A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 3-The Biblical and Theological Arguments)

For the previous couple of weeks, we have looked into the veritability of the empty tomb hypothesis; that is, that the tomb of Jesus was literally found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We have already confirmed historically that the tomb was found empty due to the burial practices of the first-century Jews and also due to the numerous times that Romans allowed clemency for the families to bury the victims of crucifixion especially during the days of Emperor Tiberius (things radically changed in this regard with Emperor Caligula). We have also noted the failure of alternate viewpoints in explaining away the empty tomb. In this article, we will conclude our research as we investigate the biblical and theological arguments for the empty tomb. The biblical argument will ask the question, “Did the early church really believe that the tomb was found empty the first Easter Sunday?” The theological argument will weigh how much Christian theology revolves around the empty tomb hypothesis. Why would the early church value these important attributes of Jesus if the tomb still held the body of Jesus?

The Biblical Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Did the early church believe that the tomb was empty? Scholars hold that strewn throughout the pages of the New Testament are ancient traditions. These ancient traditions predate the writing of the New Testament and represent the beliefs of the earliest church. Gary Habermas notes that some of the passages considered to be ancient traditions in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “receiving scholarly attention are 1 Corinthians 11:26…Acts, especially 2:22-36, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, 30-31; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; [and] 1 Peter 3:18.”[1] In addition to these passages, Habermas also notes that “Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:20-47; Luke 23:26-56; [and] John 19:16-42”[2] represent ancient traditions that date to the time of the earliest church. Licona adds Romans 6:4 to the forum.[3] Of the numerous traditions listed, the paper will evaluate only two that pertain most directly to the empty tomb: the original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8),[4] and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Scholarly consensus along with evidence in the earliest manuscripts indicates that Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8. Whereas Mark 16:1-8 does not enjoy the consensus that some of the other traditions hold, Licona notes that there “appear to be close similarities between the four-line formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and other passages such as Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.”[5] If Licona is correct, then one can argue that Mark 16:1-7 holds nearly the same force, being an early tradition, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seemingly enjoys. Seeing 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 enjoys strong consensus that the text relates a tradition that dates back to the earliest church, a fact that will be addressed later in this section.

Nevertheless, Mark 16:1-7 provides evidence that Mark believed that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Mark notes that the women “went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). The women wondered who would roll away the large stone from the tomb (Mark 16:3). The women noticed that “the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4). The women “entered the tomb” (Mark 16:5). The women had an angelophany where an angel announced they sought “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women left the tomb with great fear (Mark 16:7). Review the information provided in the text. The women came to the tomb, acknowledging that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb. The women entered the tomb expecting to see the body of Jesus. The women had an angelophany in the tomb where it was announced that Jesus had risen, noting that the tomb was empty. The women left with great fear because the tomb was empty. Thus, Mark’s original ending demands the existence of an empty tomb. It was noted earlier that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 holds universal scholarly consensus as being an ancient tradition. Does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 afford any insight to the existence of an empty tomb?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a tradition that Paul received from the church “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[6] Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is of great historical value. The tradition also allows for the empty tomb hypothesis. The tradition notes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-5). The structure of the tradition assumes that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Craig notes that the reference to the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 makes “it very difficult to regard Jesus’ burial in the tomb as unhistorical, given the age of the tradition (AD 30-6), for there was not sufficient time for legend concerning the burial to significantly accrue.”[7] It notes that Jesus physically died. Jesus was physically buried. Jesus physically raised from death. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, demanding that the previous place of burial was left empty. Therefore, the empty tomb holds biblical support with early church traditions demonstrating that the early church believed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So, what theological value does this hold?

The Theological Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Thus far, the paper has evaluated the evidence for the empty tomb hypothesis. William Lane Craig notes that the evidence for the empty tomb “is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.”[8] However, one must ask, what value does the empty tomb hypothesis hold for the overall scope of Christian theology?

First, the empty tomb serves to demonstrate the divine nature of Christ. The empty tomb serves as evidence for the resurrection. The resurrection serves as evidence of Jesus’ deity. Millard Erickson denotes that “to Jews of Jesus’ time, his resurrection would have signified divinity, we must ask about the evidence for it.”[9] Norman Geisler states that “while the empty tomb in and of itself is not proof of the resurrection, it is an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Jesus).”[10]

Also, the empty tomb provides evidence that God will fulfill the teachings and promises given through Christ, especially that Christ will one day return. Perhaps Paul says it best when he notes that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Theologically, the entire basis of the Christian faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is verified. Furthermore, if Christ was raised from the dead, then obviously one clearly concludes that the tomb which housed his body was emptied of his physical presence.

Conclusion

The empty tomb hypothesis holds great weight historically, biblically, and theologically. Secular naturalism does not offer any appropriate alternatives. If one is to follow the evidence where it leads, one must note that the disciples encountered an empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday. While it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, it is highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Yet, the empty tomb did not transform the disciples. The encounters the disciples had with the risen Jesus empowered the disciples with great courage and boldness. The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Christ has been raised from death and that each person can have an encounter with the risen Jesus by simply calling upon his name. The empty tomb also reminds humanity that Jesus came, Jesus left, and one day Jesus will return.

 Copyright, March 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  Notes

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 39, 65n.

[2] Ibid., 39, 66n.

[3] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 222.

[4] While the ending of Mark is not listed among the early traditions, scholars generally hold to the primacy of Mark’s Gospel as it represents the earliest of the Gospels. Thus Mark represents the earliest tradition in the Gospel narratives.

[5] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 321.

[6] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 53.

[7] Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds. The Resurrection, 253.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 371.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 710.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 1512.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

 

 

Advertisements

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 2: Historical Evidence)

The previous section examined the arguments posed against the empty tomb hypothesis. The paper demonstrated in the first article that the arguments against the empty tomb hypothesis fail greatly. This article will provide a historical argument for the empty tomb hypothesis. If the Gospels are correct in that the tomb was truly empty on the first Easter Sunday, then one would expect to find that the ancient burial practices of first-century Judaism would match the type of burial that is presented in the Christian tradition. Did people in first-century Palestine bury their dead tombs like the “new tomb…cut in the rock” (Matthew 27:60)?

The canonical Gospels’ account of Jesus’ burial indeed matches the burial practices of first-century Palestine. Elwell and Beitzel denote that “Bodies were buried in tombs, that is, natural caves or rock-hewn sepulchers, such as that belonging to Joseph of Arimathea where the body of Jesus was laid (Mt. 27:59, 60), as well as in shallow graves covered with rock heaps serving both to mark them and to prevent desecration of the body by animals.”[1] Thus, even if Jesus had been buried in a shallow grave, the practices of the time did not readily allow easy access to predators. Yet, as it was noted earlier, it is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would invent Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Evangelists would invent the empty tomb especially due to the use of a rock-hewn tombs at the time.

N. T. Wright notes that “the burial so carefully described in the gospels was, as we would expect in first-century Palestinian Judaism, the initial stage of a two-stage burial.”[2] Families would bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb. The families would prepare the body with spices. Then after a year, the family would return to gather the bones of the departed and place them in a family ossuary.[3] Why did they conduct this practice? Wright, paraphrasing Eric M. Meyers work, notes that “secondary burial…reflects a belief in a continuing nephesh, [sic] enabling the bones to provide ‘at least a shadow of their strength in life’, with the mortal remains constituting ‘the very essence of that person in death.’”[4] Since the Evangelists’ description of the burial of Jesus matches the practices of first-century Palestinian Judaism, the empty tomb hypothesis again strengthens. But, would Pilate have granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea?

JamesOssuary-1-
This ossuary holds an inscription that it is the burial box belonging to James, the brother of Jesus–traditionally held to be the writer of the Epistle of James and early leader of the church.

History demonstrates that the Romans often granted clemency under certain circumstances. Craig Evans notes that Septimius Vegetus, governor of Egypt; Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; and an inscription from Ephesus all demonstrate that Roman officials often provided various acts of clemency towards various condemned individuals.[5] Evans goes on to say,

 This mercy at times extended to those who had been crucified. Clemency sometimes was occasioned by a holiday, whether Roman or a local non-Roman holiday, or simply out of political expediency, whatever the motivation. We actually have evidence that Roman justice not only allowed for the executed to be buried, but it even encouraged it in some instances.[6]

Therefore, one will find that history provides ample evidence that not only did Palestinian Jews bury in accordance to the method prescribed by the Evangelists, but also that the Romans provided clemency for the body of the condemned to be given to the family to bury. If one remembers that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred during Passover when the bodies of the condemned were not to be allowed to remain on the cross (John 19:31), then the empty tomb hypothesis gains further merit.

This section has reviewed the historical data that confirms the empty tomb hypothesis. However, one must also query whether evidence exists that the early church believed that Jesus’ was placed in a tomb and that the tomb was found empty on the following Sunday. That topic will be evaluated in the forthcoming article next week.

Copyright, March 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Notes

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 386.

[2] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 707.

[3] Ossuaries were burial boxes where the bones of several family members could be kept after their bodies had mostly decomposed.

[4] Eric M. Meyers, “Secondary Burials in Palestine,” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 15, 26, in Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 91.

[5] Craig Evans, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 75.

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 1: Arguments Against the Empty Tomb)

Surprising as it may seem, several aspects of the life, death, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars, both evangelical and secular alike. In his book The Historical Jesus, Gary Habermas provides twelve minimal facts about Jesus that nearly all scholars agree, but that the empty tomb is “not as widely accepted, [even still] many scholars hold that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.”[1] Why is the empty tomb not as widely a held fact by scholars as other aspects of Jesus’ life? Seeing that scholars agree that “the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus,”[2] would an empty tomb not be implied? It would seem so. William Lane Craig notes that “if the burial story is basically accurate, the site of Jesus’ tomb would have been known to Jew and Christian alike.”[3]

Therefore, this paper will defend the hypothesis that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty on the first Easter morning, demonstrating that it coincides with the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead in a physical and literal body. To demonstrate such a case, the paper will first evaluate arguments offered against the empty tomb hypothesis. Next, the paper will provide historical reasons for holding that an empty tomb was possible. Then, the paper will assess the early church’s belief that the tomb was empty. Did the early church believe the tomb to be empty or was it a later legendary fabrication as some argue? Finally, the paper will evaluate the theological reasoning behind accepting the empty tomb hypothesis. The forthcoming section will first weigh the arguments provided against the empty tomb hypothesis.

Arguments Against the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

As noted in the introduction of the paper, many scholars concede that the disciples saw something on the first Easter morning, although differences exist as to what it is believed that the disciples witnessed. One would assume that an empty tomb would be implied. However, scholars do not always concede that the tomb was actually empty. Part of this skepticism comes from the apparent brief ending of Mark’s Gospel. Most scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel ended with verse 8 with the words, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).[4] Daniel Smith argues that “Several features of Mark’s Empty Tomb narrative (Mark 16:1-8) suggest the possibility that it could have been understood as an assumption story, particularly in view of the fact that Mark describes no appearance of the risen Jesus.”[5] Even if Smith is correct, one would still have to acknowledge the words of the angel who said to the women at the tomb, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The paper will address Mark 16 in a later section. So, how is it that skeptical scholars evade the empty tomb hypothesis? Antagonists to the empty tomb propose one of the following three arguments: the tomb was empty due to a conspiracy by the Christians, no actual burial took place, or the disciples simply traveled to the wrong tomb. While other naturalistic views exist, these three most directly affect the empty tomb hypothesis. The paper will now examine these proposals in greater depth.

Conspiracy by the Christians

The first theory against the empty tomb is the oldest. Matthew records that some of the soldiers who witnessed the resurrection came to the Jewish elders and told them what had occurred. The leaders then said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Matthew 28:13). It is difficult to fathom why the disciples would desire to steal Jesus’ body and proclaim him risen all the while claiming that they were promoting the truth. Two problems immediately emerge with the stolen body theory.

First, resurrection as one finds it in the New Testament was not anticipated in the era of Second Temple Judaism. N. T. Wright notes that “‘Resurrection’ in its literal sense belongs at one point on the much larger spectrum of Jewish beliefs about life after death; in its political, metaphorical sense it belongs on a spectrum of views about the future which YHWH was promising to Israel. The hope that YHWH would restore Israel provided the goal.”[6] Wright adds insight to Martha’s acknowledgement in that she believed that her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24) when Jesus stated that her “brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Richard Miller accurately notes that “most scholars have failed to classify properly how Mark’s ‘empty tomb’ narrative would have registered in its Mediterranean milieu. Indeed, it would have been the body’s absence, not its presence, that would have signaled the provocative moment for the ancient reader.”[7] If the early Christians were not expecting a physical resurrection of Jesus during their time, then why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus in the first place? But, another reason cuts away at the foundation of the stolen body theory.

Second, conspiracies generally collapse when the conspirators are challenged. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist homicide detective turned Christian apologist, notes that successful conspiracies share the following attributes: “A small number of conspirators…Thorough and immediate communication…A short time span…Significant relational connections…Little or no pressure.”[8] Wallace adds that the “ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime. That’s a conspiracy that would be awfully hard to break!”[9] Since the disciples faced brutal deaths and never stopped proclaiming Jesus as risen, the empty tomb hypothesis is strengthened. In addition, Kreeft and Tacelli add that the “disciples’ character argues strongly against such a conspiracy on the part of all of them, with no dissenters.”[10] Since the stolen body theory is the oldest, it was given more attention than the remaining antagonistic theories. Nevertheless, some hold that Jesus was never buried at all.

No Burial

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman eludes the problems found with the stolen body theory by promoting the idea that Jesus was never buried in the first place. Ehrman believes that scholars must decipher the Gospels “with a critical eye to determine which stories, and which parts of stories, are historically accurate with respect to the historical Jesus, and which represent later embellishments by his devoted followers.”[11] As it pertains to the empty tomb, Ehrman is led to believe that Jesus was never buried and that “the tradition that there was a specific, known person who buried Jesus appears to have been a later one.”[12] Another variation of this argument is propagated by John Dominick Crossan and posits that Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and was “dug up, and eaten by dogs.”[13] Crossan’s argument is basically rendering a variant of the theory that Ehrman proposed. Is there any evidence that Jesus was buried? Since the paper will handle historical reasons to believe that an empty tomb existed, the paper will provide such an answer in the forthcoming section of the paper.

Suffice it to say, it seems unreasonable that the disciples would invent a tomb that could be verified by the people living in the area at the time. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 contains early eyewitness testimony that predates the New Testament, a fact that nearly every scholar concedes. Licona denotes that “the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is quite early, very probably based on eyewitness testimony, and is multiply attested in term of a general outline of the sequence of events.”[14] How interesting it is that the tradition includes the words that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4, emphasis mine). If it is true that the tradition of 1 Corinthians 15 dates to the earliest church, then the idea that Jesus was buried cannot be a product of late legendary development.

Wrong Tomb

Another theory holds that the disciples were truly innocent in their claims, but sadly mistaken. The wrong tomb theory, as Geisler illustrates, holds that “the Roman or Jewish authorities took the body from the tomb to another place, leaving the tomb empty.”[15] This theory is simple to dismiss. If the Romans and/or Jewish authorities knew where the body of Christ lie, the authorities would simply have presented the body thus killing the Christian movement from the outset. Note that the disciples began preaching in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus had been crucified and buried, a mere fifty days after the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:14). In addition, Geisler and Turek note that the Gospel writers “record that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council that had sentenced Jesus to die for blasphemy. This is not an event they would have made up.”[16] If the early Christians had a connection with Joseph of Arimathea, then any move by the Romans and/or Jewish authorities would have been noted by Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, this theory fails miserably.

This article has handled the various naturalist theories that dismiss the empty tomb hypothesis. The next article will provide various historical reasons to believe that the tomb was empty the first Easter.

Copyright, March 13, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Notes

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011), 158.

 [2] Ibid.

[3] Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall, SJ, and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection (Oxford, UK: Oxford University [4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

[5] Daniel A. Smith, “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q,” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 129, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[6] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Volume 3, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 204.

[7] Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 767, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[8] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 111-112.

[9] Ibid, 111.

[10] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 185.

[11] Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 13.

[12] Ibid., 142.

[13] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 387.

[14] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 323.

[15] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 644.

[16] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 281.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 8: Two Final Methods and Conclusion)

For the past several weeks, we have been investigating how the historical Jesus of Nazareth fares by being tested by the traditional historical method. Before wrapping up our investigation, NT scholar Michael Licona provides two additional tests that need to be considered. This article will investigate those two additional tests or methods and will offer some concluding thoughts on our quest.

Arguments to the Best Explanation.

Licona notes that the Arguments to the Best Explanation method “makes inferences and weighs hypotheses according to specific criteria.”[1] In other words, the data is compiled and examined according to a particular hypothesis made by the historian. The criteria include:

Explanatory scope: Examining the most relevant data according to the hypothesis.

Explanatory power: Looking at the “quality of the explanation of the facts.”[2]

Plausibility: How much confidence can the historian possess that a certain event took place? For the skeptic, if they are to be honest historically, they must suspend their skepticism and allow for the possibility of the miraculous if they are to become unbiased.

Less ad hoc: Covering only what the data suggests without going “beyond what is already known.”[3]

Illumination: Where one piece of data strengthens other areas of inquiry.

Speaking of this method, Licona goes on to say that “Arguments to the best explanation are guided by inference and can sometimes be superior to an eyewitness to an event. Testimony to the court does not provide truth but data.”[4]

Examining the data that we have presented already when using this method demonstrates that the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth existed and walked out of the grave the first Easter Sunday. Licona, in his work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , comes to the following conclusion in his over 600 page work:

“I am contending that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical bedrock. Since it fulfills all five of the criteria for the best explanation and outdistances competing hypotheses by a significant margin in their ability to fulfill the same criteria, the historian is warranted in regarding Jesus’ resurrection as an event that occurred in the past.”[5]

Thus, from using this method, Jesus’ historicity as well as Jesus’ resurrection are confirmed.

Arguments from Statistical Inference.

The Arguments from Statistical Inference method evaluates all data in question and evaluates the probability that an event could have happened. If one eliminates the possibility of God’s existence and God’s involvement in an event, then the odds that a “miraculous” event occurred goes down dramatically. However, if one holds that a greater power was involved, the odds go up drastically. Licona gives the illustration of one evaluating whether his son could lift 200 lbs. over his head. While such may be improbable, if one is willing to add that a bodybuilder assisted him, the added datum allows for such an event to become much more probable.[6] If the historian is going to be unbiased, then one must allow for the possibility of God’s existence and the possibility that God may have an invested interest for raising Jesus from the dead.

While this method will always be somewhat subjective, the historian can make an educated synopsis of how historically certain an event is. McCullagh uses the following grades:

“Extremely probable: in 100-95% of cases

Very probable: in 95-80% of cases

Quite or fairly probable: in 80-65% of cases

More probable than not: in 65-50% of cases

Hardly or scarely probable: in 50-35% of cases

Fairly improbable: in 35-20% of cases

Very improbable: in 20-5% of cases

Extremely improbable: in 5-0% of cases.”[7]

 

While it must be admitted that in history one cannot hold 100% certainty that any event took place. One could argue that one cannot be 100% certain of what a person had for breakfast. However, one could say that it was extremely probable that a person had Cheerios® for breakfast if one sees a used bowl and spoon with bits of Cheerios® cereal, accompanied by used milk at the bottom of the bowl, with an empty Cheerios® box sitting beside the bowl.

So, what can we draw from our investigation?

Concluding Thoughts

So, does Jesus pass the historical method? I would say so. In fact, so much so that I think one can logically hold the following premises.

It is extremely probable that Jesus existed. One can say with over 95% certainty that Jesus existed. To claim otherwise is to hold a level of skepticism that will disallow one to know about anyone or anything in history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus rose from the dead. The strength of Jesus’ existence is coupled with the strength of his resurrection. In my estimation, I would say that one holds a very strong case for the resurrection of Christ being an actual event of history.

It is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples saw him risen from the dead. Some may argue that this point deserves to hold the level “very probable.” However, I feel that given other data to consider that it is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples encountered the risen Jesus.

It is very probable that we have good eyewitness testimony telling us about the life of Jesus. While we have fantastic eyewitness testimony for the life of Jesus, particular debates surrounding the Evangelists’ identity and the like take down the probability a notch. In my estimation the eyewitness testimony deserves to have the highest ranking, but to be fair to all the data involved, I give it a very probable ranking (95-80% certainty).

It is extremely improbable that the Jesus Mythicist campaign has any leg on which to stand. Even agnostic Bart Ehrman has confessed that the Jesus Mythicist campaign is erroneous. While the historical data does not prove Jesus to be the Messiah (that comes by faith), the data provides solid grounding for accepting such a belief. In stark contrast, one can claim that the idea that Jesus was a myth is extremely improbable (0-5%).

Therefore, one may deny Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, one may reject his claims as divine, and one may pass off his miracles as the work of a magician, however one cannot deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed and one will be hard-pressed to deny that this same Jesus walked out of the tomb the first Easter Sunday.

Jesus of Nazareth passes the historical test with a solid A+.

 

© February 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

McGullagh, C. B. Justifying Historical Descriptions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

 

 

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 108.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid., 114.

[5] Ibid., 610.

[6] See Licona, 114.

[7] C. B. McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 52.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 7: Eyewitness Testimony–The Gospel Witnesses)

Last week, we discussed the eyewitness testimony for Jesus by demonstrating the validity of the Gospel records. Such an endeavor was important to establish particular witnesses found within the Gospel accounts. We have seen that one holds good reasons for accepting that the apostle Matthew had, at least in part, a hand in the writing of the First Gospel; that John Mark wrote down the information found in the Second Gospel; that the physician and co-hort of Paul—Luke—wrote the third Gospel; and that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. But, how does this influence the eyewitness testimony that one holds for Jesus of Nazareth?

Peter1

The Testimony of Peter

As noted last week, Irenaeus notes that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”[1] Thus, the church unanimously accepted that John Mark recorded the testimony of one Simon Peter. The Gospel of Mark does focus quite a bit on the life of Simon Peter. Of the information in Matthew’s Gospel believed to have been taken from Mark, the majority of the shared material deals with the life of Simon Peter. Thus, the believer has essentially the eyewitness testimony from one of the inner circle disciples—Simon Peter.

 john-the-apostle-the-bible

The Testimony of John

Last week, we noted that despite the skepticism of some modern scholars, the majority of internal and external evidence for the Fourth Gospel demonstrate that the apostle John wrote the text. It has always amazed me how one misses John’s imprint in the Fourth Gospel. In John 21:1-2, the writer lists Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together” (John 21:1-2).[2] It is interesting that John the son of Zebedee is never explicitly listed, but rather this “disciple who Jesus loved” (John 21:7). It was Peter and this mysterious disciple who traveled to the tomb of Jesus. Who else would one imagine accompanying Peter to the tomb other than John the apostle? In fact, John the apostle is linked to being the caretaker of Jesus’ mother after Jesus’ death by the early church fathers.

Among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a letter written by Ignatius to John the apostle. These writings are normally attributed to the late first-century. Nevertheless, Ignatius writes, There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.”[3] Even if the letter is spurious, it demonstrates the early acceptance of the idea that John the apostle assumed the role of caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved is also linked with being the caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (John 19:26-27). Then, the Gospel states as a postscript, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). What this tells us is that we have another witness by an inner circle disciple. Even if John was written by a disciple of the apostle, we would still have eyewitness testimony about Jesus since the apostolic witness would have been recorded.

MatthewLevi

The Testimony of Matthew

As we noted last week, good reasons exist to hold the apostle Matthew as the author of at least part of the First Gospel. It seems quite odd that the early church would choose Matthew, a tax-collector, as the author of the First Gospel if it were in fact not based upon truth. I could provide further reasons for holding Matthean authorship. But suffice it to say, that if one accepts the apostle Matthew as the writer of the First Gospel, then one has another apostolic eyewitness for Jesus of Nazareth.

Early-Church

The Testimony of the Early Church

We have already noted the existence of pre-New Testament material in the letters of Paul and, some would say, in the Gospels. This is particularly the case in Luke’s Gospel where Luke notes that he used the testimony of those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word [who] have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2). Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, one will find a panoply of eyewitness testimonies from various individuals used by Luke to construct his Gospel account.

Mary-Mother-of-Jesus-Christ

The Testimony of Mary the Mother of Jesus

The first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel relays information pertaining to the birth of Jesus and the experiences that Mary, the mother of Jesus had before Jesus’ birth. Robert Stein states that It is clear from the first chapter of Matthew as well as the traditional nature of the material in Luke 1–2 that Luke did not create all this material.”[4] Luke records the Magnificat (Mary’s Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46-55. In addition, the Evangelist records particularly intimate details about Mary such as the time when Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Since this material is not original to Luke and since pagan myths do not account for the inclusion,[5] it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Luke received the eyewitness testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus for the beginning of his Gospel. Thus, I would argue that one has the eyewitness testimony of Mary in Luke’s Gospel, which further adds to the testimony found within the Gospel narratives.

 Conclusion

Undoubtedly, there are many more witnesses than those presented in this article. Nevertheless, one may still remain skeptical. It is quite apparent that not everyone will accept all of my conclusions in this article. But let it be said that even if one does not accept the evidence listed in this section of our presentation, one still must accept the early eyewitness testimony found in the pre-New Testament creeds and formulations. Therefore when coupled with the Gospel accounts, the eyewitness testimony for Jesus of Nazareth is quite good. Jesus of Nazareth passes the eyewitness testimony examination of the historical method.

Our investigation is not quite yet complete. Next week, we will examine two other areas of historical research offered by New Testament scholar Michael Licona. Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has withstood the scrutiny of the historical method. Will he continue to remain standing after these final two areas of research? Check back next week to find out.

 

© February 8, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. Volume 24. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

 

 Notes

[1] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 124.

[4] Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81.

[5] See Stein, Luke, NAC, 81.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 6: Eyewitness Testimony–The Case for the Gospels)

As we have engaged in our evaluation of Jesus according to the historical method, my previous articles have demonstrated that the historical Jesus passes the historical method with flying colors. However, we must continue our quest in asking, “Do we have eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth?” That is, do we have the accounts of Jesus from those who personally knew him? If someone is investigating a person or an event of history, the investigator will want testimony from those who actually knew the person, or witnessed the event.

Admittedly, this area of study pertaining to the historical Jesus is among the most controversial. Many prominent New Testament scholars hold that the accounts that we have of Jesus come from second-hand sources, which would eliminate any eyewitness account that one possesses of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

But hold on! Not so fast! There are just as many scholars who hold that the testimonies in the New Testament come from eyewitnesses. This article will examine the reasons for holding that the Evangelists record eyewitness testimony. The second installment will look into the weight of this eyewitness testimony as it tells us who provides the witness. For this investigation, we will examine the Four Gospels. Since at least 7 letters of Paul are undisputed and since I have previously discussed the pre-NT traditions found in Paul’s letters, we will not focus on proving the eyewitness nature for his material.[1]

Internal Evidence of the Gospels

Within the Gospels, one can find reasons to hold that the testimony comes from eyewitness testimony.

Internal Testimony of Matthew

Matthew has traditionally been ascribed to the disciple Matthew who was a former tax-collector. It is odd that the church would ascribe the Gospel to one who was a tax-collector if it was not true. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Internally, one finds reasons for holding Matthean authorship. Blomberg writes,

This author, at least of an original draft of this book (or one of its major sources), seems quite probably to have been the converted toll collector, also named Levi, who became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (cf. 10:3; 9:9–13; Mark 2:14–17).”[2] In addition, Cabal adds that “The Gospel also contains clear evidence that the author possessed a strong command of both Aramaic and Greek, something that would be a prerequisite for most tax collectors. Furthermore, the author of Matthew used the more precise term nomisma for the coin used in the dispute over tribute (Mt 22:19) than Mark’s and Luke’s denarion (Mk 12:15; Lk 20:24).”[3]

This would have been something that a tax-collector would have known.

Internal Evidence of Mark

The church unanimously agreed that John Mark had recorded the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter in the Second Gospel. The internal nature of Mark’s Gospel seems to indicate that John Mark was indeed the author. Grassmick notes that

“Several features also point to the author’s connection with Peter: (a) the vividness and unusual detail of the narratives, that suggest that they were derived from the reminiscences of an “inner-circle” apostolic eyewitness such as Peter (cf 1:16–20, 29–31, 35–38; 5:21–24, 35–43; 6:39, 53–54; 9:14–15; 10:32, 46; 14:32–42); (b) the author’s use of Peter’s words and deeds (cf. 8:29, 32–33; 9:5–6; 10:28–30; 14:29–31, 66–72); (c) the inclusion of the words “and Peter” in 16:7, which are unique to this Gospel; and (d) the striking similarity between the broad outline of this Gospel and Peter’s sermon in Caesarea (cf. Acts 10:34–43).”[4]

The tradition that Mark records Simon Peter’s testimony is affirmed by the internal nature of the Gospel as well as the external witness which will be given later in the article.

 Internal Evidence of Luke

The physician Luke is normally ascribed to have been the author of the Third Gospel. Internally, one finds evidence for this association. While Luke was not an eyewitness, Luke acknowledges his use of eyewitness material by saying, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2).[5] Thus, Luke never claims to be an eyewitness but uses eyewitness material.

Internal Evidence of John

The Fourth Gospel is normally ascribed to the apostle John. John is nearly universally agreed to have been the last Gospel written. While some may disagree, the episodes of the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) within the Gospel points to an inner circle disciple. Peter and James are mentioned in such episodes, but never John. The Gospel ends by saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). In addition, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is assigned by Jesus to care for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:27). The letters of early church leader Ignatius confirms this report. Thus, the internal evidence is clear. John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel either by his own hand or dictating the information to a student.

Now that we have considered the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels by the internal evidence, let us consider the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels given by external testimony.

 External Evidence of the Gospels

The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of the four canonical Gospels. Early on, church father Papias provides a glimpse at how the Gospels were written.

Testimony of Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 95-130)

Papias may not have personally known John the apostle, although he may have heard John speak.[6] Nevertheless, Papias knew Polycarp and others who knew John well. Papias recorded the following pertaining to the writings of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew that he received from the presbyter (presumably John, but perhaps Polycarp):

“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements…Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”[7]

It must be remembered that we do not possess the entirety of Papias’ writings. However, we are benefited by the documentation of those who knew Papias’ writings well.

Testimony of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. AD 175)

Irenaeus of Lyons probably knew the writings of Papias well. Irenaeus describes the writing of all four Gospels by documenting the following:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”[8]

 These testimonies would find further corroboration by church historian Eusebius.

Testimony of Eusebius of Caesaria (c. AD 325)

Eusebius of Caesaria was a church historian writing around AD 325. He writes the following pertaining to the writing of the Gospels:

“But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them.”[9]

“For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry.”[10]

 Evidence from Dating

We mentioned in a previous article that good reasons exist for holding that the three canonical Gospels were all written before AD 64. Primarily, it was argued that Luke does not record the death of Paul and Peter, quite odd if Acts was written after Peter and Paul’s execution. Some scholars hold that Peter and Paul died around AD 64. If this is true, then Acts must have been written before AD 64, forcing the Gospel of Luke and the borrowed material from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark prior to the 60s. An early dating bodes well for claiming that the Gospels hold eyewitness testimony because the time-frame puts the writings well within the time of the eyewitnesses.

Conclusion

While there are many who deny the authenticity of eyewitness testimony in the four canonical Gospels, I feel that the evidence strongly supports the assertion that the Gospels are based upon eyewitness testimony. If the findings of this article are true, then Matthew and John provide first hand eyewitness testimony, whereas Mark and Luke provide documentation of eyewitness testimonials. In the next section of this article which will be published next week, we will look at the number of eyewitnesses we have in the New Testament alone. The historical Jesus continues to pass the historical methodological test.

Copyright February 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary, Volume 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

Cabal, Ted, et al. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Eusebius of Caesaria. “The Church History of Eusebius.” In Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Volume 1. Second Series. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890.

Grassmick, John D. “Mark.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Papias. “Fragments of Papias.”In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Endnotes

[1] In addition, we are looking for material for those who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry.

[2] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 44.

[3] Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1402.

[4] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 95–96.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] This is an area of dispute. It depends on one’s understanding of Papias’ testimony.

[7] Papias, “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 154–155.

[8] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

[9] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 136.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 152–153.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 5-Early Testimony: Early NT Texts)

This article picks up where the last article left off. We continue our glimpse at the early testimony for Jesus of Nazareth.

The Argument for the Early Dating of the Synoptic Gospels

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all said to be the “Synoptic Gospels.” “Synoptic” means that they are seen through the same eye. These three Gospels tell the story of Jesus in a familiar fashion. Some have claimed that the Gospels all should have been written after AD 70 due to a prophecy given that relates to the destruction of the Temple (occurring in AD 70). However, many scholars are beginning to change their mindset concerning these dates.

J. Warner Wallace makes a compelling argument, an argument held by some NT scholars, that all three Synoptic Gospels must have been written prior to AD 63. Wallace argues that “The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the Temple…The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem [70 A.D.]…Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter…Luke said nothing about the death of James [62 A.D.]…Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts…Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy.”[1] Therefore, since Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and does not mention the details that Wallace has noted, then it only stands to reason that Acts was written before AD 64 with Luke being written sometime prior to Acts. Since Luke uses Mark and Matthew, then it is feasible to claim that Mark and Matthew predate the writing of Luke. If Wallace is correct, then the Synoptic Gospels were all composed within 30 years of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. It would be comparable to currently writing about an event that transpired in 1986. With several eyewitnesses and with fond memories of the 80s, one could write a trustworthy account within that timeframe.

Even if one is not persuaded by Wallace’s argument, suffice it to say that there exist several early traditions in the Gospel texts that predate the NT. Even with the Gospel of John which is normally attributed to the late first-century, many scholars—including some liberal ones—hold that John reports traditions that fit well within the early the time of Christ. This includes the inclusion of a miracle by Jesus at one Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda was destroyed prior to AD 70.[2]

Earliest New Testament Letters

Galatians

In addition to the previously listed material, one should note that many of the epistles listed in the New Testament canon are considered early. Consider the Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Gerald Peterman writes concerning Galatians that “Probably the letter should be dated to AD 49…Paul came to Christ probably around AD 35 and the events described in Gl 2:1-10 must have occurred before the letter was written. Therefore, the reference to ‘fourteen years’ (2:1) must be all-inclusive—that is, the ‘three years’ previously mentioned (1:18) plus 11 more. This yields AD 49 (35+14).”[3]

 James

The letter of James is another early manuscript. While some date the letter to the latter first-century, an idea based upon the skepticism that James, the half-brother of Jesus, would not pen a work; many Bible scholars hold that James not only was written by the authentic James, the half-brother of Jesus, but that the work was extremely early. Kurt A. Richardson writes that “If the epistle’s author is James the Lord’s brother, then it was written before a.d. 62, perhaps in the previous decade. James is the only likely candidate for authorship, as, indeed, Christian tradition has affirmed.[4] John F. Hart takes the date a step further. Hart holds that James was written extremely early since that the Epistle of James does not indicate any reference to the Jerusalem Council. Thus, Hart notes that “If the book was written before the Jerusalem Council (AD 49), the date of writing could be as early as AD 45-48 (most evangelicals). If the dispersion in 1:1 refers to the scattering of Jewish believers in Ac 8:1, dated at about AD 34, the book could have been written as early as AD 35-36. James is probably the first NT book written.”[5] If Hart is correct, then we have a reference to Jesus of Nazareth, that is “the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1), as early as 2-5 years from the time that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and resurrected!

 1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians is another work that provides early testimony to Jesus of Nazareth. 1 Thessalonians, like Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthian letters, is one of the letters universally attested to Paul. 1 Thessalonians, the book that provides the eschatological concept of the Parousia, was most likely written around AD 51, a mere 18-21 years from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Kevin D. Zuber denotes that “Paul probably arrived before Gallio began his tenure in AD 50. He probably wrote 1 Thessalonians in early AD 51 and 2 Thessalonians later that same year. Although these two letters are among the earliest of Paul’s ‘canonical correspondence’ (only Galatians is earlier), the themes and issues reflect a mature faith and a consistency of doctrine.”[6]

 Conclusion

This article has only scratched the surface of early testimony that one finds for Jesus of Nazareth. No other person in all of antiquity holds the early reliable testimony that Jesus of Nazareth enjoys. Those who are skeptical of the Christian faith may not accept the claims made about Jesus of Nazareth. However, if one is to be honest with the evidence, then one must admit that not only was Jesus of Nazareth an authentic person of history, but also that he was crucified and was thought to have resurrected from the dead from the outset of the Christian movement. This evidence holds such power that it was used by God not only to bring me back to a strong Christian faith, but also led me back into the Gospel ministry.

Next week, we will examine whether there exists eyewitness testimony for Jesus of Nazareth. Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has passed the historical test with flying colors. Will Jesus continue to pass the historical test when we investigate eyewitness testimony?

 

© January 25th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.

Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Endnotes 

 [1] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 161-163.

[2] In the 19th century, many scholars dismissed the Gospel of John as a late invention over this Pool of Bethesda. That is, until the Pool of Bethesda was excavated and discovered in the late 19th to early 20th century.

[3] Gerald Peterman, “Galatians,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1827.

[4] Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 39.

[5] John F. Hart, “James,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1947.

[6] Kevin D. Zuber, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1877.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 4–Early Testimony: Pre-NT Traditions)

In our first three articles which have examined Jesus by the historical method, we have seen that, thus far, Jesus of Nazareth stands up to historical scrutiny. However, this fourth article confronts an issue that many skeptics present concerning one’s knowledge of the historical Jesus: early testimony. Early testimony is important because the closer a text is to the events that it describes, the more reliable the testimony. Longer spans of time allows for the introduction of legendary material. Early testimony allows for correction among historical records and other eyewitnesses who can corroborate or deny the details presented by a text.

Some are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings. Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”[1]

This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.

Pre-New Testament Traditions

Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.  Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”[2]

Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).

Formulation:   1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”[3]

In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.

Hymn: Philippian 2:6-11

In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.

Confession:     Romans 10:9

To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.”[4] Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Author’s Note: So much information was compiled for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, our examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament. As they say on television and the movies…

…To be continued.

© January 18th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Featured image from the movie Passion of the Christ, portrayed by actor Jim Caviezel. Fox Studios and Icon. February 2004. All rights reserved.

 

Bibliography for Complete Article

Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.

Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

 Endnotes

[1] W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.

[2] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 3–Embarrassing Admonitions)

Last week, I discussed the second way that historians examine the legitimacy of a historical event by researching enemy attestation. The article demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth passes such a test. This week, we discuss a third historical method that helps historians determine the historicity of an event…embarrassing admonitions.

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona write that “an indicator that an event or saying is authentic occurs when the source would not be expected to create the story, because it embarrasses his cause and ‘weakened its position in arguments with opponents’[1].”[2] In other words, if a person provides information that would harm his or her cause, then the claims adds to the historical certainty that such an event took place or that such a statement was spoken.

A member at one of my former pastorates gave a great example of this method. He told of a pastor who told his congregation that he was too busy to visit the sick. Then a few sentences later, he had spoken on how he had been playing golf on multiple occasions that week. Such a statement was embarrassing for the pastor and, therefore, increases the reliability that such a statement was given.

When it comes to the early church, seven examples serve as embarrassing admonitions. While others exist, these five relate especially to the core movement of the church.

 

huh

  1. Disciples’ Inability to Understand Message.

If a movement desires to instill the reliability of its advocates, the movement will not present the leaders as ignorant. With the New Testament, the apostles are presented several times as ignorant as to the message presented by Jesus until Jesus explained the message to them at a later point. For instance, Luke records the following,

“And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34).[3]

Some might claim, “Then how can we trust the disciples with the message of Christ if they did not understand?” Well, John explains that Jesus’ disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). That the disciples would include their ignorance verifies the historicity of Jesus’ teachings (at least in part) and their misunderstandings.

questionmark

  1. Jesus’ Ignorance of Certain Events.

It is unheard of that the disciples would elevate Jesus as the Son of God and then document that Jesus did not know a particular thing. Yet, this is what happened with the Evangelists. Jesus is noted as saying, pertaining to the return of Christ at the end of time, that concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Such a statement fits an embarrassing admonition, thus verifying its authenticity.

garden of gethsemane.gif

  1. Jesus’ Fear in Facing the Cross.

If someone is building up a fictional hero, the writer is unlikely to include bouts of fear especially if the hero is noted for his/her courage. Yet, on the evening before facing the cross, Jesus “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Such a bout of agony could be demonstrated to be an embarrassing admonition, thereby verifying Jesus’ time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

peter-denies-christ-bloch-carl_1167438_inl

  1. Cowardice of Key Leaders.

Another admonition that would have been embarrassing for the early Christian movement was the claim that the early church leaders, even those of prime importance, fled when Jesus was tried.[4] Consistently, the four canonical Gospels indicate that the male disciples fled while the women remained with Jesus.[5] Women were also listed as prominent disciples in the early church movement (Rom. 16:1-3, 7, 12; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 16:19).

 In a patriarchal society (where men are elevated and women minimalized), is this something you would want to promote if it were not true??? Would you really want people to know that the women were brave while you were a coward???

 joseph_arimathea

  1. Joseph of Arimathea’s Burial of Jesus.

Mark, generally held to be the earliest Gospel, notes that one Joseph of Arimathea “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…And when he [Pilate] learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:43, 45).

Now, Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus, the burial of Jesus was embarrassing for the church as it would claim that the disciples could not even provide a decent burial. It would take one from the very council that condemned Jesus to give Jesus a proper burial.

 women.jpg

  1. Testimony of Women.

Habermas notes that “The Gospels are unanimous in their claim that women were the earliest witnesses to the empty sepulcher (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-9; Jn 20:1-2). This is a powerful indication of the authenticity of the report, since a woman’s testimony was generally disallowed in a law court, especially on crucial matters.”[6]

We already noted how that first-century Palestine, as well as the rest of the Greco-Roman society, was patriarchal in scope. Lesley DiFrancisco notes that In the patriarchal societies characteristic of this time, men had social, legal, and economic power. Although women could achieve some status through marriage and motherhood, they were often dependent on men.”[7] Here again, it would not make sense to have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ unless it actually took place in that fashion.

thomas-2

  1. Doubt of Some Pertaining to Jesus’ Resurrection.

Finally, if one were to invent the Christian story, then one would show that everyone saw and believed without reservation. However, the Gospels show that even after Jesus had risen from the dead, some doubted. Matthew writes that “when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Luke notes that the women had seen Jesus but the male disciples refused their testimony seeing it as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:10-11). Who could forget of one “Doubting Thomas” who later became “Believing Thomas” (John 20:24-29)? The fact that some disciples doubted the report could be seen as an embarrassing admonition for the early church.

Conclusion

Several other embarrassing admonitions could be added to the seven listed above. However, one should note the great weight of authenticity that comes from these embarrassing admonitions. No one likes to be embarrassed. No one! Thus, we must ask, does Jesus pass the third historical test found in embarrassing admonitions?

YES!!!

So far, Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christian movement have stood strong with the historical methodology employed. But, we are not done yet. Next week, we will examine the fourth aspect of the historical method: early testimony. Just how early are the sources that we possess? Join us next week as we find out.

 

© January 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  

Bibliography

DiFrancisco, Lesley. “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Logos Bible Software.

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

Habermas, Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Volume 1. New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001. In Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Endnotes

 [1] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001), 168 in Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] E.g. Matthew 26:69-75.

[5] A couple of examples of the women’s faithfulness are seen in Matthew 27:55-56 and John 19:24b-27.

[6] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 23.

[7] Lesley DiFransico, “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), Logos Bible Software.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 2–Enemy Attestation)

In our last installment of “Examining Jesus by the Historical Method,” we discussed the first aspect of the historical method. We examined how Jesus of Nazareth enjoys documentation by a variety of independent sources, something that is important for both the historian and the detective.

This article will discuss the second method by which a person and/or event of history is scrutinized—enemy attestation. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona note that “If testimony affirming an event or saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account, we have an indication of authenticity.[1]

Here’s why this is so important: if a person’s mother said that her child had integrity, one could claim the mother spoke out of bias for her child. But what if the person’s enemy said that the person had integrity? The claim of integrity would hold greater weight. The same is true of historical enemy attestation. The following are examples of enemy attestation as it pertains to Jesus of Nazareth. The writers of the texts you are going to read are not Christians and have no allegiance to the Christian church.

cornelius tacitus

Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44), c. 100AD.

In the late first-century, Roman historian Tacitus set out to write an account of the histories of Rome. When discussing the twisted emperor Nero, Tacitus briefly mentions Jesus and the band of followers known as the Christians. Tacitus’ comments are associated with Nero’s burning of Rome. Tacitus writes,

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[2]

From Tacitus, we can acquire that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died during the reign of Tiberius by the hands of Pontius Pilate, and was believed to have been resurrected (from Tacitus’ claim of one “mischievous superstition”). One also can acquire the great devotion of the early Christians from Tacitus’ text.

josephus

Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18.3), c. 90AD.

Josephus was not a Christian, but was a Jewish historian. Josephus was also a Roman sympathizer. Since Josephus was not a believer, this has led some to dismiss Josephus’ reference to Jesus. However, Josephus mentions Jesus and Jesus’ brother James in other places of his work. Many have noted that the reference is legitimate, but may have originally left out the part where the historian refers to Jesus as “the Christ.” While the exact wording is debated, the reference is authentic. Josephus writes,

“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[3]

From Josephus, we can know that Jesus lived, was considered to be wise, was condemned by Pontius Pilate, was crucified on a cross, died, and that his disciples believed him to have been raised from death.

Talmud1.jpg

Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a), c. 220AD but reports an earlier tradition.

The Babylonian Talmud contains a tradition that was handed down from a previous source. While there are some differences in this account than the Gospel record (for instance, the Talmud only records 5 disciples), the general facts about Jesus (or Yeshu) are the same. Sanhedrin 43a reads,

“There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): They hanged Yeshu on the Sabbath of the Passover. But for forty days before that a herald went in front of him (crying), “Yeshu is to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and lead them away from God. Anyone who can provide evidence on his behalf should come forward to defend him.” When, however, nothing favorable about him was found, he was hanged on the Sabbath of the Passover.”[4]

Notice that this is not a source friendly to Jesus. Even still, one can demonstrate the hostility to Jesus from the religious authorities, the crucifixion of Jesus, and even the working of miracles (attributed as sorcery in this reference). Also, one notes that Jesus, in accordance with the Gospel record, was hung on the cross near the time of Passover.

mara bar serapion.jpg

Mara Bar-Serapion, c. 73-100AD.

At some point after 70AD, Syrian and Stoic philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion wrote of the importance of a person’s pursuit of wisdom. In doing so, Serapion compares Jesus (ie. The “wise king” to Socrates and Pythagoras. Serapion writes,

“What are we to say when the wise are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied.

         What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.

          God justly avenged these three wise men. The Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”[5]

Thus, one can identify the wisdom that even Jesus’ adversaries found in the Nazarene. In addition, one can find that Jesus’ teachings were passed down by the early church.

Thallus (from Julius Africanus fragment), c. 52AD.

Julius Africanus quotes a now extant (meaning that it is lost) writing from a historian named Thallus. Africanus states that Thallus “wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time…Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).”[6] Thus, from Thallus one can note the darkness that surrounded Christ’s death.

Acts of Pilate (from Justin Martyr, First Apology 35), Justin wrote in the mid 2nd century but records a text from the first-century AD.

In his book the First Apology, Justin Martyr refers to a commonly known document known as the Acts of Pontius Pilate. Unfortunately, the document is now extant. Nevertheless, Martyr writes,

“And the expression, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,’ was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.”[7]

The translators of the text add the following note, “These Acts of Pontius Pilate, or regular accounts of his procedure sent by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius, are supposed to have been destroyed at an early period, possibly in consequence of the unanswerable appeals which the Christians constantly made to them.”[8] Some may see this as a forgery. However, I do not think so. Such ancient records could have been confirmed and/or denied. The fact that early Christians tended to appeal to this document would tend to verify its authenticity to some degree. This causes me to think that there may be more ancient resources available yet to be discovered that would further confirm the historical veracity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Conclusion

From the enemy attestation presented, the historian can know the following:

1) Jesus existed;

2) Jesus was a teacher from Judea;

3) Jesus was thought to have been wise;

4) Jesus performed miracles, although attributed to sorcery by his adversaries;

5) Jesus was crucified at the command of Pontius Pilate;

6) Darkness surrounded the area at Jesus’ crucifixion;

7) Jesus was crucified around the time of the Passover;

8) One can assume from the information given that Jesus was buried;

9) Jesus was believed to have been resurrected;

10) and Jesus’ followers accepted suffering and death while still holding on to the belief of Jesus’ resurrection.

From enemy attestation, one can know a great deal about the fundamentals of Jesus’ life. Does Jesus pass the test of enemy attestation?

YES!!!

But what about the third test? The third test considers embarrassing admonitions. Will Jesus pass the third test? Find out next Monday!

 

© January 4, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

 Bibliography

Africanus, Julius. Chronography 18.1. In Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Bar-Serapion, Mara. TextExcavation.com. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

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

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Martyr, Justin. “The First Apology of Justin.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Tacitus, Cornelius. Annals XV.44. The Internet Classics Archive. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

Talmud. Sanhedrin 43a. JewishChristianLit.com. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

 Endnotes

[1] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 37-38.

[2] Tacitus, Annals XV.44, from The Internet Classics Archive, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans, retrieved January 4, 2016, http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

[3] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), Logos Bible Software.

[4] Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, JewishChristianLit.com, retrieved January 4, 2016. http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

[5] Mara Bar-Serapion, TextExcavation.com, retrieved January 4, 2016. http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

[6] Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1, in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 122.

[7] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 174–175.

[8] Ibid., 175, 1n.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 1-Multiple Sources)

In a previous post “What Can We Historically Know about Jesus,” I discussed various ways historians identify an event or person as historically credible. I also discussed Gary Habermas’ 12 Minimal Facts Approach, which validate key events of the life of Jesus. Those 12 facts are:

 “1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion. 2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb. 3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope. 4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment. 5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus. 6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief. 7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history. 8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before. 9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus. 10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping. 11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus. 12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.”[1]

In this eight part series, we will investigate how Jesus stands up to the historical scrutiny afforded to any person of antiquity. This week, we will examine the issue of area of multiple, independent sources.

Historians do not accept a historical testimony at face value. They look for a variety of sources relaying the same information. The more sources they have pertaining to an event, the more certain the historian is that the event actually took place.

The historian’s job is much like that of a detective. A detective assesses a crime scene. In doing so, the detective looks for eyewitnesses. One person may have seen the crime from one area. Another may have seen the crime from another angle. The more eyewitnesses, the more certain the detective can be that the event took place in a particular fashion. The same is true for the historian.

As it relates to Jesus, one must ask whether there are multiple independent testimonies relating Jesus. The answer is…

YES!!!

 Just how many independent sources do we have…that is, sources that are not shared. The following are generally agreed by historians as serving as independent sources.

matthew

1. Information independent in Matthew’s Gospel (c. A.D. 55-60).

While there is information shared between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Matthew provides information only found in his gospel pertaining to the life of Jesus. From external and internal evidence, I believe the Apostle Matthew recorded the information in the Gospel that bears his name.[2] The following is found exclusively in Matthew: angel appears to Joseph (Matt. 1:18-25); visitation of the Wise Men (2:1-12); escape to Egypt (2:13-18); return to Nazareth (2:19-23); much of the Beatitudes (3:1-5:42; 6:1-34; 7:7-14); Jesus’ promise for rest for the soul (11:20-30); leaders ask for a miracle (12:38-45); the Parable of the Weeds (13:24-30); various parables (13:33-52); Jesus heals the blind and mute (9:27-34); Jesus urges to pray for workers (9:35-38); preparation for persecution (10:16-42); Peter finds coin in fish’s mouth (17:24-27); further teachings of Jesus (18:10-35); Parables of the Workers (20:1-16); Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32); Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14); condemnation of religious leaders and grievance over Jerusalem (23:13-39); further parables of Jesus (25:1-46); Judas kills himself (27:3-10); guards posted at Jesus’ tomb (27:62-66); Jesus appears to the women (28:8-10); and the leaders bribe guards (28:11-15).

The preceding information is found only in Matthew. Thus, Matthew serves as an independent source.

mark-icon

2. The Gospel of Mark (c. A.D. 50-55).

Scholars generally agree that Mark was most likely completed first. This does not hold universal agreement as others hold that Matthew was completed first. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Mark reports information that he received from Simon Peter. Thus, Mark provides the information of an eyewitness—that of Simon Peter.

luke6

3. Information independent to Luke’s Gospel (c. A.D. 60).

Luke serves as a historian recording information found in a variety of sources. Since it is impossible to know all the sources that Luke used, historians generally lump together the information found only in Luke’s Gospel. In fact Luke contains a vast amount of information found only in his Gospel including: 1:5-80; 2:1-40; 2:41-52; 3:19-20; 4:16-30; 5:1-11; 7:11-17; 7:36-8:3; 10:1-18:14; 19:1-27; 23:6-12; and 24:44-49.

The preceding information is found only in Luke. Thus, Luke serves as an independent source.

4. Shared information used by Matthew and Luke, popularly called “Q” (c. 30-50).

Matthew and Luke share information that is exclusive to them. Scholars have called this information “Q” from the German word quelle which means source. The shared information from the Beatitudes serves as an example of Q. Not every scholar concedes that Q is a source. If Luke merely borrowed from Matthew, then this common source would be invalidated. However, as it stands now, Q could be another independent source for the life of Jesus.

john

5. The Gospel of John (c. A.D. 85-90).

Internally and externally it appears that the Apostle John wrote or dictated the information found in the Gospel attributed to him. If so, John provides independent information relating to the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth. John, writing in a different style than the other Gospels, writes in a theological fashion. But John’s theological language should not hide the historical information that is provided.

John provides independent, eyewitness testimony that is extremely valuable.

6. Pre-Pauline material (creeds, hymns, formulations) (c. A.D. 30-35).

Scholars, nearly universally, agree that Paul records and reports ancient creeds (statements of faith), hymns, and formulations (oral traditions reporting events). These oral traditions “played a large role in the Greco-Roman world, since only a small minority, perhaps less than 10 percent could read and write.”[3]

One of the most important of these formulations includes 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Others include 1 Corinthians 11:26; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; and (while not written by Paul) 1 Peter 3:18.[4] One could argue that each of these formulations serve as independent sources.

 7. Non-Christian Sources.

Various non-Christians noted certain attributes pertaining to the life of Jesus. The following ten sources serve, in varying degrees, as sources relating to the life of Jesus.

-Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15:44),

Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18:3),

-the Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a),

Roman satirist Lucian of Samosata (The Death of Peregrine 11-13),

-Mara Bar-Serapion,

-Thallus (from a Julius Africanus fragment) trying to understand what caused the darkness when Jesus died,

-Acts of Pilate (from Justin Martyr, First Apology 35),

-Gnostic works such as Gospel of Truth (20:11-14, 25-29) and

-The Gospel of Thomas (45:1-16),

-The Treatise on Resurrection (46:14-21).[5]

While these sources do not hold the historical veracity as do the canonical Gospels, they do serve as independent sources for Jesus. Some of these sources are even hostile towards Jesus.

We will evaluate some of these sources in a future article.

Clement-of-Rome-icon-206x300

8. Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 90-95).

Clement of Rome wrote towards the end of the first century. While he records later than most on this list, he provides information as an independent source, relating material which is not quoted from the New Testament. Examples of Clement of Rome’s statements pertaining to the death of Jesus include:

 “Let us look stedfastly [sic] to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 7).[6]

Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; let us esteem those who have the rule over us; let us honour [sic] the aged among us; let us train up the young men in the fear of God; let us direct our wives to that which is good” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 21).[7]

Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 49).[8]

Conclusion

What does the preceding tell us? It should tell us that great independent information exists for the historical Jesus. While some of the sources listed do not hold the weight that others do, that is beside the point. We are looking for various sources that tell us about the life of Jesus.

Jesus passes the first historical test. But what about the test of enemy attestation? We will examine this issue in our next Monday Apologetics post right here at Bellator Christi coming up January 4th, 2016. Click here to access the 2nd article.

 

© December 27, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 Bibliography

 Clement of Rome. “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Volume 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Habermas, Gary R. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

 

 

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 9-10.

[2] Space will not allow me to provide the reasons in this article.

[3] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 220.

[4] Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, 39, 65n.

[5] Taken from Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, 39, 67n.

[6] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 7.

[7] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 11.

[8] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 18.

What Can We Historically Know about Jesus of Nazareth?

As we come close to a Christian holiday, people often begin to ask, “Can we know that these events actually took place?” When it comes to Christmas, greater ambiguity exists as to particular elements pertaining to the life of Jesus (e.g. the date of Jesus’ birth) than it does for Easter. Part of this comes from the fact that the Gospels are part of a literary genre known as “bioi” (Licona 2010, 203), or ancient biographies and only focused on the core attributes of the person’s life. While we may not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth with great certainty, this doesn’t mean that we cannot know the most important aspects of Jesus’ life. Many skeptics will ask during the holidays, “How is it that we can know that anything actually took place in history? What can we know about the life of Jesus?” This article will provide a brief—and that is an understatement—evaluation about how history is evaluated and what can be known about the historical Jesus.

Is history knowable?

Skeptics will often claim, “We cannot know anything about history because we cannot know that the person recording a particular event is telling the truth.” This mentality is termed historical subjectivism which is defined by Norman Geisler as the argument “that the substance of history, unlike that studied by empirical science, is not directly observable” (Geisler 1999, 318). But if this is the case, then nothing past the present moment can truly be known with any certainty. What about that precious childhood event that shaped you? Well, extreme historical subjectivists would claim that such an event is unprovable as it is possible that you just thought that the event took place. Taken to its conclusion, the historical subjectivist has no means of knowing whether George Washington was truly the first President of the United States or whether King Henry VIII actually initiated the English Reformation. The historical realist believes that history is knowable. Historians obviously fit within the historical realist category. Luckily, there are ways that an event and/or person is deemed “historical.” The historian uses certain methodological tools to gauge the tenability of an event of history.

How is an event determined “historical”?

Since history is by its nature unobservable, the historian must gauge the probability that an event occurred or that a person lived. Nothing can be known with 100% certainty—not even scientific theories. Thus, history is gauged by the probability that what is written is true. These tools include, but are not limited to, the following.

-Multiple, independent sources (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37)—that is, several voices addressing the same event and/or person.

Enemy attestation (Habermas & Licona 2004, 37) comes from the enemy of the historical person or movement being studied. One can claim bias by a supporter, but if an enemy says the same thing about a person then the person(s) involved in an event can be deemed historical.

-“Embarrassing admonitions” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 38) are statements that are given in a history and/or biography that would bring embarrassment to the writer and/or movement.

-“Eyewitness testimony” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 39) is the account of those who witnessed the event and/or person being studied.

-“Early testimony” (Habermas & Licona, 39) refers to the time that the biography and/or history is written as compared to the event and/or person being addressed. Thus, a writer in the 1700s would hold more credulity than a person writing in the 2010s about the real life of John Adams.

Arguments to the best explanation (Licona 2010, 108) refers to whether a hypothesis pertaining to an event of history holds the best explanation or whether alternatives do. Licona adds that this practice includes “Explanatory scope…Explanatory power…Plausability…Less ad hoc…[and] Illumination [sic]” (Licona 2010, 109-110). Space will not permit the explanation of these divisions, but may be addressed in future posts.

-Arguments from statistical inference (Licona 2010, 114) is the practice of weighing the possibility that a certain person, fact, or event is more probable than not. So, what can we know of Jesus using these practices?

Using these methodologies, what can we know about the historical Jesus?

Actually, quite a bit! Gary Habermas presents what he calls the Minimal Facts Approach. These are facts about the life of Jesus that are agreed upon by the vast majority of historical scholarship—both skeptical and evangelical alike! They are:

1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.

2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.

3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.

4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.

5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.

6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.

7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history.

8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.

9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping.

11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus.

12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus” (Habermas 2003, 9-10).

That’s quite a bit! But, Habermas also notes that if one accepts the early creeds and early writings of the church fathers, then one can also know that “Jesus was born of Mary (Ignatius), who was a virgin (Ignatius; Justin), and he had a brother named James (Josephus). Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem, located about five miles from Jerusalem, and it is recorded that his birth could be verified by the records of Cyrenius, who was the first procurator of Judea (Justin). Later, Jesus was visited by Arabian Magi, who had first seen Herod (Justin). He was also from the town of Nazareth (creeds: Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38)” (Habermas 244).

Conclusion

Seeing that history is knowable, that history can be verified by particular methodologies, and the wealth of information that can be known of Jesus of Nazareth using these methodologies, the Christian should take comfort in knowing that his or her faith is based upon actual events. So, when the believer celebrates this holiday season, they can worship with the full weight of trust in the biblical record without worrying about the doubts that the skeptics may bring. Enjoy the holidays and remember…Jesus is truly the reason for the Christmas season!

 

© December 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

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

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

The 5 Minimal Facts Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Someone once said that if you have three Baptists, you will have four opinions. The statement alludes to the fact that it is difficult for Protestant Baptists to find common ground (being a Baptist I can say such a thing). Let’s face it; it is difficult to find common ground on anything. The same holds true for scholarship. However when general consensus is held, it generally confers that the evidence is strong for a given thing or event.

Individuals may find it interesting that there exists a general consensus among biblical and historical scholars concerning certain events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One may find it even more surprising that there is a general consensus among said scholars concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona have presented what they term the “minimal facts approach” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Minimal facts are those things that which “nearly all scholars hold, including skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Therefore the minimal facts data only presents data that are “strongly evidenced…[and] granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 47). There are at least five minimal facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The minimal facts are:

12-the-crucified-christ-rubens

Minimal Fact #1:       Jesus died by crucifixion by the order of Pontius Pilate

It is universally held that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate. The only individuals who would ever deny this fact are those who are deluded by the “Jesus Myth” ideology (those that hold that Jesus was a fictional character). No serious scholar would deny the existence of Jesus. During a debate with John Lennox, even skeptic Richard Dawkins conceded that Jesus was a person of history (see the confession at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5EjA-JNiVk). Along with the fact of Jesus’ existence, one must admit that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate.

Crucifixion was a torturous form of execution that was implemented by the Romans to quiet rebels and dissenters. Cicero writes that crucifixion was “that most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.64). The fact that Jesus was crucified in this manner is attested by the fact that all four gospel accounts proclaim that Jesus died in this fashion. Matthew writes, “Then [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). Mark writes, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). Luke writes, “So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25). John writes, “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’…So he delivered him over to be crucified” (John 19:15-16). In addition, extra-biblical citations from Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosota and others identify Jesus as having been crucified. So much is the evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion that even skeptic John Dominick Crossan wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Crossan 1991, 145). It is for this reason that Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the minimal facts.

 risen Jesus

Minimal Fact #2:       The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus

As surprising as it may sound, Habermas and Licona write, “There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 49). Again, all the gospels present Jesus as risen from the dead. While the authenticity of Mark’s ending after 16:8 is disputed, Mark still presents Jesus as risen and assumes that Jesus would…and in fact did…meet with the disciples after the resurrection. For instance, Mark writes that the messengers of God told the women at the tomb, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7). So even if Mark’s longer ending is not authentic, the first 8 verses of Mark still presents Jesus as risen from the dead and that He would appear to the disciples. Since Mark is writing after the fact, Mark implies that Jesus did in fact meet with the disciples.

Perhaps the most important biblical creed that supports the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The creed dates back to the time of Christ. The creed states that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Aramaic term for Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). Paul then records that he himself saw the risen Jesus. A multitude of other creeds exist in the New Testament that supports the resurrection of Jesus. Clement of Rome, a first-century Christian who apparently knew the apostles of the Lord wrote,

Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand” (Clement of Rome, “First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” XLII).

Therefore, Clement provides additional evidence for the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. That is why that the apostles’ belief that they had seen the risen Jesus is a minimal fact.

4_paul-conversion

Minimal Fact #3:       Paul converted from an antagonist of Christianity to an apologist for Christianity after having claimed an experience with the risen Jesus

While one may wonder what Paul has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, when one understands the reason behind Paul’s transformation, one will understand its association. Paul was a well-educated Jew. Paul said that he had lived “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Paul even said that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Yet, something happened to Paul. Instead of persecuting the church, Paul was an advocate for the church. It all changed due to Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus. Paul’s transformation, says Habermas and Licona, is “well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen. Therefore, we have early, multiple, and firsthand testimony that Paul converted from being a staunch opponent of Christianity to one of its greatest proponents” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 65). The evidence is also found in the establishment of several churches by Paul. For this reason, Paul’s conversion after having seen the risen Jesus is listed as a minimal fact.

 st james

Minimal Fact #4:       James, the brother of Jesus, converted to Christianity after having an experience with the risen Jesus

Like the third minimal fact, the fourth minimal fact concerns the conversion of a skeptic turned believer. James was one of the brothers of Jesus. John records that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. John writes, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). Yet, James became a believer and a strong, influential leader of the early church. The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 lists James as one who had encountered the risen Jesus. James is listed as an early church leader. For Paul writes of his trip to Jerusalem, “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). James would believe strongly in the Lord Jesus. James even writes that “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). James’ works would prove that his faith was very much alive as he was eventually martyred. Habermas and Licona report that James’ “martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 68). James’ conversion was so strong that it is listed as an indisputable minimal fact.

 Empty-Tomb-Picture-02

Minimal Fact #5:       The Empty Tomb

Surprisingly, the final minimal fact is not as well-accepted as the first four. However, there is strong evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty by the earliest disciples. While this fact is not universally accepted by scholars, it is strongly affirmed by most scholars. Gary Habermas shows that “roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 70). Habermas also reports that “There were apparently reports in Palestine that caused the emperor to issue an exceptionally strong warning against grave robbing, which was punishable by death (Nazareth Decree)” (Habermas 1996, 185). Not only does archaeology imply an empty tomb, the Bible states that there was an empty tomb. Mark writes that the angel said, “He has risen; he is not here…And they went out and fled from the tomb” (Mark 16: 6, 8). John also reports that “Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). Therefore, the biblical evidence strongly supports an empty tomb.

Justin Martyr refers to the empty tomb when he writes in his response to Trypho,

And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Justin Martyr, Trypho, CVIII).

Since archaeology, biblical, and non-biblical records support the empty tomb, in addition to the tradition that Constantine’s mother Helena successfully found the tomb which was still venerated by Jerusalem Christians despite Rome’s defilement of the site, provides a strong case for the historicity of the empty tomb, thus making it one of the five minimal facts supporting the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Conclusion

A great deal of consensus exists for these five facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus. This does not necessarily indicate that consensus indicates that something is correct because at one time consensus held that the earth was flat. However, scholarly consensus along with the archaeological evidence, and biblical and non-biblical references that were provided provided presents one with a strong case for the authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. One may be inclined to claim, “Yeah, but there are SOME scholars who deny that Jesus existed.” Well, there are SOME individuals who claim that the Holocaust did not occur. But if one is going to be a seeker for truth, one must accept not only Jesus of Nazareth’s historical existence, but one must also accept the crucifixion, burial, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is in my opinion that the resurrection itself is one of the most verifiable historical events of antiquity. If the resurrection is true, then there is great hope that our deaths do not serve as the end of our history, but the exciting beginning to a new level of existence…that is, if one has faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Cicero. Against Verres 2.5.64.

Clement of Rome. “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Crossan, John Dominick. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press, 1996.

_______________, and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

 Martyr, Justin. “Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

Does Paul Condemn Philosophy?

apostle paul in blue

Philosophy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life… a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster). Some have taken a negative outlook on philosophy. It has been noted that even some secular universities are dumping their classic philosophy programs (see the show “Why are Secular Universities Closing Philosophical Programs?” on Redeeming Truth Radio found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2014/05/12/why-are-secular-universities-closing-philosophical-programs-w-j-andrew-payne). However, one’s claim that “philosophy is meaningless” is in itself a philosophical claim. But what about Christians? Some Christians have criticized the use of philosophy due to Paul’s statement against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Yet, Christianity teaches is knowledgeable, is based on truth, defines the nature and meaning of life, holds great logic, teaches aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Paul himself gives lessons in most of the previously mentioned systems. So, does Paul refute himself? Or is there a problem with the way many interpret Colossians 2:8? So, the question must be asked: does Paul really criticize the use of philosophy? In this article, Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:8 will be exegetically examined and in its proper context and the article will answer whether Paul really condemns philosophy after all.

 

The Statement

Paul writes, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Already from the text, philosophy in and of itself is not the problem. To understand the teaching, one must examine the entire context. Paul was dealing with some problems in the church of Colossae.

 

Problem: Lack of Focus on Truth

Back in Colossians 1:28-29, Paul writes that his goal in the letter was to “tell others about Christ, warning everyone with all the wisdom God has given us” (Colossians 1:28). Paul was himself presenting a philosophy to the people of Colossae. Paul was proclaiming the truth of Christ and the truth (or philosophy) that comes pertaining to the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is why, Paul writes, that he “work(s) and struggle(s) so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:29). Therefore, Paul points the Colossians back to the historical Jesus of history and reminds them of His reality and the truth that is based upon Christ.

 

Problem: False Teachers

Paul’s main issue was to strengthen believers so that they would know the truth and, therefore, would not be taken by falsehood. Paul was using apologetics to show them the truth. Paul reminded them of what they knew to be true and warned them against individuals who would try to “deceive” them by using “well-crafted arguments” (Colossians 2:4). Here is the point: Paul was warning the Christians of Colossae not to be fooled and taken away by clever arguments and falsehoods. But in order to do so, they must “continue to follow him” (Colossians 2:6) and must “Let your roots grow down into him, and let you lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7). Again, they must be grounded in what is real. They must be grounded in reality. Therefore, they must be grounded in truth.

 

Putting it All Together

When one understands the problem of false teachers and that many Christians were being led away by falsehood, one can clearly find that Paul does NOT condemn philosophy. Paul condemns bad philosophy. There are several principles that can be extracted from this passage of Scripture, but we’ll focus on just three.

First, it is necessary for the Christian to be grounded in the truth of God. This is why this writer is such an advocate for apologetics. Paul was using historical apologetics to a degree to demonstrate why the Colossian Christians had become Christians…followers of Christ…from the beginning. If Christ cannot be defended and shown to be worthy of praise and if His resurrection cannot be shown to be based upon a real, historical event; then, as Paul said, “all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:14). But if Christ has been risen, then “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20). That means that there really is a heaven, there really is a hell, there really is a resurrection, and there really is a time when Christ will return.

Second, it is necessary for the Christian to demonstrate the falsehoods of untruthful claims. Again, Paul uses a form of philosophical apologetics to demonstrate that empty arguments and bad philosophy does not represent the truth. If one places his or her faith in any system that leads one away from the truth, that person will slowly erode into a system of erroneous trust and hedonistic living. That is not to say that one may not have elements of truth, but holding elements of truth does not necessitate that one holds full truth. A little bit of error can lead down a pathway of huge problems.

Lastly, it is necessary to build a theological/philosophical construct on the Bible more than particular theologian/philosopher. For instance, some hold to hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinists do not represent true Calvinism. In fact, they are more Calvinistic than John Calvin himself. Hyper-Calvinists believe that God is responsible for every human action and therefore they do not take credit for their good or bad behavior. Hyper-Calvinism leads one to a life of irresponsibility. Why? Because, the person believes that God is responsible for every action and therefore is responsible for their bad decision-making. The person will not hold responsibility for his/her actions and will become much like Adam who blamed God for Adam’s own sin. Likewise, there are hyper-Arminians. Hyper-Arminians may be more in line with Pelagians than necessarily Arminius. Nonetheless, hyper-Arminians hold that a person is completely responsible for his/her choice to find God and trust God. The problem is; God is out of the picture in such a paradigm. When one holds to hyper-Arminianism, the person lessens God’s involvement and completely trusts in human decision-making. This may lead one down a path of complete human trust in his/her own decision-making and will not involve God in their plans. Likewise, such a one will not be likely to find their place in God’s sovereign plan and may not seek to depend upon the sovereign will of God. Obviously, these two examples do not represent the normal Calvinism or the normal Arminian, but you can see the point.

In the end, Paul’s teaching can be summed up in this statement: Philosophy is not bad, only bad philosophy is bad.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Does the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Affect One’s Understanding about Jesus?

Image

Recent tests reveal that the fragment from what has been termed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is an authentic find and not a modern forgery as many have suggested. The fragment contains a reference to Jesus speaking of His wife and claiming that she was one of the disciples. It is the scandalous type of stuff that one would expect from a Dan Brown novel. Karen King, the person who discovered the fragment, said “’The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ doesn’t prove that Jesus was married but sheds light on early Christians’ discussions about whether ‘the ideal mode of Christian’ life was a celibate one” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post).

Of course when a discovery like this is made, the skeptics come out of the woodwork. For instance Hal Taussig, a New Testament professor who worked with King, took the issue a step farther than King when he said that “he believes the document is ancient and ostensibly as important as documents that make up the accepted New Testament…’Everything we have is a copy of a copy of a copy. We have no original documents…what you have are traditions of writings'” (Boorstein 2014, Washington Post). A few things need to be addressed concerning non-biblical writings and their comparison to the New Testament manuscripts.

 

Date of New Testament Manuscripts vs. Non-Canonical Manuscripts

Without going in great depth pertaining to the comment of Hal Taussig, it should be noted that the New Testament manuscripts date well within the first-century, some including the Gospel of Mark and 1 Corinthians, date well into the early part of the first-century. Concerning the issue of copies and dating, Norman Geisler writes,

New Testament manuscripts are now available from the third and fourth centuries, and fragments that may date back as far as the late first century. From these through the medieval centuries, the text remained substantially the same. There are earlier and more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world. While most books exist in ten or twenty manuscripts dating from a thousand years or more after they were composed, one nearly entire manuscript, the Chester Beatty Papyri, was copied in about 250. Another manuscript with the majority of the New Testament, called Vaticanus, is dated to about 325 (Geisler BDCA 1999, 93).

The fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife dates to the “eighth-century” (Harvard.edu) which is far removed from the texts of the New Testament which date to the first-century. Even if the text came from an original dating to the fourth-century, it is far removed from the time of Jesus as opposed to the New Testament manuscripts which preserve early traditions and sayings of Jesus which some, as in the case of the formulation found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, date to the time of Christ.

 

Sects Surrounding New Testament Manuscripts vs. Sects Surrounding Non-Canonical Manuscripts

The key behind this discovery is learning more about early Christian sects…or those who claim to be “Christian.” In reality, the idea that Jesus was married is not a new. In an interview conducted by Kevin Emmert, non-canonical gospel scholar Nicolas Perrin states,

In the Coptic, the phrase really says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My woman…'” It could mean “woman” in the generic sense, but I think it just means his wife. The word is chime, which in this context, I think, means “wife.” And then it goes on to say, “she will be my disciple.” To me, this seems most reminiscent of another text dated to the third century AD, called The Gospel of Philip.

 

In the Gospel of Philip, there are intimations of Jesus being married, or at least having a partner. The Coptic term is a little ambiguous, at least regarding Mary. It’s a mysterious text, but what’s going on, to the best of our knowledge, in the Gospel of Philip is that Jesus and Mary are reconstituting a kind of mythic primeval androgyny. What the folks behind the Gospel of Philip are saying about Jesus is that he is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve. And the whole point about redemption is to get male and female together once again (in my interpretation), but this time without sexual intercourse.

 

I believe the Gospel of Philip represents a sect where men and women cohabitated and followed Jesus, but forbade sexual intercourse within what would otherwise be a marriage relationship. So the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment could give theological warrant to that (Emmert 2014, CT).

 

Everett Ferguson points out in his textbook on the history of Christianity,

 Asceticism in varying degrees of self-denial (in matters of marriage and diet) had been practiced by some Christians from the earliest days of the church…In contrast…early asceticism did not regard matter as evil…Many females adopted the ascetic life, something obscured by the fact that most of the literature was written by males for males (Ferguson 2005, 228).

With this knowledge, it would seem that groups less inclined to orthodoxy would pseudonymously write books that would verify their practices. This would seem to be the case with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as well as The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Thomas, and so on.

 

Conclusion:

Nothing is really proven by this finding other than the fact that there existed unorthodox versions of Christianity early in Christian history. What becomes problematic is when scholars and individuals purport such finding as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as being on equal par with the New Testament documents. Note that Karen King, the discoverer of the fragment, never makes such a claim. It is only those who wish to gain notoriety or lots of money from a scandal that ever claim as much. One must wonder about the level of scholarship and honesty from those who make such assertions. Someone once said, “Controversy creates cash.” It is unfortunate when such a mentality enters the realm of biblical scholarship. Perhaps the most scandalous of all is the reality that Christianity is built upon a firm foundation. For some, confirming the Christian message brings more ire and annoyance than claiming that defacing the American flag.

 

Bibliography

Boorstein, Michelle. “Harvard journal says ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ is ancient, not a modern forgery.” Washington Post.com. (April 10, 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/harvard-journal-says-gospel-of-jesus-wife-is-ancient-not-a-modern-forgery/2014/04/10/7b172910-c0f7-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Emmert, Kevin P. “How to date Jesus’ wife: New tests suggest a manuscript fragment is ancient after all…” Christianity Today.com. (April 11, 2014). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/gospel-of-jesus-wife-nicholas-perrin.html?paging=off. (Accessed April 14, 2014).

 

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume 1—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

 

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Harvard University. http://gospelofjesusswife.hds.harvard.edu/QA. (Accessed April 14, 2014).