Sunday, 11 September 2016

What Would the New Testament Accounts Be Like if They Were Really False?

I recently watched an episode of the sci-fi show Andromeda where the captain of the Andromeda, Dylan Hunt, had undertaken a mission to help the planet Savion, who believe a planet eating creature called the Cetus is due to visit and devour their planet. People of the planet Savion believe that the creature returns every 6,270 years, and that it will return soon to finish off the planet. The crew of the Andromeda all regard the creature as a myth and those who stay behind on the Andromeda as the captain leaves for the planet in a shuttle chortle about the 'unsophisticated' planet that still relies on combustion engines, etc. However, Hunt arrives at the planet to find deep, scar-like crevices on the planet's surface. Analysis determines that they were not caused by seismic activity, and that each crevice was created 6,720 years apart. The captain rightly concludes that perhaps the Cetus is real and, sure enough, it appears and swallows up the Andromeda, with the rest of the episode revolving around both the captain aboard his shuttle, and the crew on board the Andromeda trapped inside the Cetus, both trying to find a way to save the Andromeda and deal with the Cetus. The main point here is that the evidence strongly implied the existence of this Cetus creature.

For those who don't know or who need a reminder, the criteria for assessing the best explanation are as follows:
  1. The hypothesis, together with other statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.
  2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope (that is, imply a greater variety of observable data) than rival hypotheses.
  3. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power (that is, make the observable data more probable) than rival hypotheses.
  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, be implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied by fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses.
  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer new suppositions about the past not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses. 
  6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is, when conjoined with accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses.
  7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)-(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis, after further investigation, exceeding these conditions. 
What particularly interests me is the criterion of explanatory power, which is how probable the observable evidence is on a certain hypothesis. In other words: is the evidence that we observe what we would expect if the hypothesis were true? Having spent some time studying the history of early Christianity, the New Testament, and the socio-cultural values of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection hypothesis is the most plausibly true over rival hypotheses, based on the evidence, and utilising critical historical methodological criteria for determining the best explanation. It seems to me as if critics have either never considered or only entertained such ideas in the most minimal way. I say this because the alternate hypotheses are simply incongruent with what we'd expect under such hypotheses, some vastly so. Let's start by recounting the observable data, and the facts we can know with good certainty. The primary data we have: 
  1. The Gospel of Matthew
  2. The Gospel of Mark
  3. The Gospel of Luke
  4. The Gospel of John
  5. The Acts of the Apostles
  6. The Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).
  7. The General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.
  8. The Book of Revelation
The minimal facts are as follows (although they are sometimes phrased/numbered differently):
  1. Jesus' radical self-understanding: He declared Himself to be messiah, as well as divine, and predicted His own death and resurrection.
  2. Jesus was crucified.
  3. Jesus was buried.
  4. Jesus' tomb was found empty.
  5. Jesus' disciples had experiences they took to be appearances of the risen Jesus despite not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.
  6. Jesus' sceptical half-brother James and the church persecutor Paul both converted to Christianity.
  7. Christianity spread amongst both Jews and Gentiles, despite Christianity violating multiple socio-cultural taboos, and despite social and state-sponsored persecution.
The crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the conversion of James and Paul are the most universally recognised by scholars, with Jesus' divine claims and the discovery of the empty tomb having slightly less support, but still a majority consensus of scholars accept these two things. I find it hilarious how sceptics claim that the reason these 'facts' are accepted is either due to bias and/or scholars lying to avoid being ousted. Gary Habermas, one of the pioneers of the 'minimal facts' approach', however, noted that when he studied at university in the 1970s, virtually nobody accepted the resurrection appearances, let alone the empty tomb. Anybody who claims that New Testament studies is hopelessly biased in favour of Christianity is simply naive and ignorant of the history of the discipline. Many of those who doubted the veracity of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances were liberal Christian theologians and scholars. Even today, there are liberal Christians such as John Dominic Crossan, who are oft appealed to by sceptics. There are also sceptical scholars such as Bart Ehrman who openly attacks aspects of Christianity, and yet we are supposed to believe that he is afraid of being ousted by Evangelical scholars? 

