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“When someone places faith in the Bible, they place it in the direction of evidence, not against the evidence.”

[Karen] I would like to welcome our newcomers as well as our continuing audience to this episode of I Believe Podcast. We’re excited to be with you! Today, we are moving forward with our series on the authenticity of the Bible. This is actually part 7 [of 9],  in which we’ll be covering a very important topic, namely the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a common and a lynchpin area of attack from critics. Clearly, opponents to the Christian worldview realize that if they can possibly dislodge this belief that Jesus truly did rise from the dead, He quickly becomes just another wise man, a guru, or some revolutionary non-Son of God figure who can be disregarded or placed on the mantle of history and dismissed.

So today we’ll point to both critics’ claims and the valid reasons we have for countering those and counting on the literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We are here again with our special guest: D.M. Johnson. Dave, welcome once more!

[D.M.] Hey, it’s good to be back with you. I’m excited about this topic we have today.

[Karen] Super. I think it might be a little surprising to some listeners who are unfamiliar with academic and cultural debate on these issues, just to hear that the Resurrection itself is under attack or that critics are really going after it. Ten years ago, or twenty years ago, I should say, that really wasn’t the case, right?

So, I thought I might just set the stage for today’s discussion by touching on a few surveys around the subject which took place recently and give us some context. So a survey of Americans at Easter in 2013 found that only 64% of Americans believe that Jesus rose from the dead [1]. That’s a drop from 77% in an Easter survey in 2012 [2]. The difference between the two polls shows a 13 percentage point drop in the number of Americans who really believe that Christ rose from the dead, between Easter 2012 and 2013, again. Additionally, this year’s poll found that 19% of Americans reject the central tenet of the Christian faith and do not believe that Christ was resurrected. That’s compared to only 7% who said they didn’t believe that Christ rose from the dead a year ago–a staggering 12 percentage point jump [3].

So it seems that all these attacks we are seeing against Jesus, Christianity, the Resurrection in general are having a noticeable and net cultural and spiritual effect. Dave, we talked about the Resurrection generally in the overview, and now we really get a chance to drill down into it; I’m glad for that.

[D.M.] Yeah, there are a lot of great scholars and debaters and folks that are out there who are champions of the Resurrection of Jesus. So, what we’re going to try to do in this cast is pull together some of the different approaches that they use from several different sources and kind of walk through some of the evidence around each of these points that actually show the Resurrection of Jesus. They point to it as being a plausible reason for that evidence.

By His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

[Karen]  Okay, great. So let’s just do that. Let’s walk through this information step by step with our audience, using the “minimal facts approach.” We’ll explain that. I think along the way it would be good if we looked at some of the conspiracy theories as well and show why it makes sense to believe that Jesus truly was Resurrected. So Dave, can you begin by speaking to that approach and methodology, and then we’ll move to the first fact.

Minimal Facts Approach

[D.M.] Okay. There really are about 12 facts or so which are agreed to by the majority of scholars who are credentialed who have written on this subject [4]. Gary Habermas is probably the most prominent scholar on the subject of the Resurrection in the world today, and he’s actually tracked for the last 30 years different people who have written on the subject. So he’s developed a methodology for looking at this data that you’ve mentioned, which he refers to as the “minimal facts approach.”

This minimal facts approach is interesting, because it “considers only those data [points] that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” [5]. I like this methodology because I think if you can make your case from the mouths of skeptics and atheists, then it is even more powerful. You realize, “Look, this isn’t just people who believe, that see these points; these are people who are skeptical as well.”

Explanatory Power

And so the basic concept that we need to keep in mind as we go through these points is that of what’s called “explanatory power.” In other words, if we have different points, as a historian, someone who’s trying to figure out what really happened, what we want to do is have an explanation–a hypothesis–that meets all of those points without having to twist or contort some of the data. And so we’ll see when we go through this [how] we will contrast the explanatory power that the Resurrection has against some of these skeptical hypotheses that are put out there. We’ll see these facts. The death is the first fact, so let’s start there—with the actual death of Jesus.

Fact #1: The Death of Jesus

[Karen] Sure. I think it’s important right now as we talk about the death of Jesus, to state right off the bat that one of the most popular theories out there is what people sometimes call the “swoon theory” or the “apparent death theory.”

