Tag Archives: Resurrection

Tough Questions Answered has first report of Licona/Ehrman debate!

Here is their commentary on the recent Licona vs. Ehrman debate at SES. And they didn’t even tell me about it, I had to find it myself. Those meanies!

Excerpt from their awesome post-debate report:

Here is my summary of the arguments that each of them presented.

Licona opened the debate with a historical argument that goes like this.  First, he argued, virtually all historians (close to 100%) agree on three key facts about Jesus:

  1. He died by crucifixion.
  2. His disciples believed they saw Jesus appear several times after he died.
  3. The apostle Paul believed he saw Jesus appear after he died.

Then, Licona explained that the historian’s job was to figure out the best explanation of these three facts.  There are four criteria that the professional historian should use to judge possible explanations of the facts:

  1. explanatory scope
  2. explanatory power
  3. plausibility
  4. less ad hoc

I read their post, and it sounds like Bart Ehrman made his standard discredited case based on 1) manuscript variants and 2) David Hume’s argument against miracles. He doesn’t even care that he lost his debate against Craig with these exact same arguments.

As I reported before:

In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the invariants:

  1. the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  2. the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
  3. Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
  4. that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)

Now I have to tell you, these disputes are irrelevant to standard Christian doctrine. Also, I personally prefer the woman at the well story being left out, and I prefer angry Jesus in 3). Why? Because I am snarky. The only variant that bugs me is the ending in Mark, because I liked the long ending. But none of these “worst cases” affects anything that Mike Licona might say on behalf of the resurrection, which is what the debate is supposed to be about, right?

That post also had some links to other debates on the resurrection. Furthermore, in previous debates, Ehrman’s argument against miracles is really just David Hume’s argument against miracles, which even non-Christian scholars, like John Earman, have defeated at the highest level here:

Here is an another interesting part of part one of TQA’s report (part two is forthcoming, they say!):

Interestingly, Ehrman did fully accept Licona’s three facts about Jesus as historically true.  He just didn’t accept the explanation of Jesus rising from the dead to explain those facts.  His favorite explanation seemed to be hallucinations, so the two debaters spent a lot time discussing hallucinations.

UPDATE: Part 2 of their evaluation has been posted!

Further Reading

Here are some resources related to this debate.

Gary Habermas explains the earliest source of resurrection facts

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Free Canuckistan! Did you know that Binks is a web elf? It’s true!

UPDATE: Western Experience has video of Gary Habermas in action here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Stand to Reason! Thanks for the link, Melinda!

Do you just skim right over 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 when you read your Bible? Did you know that this passage is the best passage in the entire Bible when it comes to defending the resurrection? Let’s take a look at a lecture where historian Gary Habermas explains the importance of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 for defending the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.

Recall that there are certain criteria for deciding what passages of the New Testament writings are historically reliable. Here is a great article from Gary Habermas that explains all of the criteria. Below, I’ll list some of the criteria from that article.

Early attestation

Early sources include: 1) 7 of the 13 Pauline books that are unanimously accepted as being authored by Paul, 2) the “Q” passages which are shared by Matthew and Luke, but that are not in Mark, and 3) certain short creedal passages from the book of Acts. The 7 reliable Pauline epistles are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philipians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians and Philemon.

Habermas writes:

With regard to the historical Jesus, any material between 30 and 50 AD would be exemplary, a time period highly preferred by scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar.

Reports from such an early date would actually predate the written Gospels. A famous example is the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD. Other examples are supplied by the brief creedal statements that many scholars find embedded within the Book of Acts, which Gerald O’Collins dates to the 30s AD. From the so-called “Q” material in the first and third Gospels, another instance is the statement of high Christology found in Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22. Further, Paul’s earliest epistles date from the 50s AD.

Eyewitness testimony

Habermas writes:

Whenever these early sources are also derived from eyewitnesses who actually participated in some of the events, this provides one of the strongest evidences possible. Historian David Hackett Fischer dubs this “the rule of immediacy” and terms it “the best relevant evidence.” When scholars have ancient sources that are both very early and based on eyewitness testimony, they have a combination that is very difficult to dismiss.

In our previous example, one reason critical scholars take Paul’s testimony so seriously is that his writings provide both a very early date as well as eyewitness testimony to what Paul believed was a resurrection appearance of Jesus. This is even conceded by atheist scholar Michael Martin. Other crucial instances would concern any eyewitness testimony that can be located in the Gospel accounts.

Multiple attestation

Habermas writes:

Independent attestation of a report by more than one source is another chief indication that that a particular claim may be factual. Ancient historian Paul Maier asserts that: “Many facts from antiquity rest on just one ancient source, while two or three sources in agreement generally render the fact unimpeachable.” The Jesus Seminar emphasizes items “attested in two or more independent sources.”