Let's go through how we arrive at these minimal facts. Now, pretty much everybody accepts that Paul wrote at least seven of the epistles ascribed to him: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Even amongst hardcore sceptics, even those who deny that Jesus existed, will usually agree that Paul wrote these epistles. This is important because whilst sceptics will attack the Gospels and their authorship, they almost all accept these Pauline epistles as authentic (although a majority of critical scholars now accept Markan and Lukan authorship, and Matthean and Johannine authorship are now considered more respectable positions than they once were). This is also important because Paul's writings are generally held by scholars as being earlier than the Gospels. Well, Paul's writings contain various oral formulae, such as creeds, confessions, traditions, etc. These oral formulae have origins that are earlier than the texts that contain them. Perhaps the most important of these is the oral formula in 1 Corinthians 15: 
"1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time." - 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1569
First Corinthians is universally regarded as having been written around 55 AD, which is a mere 25 years or so after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul states here that he is preaching the gospel that he first preached to them. This visit to Corinth is dated by critical scholars to between 51-51AD, based on textual and archaeological evidence. However, the oral formulae predates Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. In Paul's own words, he is delivering an oral formulae he himself first received. Well, Paul recounts where he received this tradition in his epistle to the Galatians:
"15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, 16to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20(Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23But they were hearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24And they glorified God in me. 
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. 3Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6But from those who seemed to be something - whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favouritism to no man - for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. 7But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8(for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do." - Galatians 1:15-2:10, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1589-1590
According to Paul, after he had his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he spent three years in Arabia. After these three years, he went to Jerusalem and spent 15 days with Peter, and also mentions that he saw the apostle James, the formerly sceptical half-brother of Jesus. Then, 14 years later, he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, and convened with the apostles there again to verify that the Gospel they were preaching was the same and, in Paul's own words, they added nothing. Now, Paul says he spent 15 days with Peter, and also met James at Jerusalem, and dates this event as occurring three years after his conversion. Paul's conversion is dated between 1-3 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Meaning, Paul's reception of at least the core proclamation of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed occurred 4-6 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. However, this is merely Paul's reception of this creedal material. Conservative estimates place the formalisation of this creed occurring between 6 months to 1 year after Jesus' crucifixion, with more sceptical critical scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, placing this event at between 1-2 years after the crucifixion. Moreover, note who Paul says he got the material from: from Peter and James (and when he later returns to Jerusalem 14 years later, he also meets and speaks with John). The Greek word Paul uses when describing his meeting with Peter is historeo, the root word of which being histor, from which we get the English word 'history'. From word studies on this word, it essentially has connotations of investigation, like that of a reporter. The connotations are that Paul essentially questioned Peter.

As far as ancient accounts go, this is almost unparalleled in terms of its closeness to the events. For instance, the biographies of Alexander the Great date centuries after his lifetime. Whilst we do have a contemporary reference to Tiberius Caesar, it is the least useful out of all the sources on Tiberius. The most reliable sources, Tacitus and Suetonius date 85 years after Tiberius' lifetime, with Dio Cassius' account dating 180 years after Tiberius' lifetime. Whereas the Gospels, oft derided by critics, date between 35-65 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Incidentally, 35 years is roughly the distance between the present day and the Vietnam War, and 65 years is roughly the distance between the present day and the Second World War. However, Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians dates 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, his reception of the creedal material in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 occurred 4-6 years after the crucifixion, and the formulation of that creedal material occurred between 6 months-2 years after the crucifixion. It is for this reason that critical scholars unanimously agree that belief in the risen Jesus originated with the earliest Church. We know that the basic message of Christianity is traceable to eyewitnesses, and we know that Paul and the other disciples agreed on what that message was. So, let's explore that message some more.

Virtually nobody in academia doubts that Jesus was crucified. This is one of the best attested facts of ancient history. Aside from the death of Jesus being directly traceable to eyewitness testimony, and is mentioned in multiple sources, including extra-Biblical and non-Christian sources such as Tacitus' Annals, etc. Aside from this, nobody would have made up the crucifixion of Jesus had it not happened. The reason for this is because Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean societies revolved around honour and shame, and crucifixion wasn't just the most brutal death available, but also the most shameful death available. It was a status degradation ritual that signalled the loss of power of the condemned meant to showcase the power of the state, and led to humiliating things such as self-defecating as a result of loss of movement, etc. Pagan authors such as Celsus and Lucian note with malicious glee the shamefulness of Jesus' death. Christian authors admitted the shamefulness of Jesus' crucifixion. The apostle Paul states this also:
"23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness," - 1 Corinthians 1:23, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1553
Paul even notes that being crucified was considered a curse from God in Judaism:
"13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree")," - Galatians 3:13, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1592
The passage in the OT Paul is quoting from:
"22Now if a man committed a crime under the sentence of death, and he is put to death, and you hand him on a tree, 23his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that dat; for he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God; that you do not defile the land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, (2008), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p237-238
Likewise, the overwhelming majority of scholars agree that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, although some debate the exact nature of said burial. The debate regarding the nature of the burial is regarding whether Joseph of Arimathea was a secret follower/sympathiser of Jesus or not, and whether Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's own tomb, or in a tomb reserved for criminals, etc. However, the scholarly consensus is that Jesus was buried, and not simply left to rot or thrown into a ditch or some kind of mass grave. First of all, we know from various sources that the Romans sometimes permitted the burial of crucifixion victims. The pertinent question here is: why would the Romans allow the burial of Jesus? Moreover, according to the Gospel accounts, it was Joseph of Arimathea (the Gospel of John also mentions that Joseph was aided by Nicodemus), a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, that buried Jesus, so why would a Sanhedrin member bury Jesus? The answer to the first question is answered easily if we suppose that it was the Sanhedrin or some of their members who petitioned for Jesus' body, so the real issue is the second one. Whilst the exact answer to this second question is debated amongst scholars, it is nevertheless agreed that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