Basically, this is the notion that Jesus didn’t really die; He only appeared to be dead. I recently listened to Nabeel Qureshi’s conversion story, coming to Christianity, and I was reminded again that Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but that Allah only made it appear as if he died [6]. (Again, we’ll put the sources on the website so you can check back there.) It seems to me, that if we look at the Gospel accounts, it is really hard to conclude anything other than death, right? I mean, we have the soldiers not breaking Jesus’ bones because he was already dead [7]. And, in addition to that, we have the description of the spear being thrust into His side [8]—the Gospels really revealing that blood and water came out, which is a signature mark of death. This seems pretty concrete and uniform from multiple witnesses and authors in the Gospels.

In light of all this seemingly solid evidence from our early records in the Gospels, it’s interesting to me that conspiracy theorist authors like Michael Baigent put forth books basically saying they think that Jesus survived. There have been several other books putting forth such theories as well. Of course, there was a television program on the crucifixion broadcast by the BBC in 2004 called Did Jesus Die? Elaine Pagels, whom we referred to before, she also referred to a book by Hugh Schonfield called The Passover Plot, that suggests that Jesus was drugged—sedated on the cross so that He appeared dead but could be revived later, after He had been taken down. And she noted, in her words, that Jesus “had been sedated on the cross; that He was removed quite early and therefore could well have survived.” And, she concluded, “That’s certainly a possibility.”  Well, starting here, Dave, what would you say in remarking further on these theories that come up, and on the fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion? [9]

Debunking the Apparent Death Theory

[D.M.]  The first thing I would say is that all scholars who are credentialed who study this subject, agree on this point [10]. To give you an idea of how far out there it is to not think that Jesus died, we talked about the Jesus Seminar. And depending on how you count those beads, these are a people that are so, so liberal with how they look in the New Testament, that they count somewhere between 80-90%, depending on how you count it, of the words attributed to Jesus. They don’t think, “Jesus probably didn’t say that.” I mean, that’s how far. John Dominic Crossan says that, “The fact the Jesus died is as sure as anything historical ever can be” [11].

So we have people clear on all ends of the spectrum: atheists, agnostics, Bart Ehrman for example (we’ve talked about him), who fully admit it. Probably no other fact surrounding the life of the historical Jesus is better attested to than His death by crucifixion. Not only is the crucifixion in every gospel narrative, which gives it multiple attestation, but it is also confirmed, remember in the earlier casts, by several non-Christian sources. These include Josephus, who was the Jewish historian; we have Mara Bar Serapion who refers to it [12]; we have the Roman historian Tacitus [13]; we have the satirist, Lucian of Samosata [14]; and we have the Jewish Talmud [15]. Josephus tells us “Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us . . . condemned him to the cross” [16]. From a perspective of historiography, Jesus’ crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple and independent and early eyewitness testimony. It’s really a powerful thing.

Is Surviving Crucifixion Possible?

It’s interesting, some people might find this fascinating: Josephus refers in one of his writings to a friend who survived a crucifixion. And so he has these three friends who were being crucified, and he goes up and he cries and he begs for them to be taken down. So they’re taken down, and they’re immediately given all the best medical care that Rome had to offer, and two of the three of them still died [17]. We have no evidence to support the claim that Jesus was taken down early, and no evidence whatsoever that He got any kind of medical care, much less Rome’s best. We know, as you said, that the spear in the side and the fact that the bones were not broken are great evidences that He was, in fact, dead.

In fact, in 1986, they did an interesting article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that actually went through how crucifixions worked and how these people suffered and died [18]. They talk about that, and it’s an amazing article. As a matter of fact, I read the other day that it’s their most commonly asked-for article where they talk about all these different things that happened. Did He stay on the cross terribly long? We have to remember that He was horribly scourged before, to read the accounts. And the other thing to keep in mind, just from historical perspective is that Romans were good at this. It’s horrific to think about, but they really were. We have accounts in history of Titus actually running out of lumber because they had crucified so many people. We have a vast amount of evidence from all kinds of different sources that Jesus died.

Laying Jesus in the tomb.

