Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Resurrection Response (Continued Discussion About the Resurrection of Jesus)

Wow, it's been a long time since I used the blog! My comments were getting kinda long, so I decided to blow the dust off and post my thoughts here. These are my thoughts related to a response by sidfaiwu on his blog regarding a recent episode Steve Sensenig and I recorded over at our podcast, Beyond the Box. I would recommend that you listen to the episode before reading all of the dialog that has happened since.

Hi Sid! I have really enjoyed following the conversation on your blog. I hope that this lengthy post can give you more of an idea of where I am coming from. I don’t like to look at this as a debate, but rather as a discussion. In a debate, there are only winners and losers and usually, everyone goes out of their way to make sure they are on the winning team. In a discussion, everyone can contribute something valuable and the point is simply to further our understanding of each other while possibly giving some food for thought. I would like to ask for your forgiveness in advance if my passionate tone in this discussion ever sounds preachy, etc. It is hard to express in written form what is in my heart regarding this subject. Well, I don’t know the best place to start, so I’m just gonna give it a go!

As we stated in the podcast, historical events are not repeatable and therefore, as you stated, first-hand accounts are one of the single greatest evidences we have to verify that something actually happened. As you noted, multiple sources are preferable as well in that they add weight to the claim that an event happened. I believe that you are incorrect Sid in saying that we have second-hand sources at best. Not only do we have first-hand eyewitness accounts contained within the Bible, but we have multiple eyewitnesses who attest to the same story (ie. Peter & John). As to an antagonistic witness testifying to the same events, we have the account of Saul of Tarsus later known as Paul the apostle after encountering the risen Christ on his way to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus. Now, some would say that these accounts can only be seen as a singular, monolithic witness to the resurrection, but this is where our modernistic view of the Bible needs to be challenged.

The 21st century concept of the Bible as a single book written by a single author is simply not correct. Instead, the New Testament alone contains 27 different eyewitness accounts and letters written by multiple authors over a period of 40-50 years. As to the veracity of these books I believe that we need to apply the same level of criticism that we do to any work of antiquity. However, it seems that the Bible has a tendency to be the most scrutinized book in human history. For example, we only know of 643 manuscripts of Homer’s “the Iliad” which is among the most famous of Greek works. In addition, we only know of 10 copies of Juluis Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” and the earliest copy we know of is from 1,000 years after it was written. In comparison, we now have over 5,300 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek alone which date back as early as the second century. Why is it that we are so easily convinced of the preservation of Homer’s words and yet so quick to dismiss the writings of the disciples in the first-century?

As stated in an earlier comment, it is true that written history is subjective and people do have a tendency to spin events in the direction that they choose. But, to get to the heart of an historical happening, we endeavor to separate the actual events from the author’s own private interpretation. I believe that we can also do this with the biblical record. Setting aside the notion of inspiration and simply looking at the gospel accounts at face value, I believe that we can still arrive at many of the same conclusions. For instance, there are several points on which most, if not all, historians and scholars would agree.
1. Jesus really died the death of a crucified criminal.
2. The tomb really was empty.
3. The disciples actually believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
4. Female followers of Jesus were the first of His disciples to discover the empty tomb.
5. The apostle Paul had at one time been a Pharisee within the Jewish religion who was bent on the destruction of the new “Jesus movement”.

