Posted: Sep 02, 2013 2:46 am
by willhud9
Forward: One of the reasons I chose Byron for this debate was because both he and I are privy to historical agreements in that we both acknowledge and accept the current historical model of Jesus' historicity. Since the persona of Jesus is essential for the historical Christianity, I did not want an opponent who would bog the debate down with trying to disprove the historical Jesus, while I was taking the historical Jesus one step further i.e. the historical resurrection. So if you were hoping for a historical Jesus debate, you are not going to find one here. Finally, while I wish I could give a reply to that devastating rebuttal Byron just handed me, we set the rules and I must move on, but thankfully onto my favourite topic in regards to Christianity, and the one which I have given much study towards. As always I wish Byron the best of luck!

"That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know." ~EP Sanders

Sanders, perhaps one of the most credentialed historians in the field of New Testament studies, gives excellent insight into the minds of the authors of the gospels. In response to allegations that the resurrection was myth, fabricated by a latter church well after the alleged death of Christ, Sanders remarks in his book, The Historical Figure of Jesus, that a plan to create a resurrection attempt would look more uniform and more consistent among the church than what was handed down to us from the end of the first century onwards. So it is with this seed that I wish to start a journey back to the first century and what really happened on Easter morning.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the biggest deal or no deal maker in Christianity. Now some liberal Christians do try to play off the Christ wasn't God or supernatural, but is that really "Christianity" or is that some doctrine based around the teachings of a man who may or may not have been deluded? In honesty, liberal Christianity that removes the supernatural from Christ and portrays him just as a good teacher, is weak. But my argument is not with liberal Christians, but rather to defend the greatest miracle of them all: the resurrection.

So what evidences do we from a historical perspective have of a literal resurrection of Jesus Christ? I say literal resurrection because there was and is a movement that developed around the second century which claimed that Jesus did not have a bodily resurrection, but rather a spiritual one. This was a very Greek philosophy, which did not believe in bodily resurrections. But as we find out through the key author of the New Testament, Paul, we can be assured that the kind of resurrection the church meant was indeed a bodily i.e. literal resurrection.

The evidence:

The gospels. Perhaps the most studied writings in all of history, lots of doubt in this age of skepticism have been fired at the historical reliability of the gospels (next post everybody). The fact that miracles are mentioned, the fact that Jesus and the Christian church is considered to be a pillar of the western world, and the fact that for hundreds of years the Gospels were left really unchallenged has given many historians opportunity to leave a legacy with their own spin on the gospels. But what information do the Gospels give us about the resurrection? Can that information be reliable? Are the Gospels just a Jewish rendition of Greek and Eastern myths and the figure of Jesus himself doubtful? That is what we are going to find out.

Each of the resurrection accounts are for the most part uniform.

The first Gospel Mark, in Chapter 16 verses 1-8 records:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Now Mark's gospel officially ends right there. Verses 9-20 are not present in early manuscripts and for our purpose we did not concern ourselves with them. Matthew and Luke, the other two synoptic gospels, are based around Mark and the Q source and remain uniform to Mark's story, yet with subtle differences. Matthew's gospel records an earthquake, a flash of light, and the revelation of Jesus along the road towards only the Mary's. Luke's gospel records two men who gleamed like lightning told the women about Jesus' rise from the grave. Again all of them are uniform with small, variables.

But why the small variables? Matthew and Luke were influenced by Mark and the hypothetical Q source, even within the two latter gospels, the differences are present. If it was some plan by the church to concoct a resurrected Jesus heavily influenced by pagan myths as Robert Price would argue, then you would not expect those differences. You would expect those differences if it was a recording of several different testimonies of the event. But alright, the synoptic gospels are closely related and therefore Mark *could* have been making it all up and therefore Matthew and Luke simply went along with that tale spun by Mark. That still leaves us with one other gospel, John.

John is considered the last gospel to be written with estimates placing it between 90 CE and 120 CE. Many scholars seem to want to dismiss John outright do to the fact that 90% of its content is original and not found in the synoptic gospels. There is a problem to this manner of dismissal in that it is baseless. If John was based off of testimony, even orally passed down testimony, it catches a glimpse of the patterns of thought found within the formulated Christian church. But despite all of its differences one thing is the same:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him... Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus...

John 20:1-2, 11-14
What similarities do all the resurrection accounts share?