[Karen] Very powerful. When I think about people denying even the fact of His death in light of all of this evidence it really seems to me almost like we can compare it to the level of people who thought the moon landing itself was faked. We want some reason not to believe when you’re faced with insurmountable evidence. We have multiple independent sources that we talked about, many of which are non-Christian, for the death of Jesus Christ as prophesied. We have those threads. The evidence is just so strong, as we have stated so often: Even credentialed scholars who are agnostic and atheist (as you pointed out again, Dave) cede this point.

I’d like to quote something from Dr. Gary Habermas again that sets this in perspective. He said the following about the Resurrection: “Skeptics must provide more than alternate theories for the Resurrection. They must provide first-century evidence for those theories” [19]. I like that. It puts the burden of proof on them. If we step back from this for a minute and just look not only at the Resurrection as a whole, and the allegation that Jesus may have survived, there is simply no first-century evidence or even alternate burial story that survives. All the evidence points to the fact that the biblical accounts of the death of Jesus are actually correct.

Fact #2: Jesus’ Followers Believed He Appeared to Them

So let’s go forward a little bit. As mentioned in our overview cast, the second minimal fact that we have is the fact that the followers of Jesus believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them. I think this is really interesting to contemplate. These facts that scholars like Gary Habermas and Mike Licona point out there are said to be agreed to by among well over 95% of all scholars who publish on the subject. I think most people wouldn’t think an atheist or agnostic who was a scholar would think that the disciples had these experiences. Can you talk about this second fact, Dave?

[D.M.] Yeah, we talked about this a little bit in an earlier cast where we talked about that early material that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. We can see that this is early kerygma. This is early material, and the Greek that is used lets you know that he is passing on on something that he himself was given reciting. And so even the New Testament scholar and skeptic Gerd Lüdemann—this is a man who basically chided the Jesus Seminar for being too conservative, this is somebody that’s way over there on the spectrum— assigns this passage a very early date, stating:

“The elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus . . . not later than three years . . . The formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.” [20].

So remember, if you’re out there listening, that biblical scholars will give two dates for the crucifixion, either 30 or 33 [C.E]. The point here isn’t to quibble over that, it’s just to say that these people are dating this [tradition] very early, so it’s really a stumbling block. Lüdemann, this scholar, acknowledges, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” [21]. This is an atheist saying this! And people say, “Well, how can he say that?” I mean, he tends to think that maybe they hallucinated or other things, which I don’t buy at all. But he’s admitting, “Hey, something happened here.” [22]. That is how sure this is there, and so, when we have one of the most liberal scholars walking the planet saying this, that’s powerful to me [23]. Everybody knows that [this tradition] was early on.

And the other thing we see is that we have many–we have eleven early sources–that say that the apostles were willing to die for what they had seen [24]. The fact that the apostles saw what they saw and taught what they thought was the risen Jesus is probably the most agreed-upon fact by scholars, even more than the crucifixion—to give you an idea of how broadly scholars accept it.

Why Jesus’ Appearances Weren’t Hallucinations

So it’s a common objection or assertion to call these hallucinations. Reasons that doesn’t work are:

  • We have multiple appearances to individuals, to groups;

  • Not only do we have multiple appearances, we have physical interactions;

  • We have the conversion of skeptics (of Jesus’ half brother James and of Paul);

  • We also have the empty tomb.

So it won’t do to put forward that hypothesis; that doesn’t answer these other things. Not to mention motive. They [the disciples] didn’t have any motive to say that [the Resurrection] did happen. In fact, they had every motive to say that it didn’t. All they got for saying this was their own torture and death. And so this is a very solid fact.

[Karen]  I agree, the apostles had zero reason to say this, as you said.

I just can’t get over how many appearances there were. We have appearances to individuals like Mary Magdalene, and Paul. We have numerous group appearances as you said; Paul even mentions in the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15, [indicating] that there were, what, 500 men who had seen Him. We have situations where people touched Him, walked with Him, saw His wounds, and ate with Him. So there are so many different situations. The other thing that is very powerful when you think about it is that we have verses where the Resurrection is proclaimed–as in the passage we talked about where Paul talks about the 500 men that had seen them. He mentions that they were still alive. What he was saying basically is [something like this], “They are still around. Go ask them for yourselves,” right?