For starters, Jesus' burial is multiply attested, and is traceable via the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed to eyewitness testimony. The second thing to note is that if the event were a fabrication, it is highly unlikely that the authors would have picked someone like Joseph of Arimathea who, aside from not being mentioned elsewhere, was a member of the Sanhedrin. Now, the Gospel accounts claim that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus, and the Gospel of John also mentions Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish sanhedrin depicted elsewhere as being sympathetic with Jesus and His message. If this account were fictional, it would have been far simpler to simply claim that the disciples themselves buried Jesus. However, instead the Gospel account state that the disciples had fled. So, instead of being buried by Jesus' closest disciples, Jesus is buried by a member of the Sanhedrin. Whilst some question whether Joseph was really a secret disciple of Jesus or not, the consensus is that Jesus was buried. Some doubt that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple, and was merely doing his duty as a member of the Sanhedrin to ensure that Jesus' body did not violate the command in the Old Testament not to let bodies hang up from objects overnight. Of course, in either case, Jesus' burial would have been seen as dishonourable. Purposeful burial away from a family tomb and denial of public mourners were measures that were put in place to further shame criminals in death. We know from Jewish tradition that criminals were not buried in family tombs on purpose in order to shame them. Denial of public mourning would have been achieved by placing a guard at the tomb. Whether we accept that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's own tomb or in a tomb reserved for criminals, the fact remains is that Jesus' burial would have been considered dishonourable, and thus meets the criterion of embarrassment.

The discovery of the empty tomb, whilst still accepted as a fact by the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars, it does have less support than the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Whilst the first two are unanimously accepted by all critical scholars (with the exception of a few fringe authors, whom I can pretty much count on a single hand), the discovery of the empty tomb has support amongst roughly 75% of critical scholarship (although from what I have read, that might have gone up slightly over recent years). The reason why some dispute the historicity of the empty tomb is because it is not explicitly mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. Of course, the problem with this reasoning is that it is an argument from silence. The 1st century was a high context society, where lots of stuff was left unsaid because it was assumed everybody would know already. The 1 Corinthians 15 creed, after all, is a very condensed version of the basic Gospel message. That said, the historicity of the burial of Jesus implies the historicity of the empty tomb. If the tomb were not discovered empty, then this mean that Jesus' body would still have lain in the grave. If Jesus' body had still lain in His grave, then the authorities would have produced a body. However, a body was NOT produced. Rather, the disciples' were accused of stealing the body.

Of course, some could object that the Gospels' simply made up the claim that the disciples' were accused of stealing the body. However, this is nonsensical for two reasons: first, why on earth would the disciples include an argument directed against themselves that was never made? If the body was not missing from the grave, then the relevant authorities would have produced it, and this report would have been spread. Some argue that the authorities would not have cared about showing Jesus' body, but these patently false. Since Jesus was crucified, we know that the official charge would have been sedition. Whilst the Jewish authorities wanted Jesus dead for blasphemy, in order to get Him executed, they would have had to have accused Jesus of a crime serious enough to merit death in the eyes of the Romans, and sedition was the ultimate crime in the eyes of the Romans that merited the ultimate punishment, crucifixion. There is no indication in the written record of a report of a body being produced. However, there is indication that a report of the disciples stealing the body being circulated. Apart from being in every Gospel, such an argument was used by critics of Christianity, such as the pagan author Celsus. If Jesus' body still laid in the tomb, it would have been produced, and claims that the disciples would not have circulated. Of course, some have claimed that Jesus' body would have been too decomposed for people to recognise, but this seems very unlikely. Plus, in Jewish custom, once a body had been decomposed, family members would collect their bones and place them in an ossuary (a 'bone box'). Jewish custom also implies that Jews were able to mark and identify bodies after decomposition in some way.

Now, aside from these considerations, the Gospel accounts all specifically cite the role women played in the discovery of the empty tomb. This is important since, in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean culture, women were considered untrustworthy, and their testimony was considered in low esteem by men. Women were considered emotional and prone to hysteria and were generally treated as second class citizens. In 1st century Judaism, women were not even allowed to speak to men in public unless their husbands were present. So, by citing women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb, the Gospel authors are admitting something that would have been considered embarrassing from their cultural standpoint. Some have tried claiming that the women visited the wrong tomb, however, this prospect seems particularly dubious. We would then have to assume that neither the women nor the male disciples would have realised they were at the wrong tomb, and that, once again, the authorities would not have corrected the disciples' report of resurrection by producing Jesus' body. The discovery of the empty tomb can thus be rather reasonably regarded as historical.

