Tag Archives: Defending the Faith

Why do so many atheist historians think that 1 Corinthians 15 is reliable history?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Which passage of the Bible is the favorite of Christians who like to defend the Christian worldview? I don’t mean which one is most inspirational… I mean “which one is the most useful for winning arguments?” Well, when it comes to the historical Jesus, the most important passage has to be 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The tradition in 1 Corinthians 15 is an early creed that was received from the eyewitnesses Peter and John when Paul visited them several times in Jerusalem, as documented in Galatians 1 and 2, where Paul meets the eyewitnesses. And of course, Paul records his own eyewitness experience, documented in 1 Cor 15:8.

So, is this passage accepted as historically reliable by all ancient historians? Or only by the Bible-believing ones?

Here’s something posted by Dr. William Lane Craig about the 1 Corinthians 15 passage:

The evidence that Paul is not writing in his own hand in I Cor. 15.3-5 is so powerful that all New Testament scholars recognize that Paul is here passing on a prior tradition. In addition to the fact that Paul explicitly says as much, the passage is replete with non-Pauline characteristics, including, in order of appearance: (i) the phrase “for our sins” using the genitive case and plural noun is unusual for Paul; (ii) the phrase “according to the Scriptures” is unparalleled in Paul, who introduces Scriptural citations by “as it is written”; (iii) the perfect passive verb “has been raised” appears only in this chapter and in a pre-Pauline confessional formula in II Tim. 2.8; (iv) the phrase “on the third day” with its ordinal number following the noun in Greek is non-Pauline; (v) the word “appeared” is found only here and in the confessional formula in I Tim. 3.16; and (vi) “the Twelve” is not Paul’s nomenclature, for he always speaks of the twelve disciples as “the apostles.”

Now the visit during which Paul may have received this tradition is the visit you mention three years after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Gal. 1.18). This puts the tradition back to within the first five years after Jesus’ death in AD 30. So there’s not even an apparent inconsistency with Paul’s appropriating the language of the formula to encapsulate the Gospel he was already preaching during those first three years in Damascus.

Ancient historian Gary Habermas loves to read non-Christian scholars… and then he writes about what THEY think about Jesus in peer-reviewed articles, published in academic journals. Let’s look at this one: Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), pp. 288-297; published by Blackwell Publishing, UK.

He writes:

(1) Contemporary critical scholars agree that the apostle Paul is the primary witness to the early resurrection experiences. A former opponent (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:4-7), Paul states that the risen Jesus appeared personally to him (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Gal. 1:16). The scholarly consensus here is attested by atheist Michael Martin, who avers: “However, we have only one contemporary eyewitness account of a postresurrection appearance of Jesus, namely Paul’s.”[3]

(2) In addition to Paul’s own experience, few conclusions are more widely recognized than that, in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff., Paul records an ancient oral tradition(s). This pre-Pauline report summarizes the early Gospel content, that Christ died for human sin, was buried, rose from the dead, and then appeared to many witnesses, both individuals and groups.

Paul is clear that this material was not his own but that he had passed on to others what he had received earlier, as the center of his message (15:3). There are many textual indications that the material pre-dates Paul. Most directly, the apostle employs paredoka and parelabon, the equivalent Greek terms for delivering and receiving rabbinic tradition (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23). Indirect indications of a traditional text(s) include the sentence structure and verbal parallelism, diction, and the triple sequence of kai hoti Further, several non-Pauline words, the proper names of Cephas (cf. Lk. 24:34) and James, and the possibility of an Aramaic original are all significant. Fuller attests to the unanimity of scholarship here: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition.”[4] Critical scholars agree that Paul received the material well before this book was written.[5]

This is important:

The most popular view is that Paul received this material during his trip to Jerusalem just three years after his conversion, to visit Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:18-19), both of whose names appear in the appearance list (1 Cor. 15:5; 7). An important hint here is Paul’s use of the verb historesai (1:18), a term that indicates the investigation of a topic.[6] The immediate context both before and after reveals this subject matter: Paul was inquiring concerning the nature of the Gospel proclamation (Gal. 1:11-2:10), of which Jesus’ resurrection was the center (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 14, 17; Gal. 1:11, 16).

