is not primarily about how to treat others but about believing what God has said be it on history or whatever. There is more history and doctrine in the religion than moral rules. Just as it would be a sin to misrepresent what a historian says so it is a sin to reject history that is given to you by God.  The focus in Christianity is "factual" claims not morality.

 

Every historian must regard good sources as good but not perfect sources.   He thinks they will have errors some of which will never be discovered.  A historian who treats the Bible as infallible and without error is not a historian.  The Bible actually is the enemy of history for claiming to have no errors and so is the Koran.

 

Strauss argued that the gospels should be looked at as works of theology.  Even if they are history they are not about the history but the religious message. I reject that approach. The gospels are intended to teach religious theological history. They attempt to make history religious and theological. They think God reveals through history. God speaks of himself say through the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. But is the resurrection really a historical fact? Strauss had no right to treat the gospels as theology just because they do history badly.

 

Many educated Christians lie that history shows that Jesus rose from the dead.  It does not.  Strictly speaking it shows that people claimed not that he did but that they believed he did.  But back to the Christian notion that the resurrection is as good as fact of history as anything else.

 

HISTORY CANNOT SHOW THAT JESUS REALLY DIED AND CAME BACK!  THE RESURRECTION IS TOO OUT OF THE ORDINARY FOR HISTORY TO SHOW IT PROBABLY HAPPENED OR DEFINITELY HAPPENED.  AT BEST IT CAN SAY THE DATA IS SAYING THAT JESUS DIED AND THAT HE WAS ALIVE AGAIN AFTER HE DIED.   HISTORY DOES SOMETIMES FIND IRRECONCILABLE CONTRADICTIONS IN THE DATA SO ALL IT CAN DO IS PRESENT BOTH SIDES AND JUST LEAVE IT UNTIL NEW LIGHT MAY TURN UP.   IT CANNOT SAY WHY JESUS WAS ALIVE - THAT IS A MATTER OF THEORY NOT EVIDENCE.  IT MUST STICK WITH THE INFORMATION IT HAS GOT.  HISTORY DOES NOT ALWAYS NEED INTERPRETATION BUT OFTEN IT DOES.  SOMETIMES THINGS ARE TOTALLY CLEAR.  SOMETIMES THERE IS NO ROOM FOR INTRODUCING A BIASED INTERPRETATION.  IT IS CLEAR NAGASAKI WAS HIT BY AN ATOMIC BOMB SO WHY IS IT NOT CLEAR THAT JESUS' DOCTOR WROTE A REPORT THAT THE MAN WAS ALIVE AFTER DYING ON THE CROSS?  BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE THAT HE WAS ALIVE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

 

A historian could say the evidence shows Jesus did die on the cross but also that he seemed to be alive three days later and say it is a contradiction. Sadly for Christians the historical evidence does not show that Jesus died on the cross and was alive later.  If you need history to find a contradiction in the data  you will not find it here. 

 

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona would tell you, "If we say the Bible has no historical errors, people accuse us of saying that the Bible does not err therefore its account of Jesus rising from the dead is true. But you don't need to argue that the Bible is always right. There are ways of showing that it makes clearly factual statements that both believers in the Bible and non-believers can agree on. One, Jesus died on the cross. Two, his disciples believed that he appeared to them for he had risen. Three, the rapid conversion of Paul to Christ. Four, the sceptical brother of Jesus James' becomes a believer. Five, Jesus' tomb was found empty as if he had risen from the dead."

 

This is merely refusing to look at the evidence as a whole to see if it is good or not. Cherry-picking evidence shows you are not really serious about truth but want to manipulate people to believe what you say. And it is not true that all scholars agree with all the statements above. The gospels do not say that the reason Jesus was missing from the tomb was that he rose. He could have been stolen and still risen. Or thieves could have gone in and found the body gone. The scepticism and conversion of James mean nothing for it is not claimed that he was a sceptic and then Jesus appeared to him to convert him. Nobody knows if anybody claimed that.


Habermas says that about 75% of scholars agree with the "facts" but despite requests for him to name them he has not done so. And anybody can keep the percentage high if they are just consulting the scholars who they think agree with them.

 

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona's goal is to have you accept that it is or probably is a historical fact that Jesus was reportedly alive after he died on the cross.

 

Even if it could be established that Jesus was around after his supposed death it only proves he was probably alive but says nothing about how it came about that he was alive.

 

A very unlikely scenario, perhaps one we have not thought of yet, could explain how he was alive. A very unlikely non-magical explanation is far more likely to be right than a magical one. And if you go down the magic road, the far-fetched scenarios multiply! Historians work by the principle that they must judge what is probable and go with it until it is shown improbable. A historian cannot choose a magical answer or a magical possibility. He assumes that magic is the most improbable thing and anything however far-fetched is better.

 

The other problem is that in history, most miracle claims can be shown to be untrue or unworthy of belief. So why should the resurrection of Jesus get any special treatment?

 

Saying, "The evidence shows that Jesus died. It also shows that he was alive after he died" is not the same thing as saying Jesus rose from the dead. A historian would say the evidence is in conflict with itself. Evidence often seems to be in conflict with other evidence.