I will try to speak briefly about each point. 1. Jesus really did die as a crucified criminal; of this there is little doubt. Not only do all four gospel writers tell us this, but so does the Jewish historian Josephus. 2. The tomb really was empty. This is pretty easy to accept given that, had it not been, the display of Jesus’ body would have been more than enough evidence for the Jewish leaders to squelch this new movement. 3. Jesus’ disciples actually believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. If they had stolen/hidden the body, why would they be willing to give up their earthly lives in spreading and ultimately dying for this message? This was the point I was trying to make in the podcast. I don’t believe that martyrdom alone brings any veracity to a truth claim. As Snurp stated earlier, martyrdom is simply proof of devotion, not of truth. However, what makes the martyrdom of the disciples unique is that they died not just for a belief, but for a claim that they had seen the empty tomb AND the resurrected Jesus. If this was not true, then we would have to say that they either died for something that they knew was not true (if they stole the body for instance), or that they had simply been deceived in masse into believing. For me, the second explanation is as problematic as the first. For the disciples to have all been deceived would mean that each of them were first of all lying, for they had not after all seen the resurrected Christ. This is highly unlikely given that each of these men/women went on to spread a movement which held at it’s foundation the highest ethical and moral standards. Wouldn’t at least one of them crack under the pressure? Also, if the disciples were deceived, what happened to the body? If the Jewish authorities did, why didn’t they produce the body when they wanted to stamp out the Jesus-movement? It is highly doubtful that the Romans would have stole the body. What would they stand to gain? 4. Female followers of Jesus were the first of His disciples to discover the empty tomb. This fact to me is simply brilliant! There is something known in biblical study as the “criterion of embarrassment”. This is the idea that if something occurs in the document in question that would be embarrassing to the author, or case that the author proposes, it’s probably true. In the first century women were not even considered as credible witnesses. From what I have heard, a woman’s testimony would not have been admissible in a court during this time. If the disciples were fabricating a legend of Jesus’ resurrection, why would they report that the first witnesses of the empty tomb and subsequently the resurrection of Jesus, were women, unless it were true? This would hardly have been preferable to a Gospel author who was trying to concoct a myth of Jesus’ resurrection. 5. The apostle Paul had at one time been a Pharisee within the Jewish religion who was bent on the destruction of the new Jesus-movement. Why would a man who was out to destroy the fledgling Jesus-movement have given up his identity, life, and the comfort of being a respected Jewish leader to wander around the Roman empire as a persecuted preacher of the resurrection of Jesus? He says it was because he encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. What did he or any of the disciples stand to gain by living and dying for a myth that they had invented?

I believe that these statements, taken together, produce a convincing case for the resurrection of Jesus. I understand why you disagreed with my statement in the podcast that skepticism is a position of faith just like Christianity. However, I still believe that this is true. Snurp asked what, then, this faith would be in. I believe that it is an expression of undying devotion to human reason as the only mediator of truth. I believe that human reason is a valuable tool, but it is only one fallible tool at our disposal to help us determine what is or is not true. I like what Snurp said, “I am also very much of the belief that there are untranslatable parts of the human experience”. I believe that this gets to the heart of the difference in our conclusions. I try to use reason to arrive at the most logical conclusion, but as far as it can take me, I always find myself arriving at a precipice at which point I must make a decision. Either I step out, not against but beyond where my reasoning has led me, or I continually remain skeptical, always looking for that one definitive piece of evidence that always seems to elude me. I believe that my faith is not illogical, but rather alogical—that is, not against, but beyond logic.

Finally, as to Sagan’s Balance, I don’t believe that this is a full-proof idea; not that I think you do either though. How did Sagan determine this? After all, if something supernatural happens, wouldn’t it be beyond our ability to apply the laws of reason and therefore beyond our ability to make the rules for? If God did something beyond our natural ability to comprehend, is He then obligated to leave us definitive, sensory evidence? However, I would like to introduce what, for me, has been an interesting idea in regard to Sagan’s Balance. Have you heard of the "Shroud of Turin"? It is believed by many that this is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. After decades of scientific study we still do not know how the image on the shroud got there or how to replicate it. What if the shroud is authentic, and therefore a supernatural “proof” of the resurrection of Jesus? My faith neither rises or falls on the shroud’s authenticity, but I have enjoyed watching multiple documentaries and reading articles on the internet about this enigmatic object, and am personally convinced of it’s authenticity. Could it be that we have had what Sagan demanded all along right under our noses? Food for thought?!?

Anyway, thank you everyone for putting up with my lengthy ramblings. One thing that I have never been accused of is being at a loss for words! Sid and everyone---I am grateful for your interaction and look forward to our continued dialog!