Paul would never have written something in an early letter that could have been refuted when he was trying to convey doctrine to the church at Corinth [25]. That just doesn’t make sense. We know when Acts was written there were still also plenty of witnesses alive. I think one of the passages that stands out is this: “God raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” [26]. That’s powerful. Then of course several verses later, after Peter is testifying to them, they ask what to do and Peter tells them to, “Repent and be baptized every one of you” [27].

Fact #3: Paul’s Conversion

Well, let’s move on to the third minimal fact, which is the conversion of the church persecutor Paul. There’s so much in the way of Paul’s conversion that solidifies itself with inward evidences of His reality. So Dave, will you speak to that one?

[D.M.] When we talk about Paul, we need to refresh people about this principle. It’s one of the key things historians, in assessing the historicity of a given event, look at. It’s the principle of enemy attestation. This is basically a criterion that is used by critical scholars to look at these kinds of events. When someone has an enemy, someone with absolutely no reason to say something positive, and they do, this is a big deal to historians. It’s important to state that for Paul, we have pretty much a unanimous acceptance of authorship among scholars of seven of the epistles in the New Testament that are attributed to Paul. It’s important because these are:

  • Romans,

  • 1 Corinthians,

  • 2 Corinthians,

  • Galatians,

  • Philippians,

  • 1 Thessalonians, and

  • Philemon.

This is why in the minimal facts approach for the Resurrection, scholars like Dr. Gary Habermas will only use these undisputed epistles which skeptical scholars know are written by Paul. As we’ve seen in 1 Corinthians 15,  it’s not like these are ancillary books that have no value. We get core doctrine and core historical documentation in there. And that’s what’s so powerful.

As we think about Paul and his conversion, here [are] a couple of points to contemplate:

  1. He didn’t really have any reason to change. And this kills the hallucination theories. Some people think, “Well, these guys. . . wishful thinking. . .” Paul didn’t have any reason for wishful thinking. He was sentencing Christians to death; he was putting them in prison.
  2. The second thing to think about in Paul’s conversion is that his pre-conversion events are multiply attested.
  3. The third thing is, as we said, we have witnesses that he was willing to suffer and die for his belief. From himself we have that [witness]; from Luke we have it; from Clement of Rome; from Polycarp; from Tertullian; from Origen later. We have this from multiple places. [28]
  4. And fourth, we have [the fact that] his conversion was not based on hearing a story from another person. Paul was someone very unique in history. Everybody else back in that time heard and felt the Holy Spirit and they became converted. Paul was different. He was converted from first-hand evidence. He is a primary, not a secondary source. [29]

[Karen] That’s really important.

[D.M.] It is. And we know from the first 2 chapters of Galatians that Paul made sure he was teaching the same gospel that Peter and the other apostles were. I love the King James translation here, when he says five words that are powerful. He says, “They added nothing to me.” The way he puts it. He went up there to see, “Hey, am I still on the same page as you guys?” And he talks about meeting with Peter for fifteen days. He basically says, “They added nothing to me.” This is how we know that Paul was teaching the same thing that the other apostles were teaching.

If you have heard our other cast on the Gospels, this is another reason that we can now anchor those Gospels because of the testimony that we have of the teachings of Paul. We know that it was the same gospel being taught. We have a lot of principles at work here with Paul: We have multiple attestation; we have enemy attestation, obviously; and then we have a lot of archeology sites which correspond to the journey of Paul. We have things like the principle of embarrassment where he corrects Peter about a theological issue. Paul is really a riddle that skeptics haven’t been able to solve. In literally every Resurrection debate you will ever hear among scholars, Paul and the early creedal material of 1 Corinthians 15 is up front and center.

[Karen] Thank you for that. The other thing about the apostle Paul is the fact that he’s the main author in the New Testament, and he’s unpacking all this theology for us. You know, if you think about it, it really seems that in many respects he was the perfect person to be the missionary to the Gentiles. He was a Hebrew by birth, a citizen of Rome, he studied in a Greek city. He was a scholar; he understood the writings of his day and the writings of the Old Testament. I can see why the debates would often center on Paul, as you pointed out, Dave. It seems like it would be impossible to just dismiss him; I mean, there is just such an overwhelming amount of evidence [regarding him].

