This debate originated in this exchange.
This answer first appeared here, in a dialogue with Nate and others.
The Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection do not show up in explicit form. That is, there is no verse that says, “The Messiah shall be crucified,” or “After his crucifixion, the Messiah shall be resurrected.” If it had, the Jewish Sanhedrin would never have given Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion. They would have sought to dispose of him in some other way for they would not have wanted to play into the hands of those Jews who thought Jesus was the Messiah.
In order for the promises of God about Messiah to be fulfilled, they had to be given in veiled form – like a riddle. With riddle, the answer is inscrutable…until its given, and then it seems obvious. For example, what gets wetter and wetter the more it dries? A towel. Or consider this biblical riddle from Samson: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14). What is it? The carcass of the lion Samson killed which housed a honeycomb. In somewhat similar fashion, the prophecies of Messiah were about his sufferings and his glories. Of course, sufferings and glories don’t naturally go together so it was puzzling…until it was revealed that his sufferings ended in death and his glories began with resurrection. For this reason, Paul talks about proclaiming “mysteries” that have been “revealed” (Romans 16:25-27 and elsewhere). Jesus also talks about things “hidden” that shall become “made known” (Matthew 10:26 and elsewhere). (For more on biblical riddles, see these posts.)
Therefore, prophecies of Jesus’ crucifixion include being “wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5), “hung on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23), “looked upon as pierced” (Zechariah 12:10), and “the stone that was rejected” (Psalm 118:22). Prophecies of resurrection include “became the chief cornerstone” (the continuation of Psalm 118:22), “a prophet raised up” (Deuteronomy 18:15), “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), and “seated at God’s right hand” (Psalm 110:1). Of course, there are many, many more prophecies (promises) in both categories (suffering and glory).
This is why the first-century Jews we see described in the New Testament were focused on whether the reports they were hearing about Jesus’ resurrection were indeed consistent with the prophecies (see Acts 17:1-3, 10-11). Did this event solve the riddle of all riddles for the descendants of Abraham? That was the question. Certainly, Jesus’ lineage from David was critical because the Scriptures had made clear this requirement. Resurrection from the dead was indeed a big deal for these folks, as it would be for any folks, but it was the context of Israel’s Scriptures which invested the phenomenon with sufficient meaning for pious Jews to re-orient their lives around the One resurrected.
We can actually see Jesus presenting the messianic riddle to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-46. Essentially, he was asking them how David could be both superior to (i.e. an ancestor, and therefore a father, of David) and subordinate to (i.e. addressing as “Lord”) the Messiah. The Pharisees had no answer. It was a riddle that stumped them. Of course, in hindsight we are able to see the answer: David was Jesus’ superior (ancestor) according to the flesh, but his subordinate (follower) in the spirit by virtue of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (a state which David had not been able to escape on his own).
The messianic prophecies of the Old Testament present a riddle to which the New Testament provides the only reasonable answer: that is, the crucifixion and resurrection of a descendant of David.
I have written previously on Tim O’Neill’s theory about the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (first see Response to Tim O’Neill’s Answer to the Question, “What Evidence Exists for the Resurrection of Jesus?” on Quora and then see More on the Tim O’Neill Theory That the Resurrection Story “Evolved”).
In this post, I want to show just how inappropriate was Tim’s use of When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. In the first chapter of this book, “Unfulfilled Prophecies and Disappointed Messiahs,” the authors themselves bring up the subject of Jesus’ resurrection and ask whether or not their theory explains Christianity’s origins.
The authors compare the record of Christian origins to the five conditions necessary for the application of their theory. Here are those five conditions:
1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.
2. The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.
3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must, therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.
5. The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.
These five conditions specify the circumstances under which increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirmation.
Regarding the origin of Christianity, and specifically, the faith of the disciples in Jesus’ resurrection which propelled them to spread their message in Jerusalem and throughout the known world, the authors conclude that while the first two and the last conditions were met, they are in doubt about the third and fourth. The doubt has to do with whether or not messianic prediction, and therefore apostolic expectation, called for the messiah to suffer…or not. For those who say that the Messiah could not suffer, the crucifixion would have constituted disconfirmation of the prophecy regarding Jesus. For those who say that either the Scriptures themselves, or Jesus’ interpretation of them (as in Matthew 16:21), prophesied that Messiah would suffer, then the crucifixion would have constituted confirmation, not disconfirmation. Since there is controversy on this point, and because the majority of scholars, according to the authors, hold to the latter view, the theory cannot be applied to the resurrection of Christ. Thus the authors conclude:
Was it or was it not a disconfirmation? We do not know and cannot say. But this one unclarity makes the whole episode inconclusive with respect to our hypotheses.
