Response to Tim O’Neill’s Answer to the Question, “What Evidence Exists for the Resurrection of Jesus?” on Quora

Tim’s answer to the question can be found in its original context here.  (By the way, my answer to the same question can be found here.)  Tim describes himself as “an atheist who has  studied the scholarship on the historical Jesus, his Jewish socio-religious context and the origins of Christianity for over 25 years,” which is to say that he is an anti-Christian apologist.  He is to be commended for his candor in this regard.  It will be important to keep this in mind as you read his answer for it explains much about what information he tends to include, what information he tends to exclude, as well as how he weighs his sources and characterizes various scholarly positions.

Tim’s short answer to the question “What evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus? would be “None.”  However, he takes over 6,000 words to make the point.  Given the weight of evidence that exists, it’s not surprising that he would expend that much typewriting to try to discredit it.  Alas for him, when his lengthy article concludes, the evidence is all still standing.

I’m simply going to comment section by section, using his headings.

A Story that Grew in the Telling

In this short introductory section, Tim states his thesis: that the resurrection of Jesus was an “idea” that “evolved over time…from an abstract one into one of a more concrete, physical revivification.”

The Nature and Date of the Sources

In this section Tim lays out his timeline for what he calls the “five sources” for the resurrection story: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.  He dates these sources from 50 AD to 120 AD.  He will return to this time line in a subsequent section.

Miracles and Apotheosis in the Ancient Mediterranean World

In this section Tim attempts to show that miracles were commonly accepted in the first-century Greco-Roman world and that stories of apotheosis were commonplace.  This section, however, is completely useless to Tim’s thesis because Paul’s seven letters written 50-60 AD demonstrate that belief in Jesus’ resurrection initially arose in Palestine among pious Jews – people who would have been highly resistant to syncretism in general, and Greco-Roman ideologies in particular.

Resurrection in the Jewish Tradition

In this section Tim seeks to refute N.T. Wright’ claim of the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection by inaccurately comparing it to what should more properly be called resuscitations rather than resurrections.  Moreover, while resurrection of the dead was instead a topic of great interest in the early first-century, it’s obvious that Jesus’ particular resurrection was anticipated by practically no one – not even his closest disciples whom he told in advance about its occurrence!

The Evolution of the Resurrection Stories

In this section Tim returns to embellish the “five-source resurrection idea timeline” he laid out in an earlier section.  He dates the five accounts as follows:  Paul (c. 50 AD), Mark (c. 70 AD), Matthew (c. 80 AD), Luke (c. 80 AD), John (c. 90-120 AD).

Analysis

In this section Tim provides a chart of various aspects of the resurrection story intended to demonstrate that “there is no element found in all five accounts.”  Of course, Tim, being an anti-Christian apologist, constructed the chart on details and left out the main points of the testimony about Jesus’ resurrection which was that he was crucified, and on the third day raised from the dead.  On these key points, all agree.

The Psychology of Resurrection Belief

In this section Tim refers to a study of failed apocalyptic cults to justify his belief that Jesus’ disciples invented the resurrection idea as coping mechanism to deal with the disappointment they felt over his death, creatively interpreting Israel’s prophets (mainly Isaiah) to make it appear that resurrection of Messiah had been prophesied all along.   The 1956 book When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter (see a few more details at Festinger’s work) introduces the term “cognitive dissonance” and gives five conditions which “specify the circumstances under which increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirmation.”  Unfortunately for Tim, Festinger and company take themselves out of the discussion of his thesis with the following qualification:

Typically, millennial or messianic movements are organized around the prediction of some future events.  Our conditions are satisfied, however, only by those movements that specify a date or an interval of time within which the predicted events will occur as well as detailing exactly what is to happen.

Of course, Jesus’ situation does not meet these conditions.  Furthermore, Vaughn Bell writes in a May 20, 2011 Slate posting:

When Prophecy Fails has become a landmark in the history of psychology, but few realize that many other studies have looked at the same question: What happens to a small but dedicated group of people who wait in vain for the end of the world? Ironically, Festinger’s own prediction—that a failed apocalypse leads to a redoubling of recruitment efforts—turned out to be false: Not one of these follow-ups found evidence to support his claim.

This is by no means to discredit Festinger’s research which is valuable.  It just makes no claim to be able to explain the belief in Jesus’ resurrection that we see among large numbers of first-century Jews.  Thus any connection Tim’s thesis might have to such research is tenuous at best.  For more details on Festinger’s work and why Festinger himself says it does not apply here, see Tim O’Neill and “When Prophecy Fails”.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, there’s practically no connection between Greco-Roman ideas of apotheosis and Jesus’ resurrection.  There’s very limited connection – if any at all – between Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails research and Jesus’ resurrection.  There’s no unanimity of scholarly opinion or, beyond that, any way to prove the timeline of writings upon which Tim wants to hang his theory of increasing dramatization and detail in the resurrection accounts.  (Even if there was, Tim doesn’t both to explain why subsequent embellishments would include, in his estimation, significant contradictions.)

Alas, there’s not much left upon which Tim can hang his thesis – except a wish and a prayer  (and he’s already denied himself the latter by virtue of his self-description as an atheist).

63 Replies to “Response to Tim O’Neill’s Answer to the Question, “What Evidence Exists for the Resurrection of Jesus?” on Quora”

  1. Mike,

    I see that you are still engaging in these exchanges pertaining to the Resurrection Story of Jesus. I, too, continue the search for some truth(s) (intentionally lower case) hoping it might produce some positive movement towards something in the upper case. Tim’s effort does seem to be a weak one, perhaps the direct result of an already predisposed inclination against the hypothesis for reasons more personal than academic.

    In my own research I have found the reading of and the listening to N.T. Wright to be most informative, challenging, and somewhat perplexing at times. Of particular interest is his short work entitled, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins.” He states, “There has been no shortage hypotheses designed to explain why the early Christians really did believe that Jesus really had been raised from the dead. These come in many shapes and sizes, but most of them feature 1 of 3 types of explanations: 1–Jesus did not really die; he somehow survived, 2–the tomb was empty, but nothing else happened, 3–the disciples had visions of Jesus, but without there being an empty tomb. The first can be disposed of swiftly. Roman soldiers knew how to kill people, especially rebel kings. First Century Jews knew the difference between a survivor and someone newly alive.”

    An observation regarding this:

    1–If you claim a resurrection from the dead, it becomes quite obvious that your first consideration involves some compelling proof or argument that the raised person was actually dead in the first place. For Wright to simply establish this “fact” in 3 short sentences, especially as it pertains to someone from 2,000 years ago is a major historical accomplishment. This becomes an even greater accomplishment when one of the sentences involves an apparent historical consideration that no one seems to have paid any attention to during all this time. That, of course, would be the discovery that there were apparently “quite a few” if not “many” people during this time who had been resurrected and these Jews because of their exposure and acquaintance with such resurrected people ” . . . knew the difference between a survivor and someone newly alive.” Who knew that such resurrections were so commonplace? Apparently Jesus fit right into this group of people “newly alive”, and these Jews immediately recognized him as one of this group. No wonder Wright is so highly regarded within the Apologetic Community.

    Thom

  2. Thom,

    I am familiar with N.T. Wright and have often been edified by his work, but I am not familiar with the particular writing you reference, nor do I follow the logic of what you’re presenting – whether it be his logic, yours, or a combination of the two.

    Jesus’ similarity to other resurrected persons seems to me 1) beside the point, and 2) inconsistent with New Testament claims. I say “beside the point” because the disciples believed Jesus was raised because of post-crucifixion appearances inconsistent with death and the testimony of the Scriptures that death-resurrection was, after all, a sine qua non of messianic fulfillment. And I say “inconsistent with New Testament claims” because everyone else who was raised from the dead (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, son of the widow of Nain, etc.) was expected to ultimately die for good while Jesus’ resurrection seemed to be understood as eternal.

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for your response. I’m sorry you fail to see the irony in N.T. Wright’s statement concerning his “proof” that one Jesus actually died on the cross and did not simply “survive” the ordeal. If you remember his statement in that context it might become more lucid. Remember, his statement concerns the death of one Jesus and how Wright knows that he was dead, that is Jews at the time knew the difference between a survivor and someone brought back to life from the dead. And just how would they know the difference, unless such an event were commonplace and all these people brought back to life had a “special” look to them that Jews during this time could easily identify? Wright’s statement is either completely ludicrous on its face, or so historically accurate that it reduces the resurrection of Jesus to a “so what?” classification. The New Testament records seem to suggest that the latter possibility was not the case, so the former must be correct, necessitating that Wright simply re-consider his statement. I wonder what this “special” look was that these newly resurrected people had?