I guess I would also agree on the point about wishful thinking. People have put forth theories that the disciples were just grieved and were sad, and therefore they hallucinated Jesus. That’s far out there, too. It falls apart with Paul. Like you said, he was persecuting Christians; he was putting them in prison; he was consenting to their deaths. He would not have been grieving Jesus’ death. He had nothing to gain by changing except his own persecution, torture, and death. It’s also really hard to dismiss the whole event on the road to Damascus because of the fact that Paul is made blind. That is not the kind of thing that happens because of some experience that happens only in your mind. It’s just too physical, too tangible.

These imagined theories require stepping out on a limb into nowhere, while the evidence so easily leans in towards the acknowledgment of the reality of the Resurrection, as Dave has pointed out so well.

The other thing that I sometimes hear people say is that the experience of Paul was solely a visionary event, that is, that Christ wasn’t really appearing to him. They’ll try and sometimes use this to refute a bodily resurrection of Jesus, as if that were the case. This is where the power of the minimal facts approach to the Resurrection is really neat, if you follow it through. The hypothesis put forward by some that Paul was feeling bad about how he had treated the Christians and therefore had a visionary experience from grief is just wholly inadequate: It can’t explain the empty tomb. So in that sense, it’s obvious that it lacks explanatory power that Dave has been talking about; it just sidesteps the facts, really.

That said, we can keep talking. Let’s go on to our next fact about James, Jesus’ half-brother, Dave.

Fact #4: James’ Conversion

[D.M.] The fourth fact is the conversion of the skeptic James, the half-brother of Jesus. We do know that Jesus had brothers, and one of them was James. They’re mentioned there in the New Testament [30]. The Gospels report that Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers during his ministry [31]. As a matter of fact, in one passage it says, and I’ll just read it here: “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind’” [32]. Some other translations will say, “Beside himself.” This is from Mark 3:21. I just read from the ESV there, but scholars agree that Jesus’ family wasn’t quite sure what He was doing. They were kind of, almost, embarrassed by Him. This is where that principle of embarrassment comes in with His brother. And so Paul tells us in a famous passage—again, it’s part of that 1 Corinthians 15 segment. If you read one chapter from this cast, get familiar with 1 Corinthians 15. It’s such a key chapter—that Jesus appeared to James [33]. This is a reference to Jesus’ half-brother James. So we know that when Jesus was alive they were unbelievers and they were doubters. And then we know from this passage of Paul that he appeared to his half-brother James. And now we also know from subsequent events in Jesus’ life, that James was later identified as a leader of the Jerusalem Church [34]. We know that from some passages in Acts and Galatians.

So something happened. We have him not believing, [then] Jesus dies; there’s a Resurrection appearance; and we now see him being a leader in the Church. [We read of] his martyrdom! He dies for the faith. And this is attested to by both Christian and non-Christian sources. Josephus and Hegesippus tell us about this, as well as Clement of Alexandria [35]. And so we have this, again, multiply attested, principle of embarrassment going on, and we can see that chronology of how Jesus’ half-brother James is transformed by this. And this is data, as we look at what happened to James, that even skeptics will grant.

So before we get into the fifth fact — the fifth fact is the empty tomb — [we want to point out that] unlike the other facts that have nearly unanimous support, we have somewhere between 2/3 and 75%. Up until now, it’s high 90% [range]. Everybody pretty much realizes that. With the empty tomb, we don’t have quite that. So Karen, let’s have you talk for a little bit about the empty tomb.

Fact #5: The Empty Tomb

[Karen]  Yeah, let’s move forward with that. The empty tomb is specifically mentioned, first of all, in the New Testament. The interesting part about this is that, if you think about it, they could have actually stopped the Christian movement right in its tracks by simply producing the body of Jesus, right? This goes back to those principles we talked about in the podcast around methods that some historians use to determine the veracity of something. In the Gospel of Matthew, the enemies of Jesus were claiming that his disciples had stolen the body [36]. Obviously this is an implicit admission that they didn’t have the body. That’s important. If they did have the body they would certainly have displayed it to stop the movement. I want to just read a quote that I think is powerful around this subject. This is from a former Oxford University Historian, William Want. He said:

“All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of the [empty tomb], and scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history” [37].

[D.M.] That’s a powerful quote.