What then of the disciples' having experiences that they took to be the risen Jesus? It is important here to point out that we are merely defending the historicity of the disciples' experiences, rather than the content or nature of those experiences. That the disciples' had experiences they interpreted to be the risen Jesus is almost as well-accepted as Jesus' death and crucifixion, and probably more accepted than the discovery of the empty tomb. Of course, some have argued that the accounts are simply made up, and some, of course, still claim that the accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearances are 'legendary embellishments'. Of course, the earliness of the 1 Corinthians 13 creed and its traceability to eyewitness testimony precludes legendary embellishment. This therefore only leaves fraud as the only alternate option. Fraud is precluded for a number reasons: it's hard to imagine how conspiracy could account for the sheer quantity of appearance reports. From what the New Testament documents describe, we have reports of the following resurrection appearances:
-An appearance to Mary Magdalene in Matthew, Luke, and John
-Multiple appearances to the 12 disciples in Matthew, Luke, and John, and recorded in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and also recounted in the Book of Acts.
-An appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke.
-An appearance to '500 of the brethren at once' is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-An appearance to James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-A group appearance to 'all of the apostles' is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-An appearance to Paul is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and recounted in the Book of Acts.

The problem with the fraud conspiracy is that you have a vast group of people, including a former sceptic, James, and a former enemy/persecutor of Christianity, Paul. Paul himself specifically claims that many of the 500 were still alive as of his writing of 1 Corinthians, implying that were thus able to be interviewed still. One problem that critics of Christianity routinely overlook is the fact that people minded each others businesses in the 1st century. In a world where relatively little ever escaped notice, are we to assume that nobody sought these witnesses out? Indeed, if the 500, et al. were made up, people would have found out and propagated this fact to counter Christianity. Another factor that counts against fraud is the fact that Christianity massively violated just about every social taboo of the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world, and got its followers persecuted and killed. The Ancient Near East and Mediterranean were honour-shame societies, and trying to start a religion based on a crucified man would have been utterly preposterous. People would have thought you were insane. Claiming that said crucified man was God would have been considered similarly insane. How could God or a god allow Himself or themselves to be killed in such a shameful fashion?

Jesus' social standing would have also been problematic, since he was a carpenter (manual labourers were of low social standing) from Nazareth (a city of low reputation). Indeed, in the Gospel accounts, we see this following exchange between Philip and Nathanael:
"45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."" - John 1:45-46, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p887
Nathanael noticeably questions Jesus' home town of Nazareth. This is because a small city of no importance would have been considered out of standing with a Messianic figure. Jesus also associated with social outcasts, such as tax collectors, and prostitutes, as well as people of low social standing, such as fishermen. Jesus' teachings also made strict moral demands on believers that would have been simply unattractive to most people. Most pagan cults and religious fraudsters attracted people by appealing to people's baser instincts, such as sex, etc. Jesus taught denial of worldly pleasures. He also taught that it was acceptable to break family ties in order to follow Him, which would have been utterly unthinkable in such a culture where family and one's extended kinship group were everything. Then when we add in the intense social and later state sponsored persecution directed against Christianity, the idea that it was simply made up is completely absurd. We can therefore reliably take the disciples' at their word when they claim to have had experiences, which they interpreted to be the risen Jesus. It is the nature of those experiences that is the subject of debate.

However, one thing to consider is the content of those experiences: there are some who have made the claim that the disciples merely had visions of Jesus in heaven, rather than witnessing what they believed to be bodily appearances of the resurrected Jesus. The problem with this is that it requires us to ignore the reports of these appearances, and to practically butcher the meaning of the texts. Of course, proponents of such a view will also claim that the passages in the Gospels that say that Jesus ate, etc. were retroactively inserted to combat heretical views that denied the humanity of Christ. One of the obvious problems with this view is that it makes zero sense for Christianity to transition from Jesus being alive as a spirit in heaven to Jesus being bodily resurrected. This is because believing that Jesus was alive as a spirit in heaven after death would have been a fairly uncontroversial claim. Whereas resurrection was a very specific Jewish belief in the return from death to life. Your body was raised and transformed into an imperishable form. This was believed by Jews to occur to all the righteous dead at the end of the time. Moreover, certain sects, such as the Sadducees, denied the possibility of resurrection. Why would the disciples have picked resurrection as opposed to claiming Jesus had been returned to life in His regular human body, or had had His body assumed and translated into heaven? Moreover, belief in resurrection was not attractive to pagans. Those who held to a belief in some form of afterlife believed that the ideal afterlife was existence as a disembodied spirit. Such a belief would have been more palatable to Greeks and Romans than belief in resurrection. Indeed, there is indication in Paul's epistles that some pagan converts were dubious about resurrection, since Paul has to state that Jesus was resurrected and that they will be too.