      Actually the Christian claim to Resurrection has a four-fold problematic nature to it, or so it seems to me.

      1–You have the Resurrection itself. An immediate challenge set before you.

      2–Even if you can adequately demonstrate that one Jesus was raised from the dead, it certainly does not prove the “atonement” aspect to the event.

      3–What became of this “Resurrected Jesus”? Answer: God came and lifted him up to heaven and he disappeared in the clouds. It’s a kind of celestial transport of some kind.

      4–Oh by the way, not that the Resurrection itself makes Jesus God, but he is, and we need to make this clear, God Himself. Actually, he is one of three persons that comprise the Godhead. God is One and Three at the same time.

      I think it not so surprising that this is a story difficult to accept by many. That they should choose not to believe it seems a reasonable conclusion. Just an observation. Thanks. Hope you are well. You appear to be.

      Thom

  3. Thom,

    As for the four “problems” you mention for the resurrection:

    1. I don’t understand why people balk at the idea of resurrection.  If God can create a life, what’s so hard for Him in recreating it?

    2. So what?

    3.  Jesus was raised from the dead to heaven; more specifically, to the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1).  The forty days of appearances on earth were merely a temporary stop along the way for the purpose of demonstrating the reality of His resurrection to those who knew Him best and who would subsequently bear witness to that resurrection (Acts 1:3).

    4. There Is No Trinity; There Is Only Christ

    1. Mike,

      I appreciate your short, concise answers, although they might require some further explanation. I shall respond in part.

      1–I think you confuse “the idea of resurrection” with this particular claim to resurrection. It is not to the idea of resurrection to which some people balk, but, rather, to this particular “claim” to resurrection.

      2–“So what?” Indeed. Perhaps this resurrection has nothing more to it than to demonstrate your point in Number 1 that if God can create life He can also bring that life back from the dead. This might be it after all.

      3–Ah, the convenience of simple Belief. An explanation was needed for what became of the miraculously resurrected Jesus. How about another claim, perhaps as equally miraculous. If the shoe fits.

      4–I do apologize if I mistakenly included you in the group of Orthodox Christians who believe in God existing as Three Persons having the same substance. That would leave me with only one question. You say, “There is only Christ.” What does that mean?

      Thom

  4. Thom,

    1. If a person does not object to the idea of resurrection, why would he object to “this particular claim of resurrection” (that is, the resurrection of Jesus)?

    2. I wasn’t suggesting that there wasn’t more to the resurrection of Jesus than his resurrection itself; there is. I was just suggesting that controversial religious doctrines like “atonement” might not be the best way to explain or summarize those attendant meanings and consequences.

    3. I’m just telling you what I’ve read…and believe…in the Bible. Is it hard to believe? Not as hard as believing that those who wrote the New Testament documents lied.

    4. Traditional Trinitarian doctine says part of God became Christ. I am saying all of God became Christ. That is, Christ is the clothing that God is wearing. Thus to worship Christ is to worship God.

    1. Mike,

      To respond with your response to Number 1, which is, perhaps, the most significant of the points addressed.

      This particular claim to resurrection is fraught with questionable and disturbing elements that make the claim, at the very least, suspect and dubious. As a prelude to them, I will posit two questions, and allow you to answer them. I trust you will do so in accordance with the New Testament documents as we have them at our disposal. I wish we had a greater number of resource materials, but, alas, that is not the case.

      1–What is the launching pad for the Resurrection Story? In other words, what is it that begins the Resurrection Story?

      2–Who, specifically, promotes the Resurrection Story? By this, I mean, what individual is most responsible for the story, as we have it?

      It will be interesting to see how you answer these two foundational questions.

      Thom

    1. Mike,

      At some point we all become prisoners to the narrative we choose in life. None of us is immune to this reality. After that we become “defenders” to the idea/ideas we most cherish.

      According to the New Testament documents the launching pad for the Resurrection Story is the Empty Tomb. In John 20, if we are to accept this account, the very first believers believed in the Resurrection after discovering the tomb to be empty of Jesus’ body. There have been no “appearances” at this point, only the Empty Tomb. At this point two things must be acknowledged:

      1–The Resurrection Story becomes nothing more than one of several possible “explanations” for the Empty Tomb. Again in John 20, if we are to believe this account, Mary even offers what to her is apparently the easiest and most logical explanation, “. . . they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” The words seemingly roll off her tongue with no hesitation or second-thought concerning its plausibility. There is nothing to impede this explanation as she sees it. I will forego the illogical syllogism that this initial “belief” on the part of the first believers creates, but the “fact” remains that the Empty Tomb, not appearances or so-called appearacnes, is the launching pad of this Resurrection Story. It is really just one of several explanations for the Tomb.

      2–If you are going to promote the notion of a resurrection from the dead, you better develop a narrative with elements consistent with what would be necessary to convince others that a resurrection has, in fact, taken place. The most powerful of such elements would be “appearances” of the newly alive person to others. A resurrection with no such appearances becomes not much of a story. What follows then in this story? Appearances. It is exactly what you would expect. Now only the veracity or the lack thereof of such so-called appearances needs to be established.

      This is your story. You asked me what causes me to question this particular resurrection story, and I answer by offering, among other things, that the starting point to the story is completely wrong. Interestingly enough, what follows is not. It is exactly what you would expect.

      Without moving to your answer to the second question concerning who champions this story, I will allow you to amend your original answer to the first question, if you are so inclined.

      Thom

  5. Thom,

    Your perspective (“story” as you would put it) strikes me as idiosyncratic and enigmatic.  That is, to the degree that I can understand it, it seems peculiar.

    Let me take pains to be lucid about why.

    According to the New Testament documents the launching pad for the Resurrection Story is the Empty Tomb.

    This certainly wasn’t the case for Paul.  He proved himself impervious to claims about an empty tomb, and fought the resurrection story with all his might.  Only when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus did Paul develop a belief in the resurrection.

    In John 20, if we are to accept this account, the very first believers believed in the Resurrection after discovering the tomb to be empty of Jesus’ body.

    This is not what the text says.  On the contrary, it was only when Jesus appeared to Mary that she was transformed from mourner to evangelist.

    The Resurrection Story becomes nothing more than one of several possible “explanations” for the Empty Tomb.

    This is what strikes me as peculiar about your view: you seem to accept without question the scriptural testimony about the disciples finding an empty tomb.  However, you then seem to be skeptical about subsequent scriptural testimony about Jesus’ appearances to the disciples.  In other words, you seem to be suggesting that we can know for a fact that the disciples found an empty tomb but we should infer that they then made up stories about resurrection because the empty tomb allowed them to do so. It seems strange that you should be so quick to believe the one and so slow to believe the other.

    If you are going to promote the notion of a resurrection from the dead, you better develop a narrative with elements consistent with what would be necessary to convince others that a resurrection has, in fact, taken place. The most powerful of such elements would be “appearances” of the newly alive person to others. A resurrection with no such appearances becomes not much of a story.

    This statement is inconsistent with the process of evangelization we see playing out in the book of Acts.  That is, Jewish witnesses went throughout the world seeking other Jews to whom they might announce the coming of Messiah, giving the Gentiles increasing access to the message along  the way.  Yes, there were Judean eyewitnesses, with a Paul or two thrown in along the way, but the bulk of the those who believed the message did so not on the basis of an appearance, but on the basis on an announcement coupled with an explanation from the Hebrew Bible (see particularly the account of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28).

    Resurrection, you see, was the answer to Scripture’s riddle about Messiah.  This dynamic – that is, the testimony of Scripture – actually had more power of persuasion than an appearance (Luke 16:31).

     

    1. Mike,

      Your last response reminds me of why I took the short time to mention the strength of the narrative we adopt to live our lives. You are either failing to acknowledge what the documents clearly say or simply can’t recognize it.