[Karen] Yeah. So before we move past the empty tomb, I know there are lots of various theories around the empty tomb. I even once read someone’s writing that dogs came and ate the body, and another is that the apostles had identified the wrong tomb, so that’s why it was empty. We also have the story I just mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew itself that the disciples had stolen the body, and so forth. Dave, will you then take it from here and comment on the empty tomb and emphasize again the reasons why these other theories don’t have the explanatory power that the Resurrection itself does?

[D.M.] I think it’s important to recognize the enemy attestation right there in the Gospels of the empty tomb as you mentioned [38]. That was the thing that you said. “Oh, the disciples! They stole the body.” Right, so the enemies are admitting they don’t have the body. We also have accounts from Justin Martyr and Tertullian later, saying that the same thing was being said in their day [39]. So we have this multiply attested that the tomb was empty.

Debunking the Wrong Tomb Theory

Here are some reasons that the wrong tomb theory doesn’t really hold any water: The first is that all of the gospels—all four of them—report burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. That is not something you would make up. You wouldn’t make up something to an enemy where the refuter could say, “No it [wasn’t there].” And Joseph’s tomb, because he was prominent in society there, would have been well-known, likely. He would have been almost like a U.S. Senator, someone who is prominent in the community.

[The wrong tomb theory] also doesn’t account for the appearances to the disciples. Followers are not convinced by an empty tomb; they’re convinced by appearances. Paul is not convinced by an empty tomb, he’s convinced by appearances. No early sources in any way suggest a wrong tomb.

The Testimony of Women

Resurrected Jesus appears to Mary.

Here’s another thing that a lot of people don’t think about. And this is something I really found fascinating when I really started looking at this evidence. The criterion of embarrassment comes into play again. We have the testimony of women. Kind of like you were saying, you wouldn’t make up Luke or Mark in our cast about the Gospels. This also is true here. You would never, if you were writing a narrative back in the first century and you were trying to convince somebody of something, have women be your witnesses.

And it is true that women were prominent in the Church; they were respected by Christ and His followers, but in general, in society, they weren’t. They weren’t well-treated.

I’m going to read some quotes, here [to illustrate this cultural bias]:

  • “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women” [40]. Not the best thing to say about women, right?

  • Here we have another one from antiquity. It says, “The world cannot exist without males and without females – happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” [41].

  • Another one: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment” [42].

  • Another one: “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer.” This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman [43].

So you just wouldn’t, if you were making something up—which a lot of people try to say happened—ever put that out there. Yet all four Gospels attest to the fact that women were there. Men only show up later, in two of the Gospels. This is a very powerful reason for realizing that this account is historically there.

[Let’s look at] the stealing of the body—people have talked about that. The penalty would have been death for those guards, and the apostles didn’t really have the means, the motive, or the opportunity [to steal the body].

The only answer, as we look at all of these different facts, that explains all of them, is the Resurrection.

The Resurrection was NOT a Copycat

[Karen]  Well said, Dave. I think we would be remiss if we had this podcast and didn’t address the claim by some that the Resurrection is nothing more than a copycat theory borrowed from pagan religions. Bill Maher basically said as much in his film several years back called Religulous. Also popular movies like Zeitgeist have purported similar theories. We also see theories put forth by authors like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in their book The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? Saying things like this: “Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?” [44]

Then we have the famous Da Vinci Code which put forth “nothing in Christianity is original.” That book states that from communion to Jesus’ birthday to Sunday worship, all were “taken directly from earlier pagan religions” [45]. I know we had some listeners who wanted us to deal with this specifically in our cast on the Resurrection, so I think it’s an important point to address. Dave, could you give some specific thoughts on this?

[D.M.] Yeah, I actually have a lot of thoughts on this. I deal with it pretty extensively in my book. The reality is that you could do an entire series of casts on this subject alone and go through one by one, those various different parallels and refute them. We can post some articles on the site that will allow those of you who want to do in-depth research specifically to go and research those.

What I’d really like to do is lay out some points that can show that Jesus was unique. It takes research to understand the reality and refute some of those things [we’ve brought up as alternate theories]. I know people who have looked at some of this material and honestly came away with the opinion afterwards that Jesus never existed. This kind of position would get you laughed out of most academic circles. Bart D. Ehrman, who we have talked about a few times on these casts, is kind of a highly controversial figure. He was basically a Christian who lost his faith and became an agnostic. He has written lots of books which people see as attacking Christianity.  Ironically it was Ehrman who put forth in his book Did Jesus Exist? “It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology” [46].