He’s an eyewitness (verse 8), and he met with the other eyewitnesses, James and Peter. 1 Corinthians is early. Galatians is early. The creed is extremely early – right after the events occurred. There was no time for legends to develop.

And atheistic / critical historians agree, the creed is reliable:

Critical scholars generally agree that this pre-Pauline creed(s) may be the earliest in the New Testament. Ulrich Wilckens asserts that it “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.”[7] Joachim Jeremias agrees that it is, “the earliest tradition of all.”[8] Perhaps a bit too optimistically, Walter Kasper even thinks that it was possibly even “in use by the end of 30 AD . . . .”[9]

Indicating the wide approval on this subject, even more skeptical scholars frequently agree. Gerd Ludemann maintains that “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 I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE. . . .”[10] Similarly, Michael Goulder thinks that it “goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.”[11] Thomas Sheehan agrees that this tradition “probably goes back to at least 32-34 C.E., that is, to within two to four years of the crucifixion.”[12] Others clearly consent.[13]

Overall, my recent overview of critical sources mentioned above indicates that those who provide a date generally opt for Paul’s reception of this report relatively soon after Jesus’ death, by the early to mid-30s A.D.[14] This provides an additional source that appears just a half step removed from eyewitness testimony.

(3) Paul was so careful to assure the content of his Gospel message, that he made a second trip to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10) specifically to be absolutely sure that he had not been mistaken (2:2). The first time he met with Peter and James (Gal. 1:18-20). On this occasion, the same two men were there, plus the apostle John (2:9). Paul was clearly doing his research by seeking out the chief apostles. As Martin Hengel notes, “Evidently the tradition of I Cor. 15.3 had been subjected to many tests” by Paul.[15]

These four apostles were the chief authorities in the early church, and each is represented in the list of those who had seen the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5-7). So their confirmation of Paul’s Gospel preaching (Gal. 2:9), especially given the apostolic concern to insure doctrinal truth in the early church, is certainly significant. On Paul’s word, we are again just a short distance from a firsthand report.

(4) Not only do we have Paul’s account that the other major apostles confirmed his Gospel message, but he provides the reverse testimony, too. After listing Jesus’ resurrection appearances, Paul tells us he also knew what the other apostles were preaching regarding Jesus’ appearances, and it was the same as his own teaching on this subject (1 Cor. 15:11). As one, they proclaimed that Jesus was raised from the dead (15:12, 15). So Paul narrates both the more indirect confirmation of his Gospel message by the apostolic leaders, plus his firsthand, direct approval of their resurrection message.

Now, some of the people he lists are really biased against the supernatural, and they really hate the idea that the claims of Christianity exclude other religions. And yet they don’t deny the historical reliability of 1 Corinthians 15, or that it is based on eyewitness testimony.

That’s why when you watch debates about the historical Jesus, you see skeptical historians like Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, James Crossley, Michael Goulder, etc. accepting that the disciples thought they saw Jesus after his death. They’re not just being nice to Dr. Craig when they give him that. They are forced to accept it, because it passes the historical tests. Every Christian ought to be aware of which passages of the New Testament are seen by the broad spectrum of ancient historians as “historical”, regardless of their various biases. You can believe everything in the Bible. But when you debate non-Christians, you have to use the historical core of Christianity which successfully passes historical analysis.

You can see the creed used as evidence in the debate between James Crossley and William Lane Craig.

William Lane Craig explaining the Kalam cosmological argument in church

This is the video from his appearance at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) that got such a big response. Saddleback is a pretty ordinary church, which lots of people with different levels of knowledge. How did Bill explain the Kalam argument to so many different ordinary people?

Watch and see!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

You can also find a more technical version of the lecture here. This version is based on a research paper published in an astrophysics journal, and was delivered to an audience of students and faculty, including atheist physicist Victor Stenger and prominent atheist philosopher Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Craig has previously debated Stenger and Tooley. And they both asked him questions in the Q&A of this lecture.

How can you prefer a moral standard from one religion vs another?

Here’s a reply to my extremely mean recent post about atheism’s difficulties making moral behavior rational.

Llama wrote:

Why is Christian morality correct? Why not Islamic morality?