      In John 20:8 we read, “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” This belief is clearly before any scripture or appearances to so convince him. The Empty Tomb itself is the genesis for a belief in the Resurrection Story. That you in some way consider this to be idiosyncratic to myself is quite flattering, however, I cannot take credit for it. That the Empty Tomb serves to launch this “belief” in some resurrection is clearly evident. That the documents should later suggest that the scriptures and “appearances” or so-called “appearances” serve also to bring people to belief does not change the genesis of the story.

      Obviously this belief based soley on the Empty Tomb gives rise to an ill-founded syllogistic argument that says:

      A: An empty tomb wherein there is no body means that a resurrection has taken place;

      B: The tomb of Jesus was discovered empty;

      Therefore: Jesus was resurrected.

      The fallacy of the major premise is quite evident. That later proofs for this resurrection were sought and looked for should come as no surprise. That a person named Paul (Saul) or anyone else for that matter should convert to the religion and do so on the basis of a claim to an “appearance” should come as no surprise. Clearly any reasonable person would understand the importance and need for something more than just an “empty tomb.”

      I consider it to be of some progress that you say, ” . . . the bulk of those who believed the message did so not on the basis of an appearance, but on the basis of an announcement coupled with an explanation from the Hebrew Bible.” It appears that you are softening you stance about the “appearances” being the launching pad for the Resurrection Story. It puts you one step closer to the answer.

      Thom

    1. Mike,

      At this point I’m not suggesting anything with regard to the historically reliable nature of either passage. Interesting that you should offer up this suggestion at this point in the discussion. It is, however, an idea worthy of additional pursuit, research, and discussion. This is especially true as we consider the “agenda” or “agendas” that might underlie additions, embellishments, or redactions that might occur as a story unfolds and takes on broader proportions.

      This discussion is simply about the reason(s) for suspecting that this particular resurrection story might not have happened in accordance with conventional wisdom and belief. This is, after all, what you asked me. One of my core reasons for being suspicious about this particular story is the starting point and what, specifically, gets the story going.

      Primarily this investigation is about “facts”. Habermas, Craig, and others of their persuasion stress the importance of “facts” and “data” within their work and research. However, if that is your approach, you must be willing to deal with all the “facts” as we find them. If Truth and what actually happened concerning a matter is your goal, you must be open and willing to deal with all the “facts”. A myopic approach will serve only one side, and too often this is what happens within the research and approach of people with an obvious “agenda”. Is any of us immune from this danger? I think not. However, we must do our best to present, at the very least, the appearance of openness.

      I will end by asking you a question that I feel is an easy one to answer, using the documents at our disposal. How many appearances or so-called appearances of the risen Jesus do we have prior to the discovery of the Empty Tomb? This is question seeking simply a factual response.

      Thom

  6. Thom,

    I continue to be puzzled by your perspective. You decry myopia while exhibiting a fixation on the empty tomb. And for no apparent reason you consider it more historical than any of the appearance accounts. I have never counted the number of appearances…before or after the discovery of the empty tomb.  My belief in the resurrection of Christ is tied to totality of the evidence, not its minutia.  See this post for my elaboration on this point.

    1. Mike,

      I continue to be somewhat amazed at your inability to grasp the simplicity of this argument as a reason for questioning this particular story of resurrection. Rather than, ” . . . a fixation on the Empty Tomb,” this is simply the beginning of the discussion. It has to begin somewhere, and it does so at this point. It is not my decision to begin the story at the point where it begins. It is the story itself.

      This story as we have it begins with an Empty Tomb. That is not my decision. It is not my “fixation”. It is the genesis point. That being said, the story of resurrection now becomes nothing more than an explanation for this Empty Tomb. Again, not my decision.

      Since you failed or are unwilling to answer the question concerning the number of appearances or so-called appearances of Jesus prior to the discovery of this Empty Tomb, I will answer it for you taken from the pages of the documents themselvs. Zero. None. Not even the whisper or the suggestion of an appearance prior to the Empty Tomb. Again, not my deicsion, nor my “fixation.” And, without challenging or trying to discredit or disprove the appearances or so-called appearances that come after this discovery, I will simply state again that if you are going to create or promote “resurrection” as an explanation for the Empty Tomb, you proably better have some “appearances” of the resurrected person. It isn’t much of a resurrection if no one sees this newly alive person.

      You wanted to know my reason(s) for questioning this particular story of resurrection, and, once again, I question it because the starting point is wrong. It is not my only reason for questioning it, but it begins here.

      This starting point for the story appears to be factual in nature. Again, I did not create this “fact”. It should, however, appear along with other “facts” that apologists are willing to offer up in their research and presentation. That it does not, however, should come as no surprise. It appears to be an inconvenient “fact” to their agenda and conventional belief. I think it fair and reasonable to question any story that begins with a flawed syllogistic argument.

      Thom

  7. Thom, you said:

    This story as we have it begins with an Empty Tomb. That is not my decision. It is not my “fixation”. It is the genesis point. That being said, the story of resurrection now becomes nothing more than an explanation for this Empty Tomb. Again, not my decision.

    It certainly sounds like a fixation to me.  You even capitalize the phrase (“Empty Tomb”), as if to draw even more attention to it.

    Where a story begins varies depending on who is telling the story and who is hearing it.  The starting point of the Jesus story for Mark was the ministry of John the Baptist. For Matthew it was the genealogy that began with Abraham.  For Luke it was the conception of John the Baptist.  And for John, of course, it was “the beginning.”  All of these “launching pads” are valid, and each has its appropriate use.

    The story of Jesus’ resurrection began for some with an empty tomb, but not for all.  Certainly not for Paul, whose starting point was a vision on the road to Damascus.  Neither for those of us who live in the 21st Century does the story begin with an empty tomb.  For me, the empty tomb is a logical inference from the appearances.  I’m glad to have it explicitly corroborated in the Scriptures…but it sort of goes without saying.

    …the story of resurrection now becomes nothing more than an explanation for this Empty Tomb.

    Actually, it is something more than that – something much more than that.  It is the fulfillment of Scripture.  For how is Jesus going to be rise to heaven (as witnessed in Acts 1) and be seated at the right hand of God if He’s still in the tomb?

    It’s not where Jesus wasn’t that mattered – it’s where He was.

    Yes, the empty tomb has its place in the story and it’s a significant point.  But your myopic focus on it as the genesis of all that came after is without warrant in Scripture or logic.

    If you chose to believe that the tomb was empty but that subsequent “appearances” were not actually appearances but rather rationalizations, hallucinations, or fabrications, I can’t stop you.  But I’ll just remain puzzled why you think that if the apostles would lie about the appearances they wouldn’t lie about the tomb being empty as well.

     

     

     

    1. Mike,

      Your failure, inability, or lack of willingness to recognize or acknowledge that this empty tomb is the genesis to the story of resurrection is apparent. It does not, however, change the factual nature of the story. Your adnerence and commitment to the narrative of your belief is evident through both your passion and prejudice. At one level you are to be commended for it.

      That it should serve as a stumbling block for myself as a legitimate reason for questioning or rejecting it is to say nothing more than that.

      If God is, He (if that is appropriate) is certainly capable of all things, as long as they do not violate His nature. That this might include raising someone from the dead is granted. This particular story, however, rings more untrue than true with and in details that seem significant. That you disagree is noted and appreciated.

      What are the explanations or possible explanations for this empty tomb? Resurrection became one of those. Given the tenor of the time in which it happened, it comes as no surprise. That appearances of this risen person or claims to appearances of this risen person should follow, also comes as no surprise. If your narrative is a resurrection from the dead, you better claim appearances of the risen person. Otherwise, you don’t have much of a story. Did these appearances actually take place? At the very least, some people believed that they did, and there has been no shortage of people who continue to believe the same. And why not? The great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury said the single greatest thought he even encountered in life was the proclamation, “Live forever.” Who wouldn’t or doesn’t want to embrace that sentiment?

      Best of everything,

      Thom

  8. Thom,

    Let’s examine the situation from your point of view. That is, let’s assume that the only historical fact was the empty tomb and none of appearances ever actually happened.

    1) How did the tomb become empty and what happened to the body?

    2) Why were the apostles willing to face death for hallucinations? (For even if they were hallucinating sincerely, there would be that uncertainty that comes with a non-physical experience.)

    3) How did all the apostles agree that the appearances were to take place between three days after the crucifixion and 40 days later?

    4) How could they have had a common hallucination of His ascension (Acts 1) without conspiring? And if they conspired, why were they willing to risk their lives for a tale they knew they’d fabricated?