Some people, Karen, have asked, “Well, gee it’s interesting, you know, I’ve been listening to your casts and every now and then you’ll go out of your way to state that someone was a skeptic or an agnostic when you quote them.” And I want you to think about what I just quoted [from Ehrman]. This is coming from someone who is not a follower of Jesus Christ, who has abandoned Christianity, and the reason that I’m doing that is to show you that I’m not just going to someone from my church, or my denomination, or someone who thinks like I do. Across the spectrum we can show that just even in academic circles, this is the fringe, as Ehrman points out. Usually if I can make a point like that, if you’re a believer and you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe, you can quote even people who are atheists who agree with much of the evidence and information that we’re putting forth.

In Ehrman’s Critique of the Jesus Mysteries (you talked about that, Karen), Ehrman says a few things that are pretty revealing, like this for example:

“What, for example, is the proof that Osiris was born on December 25 before three shepherds? Or that he was crucified? And that his death brought atonement for sin? Or that he returned to life on earth by being raised from the dead? In fact, no ancient source says any such thing about Osiris (or any other gods).”

He then goes on to say (he talks interestingly about this): “The book reads (he’s talking about The Jesus Mysteries) like an undergraduate thesis, filled with patently false information and inconsistencies.”

He then goes on to lay out some of these “factual errors.” He’ll say, “What is the evidence? There is no such evidence.” Here’s a man that spent his whole life reading these kinds of histories. It’s interesting, he also says: “This is not serious historical scholarship. It is sensationalist writing driven by a desire to sell books” [47].

Here are some (if I could just rapid-fire these out) quick bullets if you’re listening, for folks out there who are wondering about these copycat theories that get brought up. There are dozens of reasons why they’re not really a good parallel of Christianity:

  • Many of the so-called mystery religions do not pre-date Christianity, and therefore could not have been copied from. So a lot of the things put out there weren’t even before Christianity. The few mystery religions that do pre-date Christianity were not really in a geographic area where Christianity could have copied from them at the time.

  • Other religions don’t have figures that die for sin. Most of these figures that are used as these so-called parallels are not even thought to be actual historical figures. If you go through most of them, a lot of them aren’t even thought to have actually lived. Most of these other figures dying and coming back are actually supposed to represent the vegetation cycle, when plants die off and they come back in the next season.

Let’s take one of the most common ones cited as a supposed parallel which was copied from Osiris. Let’s think about it. As you’re there listening to this, think about if this is a parallel to Jesus. His brother kills him, chopped him up into 14 pieces, and he scatters the pieces all around. Then the goddess Isis feels some compassion for Osiris and puts all of his pieces back together except for one piece. You’re getting the picture here. Then he doesn’t even come back to this world, [he’s off] to the nether world to be a God there [48].  If you’re listening to this, does this sound anything at all like Jesus? But what people will sometimes do is put Christian words in there and sit back and marvel at the parallels. But if you actually get the accounts, they don’t sound anything like Jesus and the events that happened to Him.

We have multiple witnesses, 30 people verified outside the New Testament; we have non-Christian sources that give us facts which make up a storyline that is congruent to the New Testament. We have enemies, we have skeptics. None of these other claims has this kind of evidence. We have 42 sources for Jesus in the first 150 years, multiple post-mortem appearances to groups, to individuals. As you mentioned, [there are] people touching Him, talking with Him. And so these so-called parallels really are nothing of the sort, but it can be confusing to people who haven’t really dug into the evidence.

[Karen]  Perfect. All right, so if we take these points which are agreed to by scholars across the ideological spectrum, like Dave has pointed out, and try to come up with a hypothesis that has true explanatory power to explain all of these evidential points, it’s really hard to come up with any alternative theory other than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the bottom line. I know that many people in the world do not want to accept this, maybe because of the religious implications, or because they do not believe in miracles. But again, it’s important to state that nobody is saying that Jesus rose from natural causes, but rather supernatural; Christians are saying that God raised Jesus from the dead. This supernaturally occurred. If there’s a God that created this universe and this world, resurrecting someone doesn’t seem impossible, now does it?