And I replied like this:

Great question. You can’t settle it by comparing moral specifics. You have to appeal to some sort of testable claim.

For example, you mentioned Islam. Islam thinks that Jesus never actually died on a cross (Surah 4:157). Are the Muslims correct in saying this? It’s a historical claim, so to history we must go.

There is no credentialed historian of any stripe (atheist, agnostic, Jewish, etc.) who doubts the crucifixion. In fact, prominent atheist scholar E. P. Sanders of Duke University puts it on his list of almost indisputable facts about the historical Jesus.

E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). Sanders lists eight “almost indisputable facts” which he takes as his starting point (p. 11):

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.

3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.

4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel.

5. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.

6. Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.

7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement.

8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement . . . .

See now also E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin, 1993).

And prominent Jewish Professor of Religion Paula Fredriksen of Boston University says in this paper that “The single most solid fact we have about Jesus’ life is his death. Jesus was crucified. Thus Paul, the gospels, Josephus, Tacitus: the evidence does not get any better than this.”

Sanders and Fredriksen are probably two of the best scholars on the historical Jesus in the world, and they are NOT Christians – they have no axe to grind. So Islam is false as false can be. The Koran cannot contain any errors – Muslims claim it is inerrant and its moral authority is lost if any error is found. But we’ve found a BIG ONE.

Regarding Christianity, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christian morality should not be taken seriously either. Even Paul says that if the resurrection did not happen then Christianity, and Christian morality, is WORTHLESS. See 1 Corinthians 15:17-19. 1 Corinthians is one of the most early and reliable books in the New Testament. It is authored by Paul in 55 AD – and no scholars denies that. It’s genuine Paul. The creed in 1 Cor 15:3-7 is dated within 1 to 5 years of the Cross. By ATHEIST scholars like James Crossley.

My advice is to watch some DEBATES between Christian and non-Christian scholars on the topic of the resurrection. You’ll find some linked in this post.

Or just look here:

Debates are a fun way to learn

Three debates where you can see this play out:

Or you can listen to my favorite debate on the resurrection.

Not that I don’t think you have to be an inerrantist in order to be a Christian, so long as your claims of error are on solid historical ground. (I am an inerrantist – you don’t have to be to be a Christian – you just have to accept the classical creeds of Christendom)

Hope this helps. Come on – I typed all this in. At least listen to the William Lane Craig versus James Crossley debate. Please?

Every religion makes truth claims about the word, and you can choose a religion by testing those claims. Wouldn’t it be neat if Christians learned to argue for their worldview using facts supplied by non-Christian experts? That’s how I try to argue.

MUST-READ: Brian Auten reviews new apologetics essay collection

The post is here. The book is called “Contending with Christianity’s Critics”. It is a collection of essays edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig. He has a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Do you ever wonder where I learned to argue on all these topics? Well, take a look at Brian’s post.

Just look at some of these chapter summaries, and think of how you could serve the Lord just by effectively telling the truth about him!

Chapter 2:

“At Home in the Multiverse” by James Daniel Sinclair looks at the issues in current cosmology regarding the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. Sinclair differentiates between the strong and weak anthropic principle and shows some of the problems with positing “many worlds” to explain the fine-tuning: “The Many Worlds advocate is engaged in a problem called the Gambler’s Fallacy.”(3) Sinclair explains that if we have prior knowledge of many worlds, then this fallacy is not taking place. But, “if I am simply inventing Many Worlds, then I am engaged in the fallacy.”(4) Sinclair then addresses six problems facing the multiverse hypothesis.