    5) Why was Paul willing to switch from persecuting to being persecuted just because of a self-induced vision he had while in the midst of persecuting?

    6) How were the Twelve, Paul, and the rest of the leaders and teachers of all those disciples able to get the Hebrew Scriptures to support what they were hallucinating or fabricating?

    1. Mike,

      In short order I will answer your many questions in your last e-mail. Before doing so, however, we must re-visit the “beginning point” or “launching pad” to the Resurrection Story of Jesus.

      Initially you said it was “Jesus’ appearances to His disciples” that launched the story. Then you back-tracked and said, ” . . . the bulk of those who believed the message did so not on the basis of an appearance, but on the basis of an announcement coupled with an explanation from the Hebrew Bible.” Then you said for Mark it was the ministry of John the Baptist, for Matthew it was the genealogy, for Luke it was the conception of John the Baptist, and for John it was simply “the beginning.” You then said, “All of these ‘launching pads’ are valid, and each has its appropriate use.” Is it safe to conclude that Creation itself is also a launching pad or the beginning to the Resurrection Story in your opinion? You then say, “The story of Jesus’ Resurrection began for some with an empty tomb, but not for all.” I disagree with both your logic and observations. Again, my point, and you have slowly surrounded it, is that the Empty Tomb and the Empty Tomb alone begins the story of resurrection and Resurrection becomes an explanation for it. Were there “appearances” or claims to “appearances” prior to the discovery of the Tomb, then this would not be the case. You apparently still do not grasp this idea and, as well, seem somewhat confused in your own belief.

      To your questions and my answers:

      1–The simplest and easiest explanation it would appear, offered by Mary herself in John 20:13, if you accept this account, is that someone stole the body. Seems simple enough. She apparently saw it that way. Who took it and what became of it? If we knew that, we could write a best seller.

      2–Who said they hallucinated? We don’t even know what most of them claimed about what took place? What does Andrew tell us? Simon? Judas Thaddeus? Nathaniel? Andrew? We have nothing but silence from these men.

      3–Who said they agreed about such a thing? It is a question I do not understand.

      4–Same as the answer to Number 2. Who said anything about a conspiracy?

      5–People convert all the time. That Saul (Paul) converted should come as no great surprise, nor should his claim to a “vision” of some type surprise us. Paul used this claim to identify himself as an apostle, which was necessary to claim apostleship (I Cor. 9:1) It comes as no surprise that a man used to power and authority should want similar power and authority within the framework of his new belief. As well, Paul appears to be a man given to mysticism and this new religion seemed filled with the opportunity to engage in the sort of mysticism that he was drawn to naturally and that he could expand upon.

      6–To say that they or anyone else have been able to re-interpret the Scriptures satisfactorily is somewhat of a reach. Let’s make it easy. What Old Testament Scripture specifically states and deals with the Messiah being raised after 3 days as we read about in Luke 24:44-49? Please be specific and concise with something that is not cryptic or esoteric.

  9. Initially you said it was “Jesus’ appearances to His disciples” that launched the story. Then you back-tracked and said, ” . . . the bulk of those who believed the message did so not on the basis of an appearance, but on the basis of an announcement coupled with an explanation from the Hebrew Bible.”

    That’s not backtracking.  Rather, each statement is answering a different question.  My first statement was the answer to your question, “What begins the resurrection story?”  I maintain that point.  The empty tomb was not the beginning of the resurrection story.  How could it have been?  At most, it could have been the beginning to the “Someone stole the body story.”  There is no evidence in Scripture that anyone thought Jesus had been raised from the dead until He began appearing to His disciples.  This certainly the case with Mary right there in John 20.  As for my point about the bulk of those who believed in Jesus’ resurrection having done so on different basis than the original disciples, that’s just a recognition that of the thousands of first-century Jews, and later Gentiles, who believed, probably less than a thousand of them did so on the basis of experiencing one of His appearances.  The vast majority believed based on testimony of those witnesses and exposition of the Scriptures.

    Then you said for Mark it was the ministry of John the Baptist, for Matthew it was the genealogy, for Luke it was the conception of John the Baptist, and for John it was simply “the beginning.” You then said, “All of these ‘launching pads’ are valid, and each has its appropriate use.” Is it safe to conclude that Creation itself is also a launching pad or the beginning to the Resurrection Story in your opinion?

    You misunderstand me.  This was offered by way of analogy.  That is, as the four gospel writers begin the story of Jesus at different points, so they, as well as others, can begin the resurrection story at different points.

    You then say, “The story of Jesus’ Resurrection began for some with an empty tomb, but not for all.”

    Indeed this is so.  Paul talks about the resurrection frequently without ever mentioning the empty tomb.

    I disagree with both your logic and observations. Again, my point, and you have slowly surrounded it, is that the Empty Tomb and the Empty Tomb alone begins the story of resurrection and Resurrection becomes an explanation for it. Were there “appearances” or claims to “appearances” prior to the discovery of the Tomb, then this would not be the case. You apparently still do not grasp this idea and, as well, seem somewhat confused in your own belief.

    Rather, it’s the case that, for some reason unknown to me, you’ve chosen to believe the disciples when they said there was an empty tomb but not believe them when they said they saw the resurrected Jesus.

    As for your answers to my questions,

    1.  You offer no motive, means, or opportunity for anyone to have stolen the body.

    2. You’re nitpicking words.  If you don’t like “hallucination” give a different word.  The point is that your claiming that the appearances claimed by the disciples did not occur.  Are you saying the disciples lied?  If you don’t want to say they lied, what would cause them to sincerely claim to have witnessed Him alive after His death?

    3. There is a consistency to the testimony.  I’m asking you how it was achieved absent conspiracy.  Or, if you think it was conspiracy, by what means and for what motivation was it pulled off?

    4. Luke claims to have written based on having interviewed eyewitnesses.  Was he then lying about what he wrote in Acts 1, or were the lies told by those who testified to him?

    5. This is like suggesting it wouldn’t have been strange for Stalin or Mao to reverse course and join ranks with the peasants they’d been harassing and killing.  Paul shows no prior inclination greater than his adherence to the Pharisees.  To embrace Christ was so unexpected that early observers did not trust that his conversion was real (Acts 9:26).

    6. None of the Old Testament prophecies are literal and specific about crucifixion, three days, and resurrection.  If they had been, the Jewish authorities would never have asked the Romans to crucify Him.  Moreover, the entire Jewish population would have been prepared to accept a suffering Davidic Messiah – which they obviously weren’t.

    The only way I can understand how you come to your view is to selectively and myopically choose to believe the empty tomb portion of the scriptural narrative, but hardly any other portion of the narrative.  What I don’t understand is why you do this.  That is, why do you find just that one strand of the story credible?  If you’re throwing out the rest, why not throw that out, too?

    1. Mike,

      (By the way, good conversation)

      You write, “There is no evidence in Scripture that anyone thought Jesus had been raised from the dead until He began appearing to His disciples.” What, then, do you think is meant by John 20:8?

      Also, what I am attempting to discover is any truth(s) that might be found in a story from over 2,000 years ago about a man that people claimed was raised from the dead. It appears to me that the order of events surrounding the story suggest that much of the story might not have happened in accordance with conventional wisdom or belief. Look at the Gospel of Mark, for example. It is regarded as the first gospel written to discuss certain events surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, if this were the only extant gospel we had at our disposal, what would your belief be? As an account of a person said to have been raised from the dead, this story would not even appear on the front page of your local newspaper. It actually ends up on the cutting room floor, so uninspiring, unconvincing, and undramatic is it. At the very least, those who wrote later about the story included “appearances” of this risen person, understanding the need for such things if you intend to convince others about your claim.

      Let’s look at the story this way, a way that Habermas, Craig, and others might approve.

      1–Every gospel says that the tomb was discovered empty.

      2–Every gospel says that the reason Jesus was not there was because God raised him from the dead.

      3–Not every gospel, however, has appearances of this risen Jesus. In fact, the ones that do include appearances do not seem to share the same appearance stories. If an appearance is not multiply attested to by at least two gospels (a somewhat critical approach employed by Habermas and others) we will eliminate it from the category of actual appearances. What appearances of the “risen Jesus” are you left with?

      Now, am I to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead based on the story as we now have it? If some are convinced, so be it. Am I so convinced? Hardly. You’ll need to do better than this.

