5 Views Pertaining to the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing nearing the Christmas season. However, every major Christian holiday is coupled with drawn-out attacks pertaining to the historicity of the event being celebrated. The resurrection of Christ takes center stage in this regard. How do people view the historicity of the events within the pages of the Bible?

I have been reading a fantastic work by Alister McGrath called Christian Theology. On pages 309 through 313, McGrath discusses 5 ways that people during the past few centuries have evaluated the historicity of the miraculous biblical claims. The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal miracle as it most relates to the viability of Christianity.

The Enlightenment View: The Resurrection as a Non-event

First, there is the view held by individuals in the days of the Enlightenment.[1] Individuals during the days of the Enlightenment, as least those accepting the popular claims of the time, viewed history with great skepticism, especially if that historical event is rooted in the miraculous. David Hume claimed that any miraculous event was impossible to prove and impossible to believe because the event did not represent what was the normal operation. Anything that operated beyond the scope of those things that are normally observed could not be proven, and, therefore, could not be accepted as fact.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was more lenient than Hume concerning miracles. However, he still did not view the miraculous as something that could be demonstrated as history. Lessing noted,

 “I do not for one moment deny that Christ performed miracles. But since the truth of these miracles has completely ceased to be demonstrable by miracles happening in the present, they are not more than reports of miracles…I deny that they could and should bind me to have even the smallest faith in the other teachings of Jesus.”[2]

Thus, Lessing, like Hume, did not accept the miraculous as a historical event due to Lessing’s belief that miracles did not continue to occur. Thereby demonstrating that miracles hold no legitimate claim to history, Lessing felt that faith in the teachings of Christ was invalid. Lessing and the views of those in the days of the Enlightenment were extreme. A less critical view was held by Strauss.

The View of David F. Strauss: The Resurrection as a Mythical Event

David Friedrich Strauss, in his work Life of Jesus, notes the “central importance [of the resurrection] to the Christian faith.”[3] However, due to the Enlightenment criticism of the miraculous, the resurrection is best seen as a myth according to Strauss. Strauss believed that the resurrection was the result of the disciples’ “social conditioning and cultural outlook”[4] more than a recollection of a real, historical event. Thus, while Strauss accepted that the disciples believed in some form of resurrection, the idea was more an allegory than an event found in reality. Strauss’ views would be picked up and expanded by a man who served as a predecessor to the modern, liberal Christian outlook—Rudolf Bultmann.

The View of Rudolf Bultmann: The Resurrection as a Mental Event

Bultmann, like Strauss before him, believed that miracles were impossible to accept in a scientific age. Miracles were not acceptable to modern, scientific minds according to Bultmann. Unfortunately, many accept Bultmann’s cynical prognosis. Because of this, Bultmann thought that the church must de-mythologize the Bible to keep Christianity relevant for modern minds. Otherwise, Christianity would fade away in the halls of history. So what does Bultmann do with the resurrection, the pivotal event of the Christian faith?

Bultmann accepted the resurrection as a “mythical event, pure and simple.”[5] Bultmann denotes,

“The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching which brings illumination. If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history.”[6]

In other words, Bultmann believed that the resurrection of Christ was not the literal bodily revivification that orthodox Christians accept. Rather, Bultmann thought that the resurrection of Christ was the continuation of the Christian message after Christ’s death. Taking Bultmann’s concept to its end, the body of Jesus still lay in a tomb. However, the message of the Christ continued. For Bultmann, that was the resurrection. Luckily, Bultmann’s beliefs did not represent all of Christianity. Karl Barth would legitimize the resurrection event where Bultmann and Strauss did not.

The View of Karl Barth: The Resurrection as a Faith Event

Karl Barth was amazed at the writings of Bultmann. Barth accepted the resurrection as a historical event. He emphasized the importance of an empty tomb, especially later in life. However, Barth did not place a lot of emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection event. Rather, he focused on the faith in the event which he thought was the emphasis of the early disciples. Barth did not so much question the historicity of the resurrection as much as he questioned the historical enterprise. Could anything be accurately demonstrated as historical? As McGrath notes, “Barth is left in what initially seems to be a highly vulnerable position. Concerned to defend the resurrection as an act in public history against Bultmann’s subjectivist approach, he is not prepared to allow that history to be critically studied.”[7] Another individual would take the historicity of the resurrection to another level—Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The View of Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Resurrection a Historical Event

Wolfhart Pannenberg accepted both the historicity of the resurrection event and the historicity of the events described in the Bible. Faith only makes sense if it is rooted in reality. Pannenberg writes,

“History is the most comprehensive horizon of Christian theology. All theological questions and answers have meaning only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity, and through humanity with the whole creation, directed towards a future which is hidden to the world, but which has already been revealed in Jesus Christ.”[8]

For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historical event. Because it was a historical event, it is open to the scrutinies of historical research. Therefore, the historian researching the resurrection event should approach the event without preconceived biases against the miraculous. The historian must be neutral. So which of these approaches best works with the miraculous events of Christ and Scripture in general?

Conclusion

Bultmann and Strauss are children of the Enlightenment. The views of the Enlightenment, Strauss, and Bultmann all find themselves in some form of a Humean philosophical presupposition (that is, the idea that miracles cannot occur because they are aberrations to the norm—stemming from secular humanist David Hume). However, just because something does not ordinarily occur does not indicate that the event could never occur.

For instance, the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years. People derived from the Cubs post-season performance that they would never win another World Series. Their presupposition was based upon the ordinary workings of the Chicago Cubs. Enter the 2016 Cubs team. The 2016 Cubs team defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series! Was their win a historical event? Absolutely! Had it normally happened? No.

Bultmann, Strauss, and the thinkers of the Enlightenment think either that God does not exist (e.g., Hume) or that God does not interact with the world in miraculous means (implied by Bultmann and Strauss). Therefore, their ideology is rooted in an anti-supernatural bias. For the record, Craig S. Keener has written a 2-volume work titled Miracles which reveals various modern day miracles performed in the name of Jesus. While miracles are not the norm, such an investigation divulges that they are not as uncommon as Humean thinkers suppose.

Karl Barth accepts the resurrection as a historical event. However, he exposes a critical weakness in his argument when claiming that such things cannot be demonstrated historically. Did the event truly happen? If so, then it stands to reason that the event actually occurred within space and time. If the event took place within space and time, then the event is historical. If the event is historical, then it can be historically scrutinized. Such an argument reveals the weakness in Barth’s view and the strength of Pannenberg’s.

I also take issue with Barth’s idea that the disciples only pleaded for faith in Christian adherents rather than acceptance of things taking place in history. Throughout the OT, one finds reminders of God’s deliverance of the people from the hands of Egypt. In addition, one finds reminders of the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Paul argues that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).[9] Paul directed the attention of the Corinthians back to the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Much more could be said, but I have far extended the length of most of my articles. So, let us conclude by saying that Christ’s resurrection is a historical event. Therefore, it should be possible to examine the resurrection from a historical perspective. The same is true for most miracles in the Bible.

 

© December 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] The Enlightenment is a period lasting from the 17th and 18th century found mainly in Europe. The period focused on importance of human reason, claiming that human reason could explain all things. Miracles and the sort were viewed with great skepticism. David Hume, the great secular humanist, lived in this period.

[2] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Uber den Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessings samtlichen Scrhriften, vol. 13, Karl Lachmann, ed (Berlin: Goschen’sche Verlagshandlung, 1897), 4-8, 20.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackburn, 2011), 310.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Basic Questions in Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm, trans (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] McGrath, 312.

[8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Redemptive Event and History,” in Basic Questions of Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

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Christianity and the Demise of Slavery

I have personally learned a lot this past week. I learned that having a flu in the summer time is not particularly enjoyable, as if it is fun any other time of the year. Having a 102-degree temperature while the heat index is 110 degrees outside is especially most dreadful (in case you were wondering). I also learned something of even greater value. I learned about the fascinating role Christianity has played in the demise of slavery. In fact, the Christian worldview should most certainly be accredited with the removal of the practice despite financial woes held by anti-Abolitionists. Many critics have claimed that the Christian Bible does not go far enough in speaking out against the horrible practices of human slavery. What I have found demonstrates quite the opposite. I have found two particularly interesting ways that Christianity led to the demise of slavery.

Christianity revolutionized the way slaves were viewed.

Critics often focus on the New Testament writer’s lack of reform as it pertained to the issue of slavery. Yet, how were the New Testament writers supposed to bring reform when most of them held no offices? For those Christians who knew people of notoriety, those individuals held positions in Jewish life. Jews were under the authority of the Roman Empire. So, exactly how were they to bring reform to the Roman Empire? Even if they by chance knew someone high in the Roman monarchy, how would the notion that all were equal in the eyes of God settle with a monarch who sought to keep people in check under his jurisdictional authority? They couldn’t.

Nevertheless, the message found in the New Testament was revolutionary in Greco-Roman times. The apostle Paul notes that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV). Yes, it should be noted that slavery was much different in ancient times than it was in Colonial America. With this in mind, it is still inconceivable that Paul would exclaim that slaves held the same position as freedmen in the body of Christ. This was a revolutionary concept. God had saved a people that included individuals from all walks of life. For that reason, he could proclaim that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, ESV). Equipped with a mindset of love for every person, later Christians would be led to destroy the very practice of slavery.

Christianity brought about the elimination of slavery’s practice.

Historian Rodney Starks writes the following:

“Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently ‘lost’ from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists” (Starks 2004, 291).

Timothy Keller adds, “When the abolitionists finally had British society poised to abolish slavery in their empire, planters in the colonies foretold that emancipation would cost investors enormous sums and the prices of commodities would skyrocket catastrophically. This did not deter the Abolitionists in the House of Commons” (Keller 2008, 65).

Thus, to answer the skeptics, while Christian Scriptures addressed the problem of slavery it its own way, it was in fact the ethics that flows out of the Christian worldview that led to the demise of the slave trade! Christianity also holds the answer to another kind of slavery: the slavery to sin. Freedom from that slavery can be found in the love and atonement offered by Christ Jesus.

© July 25, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Penguin, 2008.

Starks, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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.

 

 

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 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 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.

Top 5 Embarrassing Details Concerning the First Easter

i-am-the-resurrection-john-lautermilch

Everyone has a story that they may not appreciate being told. One would not want the particular story being told because the story is embarrassing to them. Most everyone has some embarrassing story in their life. For instance, I missed a step walking down the staircase of my porch and tripped. Before I checked to see if I was okay, I looked around to see if anyone witnessed my not-so-graceful fall. Isn’t it amazing how much we are concerned about looking good to others?

In the gospels, there are embarrassing stories that are presented concerning the events surrounding the disciples. These embarrassing stories hold great historical impact. Craig Evans writes,

Embarrassment: This criterion is easily misunderstood. All it means is that material that potentially would have created awkwardness or embarrassment for the early church is not likely something that a Christian invented sometime after Easter. ‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank (Evans 2006, 49).

I enjoy lists. David Letterman has his top-10 list. We will present a top-5 list. Let us now examine a top-5 list of embarrassing details concerning the Easter story.

 

Embarrassing Detail # 5:      Ignorance–The Disciples’ Ignorance Concerning the Scriptures

Several times in the Easter story, the disciples (the first proclaimers of the resurrection story) were presented as being somewhat dense concerning the things of God. For instance, Luke records,

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:45-49).

It would not be wise for someone promoting a story to present themselves as ignorant concerning the Scriptures, especially if the truths are based in the Scriptures. This embarrassing element promotes the authenticity of the Easter story.

 

Embarrassing Detail #4:       Doubt–The Disciples Struggled to Believe that Jesus Had Really Risen

The gospel writers present another embarrassing trait: the disciples doubted that Jesus had risen. Matthew writes, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17). John records the doubts of Thomas, the most famous doubter. But, it should be remembered that Thomas’ doubts subsided after seeing the risen Jesus. As a matter of fact, Thomas is said to have died “a martyr’s death on a mountain now called Mount Thomas in Mylopur, a suburb of Madras. His death was accomplished by piercing with a lance. A shrine erected by the Portuguese marks the sacred site” (McBirnie 2004, 124-125). While embarrassing, it is of enormous significance that none of the early Christian leaders denied having seen the risen Jesus. They were convinced as Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

 

Embarrassing Detail #3:       Burial–The Disciples Could Not Give Jesus a Proper Burial…Joseph of Arimathea Did

There is another embarrassing detail recorded by John.

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42).

Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. It appears that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, secret disciples of Jesus and members of the Sanhedrin, were probably not in attendance when Jesus was condemned. Even though they were secret disciples, the high priest probably only gathered enough to condemn Jesus and gathered the high priest’s closest constituents. Here is the embarrassing point: the disciples were unable to give Jesus a decent burial. Those from the very council that had condemned Jesus were the individuals who were able to grant Jesus a proper burial.

 

Embarrassing Detail #2:       Cowardice–The Disciples were Cowards…Except the Women

There is an extremely embarrassing truth presented in the Bible concerning the male disciples. Mark records,

But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled (Mark 14:47-50).

 The male disciples fled when Jesus was taken by the guard. However, the same is not true concerning another group of disciples…the women. Mark also records,

 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).

Now wait! We are speaking about a patriarchal society in which women were not valued very highly. Women held more worth in Judaist culture than in Greco-Roman culture. In the Greco-Roman culture, women were valued only slightly higher than a piece of cattle. Even in Jewish culture, the testimony of two women was necessary to validate something as true. A male testimony was held valid even if there was only one present. The early Christian men confessed that they had run in terror while the women stood strong…a most embarrassing detail for men of the first-century.

And the most embarrassing detail concerning Easter…

 

Embarrassing Detail #1:       Worst First Eye-Witness–A Woman Was the First to See Jesus Risen from the Dead

Who was the first person to see Jesus alive from the dead? It was a most unlikely person. John gives us the details.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).

 A woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead? Wait…wasn’t the testimony of one woman held in question in the first-century? Yet, this woman was chosen to be the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. Mary…a woman who perhaps held some form of past (Luke 8:2). Yet, this woman was the first to see Jesus alive from the dead. This was an incredible embarrassment for the church. However, it…like the rest of the embarrassing points…was presented in the gospels because it was true.

 religious-easter-wallpaper

Bibliography

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

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.

McBirnie, William Steuart. The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Revised Edition. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004.

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

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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).

The Case for the Ascension of Christ

ascension-jesus

Dislaimer: The following is a paper submitted by Pastor Brian Chilton to Liberty University. This paper has been scanned and admitted through “Safe Assign” and will be detected by any and all accredited universities and colleges. No part of this paper may be copied and pasted into another paper without giving credit to the author. Failure to do so may, and most likely will, cause the student to be charged with plagiarism by his/her respected school. Charges of plagiarism can result in academic probation and/or expulsion.

Introduction

Luke records a spectacular event towards the conclusion of his gospel and beginning of the book of Acts. That event is the ascension of Christ Jesus. The event holds that Jesus “left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Should the ascension of Christ be viewed as a necessary event based on a true historical event or should the event be viewed as an ecclesiastical invention? As the paper will show, some hold that the event is purely imaginary. Others hold that the ascension is a real event in space-time history. The paper will show that the ascension of Christ was a true and necessary event in church history. First the views concerning the ascension of Christ will be presented. Then, the paper will defend the ascension of Christ as a true and necessary event by arguing for the historical necessity of the ascension of Christ, the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ, and the eschatological necessity of the ascension of Christ.

 

Views Concerning the Ascension of Christ

            This section will seek to examine two primary views pertaining to the ascension of Christ. The secular view sees the ascension as an ecclesiastical invention formulated to present Jesus in a supernatural fashion. The evangelical view sees the ascension as a true event accurately recorded in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.

 The Secular View of the Ascension of Christ

The assault on the miraculous in the Bible has come in no small part by the acceptance of a skeptical worldview, termed in this paper as the secular view. David Hume and Benedict Spinoza are greatly responsible for influencing the modern culture towards skepticism. As Geisler writes, “Spinoza was rationalistic, and Hume was empirical. Differences notwithstanding, they shared the conclusion that it is unreasonable to believe in miracles. For Spinoza, miracles are actually impossible; for Hume, they are merely incredible.”[1] Such skepticism has pervaded the culture. For many, as Farneti points out, “…secularization is the overcoming of a previous condition in which religion controlled and dominated public life.”[2] For those like Daniel Dennett, the miraculous would not be possible due to the skeptic’s case-making against the existence of God. Farneti writes, “Dennett in particular mistakes the ‘sacred’ with ‘God,’ and his natural history of religion, which is meant to build a case against the existence of God…”[3] The secularist bases their research upon a materialist assumption that God does not exist and that miracles are not possible. Since the ascension teems with miraculous connotations, it would be rejected as an impossibility by the secularist.

The religious have been influenced by secularism. Rudolf Bultmann’s advocacy of the “demythologization” of the Bible (extracting any connotations of the miraculous from the Bible) has left an impression even among the religious. Geisler writes, “…Bultmann did not even open for consideration the assumption that the biblical picture of miracles is impossible. Such a view could no longer be held seriously.”[4] Kreeft and Tacelli demonstrate that some seek to take a middle ground, neither claiming that miracles are impossible nor claiming that the events of the Bible are historical “by interpreting the Gospel as myth—neither literally true nor literally false, but spiritually or symbolically true.”[5] Therefore, such a view could not evaluate the evidence of the ascension of Christ unbiasedly and neither could the materialist due to the presuppositions that exist against the miraculous. Since the ascension of Christ is a miraculous event, the secularist view is ill-equipped to fairly treat the issue of the ascension as a necessary historical event. However, there is a second approach which is more feasible.

 The Evangelical View of the Ascension of Christ

What this paper will term the evangelical view is shared among those who may not necessarily be considered evangelical in the sense of denominational affiliation. In fact, some Roman Catholics may fit this viewpoint. The term evangelical view is used in this paper to refer to those scholars and laymen alike that accept, or are open to, the ascension of Christ narrative as a historical event, despite the fact that such an event involves connotations of the miraculous. As Anthony Kelly writes, “The revelatory impact of the ascension cannot be separated from its occurrence as an event. Something happened; and when something of great significance happens, it possesses a singular and expanding impact.”[6] It was argued that those in the secularist camp could not view the ascension of Christ without a materialist and/or naturalist assumption. Therefore, those that fit the evangelical viewpoint, in the sense used in this paper, are able to evaluate the ascension better than those in the secularist camp. It is the evangelical viewpoint that is endorsed in this paper.

 

The Historical Necessity

            This section will evaluate evidence supporting the ascension as a historical event. Due to the ascension’s relationship to the resurrection of Christ, some of the arguments supporting the resurrection are also used to support the ascension. Walter Kasper writes, “People today will consider something historically true and real, if it is demonstrated to be historically credible and at least basically capable of objective verification.”[7] Can one know if the ascension is, as Kasper suggests, “credible” and “capable of objective verification”? Alistair Wilson correctly assesses that “Jesus was taken bodily. The various resurrection accounts by Luke emphasize Jesus’ bodily presence among his followers.”[8] Therefore, it must be demonstrated that Jesus resurrected bodily before the ascension can be presented as a historical event. In order to demonstrate the resurrection/ascension as a credible and verifiable historical event, it will be necessary to evaluate the internal evidence for the New Testament traditions belonging to or based upon eyewitness testimony and it will be necessary to examine the external evidence for the resurrection/ascension as historical events.

 Internal Evidence

Can the information contained within the New Testament be trusted? The internal evidence for the New Testament is strong. The New Testament presents Jesus and the events surrounding Him in a timeframe that fits history. Evans writes, “When the Gospels tell us things that cohere with what we know of Jesus’ historical circumstances and principal features of his life and ministry, it is reasonable to believe that we are on solid ground.”[9] In addition, Evans demonstrates that there are embarrassing features which are presented in the New Testament. These features would not be presented unless they were, in fact, true. For example, Evans writes,

‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank…The story as we have it preserved in Matthew and Luke gives historians confidence that it faithfully and accurately reports the exchange between John and Jesus and is not a later Christian fiction.[10]

There are, indeed, embarrassing details in the resurrection/ascension story. First, the fact that Mary Magdalene was the first to meet Jesus after the resurrection is embarrassing due to the fact that women were not highly esteemed in the time that the Gospels were written (John 20:11-18). Second, Matthew states that even after Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection that “they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). If one were to present a myth, it is doubtful that the presenter would claim to have doubted what was being presented unless it was true.

Also, some texts within the New Testament date to the earliest times of the church. Within the text of the New Testament, ancient creeds and hymns are found. Interestingly enough, particular creeds mention Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Gary Habermas writes, “Two examples of such early creeds were mentioned earlier with regard to the life of Jesus. In 1 Timothy 3:16, it is proclaimed that, after his incarnation, Jesus was ‘taken up in glory.’ In Philippians 2:6ff, it is related that after Jesus humbled himself as a man, he was highly exalted and is to be worshipped by all persons (2:9-11)[11].”[12] The fact that these creeds date early in the life of the church show that the ascension was not a late legendary development, but that it is early enough to have been based upon eyewitness testimony. Not only are there internal reasons for holding to the resurrection/ascension stories, there are external reasons as well.

 External Evidence

There are reasons to believe that the information given in the New Testament comes from eyewitness testimony. William Lane Craig provides examples of early documents which attribute the Gospels to eyewitness testimony,

The extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors,…testimony from the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, all the way up to Eusebius in A.D. 315….Theophilus, Hippolytus, Origen, Quadratus, Irenaeus, Melito, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Tatian, Caius, Athanasius, Cyril…..Even Christianity’s opponents conceded this: Celsus, Porphyry, Emperor Julian.[13]

The most ardent skeptic must ignore a mountain of resources in order to claim that the Gospel traditions were based upon non-eyewitness testimony. It is suspected that if the resurrection/ascension stories did not include miraculous elements that no serious scholar would ever deny their authenticity. Even still, there is a realm of agreement with serious scholars on the life of Christ including a minimal agreement in that some mysterious action occurred on the first Easter Sunday.

Most serious scholars agree on five core essentials of the life of Christ. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona call these the “minimal facts approach.” Habermas and Licona write,

The ‘minimal facts approach’ considers only those historical data that are so strongly attested that virtually all scholars who study the subject grant them as facts, even the majority of non-believing scholars…We have seen that (1) Jesus died to crucifixion…(2) the original disciples sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them…(3) We have credible testimony from one enemy of Christianity and (4) one skeptic, both of whom converted to Christianity based on their beliefs that the risen Jesus has appeared to them…Moreover, (5) the tomb was empty, a fact totally consistent with a resurrection.[14]

When even the skeptic admits that the early Christians witnessed something mysterious that first Easter morning, it can be agreed that there exist compelling reasons for holding to the resurrection as a historical reality. If the resurrection is a historical reality, as the internal and external evidence suggests, then the ascension is totally compatible as a true historical event. It could be argued that since the risen Jesus is not still walking on planet earth (although Jesus’ risen state is much different than Jesus’ pre-resurrection state), then something like an ascension event must have transpired. Not only is there a historical necessity for the ascension of Christ, there is also a theological necessity.

 

The Theological Necessity

            It could be argued by the secularist that since Luke wrote most extensively about the ascension that the story was a Lukan invention. However, there are other non-Lukan references that record the ascension as a historical reality. This section will identify those non-Lukan passages of Scripture and demonstrate the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ.

 Paul’s Reference to the Ascension

Paul addresses the ascension of Christ in several places. Nathan Brasfield writes,

In Paul’s letters, the most vivid reflection on Christ’s ascension is Eph 4:8–10. Paul applies a portion of the coronation in Psa 68 to describe Christ reigning over the church and distributing gifts to the body. In a style similar to John, Paul also directly connects Christ’s descent with His ascension (ἀναβαίνω, anabainō): “for above all the heavens.” Paul says that through this ascension, Christ becomes omnipresent—He “fills all things.” For Paul, Christ abides in heaven (Eph 6:9; see Phil 1:23) from where He will return (Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:16–17; 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Cor 11:26).[15]

Quoting Psalm 68:18, Paul writes that Jesus “ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people” (Ephesians 2:8). While eschatological implications will be addressed in the next section, it should be noted that Paul shows a link between Christ’s resurrection and ascension with the inheritance of God’s people in the world to come. N. T. Wright suggests that “Ephesians 1.3-14 is, among other things, a retelling of the exodus story. This leads Paul to a celebration, in prayer, of the present position of the church as it awaits this full inheritance (1.15-23).”[16] It is the resurrection and ascension of Christ that brings forth the assurance of this inheritance. Therefore, the ascension is a theological necessity. If Jesus were still walking the face of the earth without having entered into the heavenly dimension, the assurance of the saints’ inheritance would not be confident. Now that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the inheritance of the saints is a certainty.

 John’s Reference to the Ascension

John is another Gospel writer that refers to the ascension. Mark could be included, however the authenticity of the ascension reference in Mark is debated (Mark 16:19). Contrasted with Luke’s reference to the ascension, John’s reference to the ascension is not found in a narrative, but in a teaching. Jesus is quoted as saying, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). The identification with the ‘Son of Man’ draws implications from the ‘Son of Man’ figure in Daniel 7:13-14. Marie Farrell demonstrates that “New Testament passages written with post-resurrection faith and well after the Ascension and Pentecost, frequently drew upon the figure of the ‘Son of Man’…found in the Book of Daniel in order to establish that the ministry of Jesus revealed his divine origins and power.”[17] While this writer believes that John accurately recorded Jesus’ teaching, it is understood that the ascension event would have impressed the teaching upon the mind of the evangelist. The ascension event would have clearly connected Jesus the Messiah with the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel 7. Joseph Fitzmeyer asserts that the relation of Johannine reference to the ascension is so strong that “it would be a transit from cross to glory without an allusion to the resurrection. Even though the final redaction of the Johannine Gospel postdates the Synoptic Gospels, it clearly contains many early Christian traditional affirmations which have developed independently of the Synoptic tradition.”[18] This reference in John serves to provide another reference outside of Luke that refers to the ascension of Christ. Also, the ascension event is presented as a theological necessity as it implies the divine nature of the Messiah.

 The Writer of Hebrews’ Reference to the Ascension

The identity of the writer of Hebrews remains a mystery. Some accept that Paul was the writer. However, the identity of the author greatly remains a matter of speculation. David Allen suggests “that Luke wrote Hebrews from Rome after the death of Paul and before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Scriptural evidence for this thesis can be adduced upon a correlation of the statements made in the Pastoral Epistles with the text of Hebrews.”[19] If this is the case, then the reference to the ascension in Hebrews cannot be examined as an extra-Lukan reference. However, it should be noted that any speculation pertaining to the identity of the writer of Hebrews is just that: speculation. Although Allen makes a strong case for Lukan authorship for Hebrews, it is far from conclusive. Therefore, any reference to the ascension of Christ must be treated as an extra-Lukan source.

A reference is made to the ascension of Christ in stating that after Christ provided purification for humanity’s sins, that “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). Although the atonement does not necessarily dictate that the ascension must occur, it only follows that the ascension would take place due in part to the divine nature of Jesus. The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven after the atonement for sins demonstrates Jesus’ ultimate office as high priest. Because Jesus is the high priest, individuals can now “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood would indicate the ascension’s necessity.

 Peter’s Reference to the Ascension

Simon Peter also addresses the ascension in his writings. Even if one does not ascribe to Petrine authorship of 1 and 2 Peter as does this writer, the skeptic can still appreciate the notion that these letters represent a different source for the ascension’s authenticity. In 1 Peter, two references allude to the ascension of Christ. Peter indicates of Jesus that God “raised him from the dead and glorified him…” (1 Peter 1:21). Later in the book, the author states that one is saved “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand…” (1 Peter 3:21b-22). While the term “glorified” would naturally seem to indicate the ascension, the second reference removes all doubt. Thomas R. Schreiner states,

Peter picked up again the word “has gone” (poreutheis), emphasizing Jesus’ ascension after his resurrection. The same term in v. 19, I argued, also refers to Jesus’ triumph over demonic powers after his death and resurrection. The emphasis here is on Jesus’ entrance into heaven and rule at God’s right hand. The reference to the right hand recalls Ps 110:1, where David’s Lord sits at Yahweh’s right hand and rules. [20]

1 Peter indicates that the Messiah was victorious and that the resurrection and ascension verified the Messiah’s authority over all other entities. Craig Keener would agree with this assessment of 1 Peter 3:22 in that “the evil powers behind the rulers who persecuted Christians had been subdued, and the final outcome was not in question.”[21] Therefore, the ascension becomes a theological necessity in establishing the authority of Christ. In this regard, the ascension delivers a great deal of hope and encouragement for the Christian who may have been overwhelmed by the pressures and persecutions brought forth by their faith. As J. I. Packer writes, “So the message of the Ascension story is: “Jesus the Savior reigns!”[22] The ascension is naturally understood if one accepts Jesus’ divine reign. It becomes a given that a king would assume his throne. The ascension would be such an event.

This section has focused upon the Scriptural references that demonstrate the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ being a real event. Needless to say, the theology built around the ascension of Christ would be moot if the ascension had in fact not taken place. Another reason exists for the ascension of Christ being a necessary and authentic event; the eschatological necessity.

 

The Eschatological Necessity

            The end time views held by the early church supports the belief that Jesus had ascended. This section will evaluate some of the references of Christ’s return as it relates to the assumption that Christ had already ascended. The paper will examine John 14 as it relates to the preparation of a heavenly home, which seems to refer to the ascension; 1 Corinthians 15:20ff , and the return of Christ references in 1 Thessalonians and Revelation 22; and finally the paper will examine an early Christian hymn recorded in Philippians 2:9ff.

John 14:3

Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Granted that Jesus lived, Jesus died, and Jesus rose again with an eternal body, it must be asked as Wilson does, “where is Jesus now? Simply, he is in heaven…”[23] Jesus promised that an ascension to heaven would be made in order to secure that believers would have a place prepared for them in heaven. While different interpretations exist as to the precise meaning of John 14:3, most relate the text with the parousia such as Gundry who also considers that, as Borchert suggests, “the passage highlights the coming of the Spirit as encompassed within the idea of the coming of Jesus.”[24] When it comes to eschatology, Christ must have ascended in order to prepare the place for believers and in order to come back to receive them.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Paul shows that in Jesus “all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:22b-23). The term “firstfruits” is the key in understanding this passage. Wright suggests that “Paul explains both that his resurrection is the beginning of a larger harvest and how that harvest will be accomplished.”[25] Farrell also states that “‘First fruits’, of course, are not the fully ripened harvest, but they do give the promise and pledge of the whole…Harvest imagery expresses well the joyful hope that we hold for our personal destiny and the destiny of the created universe.”[26] If resurrection was understood as Wright suggests in that resurrection was “a way of describing something everyone knew did not happen: the idea that death could be reversed, undone, could (as it were) work backwards,”[27] then it could be argued that the ascension was assumed. Christ who had defeated death was not currently present on earth, with the exception of being present in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if Christ was to bring forth a resurrection, was the first fruits of that resurrection, and was understood as reversing death, the absence of Christ’s physical presence dictates that Christ must have entered another dimension of existence. That would necessitate the ascension event.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Revelation 22:20

The return of Christ necessitates Christ’s ascension. When Paul addresses the return of Christ, Paul states that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The descent down to receive the church necessitates that Christ must have first gone up. The participation of an ascension event for the church is presented as the church “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17a). Such an event would have only made sense to the readers if there existed an understanding of Christ’s own ascension. Wright states that “These references to Jesus returning imply that Jesus presently exercises a heavenly reign from which he returns to earth, and while, in most cases, there is no clear indication of how he came to be there we cannot have the return of Jesus without the ascension.”[28] The belief that Christ would return is entrenched in the New Testament so much that the last verses of the New Testament ends with the promise. Jesus states “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20a) to which John responds “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20b). Concerning Revelation 22:20, Paige Patterson writes, “There follows a prayer voiced heavenward, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ John’s heart is ready, and he is eager for the return of Christ.”[29] Therefore, if one views the method of Jesus’ return as presented by the New Testament writers, the ascension of Jesus is assumed.

Philippians 2:9-10

The final Scripture that will be evaluated in this paper is based upon an early hymn. The hymn is found in Philippians 2. For the purposes of this paper, only two verses will be examined. Paul records the hymn as saying, “…God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-10). Brasfield states that Paul “cites material commonly considered to be early hymns about Christ, which may refer to the ascension. In Philippians 2:9, after describing Christ’s humbleness to death on a cross, the hymn declares that God “highly exalted” (ὑπερυψόω, hyperypsoō) Him.”[30] There are a couple of important points that can be made concerning Philippians 2:9-10. First, the fact that this is an early hymn and addresses the ascension, from the mention of Jesus’ glorification, demonstrates that the ascension event is not based upon later legendary development rather upon the testimony of the earliest Christians. Second, as it relates to this section, the ascension of Christ is important in developing an understanding of the victory of Christ. Because Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of God, Christ has assured the final victory identified in Revelation 20.

 

Conclusion

Should the ascension of Christ be viewed as a necessary event based on a true historical event or should the event be viewed as an ecclesiastical invention? This paper has argued for the evangelical view in that the ascension was a real event and not the product of myth or legend. It has been shown that the evidences provided for the ascension of Christ is associated with the defenses provided for the resurrection of Christ. Internal and external evidences suggest that the New Testament record is authentic and trustworthy. Due to multiple documents suggesting that Jesus resurrected and ascended verifies, at the least, that a commonly known event was presupposed. The paper also presented theological and eschatological doctrines from several biblical passages that demonstrate the necessity of an ascension event. If the ascension of Christ did not take place, the passages listed in this paper would hold little or, as in some cases, no applicable value. Since the church was built upon a spectacular event in the resurrection of Christ, it should not be a huge surprise that an ascension event would follow. The details of the ascension will most certainly be debated. Did Jesus enter a different dimension? Was a three-tiered cosmology implied as suggested by liberal theologians? These questions deserve further research. However, whatever happened with the ascension can be debated because the ascension was a necessarily true event.

 

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Allen, David L. Hebrews, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 12–21, Vol. 25B. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

Brasfield, Nathan. “Ascension of Christ.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz. Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2012.

Craig, William Lane. Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection. Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988. In Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Cullman, Oscar. The Earliest Christian Confessions. Translated by J.K.S. Reid. London: Lutterworth, 1949. In Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press, 1996.

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.

Farneti, Roberto. “A Political Theology of the Empty Tomb: Christianity and the Return of the Sacred.” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 55, 116 (June 2008): 22-44. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

Farrell, Marie T. “Christ in Glory: The Ascension of Jesus.” Compass 46, 4 (Summer 2012). Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The ascension of Christ and Pentecost.” Theological Studies 45, 3 (September 1984): 409-440. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Geisler, Norman L. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

_______________.  Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 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: College Press, 1996.

Kasper, Walter. Jesus the Christ, New Edition. New York: T&T Clark, 2011.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.

Kelly, Anthony. “The Ascension: Recollecting the Experience.” Australian E-Journal of Theology 20, 2 (August 2013): 81-93. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

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

Packer, J. I. Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994.

Patterson, Paige. Revelation, vol. 39, The New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 2012.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.

Wilson, Alistair. “Christ Ascended for Us—’The Ascension: What is it and why does it matter?’.” Evangel (2007): 48-51. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1]Norman L. Geisler, “Hume, David,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999), 342.

[2] Roberto Farneti, “A Political Theology of the Empty Tomb: Christianity and the Return of the Sacred,” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 55, 116 (June 2008): 25.

[3] Ibid, 26.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, “Miracles, Myth and,” In The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 350.

[5]Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 188.

[6]Anthony Kelly, “The Ascension: Recollecting the Experience,” Australian E-Journal of Theology 20, 2 (August 2013): 85.

[7]Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, New Edition (New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 118.

[8] Alistair Wilson, “Christ Ascended for Us—’The Ascension: What is it and why does it matter?’,” Evangel (2007): 50.

[9]Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IVP, 2006), 48.

[10] Ibid, 49.

[11] Oscar Cullman, The Earliest Christian Confessions, trans. J.K.S. Reid (London: Lutterworth, 1949),55,57-62; in Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 151.

 [12] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 151.

[13] William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988), 194; in Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 194.

[14] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 149.

[15] Nathan Brasfield, “Ascension of Christ,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Logos Bible Software.

[16] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 236.

[17] Marie T. Farrell, “Christ in Glory: The Ascension of Jesus,” Compass 46, 4 (Summer 2012): 30.

[18] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The ascension of Christ and Pentecost,” Theological Studies 45, 3 (September 1984): 412.

[19] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 48.

[20] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 197.

[21] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 718.

[22] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 64.

[23] Wilson, 50.

[24] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 106.

[25]N. T. Wright, 334.

[26] Farnell, 33.

[27] N. T. Wright, 33.

[28]Wilson, 49.

[29] Paige Patterson, Revelation, vol. 39, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 385–386.

[30] Brasfield, Logos Bible Software.

What Camels Teach Us About the Necessity of Apologetics

camels-444-8 It seems that the modern media seeks to undermine the integrity of the Bible or at least create some form of controversy related to the claims of the Bible. This also goes for segments of scholarship. When it comes to biblical scholarship, there are two varieties: progressive or materialists (researchers more willing to dismiss biblical claims…primarily for political and religious reasons due to the fact that the materialist cannot accept miraculous claims), and evangelical or traditional (those seeking to find truth while willing to accept biblical claims).

 Recently, an article was posted on CNN.com and other news outlets proclaiming that recent evidence has dismissed the Bible’s claims that the patriarch’s owned herds of camels. The book of Genesis states, “And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:15-16, NIV). Note: Abram was given camels while in Egypt. Egypt was known for having camels at a very early time. Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures recently claimed to have “used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate from the 12th to the 9th century BCE” (AFTAU.org). If true, this would create a problem with the biblical testimony as the text indicates that Abram owned some camels far earlier than the 9th century BC. Abraham must be dated at least in the 14th century BC (Elwell and Beitzel 1988, 450-451).

Evangelical archaeologist Ted Wright of Southern Evangelical Seminary shows that such an interpretation is not necessary. Wright states, …yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives” (Wright 2014). Wright also quotes Juris Zarins in that, “From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport(Wright 2014). The 2200-1200 BC range fits well within the time of Abraham and the patriarchs.

Other scholars are skeptical, too. Gordon Govier reports, Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC. Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC)” (Govier 2014, www.christianitytoday.com).

Quite frankly, such reports are not surprising. There is a war within biblical historical studies. Some findings, such as evidence purporting King David’s and King Solomon’s palace have been withheld due to political strains. Not too terribly long ago, Professor Yosef Garfinkel announced the discovery of objects in the ruins of Khirbet Qeiyafa that confirmed the religious practices of Israel during the reign of King David (Gedalyahu 2012, www.israelnationalnews.com). Therefore, such findings should be taken with a grain of salt. When the big picture is seen, the evidence normally authenticates the biblical record.

The camel conundrum shows the necessity of apologetics (defending the faith) in modern Christianity. As Peter instructs, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). It is important to be able to defend the truth of God’s word. Jesus defended the truthfulness of His ministry. The apostle Paul defended the truth of the gospel. We need to stand firm being able to defend the truth, as well. The mind must be open to the truth before the heart will respond. This is something that even camels might just appreciate.

Blessings,

Pastor Brian

 Bibliography

 Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 450–451.

Gedalyahu, Tzvi Ben. “Evidence of Canaanite Jewish rituals in reign of King David.” IsraelNationalNews.com (February 8, 2012). http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/155579#.Uv7nlPldWa8. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

Govier, Gordon. “The latest challenge to the Bible’s accuracy: Abraham’s anachronistic camels.” Christianity Today.com (February 14, 2014). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/latest-challenge-bible-accuracy-abraham-anachronistic-camel.html?&visit_source=facebook. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 14, 2014).

Scripture identified as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Scripture identified as (NKJV) comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Wright, Ted. “Getting over a hump: Does the lack of camel bones disprove the historicity of the biblical patriarchs?” CrossExamined.org. (February, 2014). http://crossexamined.org/blog/. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

Zarins, Juris. “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6. In Ted Wright. Wright, Ted. “Getting over a hump: Does the lack of camel bones disprove the historicity of the biblical patriarchs?” CrossExamined.org. (February, 2014). http://crossexamined.org/blog/. (Accessed February 14, 2014).