Several important examples might be provided. Of the five sources often recognized in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ miracles are reported in all five, with some specific occurrences reported in more than one. Jesus’ crucial “Son of Man” sayings are also attested in all five Gospel sources. And the empty tomb is reported in at least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources. This helps to understand why these items are taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars.

Timeline of New Testament sources

You can only use the data that pass these criteria when you are constructing historical hypotheses in a debate setting. But the passage of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is special, because it has the markings on an ancient creed. As Habermas explains, Paul received this creed within five years of the crucifixion. Paul verified this creed twice with eyewitnesses, Peter, John and James, in Galatians 1:11-24 and Galatians 2:1-10.

So, let’s set the date of Jesus’ death as being 30 AD. Then ask the question: what sources are closest to the event? We need to have multiple early sources in order to be able to surface minimal facts that can be used when debating skeptics and atheists. Here’s the timeline, using the absolute latest possible dates for the sources:

  • 30 A.D.: Jesus is crucified. (+0)
  • 31 A.D.: The early creed originates around this time
  • 35 A.D.: Paul receives the early creed from Peter, John and James in Jerusalem
  • 55 A.D.: 1 Corinthians (+25)
  • 70 A.D. Mark (+40)
  • 80 A.D. Matthew (+50)
  • 85 A.D. Luke (+55)
  • 95 A.D. John (+65)

My preferred dates on the gospels are at least 5 years ealier than the skeptical dates. So, your earliest source for minimal facts about the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I explained before how to leverage the facts in 1 Cor 15, and other minimal facts, into a case for the resurrection.

Personal application

You really need to be able to talk to your friends and co-workers about the resurrection. That is our obligation as Christians. When you talk to non-Christians, you cannot use the entire Bible on faith. Your opponent is not going to allow you to use the entire text as a source because they don’t assume that it is inerrant. You need to argue from minimal facts that pass the standard historical criteria.

So, you need to learn how to explain how scholars extract the minimal facts from the Biblical sources. You need to list the criteria, explain why they are generally accepted, and then apply them. You need to know the dates and authors of the New Testament writings. You need to know which passages are considered to be minimal facts. And then you can make you case on those facts.

I think the most promising strategy is to argue from a supernatural creator and designer, using some recent scientific discoveries, and then go on from there to historical concerns once the existence of a deistic God has been firmly established.

Further study

First, listen to the 30-minute lecture delivered at California Polytechnic State University in 2008 by Gary Habermas, on 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Then, check out N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection. Then listen to this lecture delivered at California State University in 2005 by William Lane Craig, on arguing from the minimal facts.

And finally, you can check out some debates on the resurrection. I recommend the debate between William Lane Craig and Roy Hoover. But it is important to read the N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection first! There is a cross-examination section in the debate, so if you’re into that, as I am, then get your fix here.

The story of the Wintery Knight blog so far…

Those of you who have been reading the blog know that the blog is split between Christian apologetics and policy analysis. Here’s a little list of the topics that I have touched on related to Christian apologetics, with topics yet to appear later in italics.

Positive apologetics

Scientific arguments for theism:

  • the creation of the universe out of nothing (Warning: SNARKY)
  • the fine-tuning of physical constants and ratios to support the minimal requirements for life (Warning: SNARKY)
  • the origin of biological information in the simplest living organism
  • galactic, stellar and planetary fine-tuning to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the sudden origin of all animal phyla in the Cambrian explosion
  • the natural limits of biological change

Philosophical arguments for theism:

  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil
  • the origin of non-physical mind, rationality and free will

Historical arguments for Christianity

Negative apologetics

Scientific objections:

Philosophical objections

Emotional objections

Moral issues


Apologetics advocacy

Quick overview of N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the linky, Binky!

I thought I would just go over a paper from N.T. Wright, whose multi-volume case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus seems to be getting a lot of respect from the other side, (although I strongly disagree with his economic and political views, which are naive at best).Wright has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Duke, McGill, etc.. He’s published 40 books.

CV excerpt, all degrees are from Oxford University:

  • 2000 D.D.
  • 1981 D.Phil.
  • 1975 M.A.
  • 1973 B.A.(1st class Honours), Theology; Denyer and Johnson Prize (shared) for top first class of year; College Prize
  • 1971 B.A.(1st class Honours), Literae Humaniores; College Prize

Wright seems to get a lot of respect from skeptics like John Dominic Crossan (their debate is here: book, audio – note: buy the audio, don’t buy the book). I have never heard Crossan concede the empty tomb and the appearances before, but he did against Wright. In his debate (audio, book) against William Lane Craig, he denied all 4 of Craig’s minimal facts.

We have seen elsewhere how to argue for the resurrection using the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts are the handful of facts about Jesus that survive the standard historical criteria used in the evaluation of historical biographies. But Wright has a different approach.

Let’s take a look at a lecture (that link has PDF transcript, audio and movies) that Wright gave on the resurrection.

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissable under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was not a belief in a flying spaceship that was going to come and pick them up if they drank the kool-aid. This was a belief they held based on personal experiences. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

Additional resources

For more debates on the resurrection, see here for William Lane Craig, here for Mike Licona, and here for Gary Habermas. I am a big fan of all these guys, but Craig hasn’t lost any resurrection debates, while Licona tied against Richard Carrier and Habermas lost against Arif Ahmed. In particular, I recommend these 3 debates:

UPDATE: Also, I have a more recent post on the earliest source of historical facts about the resurrection.

How every Christian can learn to explain the resurrection of Jesus to others

Basically, as a Christian, I think we, myself included, all ought to be able to show that there is a case for the resurrection on historical grounds. Even if Christians know that the resurrection is true by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, you cannot use that when persuading and defending it to other people. So you have to make a case using the available evidence and the normal rules of historical investigation. You can’t assume the Bible is inerrant with your co-workers and you can’t focus on Christian-ese or peripheral issues, either. So how can you do it?

Part A: Historical methods

The way I normally start is with the standard rules used by all scholars who analyze ancient biographies. Basically, there is a list of criteria that scholars across the spectrum use for deciding which parts of ancient literary sources are more likely to be true. It’s amazing when you see debates on this because both sides basically agree on the methodology.

And, if you apply the methodology carefully, then both sides actually agree on what facts in the biographies are authentic. I am talking about agreement on authentic facts by atheists and fundamentalists alike!

Here are some of the rules used for analyzing ancient biographies:

1) multiple attestation – if the fact about X is asserted by two or more
sources, then the fact is likely authentic.

2) dissimilarity – if a teaching of X is different from popular teachings
and concepts of that time and place, it is likely authentic.

3) embarassment – if a fact is embarassing to X or X’s community or the
writers of the biography of X, then it is likely authentic.

4) enemy attestation – if a fact about X is corroborated by enemies of X,
or X’s community, then that fact is likely to be authentic.

5) early attestation – if a fact about X is in an early source, then that fact
is likely to be authentic.

And there are others.

So, if you want to talk about the resurrection at work without being laughed at or fired, you can use these criteria to identify historical facts.

Part B: Minimal facts

Using the historical methods above, you won’t be able to recover MOST of what the New Testament writings say about Jesus. For example, the guard at the tomb is only in Matthew, so you cannot use that as a minimal fact. And John is a pretty late gospel, so most of that can’t be used. So what parts can be used?

Well, here is William Lane Craig’s list of facts:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances experienced by various people, including Paul
3) early belief in the resurrection emerged in Jerusalem

And, here is Gary Habermas’ list of facts:

1) death by crucifixion
2) early belief in resurrection
3) appearances experienced by disciples
4) Paul’s appearance and change of heart
5) James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart
6) the empty tomb

Probably the most celebrated defender of the resurrection writing today is N. T. Wright. He makes a bit of a different case where he asks what sort of historical occurrence would be adequate to explain the changes in theology and practice that occurred when 1st century Jews in Jerusalem became Christians. His argument is that the changes (“mutations”) require a historical resurrection. Here is Wright’s list:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances to various people
and 7 mutations (changes) in the way that early Christians changed
their views of the meaning and centrality of the Jewish doctrines of
the Messiah, resurrection, eschatology, etc.

You’ll be surprised to know that few of these facts are disputed by atheistic historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The only one that’s sometimes disputed is the empty tomb, but some guys will give it to you. I just read N.T. Wright’s debate against John Dominic Crossan, who is on the far-left fringe. He gave up the appearances AND said he was “OK” with the empty tomb.

So, once you apply the historical criteria, and you hammer out your list of facts, what comes next?

Part C: Inference to the best explanation

Once you have the list of facts, you need to explain why the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for the facts. This is done by showing that the hypothesis is consistent with all of the available data.

The atheist is likely to jump in at this point with an alternative explanation of the facts. Their explanations will not involve any miracles – instead, they try to account for the facts by proposing a naturalistic hypothesis. Here is a list of a few together with my defense against them.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead
– crucifixion is lethal and you can’t fake being dead
– this doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since
a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about it
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– it doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted

3) The Jews moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a rival sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

4) The Romans moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a trouble-making sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

5) Somebody else moved the body
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– there is no evidence to support the claim

6) The early church hallucinated the appearances
– group hallucinations are impossible
– it doesn’t explain the empty tomb
– it doesn’t explain the theological mutations about “resurrection”, since seeing a ghost does not imply a bodily resurrection


Keep in mind that when judging explanations, the simplest explanation is usually the best. If a skeptic has to join together multiple hypotheses, then this weakens the appeal of their explanation, because it’s “ad-hoc”.

I wrote another post on the resurrection here, with some links to debates.  Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. More debates are here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone – and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.