If the authors of When Prophecy Fails declare that their theory is inconclusive with regard to Jesus’ resurrection, why then does Tim, or anyone else, dare to suggest that it is?
Book quotations taken from: Festinger, Leon; Schachter, Stanley; Riecken, Henry W. (2010-11-12). When Prophecy Fails. Pinter & Martin. Kindle Edition.
My first post on Tim’s theory can be found here. I want now to elaborate.
First, some more background: Tim’s theory can be found in his Quora article, “A Story That Grew in the Telling,” which is his answer to the question, “What evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus?” Tim also makes reference to his theory in the comment exchange following Vitali Zagorodnov’s (much shorter) answer to the same question. My own answer to this question can be found here.
As stated in my previous post, the dating Tim variously ascribes to the New Testament documents is by no means a settled issue. While there is widespread agreement that seven letters of Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) are probably the earliest New Testament documents and can be confidently dated to roughly 50-60 AD, there is no such broad consensus on the dating of the remainder of the New Testament documents. There are a significant number of scholars who believe Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, and that those three gospels were written before John – but that’s not to say that those same people would agree with the dating that Tim gives for each. Moreover, it’s not as though the rest of the New Testament documents have nothing to say about Jesus’ resurrection. Thus Tim’s argument is based upon a dating scheme which is tenuous. Nonetheless, I do not believe his argument is sound even if his dating scheme turned out to be valid. Therefore, for discussion’s sake, I want in this post to proceed on the basis of accepting Tim’s dating of the documents and show that his thesis still will not hold.
Tim’s thesis is that Jesus’ resurrection is an idea that “most likely developed and evolved over time.” More specifically, he believes that “this idea developed from an abstract one into one of a more concrete, physical revivification.” Tim begins by trying to demonstrate that Paul’s view (circa 50’s AD) of Jesus’ resurrection was contradictory to later views found in the gospels (circa 70 AD and later). He attempts to draw a sharp distinction between Paul’s description of “a spiritual body” with what he calls the “revivified corpse” of Jesus presented in the gospels. Tim wants to claim that Paul’s perspective would allow no physical encounters such as the gospel writers depict. However, this dichotomy is of Tim’s construction. The text doesn’t convey it.
Paul does not describe the sort of encounter that the gospels do because he wasn’t around during that forty-day period between resurrection and ascension that the original disciples were. Paul came to faith a few years later – and everyone knew that. Thus the details provided by gospel writers were just that – details about their own experience with the risen Lord. Having been with Jesus during the days of His flesh, and in the forty-day period between His resurrection, they could well be expected to have a different experience from Paul. However, the gospels in no way contradict the key points that Paul was proclaiming. On the contrary, they reaffirmed those key points: that Jesus was raised from the dead to the right hand of God and from there was conducting His operations until He would come again in judgment. It was perfectly reasonable therefore that Paul’s interaction with the risen Lord would be of a different nature than those of His earthly disciples. It was, however, the same Lord, risen to the same place, exercising the same authority.
The most frequently quoted Old Testament verse in the Bible is Psalm 110:1.
Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
This verse, or some recognizable portion thereof, appears in the following New Testament locations:
Matthew – 22:44; 26:64
Mark – 12:36; 14:62; 16:19
Luke – 20:42; 22:69
Acts – 2:33, 34; 5:31; 7:55, 56;
Romans – 8:34
1 Corinthians – 15:25
Ephesians – 1:20
Colossians – 3:1
Hebrews – 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2
1 Peter – 3:22
Note that Romans and 1 Corinthians are dated to the 50’s AD, and are testifying this point consistent with the rest. Thus the New Testament documents clearly declare that Jesus was raised to the right hand of God. This was the central point. That is, Jesus’ resurrection was all the way to heaven, and all the way to the right hand of its throne. If Jesus had only been raised to earth, His resurrection would have been an interesting novelty. It is that He was raised to be “Lord” that was significant…and there is no variation among New Testament writers as to this fact or its importance.