    1. It was women who were heading towards the tomb.

    2. The tomb was always found empty with the stone already being moved.

    3. There was someone in or near the tomb to tell the women that Jesus was risen and that he was going to Galilee and that the women needed to tell the apostles.

    4. Matthew and John even have Jesus first revealing himself in the flesh to Mary.

So first of all, what is the importance of women in the Easter account. If the Christian church was trying to create an event and get people to believe in it, the account of women in the first century was not reliable. Even Luke's gospel, the non-Jewish author, writes that Peter and the apostles expressed skepticism at the words of the women. Now true in Jewish custom, two women could testify together, but even still, if they were trying to make up an event such as the resurrection, why not have Jesus directly reveal himself towards Peter? That is unless the apostles and subsequently the gospel authors truly believed that the apostles and the women genuinely had a resurrection moment. The quote from EP Sanders rings true. But does this necessarily give a foundation for the literal resurrection? For that we need to look elsewhere and thankfully we have the epistles of Paul, especially 1 Corinthians 15.

Paul was a Pharisee before becoming a Christian. He says it himself. We know that Pharisees actually believed in a bodily resurrection and it was not a new theology to first century Jews. Jews also believed in a resurrection for the entirety of Israel. So we come to Paul. Not only does Paul record for us his salvation event in Galatians, but within 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives the most detailed explanation of the resurrection of Jesus found within the Bible. Let us take a look shall we?

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born... But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

First of all, like I mentioned above, Paul was a Pharisee and Jewish religion was very much about bodily, not spiritual resurrection. Second of all, we know Paul talked and stayed with Peter and James due to Galatians 1. So Paul got the resurrection accounts from Peter. Now of course Peter may have been deluded and shared his delusions with Paul, who happened to have a Christ revelation on the road to Damascus and therefore Paul's ministry was based on a delusion. Possible, but look at the conviction of the above passage. Paul is writing to the church of Corinth that Christ revealed himself in the flesh after the resurrection as evidence to the Greek city of Corinth that bodily resurrection is a real thing.

Next Paul, as he says would not preach about a resurrection unless it were absolutely true or rather believed it to be absolutely true. Now Paul again could be deluded, but the evidence does not seem that way. He talks to Peter who was an apostle to Christ, he talks to James, the brother of Jesus, he sees Jesus on the way to Damascus, he had forsaken his life as a Pharisee to become a Christian; that is a pretty strong delusion, one that was shared by a vast amount of people. The epistle is dated to around 55 AD and is quoted by many early sources of the Church. Not only do the Pauline epistles (Romans, Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, etc.) make a compelling case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection, but so does the early Christian church.

Bodily resurrection was uniformly held by the early church as being what resurrection meant. Despite some Greek philosophies seeping its way into Christianity, the resurrection was largely Jewish, but at the same time distinct from both the Gentiles and Jews. You see unlike the Jews who believed in a resurrection for Israel and the redeeming of Israel, Christians were uniform in believing it was to be a resurrection of the church, individuals making up the church, which would inherit life in the new earth (more on this in my final entry). But why this uniformity? Now we know by the end of second century so much for that uniformity as Arianism and Gnosticism tend to disrupt things a bit, but within the church, even the Greek patriarchs and early Christian apologists did not widely dispute the concept of bodily resurrection, despite it being a ludicrous concept to the Gentile philosophies. This suggests a more significant explanation than simply the early church made up the resurrection account.

So bringing this post into conclusion:

"That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know." EP Sanders makes a lot of sense. It is wise to be agnostic on the matter of the reality of the resurrection as it tends to make you look more rational. But is it irrational to suppose the historicity of the resurrection? Well if miracles are indeed possible, than the concept of bodily resurrection is not impossible. But that is flimsy logic on its own, so does the Bible give reliable evidence in support of the resurrection? As I have shown, yes. The Gospels are uniform in the basic pattern of the resurrection, showing that all four authors agreed that is how it happened. Paul gives testimony reinforced by not only his Pharisee theology, but his Damascus road experience, and his time spent with Peter, James and others. The fact that his epistles were written shortly after the death of Christ, gives strong testimony to their reliability. Finally the church itself was uniform in its understanding of resurrection and life after death, something which would not be likely unless something of historical significance did happen to a man named Jesus called Christ. The evidence suggests that the resurrection is not only rational, but also historical.