Chapter 7:

Part two, The Jesus of History, begins with Robert H. Stein’s essay: “Criteria for the Gospels’ Authenticity.” Here Stein lays out a clear presentation of the positive and negative criteria for historical authenticity. The positive criteria: multiple attestation, embarrassment, dissimilarity, Aramaic linguistic and Palestinian environmental phenomena, tradition contrary to editorial tendency, frequency, and coherence. The negative criteria: contradiction of authentic sayings, environmental contradiction, and tendencies of the developing tradition. Stein’s exploration of each is helpful and enlightening, allowing him to conclude that “The burden of proof now clearly shifts from the need to prove a passage’s authenticity to the need to prove its inauthenticity.”(16)

Chapter 8:

“Jesus the Seer” by Ben Witherington III focuses on the two key phrases used by Jesus: “Son of Man” and “kingdom of God.” Witherington’s goal here is to find where these two concepts occur together in the Old Testament. Witherington’s chapter contends that “there is no nonmessianic Jesus to be found at the bottom of the well of historical inquiry. Jesus made some remarkable claims for Himself and His ministry; the historian’s job is not to explain the claims away but rather to explain them.”(17) When the historian is faced with certain facts about Jesus and his claims, they cannot be ignored: “A historian has to explain how the high Christology of the church could have arisen after the unexpected and precipitous demise of Jesus through crucifixion. This conundrum becomes more puzzling, not less, for those who don’t believe in Jesus’ rising from the dead than for those who do.”(18)

Chapter 9:

“The Resurrection of Jesus Time Line” by Gary Habermas establishes the time line starting from the late first century and works back to the death of Jesus about 30 AD. According to Habermas, “current critical scholarship even agrees to the exceptionally early date of this proclamation [of the resurrection] as well as the eyewitness nature of those who made the claims.”(19) Habermas provides an overview of the time line: AD 60-100 The composition of the Gospels; AD 50-62 Dating the “authentic” Pauline epistles; AD 34-36 Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem; AD 45-50 Paul’s later trip to Jerusalem; AD 30-35 Back to the date of the actual events. Habermas shows that this time line is not a point of controversy, but accepted by the majority: “Virtually all critical scholars think this message began with the real experiences of Jesus’ earliest disciples, who thought that they had seen appearances of their risen Lord. It did not arise at some later date. Nor was it borrowed or invented.”(20) Habermas sees this as “the chief value of this argument. It successfully secures the two most crucial historiographical factors: (1) the reports of the original eyewitnesses, which are (2) taken from the earliest period. This is the argument that has rocked a generation of critical scholars.”(21)

Chapter 13:

“The Coherence of Theism” by Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty. Here the authors seek to defend the coherence of the concept of God. They address six attributes: “necessary existence, incorporeality, essential goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternity.”(26) They point out: “The attributes of God are therefore not a patchwork of arbitrary characteristics. Each one is, rather, interconnected, and together they form a coherent whole. Appreciating this helps one avoid the more crude depiction of God one finds in Dawkins’s work.”(27)

Chapter 15:

“Did God Become a Jew? A Defense of the Incarnation” by Paul Copan aims “to show that the incarnation, though a mystery, is a coherent one.” Copan’s task: “(1) briefly review the scriptural affirmations of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, (2) highlight three important distinctions to help us understand the incarnation, and (3) examine the question of Jesus’ temptation in light of His divinity.”(29)

The other chapters are ALL good, addressing real questions that you will hear if you ask people in your office or in your family why they are not willing to investigate whether Christianity is true. This is incredibly practical. It’s all muscle, and no fat. It’s an arsenal – tailor-made for people who are concerned about God’s reputation, and who want to love him by defending his existence and character in the most effective ways.

Further study

If you like podcasts, Bill Craig explained the different chapters in a recent podcast. But Brian’s text review is superior.

I highly recommend this book and “Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics”, along with Lee Strobel’s “Case for…” books, as the basic building blocks of an amateur apologists’s arsenal.I especially recommend Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator”.

You may also be interested in a new book offering a detailed response to the New Atheists, called “God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible”.

Video of William Lane Craig explaining the Kalam cosmological argument

This is the video from his appearance at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) that got such a big response. Saddleback is a pretty ordinary church, which lots of people with different levels of knowledge. How did Bill explain the Kalam argument to so many different ordinary people?

Watch and see!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

    You can also find a more technical version of the lecture here. This version is based on a research paper published in an astrophysics journal, and was delivered to an audience of students and faculty, including atheist physicist Victor Stenger and prominent atheist philosopher Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Craig has previously debated Stenger and Tooley. And they both asked him questions in the Q&A of this lecture.

    You might also be interested in this exchange in which William Lane Craig takes on prominent atheist Daniel Dennett.

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