From Paul's epistles, we know that Paul considered his own experience of the risen Jesus to be of the same kind as the appearances experienced by the others listed in the creed. Paul also describes resurrection in one of his epistles, detailing what resurrection bodies are like. He is very specific that we will have bodies, albeit ones that have been gloriously transformed. Some try to twist the meaning of Paul's words to imply that Paul was referring to a 'spiritual resurrection', but the words Paul uses are very clear that he has resurrection in mind, which was very physical, and not simply life after death as a spirit. Paul specifically uses the Greek word that means body. So, the claim that the disciples had visions of a heavenly/spirit Jesus and that the Gospel accounts were doctored after the fact to make them physical appearances of Jesus is highly problematic on these two fronts. The source material is very clear: the disciples, including Paul, believed that they had experienced bodily appearances of the physically resurrected Jesus. Moreover, if the disciples had merely had visions of Jesus alive as a spirit in heaven, then it makes the mention of the burial of Jesus puzzling. Why would the fate of Jesus' body matter if He was alive in heaven as a spirit? We would also have to assume the discovery of the empty tomb is made up, when we have seen that there are good reasons for considering the discovery of the empty tomb as a historical fact. If the Gospel accounts of the appearances of Jesus were invented then we would expect something less bizarre/unpalatable, and if the accounts were altered at a later date, we would expect a transition to something more palatable, not less. So, we can accept that the disciples' believed that they had witnessed bodily appearances of a physically resurrected Jesus, and not visions of Jesus as a spirit in heaven, and also that they weren't making their experiences up either.

It is also worth noting that the main disciples, Peter and the group referred to as 'the twelve', are reported as having fled Jesus upon His arrest in despair, with Peter publically denying Jesus three times. They were also routinely depicted as being baffled by Jesus' passion predictions, given that they expected a triumphal political messiah who would free Israel from Roman occupation. If the Gospels were fraudulent accounts, why would they have depicted the disciples' so negatively? Yet, after their experiences, they became bold proclaimers of the risen Jesus. The conversion of both James and Paul is a relatively uncontroversial claim that virtually nobody denies. James and Jesus' other siblings are described as being sceptical of Jesus' claims and ministries. James had grown up with Jesus, and despite previously disbelieving in his brother's claims, James was nevertheless transformed into a believer in the risen Jesus. Paul was a former Pharisee who was trained under Gamaliel who was instrumental in the persecution of earliest Christianity, a fact that he freely admits in his own epistles. Nevertheless, he had an experience on the roadside on the way to Damascus that he believed to be the risen Jesus. He also then spoke to Peter and James to confirm that what he had seen was in accord with what they had seen, and then later met Peter, James, and John to again make sure that they were all in accord. The subsequent spread of Christianity to Jews and Gentiles alike is something that not even Jesus mythicists deny, although there are certain historical illiterates who deny the persecution of Christians, when the evidence is unmistakeable. That Christianity offended 1st century Near Eastern and Mediterranean socio-cultural values and was subjected to persecution is simply undeniable historical fact.

The only fact in our list left is Jesus' self-understanding and passion predictions. Understandably, this is the one that is the most disputed. That Jesus understood Himself as the messiah and as divine is the easiest part to demonstrate. The main problem with supposing that Jesus made no messianic pretensions or divine self-claims is that is becomes inexplicable why there were no non-messianic variants of the Jesus movement. Aside from this, if Jesus made no messianic pretensions, then Jesus' crucifixion becomes completely nonsensical. It was a death reserved for seditionists, and claiming to be the messiah would have counted as sedition. Indeed, whilst critical scholars claim that Jesus' hesitation to be publicly identified as the messiah is an invention of the Gospel authors, to be publicly identified as the messiah early on in Jesus' ministry would have drawn the attention of Rome, which would have interfered with His ministry and mission. The reason why claiming to be the messiah would have been considered sedition was because the messiah was described to be Israel's new king, and since Israel was under Roman occupation, they chose who became king. So, someone else claiming to be king would have been a challenge to Roman rule, which the Romans did not take lightly. We know Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but, in order for that to have happened, Jesus would need to have been charged with sedition. Thus, this points to messianic claims on Jesus' part, otherwise the Romans would never had executed Him.