      You can begin to convince me of your story by citing any appearance or so-called appearance that occurs prior to the discovery of the Empty Tomb. It doesn’t even have to be multiply attested to by your sources. Absent that, the story of resurrection seems to be nothing more than an explanation for the tomb being minus a body. And this brings me to the second question I asked you many e-mails ago. That is, Who, specifically, champions this idea of resurrection or is the one most responsible for its promotion? Is there such a person? This question becomes important because the history of great ideas and movements is the history of one person who becomes the driving force behind the idea in its initial offering. Every great idea or movement has a leader and followers develop from this person’s leadership. Is this, as well, the case with the story of resurrection concerning Jesus of Nazareth? I think it is a question worth pursuing and answering.

  10. John 20:8 seems to say no more than that John believed [that the tomb was empty].  And this is validated by the next verse which makes clear that, even then, it had not occurred to them that Jesus had been raised from the dead:

    John 20:9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

    And this is reinforced by the 10th verse which says:

    John 20:10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

    Thus it was only when Jesus began appearing to the disciples that they “got it.”

    You also said:

    It appears to me that the order of events surrounding the story suggest that much of the story might not have happened in accordance with conventional wisdom or belief.

    I don’t care a whit about “conventional wisdom.”  I only care about what the apostles said.  I find them credible.

    Look at the Gospel of Mark, for example. It is regarded as the first gospel written to discuss certain events surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, if this were the only extant gospel we had at our disposal, what would your belief be? As an account of a person said to have been raised from the dead, this story would not even appear on the front page of your local newspaper.

    The New Testament documents were “internal” to the Jewish movement that produced them.  None were written to outsiders.  None were written to persuade.  The documents were written to and for people who had already come to the conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead.  The gospels were written to record the life and teaching of the One they called Savior before the eyewitnesses all passed away in the hostile persecution they faced.

    Anyone who expects these documents to speak directly to skeptics about skeptical concerns is creating false expectations for himself.  I do believe that they bear witness to the resurrection of Christ, and a persuasive witness at that.  But they do so indirectly as that is not their direct intent.

    Where I would direct your attention, given your interest in the resurrection, is to those documents that scholars seem to generally agree are the earliest New Testament documents written: the so-called seven uncontested letters of Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon).  These documents were written roughly 50-60 AD.  Since Jesus died 30-33 AD, these document are within 15-25 years of event in question.  If you read these letters carefully, you will see that they have sections which are preexisting confessions, creeds, and hymns.  Together with other aspects of the letters, we can reasonably conclude that a settled belief in the resurrection of Jesus existed throughout Palestine and farther west into the Mediterranean basin.  By most reckonings these many believers existed well before any of the gospels were written.

    Consider also that these were not private letters between two individuals found tied in a neat stack in an old drawer.  Rather, they had been copied and spread all around the Mediterranean world.  The story of 1 Corinthians 15, told orally, had been the agent of proclamation regarding Jesus’ resurrection – not the four gospels.  The earliest Christian movement was a preaching and teaching mission – not a publishing venture.  It does not serve us well to try to make the New Testament documents into something they aren’t.

     

     

    1. Mike,

      I’m sorry but you continue to say things that seem not to be in keeping with the documents we have and I must take exception.

      1–To equate John 20:8 with simply an acknowlegement that the tomb was empty seems to be “creative exegesis” on your part. More appropriately and accurately it suggests that the disciple “believed” that Jesus had been raised even though the disciple knew nothing of the scripture that might support it or an appearance that would confirm it. It seems an incredible stretch to suggest “belief” as simply acknowledging that the tomb was empty. If that were the case the passage would read that the disciple “saw that the tomb was empty.”

      2–You say that you only care about what the disciples said. I respond by saying, What does Andrew say about what happened? What does Thomas say about what happened? What does Simon the Zealot say about what happened? What does James the brother of John say about what happened? What does Nathaniel say about what happened? What does Judas Thaddeus say about what happened? Do you understand the point?

      3–The gospels themselves seem to contradict your position that they are not meant to persuade people into “belief”. The Gospel of John would be the most obvious example of this. John 20:30-31 says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” At this point, I don’t know what more to say. You need to do some more research before saying things that are in direct contradiction to the gospels themselves.

      4–You still have yet to respond to the second question, which remains a very significant aspect to this story. Who is responsible for the promotion of this idea of resurrection? Is there one individual who is the driving force behind it? It is worth pursuing.

  11. 1 – We will just have to agree to disagree about precisely what it was that John “believed” in John 20:8.  Your consequent interpretation of verse 9 as meaning that John believed in the resurrection based entirely on the empty tomb without scriptural support seems tenuous.  Moreover, your belief in the body being stolen seems hard to square with verse 8, for who would go to the trouble, and for what purpose, to remove the face-cloth and linen wrappings of the body before removing it from the tomb?

    2 – I understand the point.  I just don’t understand why you consider it relevant or important.  Moses said “out of the mouths of two or three witnesses, let every fact be established” – not “out of the mouths of eleven or twelve witnesses, let every fact be established.”  Besides, as I’ve said, the apostles’ mission was one of preaching, not writing.  The writing came for specific purposes at specific times.

    3 – I concede that the Gospel of John is the one potential exception to my statement, but you are taking the exception and trying to make it a rule.  Moreover, I don’t think it is an actual exception.  Rather, I think John 20:30-31 refers to readers keeping their faith, not creating faith in them.  After all, who would ever begin a document for unbelievers the way this document begins?  An unbeliever would stumble all over John 1:1.

    4 – You didn’t recognize my answer, but it can be inferred from what I said about Paul’s letters being considered the earliest New Testament documents written.  That is, the faith in Jesus was robust and widespread before any documents were written and therefore we can attribute this faith to no single individual (the book of Acts confirming this) – unless it be the resurrected Jesus Himself.

    1. Mike,

      Responses to 1:

      1–We agree to disagree. However it might be suggested that your stance is one designed to protect an already arrived at position and belief. I’m still trying to figure out what in the world was happening. It is still true, regardless of your position, that there are no appearance claims prior to the discovery of the Empty Tomb. In that regard, the story of resurrection is still nothing more than an explanation for why the tomb was empty. Additionally, scripture is often funny and sometimes how we approach it is even funnier. The “stolen body hypothesis” is nothing more than an explanation for the situation at the tomb. When you get to means, motive, and opportunity they can all be established simply by taking a consistent methodological approach to the accounts. Habermas and others take great pains to establish the importance of something being multiply attested to by the documents. However, many times apologists and others build a defense or so-called defense by using accounts and stories that are found only in one document. I don’t need to list them here. You, I’m sure, are even aware of many. Your citing of the wrappings and the linen cloth is one of them. Why would someone who took the body take the time and pains to unwrap the body? I ask, “How do you know that actually happened?” Again, eliminate every story, account, and appearance that we have that is not multiply attested to by the documents, now how does your story go?

      2–The relevance is quite simple. These simple, uneducated men were disciples first and foremost. That means they were followers, like most of us. I don’t here need to list the many times people have been led by and taken in by a charismatic, forceful, persuasive leader, a leader who was actually convinced about what he or she was doing. It is the history of Mankind. Could this have been the case with the story of resurrection? I think it quite possible, and, thus, the importance of considering who, if anyone, promoted this idea and perhaps got the others to believe and follow.

      3–I’m not making any rule, simply pointing out something that seems to contradict your position. By the way, when the author of John says in John 20:31, ” . . . but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name,” it hardly sounds like something you would write to someone who already believed. Just an observation.

      4–When the story of resurrection actually took hold is not the issue. The issue is who, if anyone, is responsible for promoting it and getting others to believe it, if that was what happened. These first believers became followers to the idea of resurrection as an explanation for the Empty Tomb. What caused this? Did they become believers to this idea because of appearances to them of the risen Jesus, or was something else at play, and could their belief have been the direct result of the inflluence exerted upon them by one or possibly two people who led them to this belief? It is worth pursuing. Can you think of anyone from the original group who might have filled this role? If you can, and I’m betting you can, the door is at least opened. It’s an interesting challenge attempting to get behind the scenes of a story that comes to us from over 2,000 years ago. This is especially true when it involves a time when dreams, trances, visions, and voices from heaven seem to have been the order of the day, not the exception.