Sure, if the seven uncontested letters of Paul proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection, the rest of the New Testaments books can be said to have added details. However, the addition of details doesn’t change the main point that Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 15 (circa 53-55 AD):
1 Cor 15:1-11 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
See that Paul’s testimony is completely consistent with that of the apostles, right down to the fact that Jesus appeared to Peter and the twelve well before He appeared to Paul.
Note again the last sentence of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage above. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the bold and unwavering declaration of the New Testament. To suggest this idea evolved from an abstract state to a concrete state is a theory without evidence.
Mike Gantt 23 hours ago
As I’ve said, [the Lord’s Supper] was an activity to last until the coming of the kingdom. You don’t keep tying yellow ribbons around the ole’ oak tree after the soldier has returned. You embrace the soldier, for “when the perfect is come, the partial is done away.”in reply to mZaoa
wordonfirevideo 6 hours ago
But friend, that is decidedly not what the Bible means by the Second Coming! It means the definitive return of Jesus and the consummation of all things, and the complete reconciliation of heaven and earth. Like it or not, that has not happened. Until it does, the vehicle of the Spirit’s presence to the world is precisely what Paul called the body of Jesus, the Church.
Mike Gantt 1 second ago
By this same logic, the Jews reject His first coming, and appeal to Moses for Jewry’s status as you appeal to Paul for the church’s status. Thus, “recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath,” (Acts 13:27) both rabbinic Judaism and organized Christianity reject the presence of the very One they proclaim.
Nevertheless, “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19), and Brother Lawrence was one who surely got it right. The Lord sees our hearts.
[Editorial note, October 15, 2016: This post used to include links back to this exchange on Father Barron’s YouTube site so that you could see our dialogue in that context if you wanted. However, those links no longer work, and I don’t know why. Something changed on his end. It appears that he, or someone else there, has removed the entire dialogue.]
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).
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”.
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).
Yes indeed, the church will fade away when Christ comes again. Last time I checked, friend, that hasn’t happened yet! – Father Barron
(Here’s his comment in its original context.) My response to him was “You should check again.”
In the meantime, let the significance of what the good father has acknowledged sink in. He is admitting that the place of the church gives way to the Christ who comes.
You can thus understand why the church does not want to say along with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Instead, the church (i.e. all of them – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) says along with the Pharisees, “This is the heir; come, let us kil him and seize his inheritance.” (Matthew 21:38).
This is a detailed response to someone who responded to my article What evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus? on Quora.com. The comment can be seen in its original context here (though I have no control over whether and how long Quora might maintain that comment exchange).
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
A first-century Mediterranean-wide social movement led by Jews and involving thousands of people defying and surviving both Jewish and Greco-Roman customs would seem to be extraordinary by anyone’s standards.
There has been a large corpus of psychological studies done on cult mentality…
What is the point you think this makes?
…and historical research that the gospels change in time…
If the gospels are supposed to have changed so much over time why are New Testaments today so similar?
…with the accounts of the resurrection becoming increasingly dramatized…
I don’t see evidence that they were “increasingly dramatized.” Scholars are not unanimous about the order in which the four gospels were written. How therefore could there be “increasing dramatization?”
…(not to mention the numerous contradictions).
Well, actually you did mention that, now didn’t you? What contradictions appear can be reconciled with a little study and thought, and even then apply only to details – not to the major issues. The New Testament documents are striking in the consistency of their testimony about Jesus Christ.
Certainly, we see modern-day cults literally putting their lives on the line and throwing everything away simply to espouse beliefs that we see as ridiculous. There exist a large number of people who believed that the world would end in 2012, threw their lives away, and devoted their remaining time to warning people about the oncoming apocalypse! Yet surely one would not take that as evidence for an apocalyptic fate soon to befall the world.
Most modern-day messiahs receive wealth and power from the followers they accumulate. And typically they may put their followers at risk but not themselves. Therefore, be more specific. That is, where is the modern-day cult that you think matches earliest Christianity?
How can one so easily discount the fact that the written accounts of the resurrection and of Christ’s life were simply composed in a very… “liberal” manner so as to satisfy the prophecies of the Old Testament?
What “fact” has been proven in this regard?
How does one also justify calling upon the prophecies for support when the story of Christ only fulfills part of the prophecies or when fulfillment of the prophecies involves hyper-literal interpretation of specific verses of some psalm and an extremely loose interpretation of other verses in the same psalm?”
Again, you are making broad generalizations. Be more specific if you want your objection to be taken seriously.