That Jesus considered Himself divine can be shown in the following ways: Jesus shares honours due to God, Jesus shares the attributes of God, Jesus shares the names of God, Jesus shares the deeds of God, and Jesus shares the seat of God. Whilst there are many examples, the best example is Jesus' use of the term 'the Son of Man'. The title Jesus most commonly used to describe Himself, was the term 'the Son of Man', which even the most critical scholars agree can be attributed to Jesus Himself, since such a term is not used by Christians or the Church. This is important, because the term 'the Son of Man' is a direct reference Old Testament prophecies regarding the messiah. Specifically, Daniel 7:13-14, which says:
"13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
 there came one like a son of man,
 and he came to the Ancient of Days
 and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion
 and glory and a kingdom,
 that all peoples, nations, and languages
 should serve him; 
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
 which shall not pass away,
 and his kingdom one
 that shall not be destroyed." - Daniel 7:13-14, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p745
When Jesus is questioned before the Sanhedrin, Jesus specifically cites this verse, leading the chief priest to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Why? Because by claiming to be the one sitting at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of glory, Jesus is claiming He shares in the divine authority and power of God. As far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was just a man, and by claiming to be the son of man in Daniel's vision, they considered this blasphemy. Aside from this, as with the case of Jesus' claims to be messiah, why was there form of the Jesus movement where Jesus was not divine? Moreover, why would monotheistic Jews regard a human being as being God?

As far as Jesus' passion predictions are concerned, the last supper recorded in the Gospels is simultaneously recorded in an oral formula contained in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Much the like oral formula that recounts the passion narratives, this is a creed that is dateable to the earliest church.
 "23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to You, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p958-959
Of importance here, however, is the use of the phrase 'I received from the Lord'. Paul is passing on tradition that is traceable to the historical Jesus Himself. Some have tried casting doubt in the historicity of the last supper by saying such meals were common. However, this argument backfires: such meals were indeed common, but this one was singled out for mention in the Gospels and was preserved in an oral tradition that was the source of the oral formula in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Moreover, like the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed, the 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 creed predates Paul's writings. Now, Paul's writings are held as being the earliest in the NT, typically dated by critical scholars to the 50s AD. However, these creedal formulae go back to before Paul was even a Christian, and Paul himself states that the 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 creed is traceable to Jesus Himself. Now, the last supper is important because it is a meal of remembrance. Whilst the Gospel narratives are more explicit, since they are biographical accounts and the creedal formula is highly condensed, nevertheless, the fact that the creedal formula states that it was a meal of remembrance directly implies that Jesus knew of His impending death. The authenticity of a number of messianic and divine claims, as well as passion predictions, on the part of Jesus lie in their satisfaction of numerous criteria. For instance, Jesus' passion predictions are met with bewilderment in the disciples, as they expected a political messiah who would overthrow Rome. Indeed, when Peter says to Jesus that such things should not happen, Jesus rebukes him by saying: 'Get behind me, Satan!' Were these accounts fictional, why would they depict the disciples so negatively? Indeed, when we look at actual pseudepigraphal works, such as the 3rd century 'Gospel of Judas', Judas is portrayed as understanding what Jesus meant and betraying Jesus on Jesus' orders.

Any sufficient hypothesis of Christianity's origins must account for these facts, and we already have reviewed the criteria for the best explanation. We must now review the various hypotheses that explain these facts. One popular claim that circles on the Internet is the claim that Jesus never existed, and that the Gospel accounts are plagiarised from pagan myths. It is worth noting that no critical scholar alive thinks that this is so. Aside from the vast amount of documentary and even archaeological evidence that shows that Jesus was a historical person, including non-Christian pagan and Jewish sources, there simply are no similarities between Christianity and pagan religion or pagan deities, (as a side note, some deities are from cultures that had no contact with 1st century Judea, and some deities were simply made up and are from no cultures at all). Aside from the fact that Jews were utterly opposed to paganism and syncretism, pagans were similarly disdainful of Judaism and Jewish beliefs. Jews were regarded as spiteful and superstitious people. Moreover, Christianity was utterly offensive to 1st century socio-cultural values. For example, a deity being crucified would have been unthinkable, and claiming that a mere man was God would have been blasphemy to Jews and idiocy to pagans. Whilst in pagan religions, there existed demigods, these aren't comparable to the incarnation of Christ. Demigods were either the mortal offspring between gods and humans, and/or were humans who had been raised to the level of deity. As the second person of the divine Trinity, Jesus existed as the eternal Word of God. In taking on human flesh, He was fully man and fully God, and when He was resurrected, He retained His human flesh, albeit He now had an immortal body. In pagan religion, the gods were not composed of flesh, as matter was considered evil, and it was the goal of humans to escape the flesh and live as immortal spirits.