 

It is undeniable that the gospel accounts of the alleged resurrection expect us to take them as historical evidence of the resurrection. That is a terrible error as we have seen.

 

The historical evidence offered is horrendous.

 

The Christian claim that the gospels are first-hand testimony taken directly from the witnesses mouths is only an assumption. They state it as fact which is dishonest of them.

 

The early Christians may have thought that God revealed the resurrection of Jesus to them second-hand. The gospels do not claim to be eyewitness testimony to the resurrection. It is strange that even the gospel of John which claims that the author saw blood and water came from Jesus' side never actually gives his direct eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus or to the appearances of Jesus.

 

The gospel writers believed primarily in the resurrection of the Messiah because they thought the Old Testament spoke of it. If there had been no visions of the risen Jesus or an empty tomb, they could still have believed. The historian cannot depend on an interpretation that is not there. And he cannot pick out one of many interpretations. Doing history is about being fair.

 

Mark the earliest Gospel speaks of Jesus and God being unable to do miracles because the people had no faith (Mark 6:4-6). The Christians say it was not down to any reluctance on Jesus or God's part. It was just that God and Jesus would not do miracles except for those who already believed and trusted. Who was the resurrection a sign for then? It was not Jesus. It was done for the believers. No wonder Mark could be interpreted as indicating faith was needed to see the risen Jesus. Some men in white had to help people believe Jesus rose. Then when they believed they saw him. A sign for people who have made up their minds to believe already is hardly good evidence that Jesus rose!

 

Now neither science or religion today takes a person seriously if they testify to a miracle that they believed would happen and which they expected. Our belief and desire can trick us.

 

The gospels are thought to mention a risen Jesus who was able to break physical laws - eg pass through walls and rise up to heaven like a rocket etc. But we also read of a risen Jesus who seems to be still just an ordinary man. There is no explanation given as to how these stories can be reconciled. The Christians just assume that Jesus had miracle powers and had the choice of being ordinary or extraordinary and that is that. But that is using a miracle to reconcile discrepancies. That is a dangerous method. If you make holy books that contradict one another fit by using miracles to do it, the end result will lack credibility and look contrived and desperate. And that is what it would be. It would open the way for fake prophets to contradict themselves all they wish and we won't be able to say the contradictions refute their claims. We would be at the mercy of every fraud.

 

Only a book claiming to be the direct speech of God or the direct writing of God might be inspired. The Bible authors wrote in their own name not God's. So to assume they are God's is unwarranted. It seems to believers that it is possible that God still inspired them. But would he when he never said? What is to stop us saying that if we like a devotional book then God inspired it? It is possible in terms of divine ability but that does not mean its possible other ways. It's not. Unless we have a book like the Koran that claims to be the direct communication of God in book form, we are really no different from people who treat the word of man as the word of God. We might not be - but our attitude is that if we are treating man as God then we are happy to. No wonder authentic Bible thumpers are so bigoted.

 

If the gospels were written by Jesus it would be possible that they are really the word of God and approved by him. It would not prove it but make it possible. Jesus was the one who should have provided the explanation for the discrepancies but he didn't.

 

The gospel evidence (if it can be called that!) points only to a man of flesh being seen reportedly after his death. The doctrine that Jesus was very different after his death in terms of being able to pass through walls and look like he had a light bulb inside and immune to sickness and death hangs in thin air. Even the gospels do nothing to prove these claims. They don't assert them.

 

Paul the apostle assumed that the risen Jesus had a spiritual body - a saved body. But he made no effort to link this doctrine with the experiences he had or the apostles had when they supposedly saw the risen Jesus. He was more interested in that doctrine than the "history". It was a way of making people find meaning in the resurrection so that this would attract them most. He probably sensed the resurrection was on shaky ground in terms of historical evidence.

 

Paul is the most important witness to the resurrection we have for he is the only one who spoke of having visions to verify the resurrection first hand. So if we eliminate him as unreliable then we have nothing but gossip to base our belief in the resurrection on. How could the New Testament be infallible when it contains the writings of Paul who furnished us with zero evidence that he had prophetic ability and could write scripture? No proof of his sincerity was given either.

 

2 Corinthians chapter 13 is where Paul quotes with approval the Old Testament Law of God that in the mouths of two or three witnesses all things must be established. He threatens then to discipline wrongdoers when he comes. Why did he quote the law? Was it because of the wrongdoers and to let the people know that its God's will that they refuse to let them get away with it? No he was not asking for two or three witnesses for everything the recalcitrant did. That would be absurd. He said then that the people in Corinth wanted evidence that Jesus was really speaking through Paul. This was what the quoting of the law was about. He was applying it to himself. He was saying that he had nothing to fear from the law in terms of his own claims - the main one which was that he saw the risen Jesus and thus had authority over the believers. Then he explained that the proof was how God and Jesus were working in the people. So they were his two witnesses. God and Jesus working in Paul's converts was supposed to prove that Paul was authentic - God was one witness and Jesus the other. The people weren't denying that they felt God and Jesus were working in them. They were denying Paul's claim to have the right to govern them in the name of God and Jesus. That he couldn't mention any affidavits from the apostles in Jerusalem or any testimony from them is significant. It proves that they were saying, "We feel that Jesus rose therefore he did." They could not appeal to evidence. The lack of evidence shows that he was understandably regarded with suspicion by them if not outright opposition. He was using a very subjective proof, "I feel that God and Jesus are working in me and therefore Paul speaks with Jesus' authority and Jesus speaks through him." Such proofs are dangerous and lead only to chaos for any religious teacher could use similar logic. Its no incentive for implementing effectual discipline.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is mere revelation. It is impossible to verify that it may have happened by using the historical method.

 

The doctrine that Jesus suffered on the cross in the sinner’s place to satisfy God’s vengeance towards sin is enough to refute the resurrection especially if the doctrine must have come from Jesus just as the gospels maintain. The gospellers believed that the Old Testament scriptures were more believable than the resurrection and only believed in it because they were thought to predict it. Several times in the New Testament we read that the resurrection of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament. Jesus himself says that in the gospel of Luke when he appeared to two men after his resurrection as they headed to Emmaus. It was the predictions that was the basis of the early Church’s faith in the resurrection as a real occurrence not the visions or empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus himself taught that fulfilling the prophecies was the most important thing.

 

If a historian accepts on historical grounds that a miracle happened when Jesus rose, he will have to suspend judgement on what the miracle was. He could say that something supernatural happened - perhaps Jesus was in a coma and miraculously recovered and thought he rose. Or perhaps a lookalike was possessed by some spirit and was the entity who people mistook for Jesus. As for the miracles, he or she will have to do the same with regard to other miracles such as those reported among the pagans. It only leads to one miracle claim contradicting another.

 

The Christians say that history shows Jesus was reported alive after his death. If that is true then we need to explain that. But if history fails to show it is even likely that he was alive then no explanation is needed. And what if you want one anyway?  Any explanation would do for sometimes one explanation is as good as another. The Christians are too biased – they want you to adopt THEIR explanation.  The reality is that we can just say the witnesses or the gospel writers were lying or not telling the whole story just as much as we can say they reported Jesus alive because he was.    Many of us are biased towards ones we want to believe in but the fact remains we are more anti-miracle than pro-miracle.  Since we are naturally biased against miracle claims the ones we accept are more about ideology than truth.  They should be saying, "There is the miracles you believe in and the ones I believe in.  We differ only in the miracles we accept or dispute.  Let us tolerate the person who goes a step further and agrees with neither of us."  It is hardly tolerance if Christians labour so hard to try and make it rational to believe Jesus rose and that history shows it is so.  Why are the books not saying, "Explanation a is fine and so is b and c and whatever."

 

THE "ESTABLISHED FACTS"

 

Christians sometimes say that there is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus but that the case for the resurrection is simply this: it explains the established facts.

 

The facts are typically laid out as follows:


Jesus’ burial in a tomb.

 

The tomb being found with his body absent.

 

His post mortem visits to his disciples.

 

The disciples believing that Jesus rose.

 

These are not the facts at all.


William Lane Craig in the book Jesus Resurrection: Fact or Figment agreed to stop calling these things “established facts” and call them “reported facts.”  Some of the reported facts depend more on reports than others.  Take the burial - the gospels never say they got testimony or hearsay.  They never name any source.  The tomb being found with his body absent ignores the fact that the stone had moved somehow and the tomb was left alone meaning that nobody knows or claims to know how it left the tomb.  It is never said the tomb was checked by the visitors until later on in the day.  The gospels never say that anybody strongly believed except Thomas that Jesus rose.  The behaviour of the others can be explained by them having a light belief that Jesus was alive.  It does not matter how strong their faith got later for that happens - belief can be fuelled in time no matter how weak and silly it was at the start.  The only real reported fact is the apparitions.  You therefore do not need a resurrection to explain them!

 

In the earliest gospel, Jesus asks the disciples who he is and they tell him that some people say he is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Mark 1:14 gives you the impression that people assumed Jesus was John for he went to Galilee to preach after John had been put away in jail.  It is quite something to think a man is a jailed man raised from the dead who is not dead yet!  With all that irrationality anything is possible.

 

When you look at the case for the resurrection of Jesus from the New Testament, you will want to draw the most reasonable explanation even if that is that he rose from the dead indeed. It is said that it depends on our philosophy: if we think miracles don’t happen then we will deny that resurrection is the best explanation for the data. If we think they do we will perhaps suggest that resurrection is the best explanation.  But it is forgotten that if we realise that most miracle claims are untrue or dubious we will still not think the resurrection is the best explanation.  It is an implausible explanation.  This is not bias against miracles as long as you have done the homework.


No matter what Christians do they cannot ask anybody to accept their explanation.  It is bigotry to care about a particular opinion that much and a sign of addiction if you would risk your happiness and life and even your eternal life for it.