    1. Mike,

      It is not and has never been a matter of what I don’t believe. It is and will always be a matter of what I question. This has always been the entry way for critical thought. I would have hoped you would have seen or known the difference.

      I have enjoyed the exchange and wish you the best.

      Thom

  12. Luke 24:33-38 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”  They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.  While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.”  But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.  And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

    In the last sentence where it reads “doubts” you could substitute “questions” or “critical thoughts.”

    1. Mike,

      It’s an easy question to answer, “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” The answer, of course, is because it is a reasonable response. If I claim to you that I was abducted by aliens and put on their spaceship, you might be given to “question” my story. Why? Because it is a reasonable response to such a claim. Based on what we know, any other response would seem “unreasonable.” Did the above “appearance” actually occur? On the basis of what additional evidence do you use to believe that it did? There do seem to be several things that should be commented upon.

      1–This passage eludes to an “appearance” that apparently Peter was claiming for himself that no one else was privy to at the time. Paul, as you know, in I Cor 15 lists Peter as the one to whom the Risen Jesus first appears. Forget for the moment that Paul apparently knows nothing about the so-called appearances to the women or simply chooses to ignore them. At the very least, Peter is telling everyone who will listen that Jesus had appeared to him. So, the first claim to an appearance from the Risen Jesus is made by one person.

      2–If the tomb is empty and “resurrection” is the explanation for it, as I have said before, you better have someone or multiple people claiming “appearances” or you don’t have much of a story. Peter claiming such an “appearance” apparently begins the process. Peter’s mission now is to convince others. Was he able to do this on the strength of his own belief? Were other “appearances” or claims to such necessary for the “belief” to take hold? Worthy questions, I believe.

      3–An additional comment about “appearances” or so-called “appearances”. If you were the Risen Jesus and you had 40 days in which to demonstrate the reality of a “resurrection from the dead,” what would your “appearance schedule” or “appearance itinerary” look like? It’s a bit of an abstruse question, I grant you. It does, however, seem that within a 40 day span the historical landscape would be filled with appearances, too many to count, in fact. I refer to the Gospel of Luke as a good example. The author states in the very beginning, “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” As well as appearing to be another attempt to get someone to believe, it appears the author intends to write a substantial account of those things believed. Yet, when it comes to the most significant event in all history the author mentions one appearance to a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus and one more appearance to the group, while eluding to another that comes to one person. To this author that seems sufficient. It strikes me as somewhat odd that he refers to such a small, insignificant number of “appearances” in his account.

      4–Finally, and this refers to the somewhat seeming requirement on the part of most people, including Thomas, that they won’t “believe” until they themselves have experienced an “appearance” of the Risen Jesus. Thomas was apparently not alone, as the Lukan account that you referenced suggests that people were skeptical to the claim of Peter, as well. So what happens? All these “doubters” are given their own “appearance.” Now they can believe. At this point it seems reasonable for myself to request a similar “level of proof” in order that I might also believe. Is this unreasonable? In light of the documents we have, it appears to be very much in keeping with what was required.

      1. Spot on, Thom.
        If JC needed to make personal appearances for those nearest and dearest because they didn’t believe, it is perfectly reasonable for him to come from behind the curtain and show the rest of us.
        But if he couldn’t be bothered to ‘show and tell’ in the flesh for poor old Saul, what chance do we all have?

        It’s pretty much all flim flam. Remember, Mike, you’re not in Kansas any more.

  13. Thom, you said:

    It’s an easy question to answer, “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” The answer, of course, is because it is a reasonable response.

    You don’t seem to catch the spirit of the question.  It’s rhetorical.  He’s gently chiding them.

    If I claim to you that I was abducted by aliens and put on their spaceship, you might be given to “question” my story. Why? Because it is a reasonable response to such a claim.

    This bears no resemblance to the situation between Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus had told His disciples in advance that He would be killed and raised from the dead on the third day.  Had He been petulant, He could have substituted “Told you so!” for His rhetorical question.    But had He been a petulant person, He wouldn’t have qualified for that resurrection.

    Did the above “appearance” actually occur? On the basis of what additional evidence do you use to believe that it did?

    I find the testimony of the 27 New Testament documents compelling and mutually reinforcing.

    1.  Jesus had disciples to whom He was closer than to the multitudes, seventy disciples to whom He was closer to than all the rest of the disciples, twelve to whom He was closer than to the seventy, three to whom He was closer than to the twelve, and one to whom He was closer than to the other two.  That one was Peter and it is therefore not surprising at all that Peter should be a prominent witness of His resurrection.

    2. Your questions are all speculative and selective – a self-defeating combination if you’re on a search for the truth, for it leads you in skewed directions.  You’re speculating that the sequence of appearances cataloged in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 was not a sequence of appearances at all but rather a sequence of humans convincing other humans, commencing with Peter.  If you’re going to disbelieve what the text says about Jesus’s appearances why do you choose to believe it when it says Peter was the first?  By what rule are you deciding to believe one part of a testimony and not another?

    3. Luke’s account of the resurrection seems “odd” to you because you continue to cling to the false idea that Luke wrote his gospel in order to convince people of the resurrection.  It’s clear from his preamble that this is not the case.  Rather, he wrote “so that you [that is, Theophilus] might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”  This meant the totality of the life and teaching of Jesus.  21st-century minds are obsessed with the physical nature of the resurrection.  There’s more to the story than that.  Theophilus’ interest was not myopically fixated on particulars about the resurrection appearances.  Jesus was in heaven and relations with Him going forward would have to be based on that reality.

    4.  As for your request, it will surely be granted when you die (Everyone Is Going to Heaven).  The question is: wouldn’t you like to be blessed in this life?  (See John 20:29.)  What Thomas received through the personal appearance to Him was not a blessing but rather a grave responsibility to bear witness to the One appearing to him – a responsibility which he apparently discharged admirably. (Also, see here for William Steuart McBirnie’s summary.)

    When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I like Occam’s Razor.  That is, in the absence of some compelling reasons to the contrary, I accept the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions.  Thus I take the New Testament documents as coherent, cohesive, consistent, credible, and compelling testimony.  It simple terms, it has the ring of truth.

    1. Mike,

      Much that could be responded to at this point, but I will pick what appear to be the most telling statements.

      1–This “ring of truth” idea is an intriguing one. Let me see if I have this right. Jesus spends 2-3 years with these men called disciples and during this time, among other things, he explains to them that he will be put to death, but after three days dead he will be raised. He explains this to them on more than one occasion. However, after these events actually take place, none of them can remember him saying this. At the same time, the chief priests and Pharisees are so troubled and concerned by this teaching (one, by the way that would have had no foundation in their worldview) that according to one gospel they post a guard to make sure this wouldn’t happen. Meanwhile, the disciples can’t remember anything about this teaching. Is this the “ring of truth” that you’re talking about?

      2–You appear to operate under the assumption that if the story appears in the documents, even a story that is not multiply attested to, it must have happened. I consider this to be a flawed methodology. I acknowledge that something was going on in the way of what people believed. I am simply trying to establish some certainty with regard to what we might “know” with some certainty. Remember, it’s not what people “know” that’s the problem. It’s what people “know that might not be true” that’s the problem. You say that I’m inconsistent with my approach, however diligent I might be to avoid that accusation. I admit to the difficulty of discussing this matter without the use of some verse or account that might not appear in multiple documents. Having said that, here is a reasonable version of the story as we might present it without passion or prejudice:

      A–Jesus was crucified ( Did he die? For the sake of argument, I will concede that point).

      B–His tomb was discovered empty of his body.

      C–Resurrection became an explanation for the tomb being empty.

      D–There were no claims to any appearances of the Risen Jesus prior to the tomb’s discovery.

      E–One person, Peter, began to claim to others that Jesus had appeared to him.

      F–Stories about other appearances began to circulate, although we don’t have much first hand evidence as to what others actually claimed about these appearances. They are simply anecdotal in nature.

      This story is corroborated by multiple accounts. Remember, I am happy to eliminate any story or account of something that is not multiply confirmed.

      A final point, but not real relevant. Are you suggesting that Jesus was closer to Peter than he was to the “disciple he loved”? I was under the impression that most believed this to be John? Are you suggesting that Peter was actually the “disciple he loved”? Your suggestion seems to be that Jesus first reveals himself to Peter because of their closeness. You also seem to be operating under the assumption that this appearance to Peter was an actual appearance of the Risen Jesus to him. Seems to be a conclusion of “Belief” more than anything.

  14. “It simple terms, it has the ring of truth.”
    Actually it has the ring of fantasy. As the end of the first gospel, Mark, is almost universally acknowledged as being tagged on, immediately its trustworthiness come into question.It is often referred to as the open ended gospel.
    What you believe in is based on faith. not verifiable evidence, not historical fact and certainly not truth.

    1. Not absurd at all. In fact, It adds credence to the belief that the aspect of divinity is, after all, a theological construct.

      When one considers that Mathew and Luke were merely weak attempts to bolster an already weak argument, these gospels having borrowed heavily and in certain cases plagiarized almost verbatim, are not autographs, as neither is Mark, then what we have is little more than a fable, in large part put together to counter the Gnostic movement and Marcion in particular.

      It should be incumbent on every biblical scholar to be taught how to read the gospels.
      If you take care while reading you will notice the authors have used many phrases such as , “Straightaway”, ‘Immediately’, ‘It came to pass” etc to denote passage of time.
      There is no formal chronological structure to the gospels as the writers were not interested in a historical account , but rather a theological message based on eschatology.

      For many years the idea of a flesh and blood Jesus was not even considered.

      Go study history.
      It’s all there.

      1. For many years the idea of a flesh and blood Jesus was not even considered.

        Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” – 1 John 4:1-3 [emphasis added]

        You’re not giving anyone a reason to treat your historical pronouncements as credible.

        1. Smile. 🙂
          And all you are doing by quoting scripture is confirm what I have claimed all along.

          Evidence , MIke, Evidence. The fact that someone wrote, Jesus has come in the flesh means nothing.
          It is merely a sentence.
          Have you ever read the gospel of Thomas?
          How about the Gospel of Mary?

          You honestly think that just because the four gospels in the current bible that these are the true,inspired word of god?
          LOL….
          The others, and there were many, didn’t pass muster because so many were unknown, and didn’t even come up for consideration when the NT was being put together.
          Even with what texts were available there was a lot of dissent – the Apocrypha – and these texts were merely the tip of the iceberg.
          My goodness, don’t you KNOW this? What the heck do they teach at seminary or wherever it is you go to study?

            1. You seem to have missed the point that many writings were not available to the apostolic fathers at the time of compilation. Furthermore, although Nicea’s main aim was not to compile a bible it WAS convened to counter the threat of Arianism.
              The canon was in flux for centuries.

                1. Cave at Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt. You are aware of these, yes?

                  Codex I
                  1. The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
                  2. The Apocryphon of James
                  3. The Gospel of Truth
                  4. The Treatise on the Resurrection
                  5. The Tripartite Tractate

                  Codex II
                  6. The Apocryphon of John
                  7. The Gospel According to Thomas
                  8. The Gospel According to Philip
                  9. The Hypostasis of the Archons
                  10. On the Origin of the World
                  11. The Exegesis on the Soul
                  12. The Book of Thomas the Contender

                  Codex III
                  13. The Apocryphon of John
                  14. The Gospel of the Egyptians
                  15. Eugnostos the Blessed
                  16. The Sophia of Jesus Christ
                  17. The Dialogue of the Saviour

                  Codex IV
                  18. The Apocryphon of John
                  19. The Gospel of the Egyptians

                  Codex V
                  20. Eugnostos the Blessed
                  21. The Apocalypse of Paul
                  22. The Apocalypse of James
                  23. The Apocalypse of James
                  24. The Apocalypse of Adam
                  32. Fragment of the Perfect Discourse

                  Codex VII
                  33. The Paraphrase of Shem
                  34. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

                  Codex VI
                  25. The Acts of Peter and the 12 Apostles
                  26. The Thunder, Perfect Mind
                  27. Authoritative Teaching
                  28. The Concept of Our Great Power
                  29. Plato’s Republic 588A-589B
                  30. The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth
                  31. The Prayer of Thanksgiving
                  35. The Apocalypse of Peter
                  36. The Teachings of Silvanus
                  37. The Three Steles of Seth

                  Codex VIII
                  38. Zostrianos
                  39. The Letter of Peter to Philip

                  Codex IX
                  40. Melchizedek
                  41. The Thought of Norea
                  42. The Testimony of Truth

                  Codex X
                  43. Marsanes

                  Codex XI
                  44. The Interpretation of Knowledge
                  45. A Valentinian Exposition
                  46. Allogenes
                  47. Hypsiphrone

                  Codex XII
                  48. The Sentences of Sextus
                  49. The Gospel of Truth
                  50. Unidentified fragments

                  Codex XIII
                  51. Trimorphic Protennoia
                  52. On the Origin of the World

  15. Thom,

    1. You sound like Jesus: that is, fully expecting that the disciples should have remembered His words, expected the resurrection, and taken all these events in stride.  I myself am more willing to cut the disciples some slack, mainly because when I put myself in their shoes I think I would have acted no better than they.

    Remember that these disciples saw Jesus Himself raise people from the dead.  They weren’t certain what He meant by the expression when it came to Himself (Mark 9:10).  Some even thought Jesus was one of the ancient prophets already raised from the dead (Luke 9:19), so obviously there were varying definitions of “raised from the dead.”  Of course, Jewish leadership of that day was divided about the idea of any kind of resurrection (Acts 23:6-8).  Jesus’ disciples would likely have been predisposed to the Pharisees position on that issue, but that doesn’t mean that there was certainty or clarity about precisely what the term meant.  Moreover, in the same breath in which Jesus told them He was the Messiah, He told them about His impending death and resurrection.  Given the Jewish perception of Messiah’s role in that day, those two statements would have seemed contradictory because apparently no first-century Jew expected the Messiah to be crucified.  It wasn’t in the job description of the great Davidic king they were all hoping was coming.  And if you could’t comprehend how Messiah could  die, it stands to reason you’d be confused about the issue of how he’d be raised from the dead.

    So, yes, these documents do absolutely carry the ring of truth.  The disciples’ reactions to what what happening around them seem altogether consistent with the weakness of human nature.  Jesus might have expected more of them, but you and I have no basis for saying we’d have done any better.  That they made no attempt to cover over their shortcomings, adds further credibility to their accounts.

    2. Once a person has demonstrated himself to be honest and reasonable, I can cease questioning everything he says.  We should not trust in others too easily for much pain waits for those who do.  On the other hand, if we go on distrusting those who have earned our trust, we bring another kind of pain on ourselves which is every bit as unpleasant.

    As for your A-F scenario, it continues to make no sense to me why you’d choose to believe that there was an empty tomb, and that there was a resurrection story, and that Peter was the first to tell it, but not believe the rest of the scenario as described by the New Testament.  If the documents are not trustworthy on central points, why would you trust them on any point?  In all our exchanges you’ve never offered a rationale for how it is you choose which facts are to be accepted and which are to be disputed.  Therefore, I cannot help you unravel the mystery you have constructed for yourself.

    As for your last point, I take “the disciple whom Jesus loved” to be an enigmatic self-reference by John.  Although it’s enigmatic to us, that doesn’t mean it was necessarily so for John and his readers.  Even if we take the expression literally, it doesn’t say that Jesus didn’t love the rest of the disciples.  It’s clear He did, and even clear that He loved the entire world as well (as John 3:16 famously declares).  If you’re trying to draw some great distinction between John and Peter, recall that both were part of the inner circle of three.  Whatever distinctions were made among Jesus’ disciples were clearly made with the benefit of followers to be created in mind.  Thus when Jesus chose the twelve it was not for the benefit of the twelve, or even for His own benefit, but rather for the benefit of those who needed to hear the message of Jesus through them.  As with the twelve, so with the seventy, with the three, and with Peter.

    My own view as to why Peter rose to prominence among Jesus’ disciples was His heart for God.  He reminds me of David, running to the battle for God with every fiber of his being.  Even down to the sword wielded in the Lord’s behalf.  When Jesus was walking on the water in the midst of a storm, Peter was the only one who had the whatever to say, “Lord, if that’s you, command me to come to You on the water.” Lo and behold, he walked on the water…for a while.  Becoming afraid is what did him in.  Nonetheless, who else in that boat walked on water even for a little while that day?

    1. Mike,

      I find it incredibly instructive that two people can read the same stories or accounts of a matter and hear two entirely different “rings”. I’m not debating the conflict or contradiction that the disciples might have encountered with Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection, if he even uttered such fantastic proclamations, but rather the simple recollection of such utterances on the part of the disciples. Also, at those times when it is suggested that he made such predictions, why do we not have the disciples questioning him at length about what he means? “What do you mean that you will die and be raised from the dead? This isn’t supposed to happen to the Messiah. What in the world are you talking about?” Instead, we find their reaction to be, “But they did not understand the saying and they were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:31) This after Mark 8:32 tells us that “He said this plainly.” The Pharisees and the chief priests, on the other hand, post guards at the tomb.

      I take it from your response that you acknowledge the correctness to my A-F listing of those things that appear to be factual. You write, “In all our exchanges you’ve never offered a rationale for how it is you choose which facts are to be accepted and which are to be disputed.”
      Please enumerate any fact I am in dispute of or is missing from the list. I am somewhat puzzled.
      I would be happy to add any to the list. I believe I have delineated the “criteria” on more than one occasion.

      Every great movement or cause requires a leader. To be successful any such movement or cause requires a dynamic, charismatic, convincing, and forceful leader. You say it is no surprise that Peter is the first to whom Jesus appears. I counter by saying that it appears to be no surprise that Peter is the first who claims such an appearance. At the very least, I believe mine to be more factually correct beyond any reasonable doubt. At the very least, it is not dependent upon the element of “belief”. Yours, on the other hand, requires it. Sometimes this element of “belief” causes us to be more passionate and prejudiced than we realize.

  16. I’m not debating the conflict or contradiction that the disciples might have encountered with Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection, if he even uttered such fantastic proclamations, but rather the simple recollection of such utterances on the part of the disciples. Also, at those times when it is suggested that he made such predictions, why do we not have the disciples questioning him at length about what he means?

    I wonder if you are as naive about social interactions as you sound.  It is quite common for people to suppress their curiosity around a leader, usually out of fear of sounding impertinent or stupid.

    The Pharisees and the chief priests, on the other hand, post guards at the tomb.

    When Jesus warned the disciples, there was no danger on the horizon.  On the contrary, the mother of James and John was soon to ask Jesus for prime spots for her two sons in His soon coming reign.  By contrast, the Pharisees and chief priests gave their order when Jesus was dead and entombed.

    Every great movement or cause requires a leader. To be successful any such movement or cause requires a dynamic, charismatic, convincing, and forceful leader. You say it is no surprise that Peter is the first to whom Jesus appears. I counter by saying that it appears to be no surprise that Peter is the first who claims such an appearance.

    For this reason you ought to be all the more convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead, for who could this leader be of the initial Jesus movement if not the resurrected Jesus Himself?  It certainly could not have been Peter.  The disciples asked Jesus to name a leader among them and He refused to do so.  Paul makes only limited reference to Peter, and then to portray him in an unfavorable light (Galatians).  For Peter’s part, he puts Paul’s letters on a par with Scripture.  As for James, Jude, and the rest of the New Testament’s epistles, none pay homage to Peter.

    As for your A-F thesis see this post.  You have a theory, but it is neither plausible nor even well-constructed.

  17. The difficulty with resolving such discussions is because there are so many foundational suppositions that are not challenged.

    The disciples are a good example.

    Here we have 12 disciples who were supposedly instructed in all Jesus’ ways, able to perform miracles and sent out into the known world to spread the message of Jesus and salvation, and yet, there is not a single mention of them outside of Christian literature.

    And non believers are expected to believe sketchy accounts of a Resurrection by several ‘people’ who are, to the individual, never mentioned by any contemporary secular writer?

    Hmmmm……

  18. That these disciples died in obscurity is testimony to their humble character and devotion to the Lord who sent them. They died in obscurity just as He had. The only reason we know about Him is because of them. And the reason we don’t know about their end is that their mission was not to promote themselves but Him.

    These people were the salt of the earth, and we would do well to imitate them.

    1. Nonsense.

      Go look up your theological history and see how many were martyred.
      Their tales are elaborate fiction.

      “These people were the salt of the earth, and we would do well to imitate them.”
      Really? 🙂 You have any verifiable extra-biblical accounts of their lives after leaving JC?
      How about naming a few of these miracles they were supposed to have performed?

      There isn’t even agreement about who were these disciples.
      Your religion is largely based on Saul.
      Please, don’t be silly.

  19. They built no monuments to themselves. In that, they were like their Master.

    The world did not know them because it did not know Him. (1 John 3:1).

    They were men of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:38)

    1. Again, why are you quoting scripture?
      You are merely making yourself look silly.

      I would venture that even you, would have to look up the names of the ‘disciples’.

      If such characters existed and traveled in a world that believed in gods and superstition and performed the miracles as claimed it would have been noted.

      And,please, if you are quoting scripture believing it strengthens your case, you are failing miserably.
      It is the last thing a nonbeliever is going to warm to.
      If you want intelligent discussion on such issues then have the intellectual integrity and honesty not to be condescending.
      At least demonstrate you are aware of a world outside of you narrow field of study and belief. Otherwise your come across as one who has merely been inculcated and has little understanding of what he espouses.

    1. Integrity is a quality you ought to invest a little time in acquiring. I am afraid your evangelical posturing is old hat and leaves a sour taste.

      Go and study outside your narrow field of inculcated belief. If your faith cannot woithstand scrutiny, it is not worth the paper it is written on.

      1. Mike,

        I want to thank both of you for elevating the nature of the discourse. Boxing gloves should be made available to both of you. Ah, yes, violence to resolve a dispute that appears to be unresolvable through any other means.

        Somewhat disappointed also, Mike, in your last post that seems to include the first suggestion to a personal attack. Naive?

        I noticed that you did not respond to my invitation to list those facts that I omitted from my A-F listing of “facts”. I suppose that “the rest of the scenario” to which you refer would be that others came to believe that Jesus was resurrected. Okay, I will add it to the list as G. The factual list, not to be disputed it appears, now reads:

        A–Jesus was crucified. (Did he die? For the sake of argument, I will concede the point).

        B–His tomb was discovered empty of his body.

        C–Resurrection became an explanation for the tomb being empty.

        D–There were no claims to any appearances of the Risen Jesus prior to the tomb’s discovery.

        E–One person, Peter, began to claim to others that Jesus had appeared to him.

        F–Stories about other appearances began to circulate although we don’t have much first hand evidence as to what others actually claimed about these appearances. They are simply anecdotal in nature.

        G–People came to believe that Jesus was, in fact, resurrected from the dead.

        I suppose that covers it. Since you began down this road, I will suggest that I would have imagined you would have been more wise in your ability to distinguish between a simple rendering of “facts” and a “theory” to which you attach me. Where’s the theory in these facts?

        And this idea of paying “homage to someone”. What in the world are you talking about? That part of the discussion to which you must refer was a simple discussion of leadership and how movements or beliefs at their core get started.

        Back to the passion and prejudice of “belief”. I suggest , and it appears to be correct from the documents that “Peter began to claim to others that Jesus had appeared to him.” He was the first to do so. I believe this to be much more intellectually and historically honest than your position which is, if I am correct, that “Peter was the first to whom Jesus appeared.” That, Mike, is more a statement of “belief” on your part. If you are unwilling to acknowledge this difference then so be it.

  20. Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions guards at the tomb. John’s Gospel says nothing about guards. If John was an eyewitness, as Christians claim, isn’t that a pretty important detail to leave out of your story? The missing Roman guards in the Book of John raises an important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead. A stolen body hypothesis is impossible.

    This argument completely collapses in John’s account, however, because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occurred! Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.

    To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corpse. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.

    But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

    (John 20:11-13)

    Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.

    When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.

    (John 20:14-16)

    It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we see that we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are reading two entirely different stories!

  21. Gary,

    Just because the angel informed Mary that Jesus had risen from the dead, it does not necessarily follow that she understood exactly what that meant. It is clear from other passages, such as Mark 9:10, that, even though Jesus told His disciples that He would rise from the dead, they did not understand what that phrase meant until they began seeing Him face to face in that state.

    It is common for skeptics to get wrapped up in the details of the Gospel accounts and miss the larger points. If you’re going to believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead, you’re going to have to come up with an explanation for why His closest disciples became so thorough convinced that He did.

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