It is worth noting that certain pagan cults actually copied Christianity in later centuries as Christianity grew in influence. For instance, the cult of Attis and Cybele began incorporating elements from Christianity to try and draw people away from the new religion. It is also worth noting that there are significant parallels between the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the sinking of the fictional ship, Titan, in the 1898 Morgan Robertson novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. Both ships had very similar names, were said to be 'unsinkable', both ships had half of the lifeboats, both ships had 3,000 passengers, both ships sank at night in April in the Atlantic after being struck by an iceberg on the starboard side, and when both ships sank, nearly half of the passengers died. There are also significant parallels between the sinking of the Mignonette in 1884 and the sinking of a ship in the 1834 Edgar Allen Poe novel The Narrative of Arthur Pym of Nantucket. In both situations, the survivors resort to cannibalism by eating a 17-year-old cabin boy named Richard Parker. There are also significant parallels between US presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846, Kennedy was elected to congress in 1986. Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Kennedy was elected president in 1960. Both Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated by southerners and succeeded by southerners. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839, Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939. The myth hypothesis, whilst appealing to hyper sceptics and other enemies of Christianity, is simply far too vastly incongruent with the data, and satisfies virtually none of the criteria whatsoever. Moreover, the Gospels are very clearly and very obviously Greco-Roman bioi, or biographies.

The claim that the supernatural elements of the Gospels are simply legendary embellishments are falsified by the fact that the core supernatural component of Christianity, Jesus' resurrection, is traceable to eyewitness testimony. Moreover, as historian Craig Keener has shown in his work, Miracles, eyewitnesses regularly claim to have witnessed supernatural events in history and in the present. Indeed, according to data sampled by Keener roughly 200-300 million people claim to have personally witnessed miraculous healings and other supernatural occurrences in 10 countries alone. This does not make them all true, of course, it just means that eyewitness testimony CAN and often DOES reference what the witness believes to be supernatural occurrences. Whilst certainly more plausible than the myth hypothesis, the legend hypothesis is similarly too incongruent with the data and satisfies virtually none of the criteria for the best explanation. Perhaps the least plausible of the remaining alternative hypotheses is the 'evil twin' hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, there was a doppelganger of Jesus who exploited the situation by convincing Jesus' disciples that he was in fact the risen Jesus. The problems with this hypothesis are vast and insurmountable. First we have to suppose that such an individual existed, although that isn't too problematic. What IS problematic is that we would need to suppose that this individual somehow escaped notice until Jesus' crucifixion, and then disappeared afterwards. For if the individual were known beforehand, why would nobody have at least entertained the possibility it was this doppelganger the disciples saw? And had they not disappeared afterwards, how did he evade attention? For there is no mention in the written record of such an individual. Moreover, why would the disciples assume such a person was Jesus resurrected? Why not merely suppose that Jesus had been raised back to ordinary human existence as opposed to being raised and then transformed into a glorious, immortal form? Thus, this hypothesis fails just as spectacularly as the previous two.

The next hypothesis we shall consider is the 'apparent death' hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, Jesus didn't die on the cross, regained consciousness in His tomb, and then somehow persuaded His disciples that He had been resurrected. The first problem with this hypothesis is that it seriously underestimates the brutality of crucifixion and the competency of Roman soldiers to ascertain if someone were dead. First, crucifixion victims were flogged from head head toe. They were maimed and scourged beforehand. Second, the effect of crucifixion itself was primarily a combination of hypovolemic shock and asphyxiation, and also included dehydration, heart failure, etc. Moreover, the Roman soldiers who attended and oversaw the execution could only leave once the victim were dead, which they would sometimes hasten either by breaking the legs of the victim or lighting a fire at the foot of the cross. They would check to see if the person were dead via a spear thrust into the side, much like what is described in the Gospels. If they left and the victim were still alive, they would have been punished severely. However, it gets even worse. As a criminal, Jesus would have been denied an honourable burial, which meant purposeful burial away from a family tomb, and denial of public mourning. This was achieved by placing a guard at the tomb. People who claim that the authorities would not have cared what happened to Jesus' body are gravely mistaken. For if Jesus' body were stolen, then it could be given an honourable burial, i.e. burial by friends and family, and public mourning. Moreover, the stones that were placed in front of tombs such as these weighed roughly a ton. So, even if we assume that Jesus survived, we would also need to assume that He somehow rolled the stone away Himself and bypassed the guards. We we would then need to suppose that a half-dead Jesus somehow was able to persuade the disciples that He was not merely risen from the dead, but resurrected into a glorious, immortal form. So, this hypothesis fails just as badly as the previous three.