In light of all of this evidence that we’ve been talking about, and I appreciate Dave for sharing, I thought it might also be good to share a quote from the most prominent atheist of his day, Antony Flew. Maybe you’re familiar with him, maybe not. He was basically like Richard Dawkins is now a few decades ago. He was converted to belief in God due to what he viewed as strong evidence that pointed towards a Creator. His story is fascinating. I think his quote was very interesting. He said,

“The evidence for the Resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity” [49].

Something to think about. And his book, My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism, is worth reading. And his interview with Gary Habermas worth hearing. We’ll post those on the I Believe Podcast website.

The apostle Paul says it pretty plainly himself: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain” [50]. That’s in 1 Corinthians 15. I think in this day of rampant skepticism, we as Christians need to arm ourselves with information and evidence for our faith.  The famous scripture again comes to mind that you’re familiar with, in 1 Peter 3, “Always be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” [51]. We hope this podcast has helped some of you to know that there are very good reasons to have hope and faith we do have in Jesus Christ. Thank you for joining us on I Believe Podcast. I ask for your comments and tweets, for you to share the cast around to anybody that this might help. Thanks again to Dave for being with us as a special guest on this podcast!

[D.M.] Thanks.

Additional Episodes:

{Overview} 8 Points to Consider: The Authenticity of the Bible

3 Fallen Notions About the Fall

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Sources/Notes:

1. “64% Believe Jesus Christ Rose From the Dead,” Rasmussen Reports, 29 March 2013. Accessed 9 Feb. 2014.

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/holidays/march_2013/64_believe_jesus_christ_rose_from_the_dead

2. “77% Believe Jesus Rose From the Dead,” Rasmussen Reports, 7 April 2013. Accessed 9 Feb. 2014.

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/holidays/april_2012/77_believe_jesus_rose_from_the_dead

3. Dan Joseph, “Percent of Americans Believing in the Resurrection Drops to 64% from 77% Last Easter,” CNS News. 1 April 2013. Accessed 9 Feb. 2014.

http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/dan-joseph/percent-americans-believing-resurrection-drops-64-77-last-easter#sthash.Fp1NEBiH.dpuf

4. Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, Rev. ed. (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 158-167.

5. Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 44.

6. Qu’ran 4:157–158

7. John 19:33

8. John 19:34

9. Michael Baigent, “Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucifixion?” Beliefnet. Accessed 9 Feb. 2014.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2006/04/Could-Jesus-Have-Survived-The-Crucifixion.aspx

10. Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 48.

11. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 163.

12. Letter of Mara Bar Serapion

13. Tacitus, Annals 15.

14. The Death of Peregrinus 11 – 13.

15. Jewish Talmud: Sanhedrin, 43a.

16. Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3.

17. Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.

18. “Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 1986; 255:1455-1463.

19. Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) cited in Frank Turek and Norm Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Crossway), 299.

20. Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 38.

21. Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus? A Historical Approach to the Resurrection, trans. John Bowden (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 80.

22. Gerd Lüdemann (Prometheus books), 1999.

23. Gerd Lüdemann, “The Decline of Academic Theology at Göttingen,” Religion (2002) 32, 87–94.

24. Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus. See Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 56-62.

25. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

26. Acts 2:32

27. Acts 2:38

28. Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 283 (note 11).

29. Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 65.

30. Mark 6:3

31. Mark 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; John 7:5

32. Mark 3:21 (ESV)

33. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

34. Acts 15:12-21; Galatians 1:19

35. Josephus, Antiquities 20,9; Hegesippus quoted by Eusebius, History of the Church 2:23:4-18; Clement of Alexandria cited by Eusebius, History of the Church 2:1:3-4

36. Matthew 28:13-15

37. William Wand, 1972, Christianity: A Historical Religion?

38. Matthew 28:13-15

39. Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30.

40. Talmud, Sotah 19a

41. Talmud, Kiddushin 82b

42. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15

43. Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8

44. Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries (New York: Three Rivers, 1999), 9.

45. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, (New York: Random House, 2003),232.

46. Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 20.

47. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist, 26-30.

48. Strobel interview with Licona, The Case for the Real Jesus (Zondervan 2007), 163.

49. Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available at http://www.deism.com/antony_flew_Deism_interview.pdf

50. 1 Corinthians 15:17 KJV

51. 1 Peter 3:15

About karenrose
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.

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