The next hypothesis we shall consider is the wrong tomb hypothesis. According, to this hypothesis, the women visited the wrong tomb by mistake. The first problem is that we need to suppose that the tomb of Jesus was unknown, that the women never realised mistake, and/or that the male disciples never realised the women's mistake. The second problem is that we then have to suppose that the authorities, who did know where Jesus was buried, did nothing to correct the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection and never produced Jesus' body. The third problem is that this hypothesis only explains the discovery of the empty tomb. It does not explain the resurrection appearances, or the conversion of James and Paul, or the spread and success of Christianity despite its offensiveness to 1st century socio-cultural values. Meaning we would have to conjoin this hypothesis with other hypotheses in order to explain all the data. Now, some have suggested that Jesus was only buried temporarily and relocated to a different site a few days after his burial, but there is no evidence that this was a practice. The closest thing to this was when the bones were collected roughly a year later to be put into an ossuary.  The next hypothesis we shall consider is the theft hypothesis. According to this hypothesis either the disciples or some third party stole Jesus' body. This is probably the second most plausible naturalistic alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. The problem with suggesting that the disciples stole the body is that they went willingly to their deaths and were subject to intense persecution socially and eventually by the state. Peter and Paul were very likely executed on Nero's orders personally. So, if we are supposing that the body of Jesus were stolen, a third party is the most plausible option.

The Jewish and Roman authorities are clearly unsuitable candidates, since they would have wanted to ensure that Jesus stayed buried and that the movement He founded was stamped out. So, we have to assume some unknown group. The most plausible sounding choice would be grave robbers, but even here there are problems. Even if we suppose they were able to overcome the tomb guard, roll away the stone, and enter the tomb, why would they steal a body? Grave robbers were interested in stealing grave goods, not bodies. Moreover, bodies were heavy and difficult to transport. Jesus, being buried as a criminal, would have had no material possessions in the tomb with Him, and, so it would not have even made sense for grave robbers to target such a tomb, assuming that such grave robbers existed in that time and location. Some have suggested that 'necromancers' or cannibals stole Jesus' body, but there is zero documentary or archaeological evidence for either group in 1st century Judea. As with the previous hypothesis, this also does not account for the resurrection appearances, etc. meaning we have to conjoin this hypothesis with others in order to explain all of the data. The last hypothesis we shall consider is probably the most plausible naturalistic alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, the disciples merely hallucinated the risen Jesus. Whilst certainly sounding very plausible, the failings of this hypothesis begin to become apparent when we consider the data. First of all, hallucinations can never be shared, since they are private, mental events. Whilst sometimes you will hear claims of 'mass hallucinations', they simply do not happen. In the few resources that do discuss the possibility of mass hallucinations, medical professionals agree that no two people will have exactly the same hallucination.

In cases where multiple people claim to have seen something that wasn't there, each person will typically have differing experiences, with others present seeing nothing at all. Another key aspect of hallucinations in group settings is expectation. Moreover, in a similar vein, hallucinations will only ever encompass things familiar to the people experiencing them. So, if a person were to hallucinate their dead relatives, they would do so in a manner that cohered to their expectations. This is important because the resurrection of Jesus did not fit into the disciples expectations at all. Aside from this, the resurrection appearances in the New Testament are simply too detailed to be hallucinations. They involve multiple appearances to individuals and groups over an extended period of time, and involved physically interaction with the object being perceived. You also have the problem of explaining James and Peter. It might be easy enough to suppose that the disciples had hallucinations, induced by grief or somesuch, but how do you explain James and Paul? Of course, even if you with the grief hallucination theory, such phenomena have been studied and the experiences of the disciples are simply incongruent with documented cases of such phenomena. When people are grieving experience what they believe to be their dead relatives, it always conveys to them a sense that their relatives are deceased. Moreover, in cases where the individual has a visual hallucination, the image always dissipated when they tried to interact with it apart from a few cases. In a few cases, people tried touching the image, but in every such case, it produced extremely negative feelings and emotions and dissipation.

Lastly, this hypothesis does nothing to explain the empty tomb, etc. and so would have to be conjoined with other hypotheses to explain all of the data. Another similar hypothesis that the disciples were suffering from cognitive dissonance and so invented the whole story to cope. The problem with this hypothesis is that it fails to explain the empty tomb, and the conversion of James and Paul, etc. Moreover, it is simply incongruent with real examples of cognitive dissonance. In cases of cognitive dissonance, when people invent beliefs to make sense of two conflicting beliefs, the new claim is coherent with their existing ideology. People don't invent things that are alien to their existing ideology. So, we can see that all of the rival hypotheses to the resurrection hypothesis are fraught with insurmountable problems. The resurrection hypothesis, on the other hand, explains all of the data and is much more coherent with the data than rival hypotheses. The only thing we have to suppose is that 'miraculous' or 'supernatural' events are at least possible. In Craig Keener's work, Miracles, not only has he shown that many tens and hundreds of millions of people claim to have personally witnessed miraculous/supernatural events, but many thousands are from reliable witnesses, including medical professionals, and some even have corroborating medical documentation. Moreover, philosophical arguments have convincingly made the case that the existence of God is overwhelming more probable than atheism. With the historical evidence here, it seems very likely that the resurrection hypothesis is in fact true, and so it seems very probable indeed that Jesus was in fact risen from the dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment