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Evidence for the Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15 provides significant evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, especially because it was written in the 50s of the first century, a mere twenty years after the events it tells about.

Paul writes "that he [Jesus] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter..." This appearance is also referred to in Luke 24:34 and apparently took place on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead.

Secondly, Paul writes that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. "The Twelve" was the designation for Jesus' first disciples who became apostles. Of course, Judas did not continue as an apostle; another was chosen to take his place. This appearance to the Twelve took place on the first Sunday evening after Jesus' resurrection and is recorded in Luke 24:36-43 as well as John 20:19-23. It is significant, I think, that Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish in the presence of his disciples, thus showing that he rose in a body.

Next, we read in 1 Corinthians 15:6, "After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." We do not know exactly when this appearance took place. But think about this....

I preached a sermon on this topic back when O. J. Simpson was on trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. What would people have thought if 500 witnesses were presented each saying that they saw OJ do the deed? Would there have been any doubt of his guilt?

Yet, Paul says there were 500 people, most of whom were still living at the time of his writing, who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion. Either Paul was telling the truth or he was lying. But if he was lying we must ask: why would anyone die for something he knew was a lie? Paul eventually gave up his life because of his belief in the resurrection of Jesus. So did many others among the first followers of Jesus. Why would they do this if they knew that Jesus was lying dead in his grave? Furthermore, if Paul was lying, anyone could have asked him to present just one of his supposed witnesses to Jesus' resurrection and if he could not do it his message would have been completely discredited. The Church of Jesus Christ never would have been born, there never would have been any Christians, if the resurrection of Jesus simply did not happen.

Tomorrow we will take a look at the life of a "hostile" witness to the resurrection. Can you guess who it is?


Gary said…
For every other alleged historical event we determine its historicity by examining contemporaneous, corroborating, independent testimony from two or more known sources along with any available archaeological evidence.

The Resurrection of Jesus has no such supporting evidence. To believe that this supernatural event occurred, one must suspend belief in the laws of nature and in the rules of evidence to believe it.

This alleged event can only be believed by faith.
Will Vaus said…
Hi Gary,

Thanks for your comment. Allow me the opportunity to unpack and respond to each important point you have made....

First of all you said, "For every other alleged historical event we determine its historicity by examining contemporaneous, corroborating, independent testimony from two or more known sources along with any available archaeological evidence."

I wonder, do we have such for Plato or any other ancient writers? The earliest manuscript evidence of the New Testament (papyri) date back to the second century. The oldest manuscript evidence we have for Plato and other ancient authors is much more distant, hundreds of years distant, from the time when they supposedly wrote.

Establishing the historicity of the New Testament, or any other events from ancient history, is far more complicated than the process you outline, which only works well for more recent historical events. As is the case with most ancient stories, the events of the New Testament were passed on first orally. But relatively soon, the good news the first Christians were talking about was written down. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the 50s of the first century. That gives us the first written account of the resurrection. The Gospels came later, but they were all written down within the first century when people who could have disputed the tale were still walking around. As C. S. Lewis has written, the Church never would have come into existence if the first Christians had not gotten others to believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. And of course in the New Testament itself we have more than two or three independent witnesses attesting to the resurrection. I believe the case for the historicity of the resurrection has been best formulated by N. T. Wright in his book, "The Resurrection of the Son of God". But you must be willing to wade through its 800 or so pages to give a fair evaluation of the case.

Secondly, you say, "The Resurrection of Jesus has no such supporting evidence."

Not true, as I have pointed out above. Your assumption seems to be that there is no eye-witness evidence in the sources used by Paul and the evangelists. If that is your assumption, that seems to me to also involve a huge leap of faith, but not in line with the evidence, rather against it.

> To believe that this supernatural event occurred, one must suspend belief in the laws of nature and in the rules of evidence to believe it.

No, I don't think so. C. S. Lewis has given the best explanation of the Christian position regarding miracles and their relation to the laws of nature in his book, "Miracles". And certainly there have been lawyers, like Frank Morison, who have clearly understood the rules of evidence, sought to disprove the resurrection, and ended up believing that it really happened.

Thirdly, you say, "This alleged event can only be believed by faith."

I am not sure about your final conclusion. If Jesus was indeed raised bodily from the grave and the Roman soldiers guarding his grave saw him (as is suggested by Matthew) was his resurrection a proposition they accepted by faith, or by evidence? I think it was the latter. Throughout the New Testament, faith is presented as something to be posited in the person of Jesus Christ, not in his resurrection per se.

Of course, there is no categorical proof of the resurrection in a scientific sense because it was a one time historical event and not something subject to being re-run in such a way that we can examine if scientifically. But this is not the same as saying that the historical evidence does not point in a certain direction. Granted, after examining the evidence, different people will come up with different conclusions whether rightly or wrongly.
Gary said…
Every time I request the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from a Christian blogger or pastor, the first thing they do is refer me to some apologist's book. Dear Christian friend, if it takes an entire book to prove that your first century miracle happened, it most probably didn't.

Open your eyes, friends. You wouldn't read a Mormon apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe Joseph Smith's supernatural claims. You wouldn't read a Muslim apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe Mohammad's supernatural claims. And you wouldn't read a Hindu apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe the supernatural claims of the Hindu gods.

Nope. You would expect the person making the supernatural claim to give you sufficient evidence within a five minute conversation...unless that supernatural claim is YOUR supernatural claim...then you expect us all to read your apologist's book to believe it.

Something's fishy, folks.
Will Vaus said…
Once again Gary, thank you for your comment, and allow me the opportunity to respond point by point.

You say, "Every time I request the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from a Christian blogger or pastor, the first thing they do is refer me to some apologist's book. Dear Christian friend, if it takes an entire book to prove that your first century miracle happened, it most probably didn't."

First off, I have given evidence for the resurrection, in a fairly brief fashion, in my blog. Obviously, you were not satisfied with that. Thus, I suggested some lengthier treatments of the subject. But I can hardly agree with your proposition that "if it takes an entire book to prove that your first century miracle happened, it most probably didn't." I have already said why I do not think "proof" is possible. The resurrection of Jesus is not like a science experiment we can re-run in a laboratory. So we must look at the historical evidence. To my mind, something as momentous as the claimed resurrection of Jesus is worthy of the most detailed examination possible. And the event has been so examined over the past 2000 years. If you are interested in investigating it, there is plenty to read. If you are not interested, then I wonder what makes you read blogs like mine and others?

Secondly, you say: "Open your eyes, friends. You wouldn't read a Mormon apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe Joseph Smith's supernatural claims. You wouldn't read a Muslim apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe Mohammad's supernatural claims. And you wouldn't read a Hindu apologist's book to decide whether or not to believe the supernatural claims of the Hindu gods."

You are probably right on this point. I would not read any of those books. But part of the reason for that is because I have started with what seems to me the greater miracle (the resurrection of Jesus) and having concluded that it really happened, I have chosen to follow him. Do any of these other religions really have historical claims such as we have in Christianity--a person walking around doing and saying things that only God gets to do and say in the Scriptures, and rising up from the dead?

Thirdly, you say: "Nope. You would expect the person making the supernatural claim to give you sufficient evidence within a five minute conversation...unless that supernatural claim is YOUR supernatural claim...then you expect us all to read your apologist's book to believe it."

I would NOT expect to understand everything that is important about Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism or any other religion in a five minute conversation with one of its adherents.

I do not expect you to do anything. In fact, it does not surprise me that you are seemingly unwilling to read N. T. Wright or any of the other books I have suggested. But again, this raises for me the questions: Why are you reading my blog or others like it anyway if you are not interested in this subject? And if you are interested, then why not read more about it? If you have already come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then why not spend what precious little time you have in this life on something you deem more worthwhile?
Gary said…
I did read NT Wright. All 800+ pages. His basic argument is that no Jew would believe that a dead man would be resurrected before the general resurrection of all the righteous.

Well. They didn't believe. The overwhelming majority of Jews did not believe. The fact that a few uneducated Galilean peasants did is not surprising.

Today's Jews don't seem to find it odd that a few uneducated, first century Jews would follow a false messiah, so why should Christians claim that the only reason they believed is because Jesus did rise again??
Will Vaus said…
Good for you, Gary, reading all 800 plus pages of "The Resurrection of the Son of God"! I imagine not many have waded all the way through it. It has been a while since I have read Wright's book, but it seems to me you are missing an important bit of his argument. Yes, Wright does point out that first century Jews did not expect one man to rise in the middle of earth's history, though some first century Jews did expect the general resurrection at the end of time. But Wright's point is then to raise the question, where did the writers of the New Testament get the idea of Jesus' resurrection if it did not happen? The Greeks thought Paul's idea of the resurrection strange (Acts 17) so the idea did not come from there. And if this idea did not come from the Jews, where did it come from? And if some first century Jews made up this story, why would they do so?
Gary said…
People have come up with bizarre, new, ideas from the beginning of time. Did Jesus tell his disciples that he would die and come back from the dead? If so, why should we be surprised that some of them came to believe it had really happened?

Will Vaus said…
Yes, people have had bizarre ideas over the course of history. And if Jesus told his disciples he would rise from the dead, we should not be surprised that they thought or believed it happened. But why would those same disciples give up their lives because of that belief unless they had actually seen Jesus risen from the dead?
Gary said…
Do you have proof that the did, or only Catholic tradition?
Will Vaus said…
I am not sure, Gary, what you would accept as proof that the first disciples were martyred because of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Martyrdom was so central to the early Christian experience that we get from the Greek word our word for witness.

The book of Acts mentions the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, son of Zebedee. I think the others are mentioned by Eusebius. And I believe James is mentioned also by Josephus.

Of course, what you are doing, it seems to me, is suggesting an alternative narrative to what we have in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. But your alternative narrative has no basis in history that I can see. What other ancient documents do we have denying the resurrection and providing an alternative narrative as to how the Church arose? And by ancient I mean first century.
Gary said…
The death of James is mentioned by Josephus, but what does that prove? A member of a minority religious sect is killed. That's it.

If you have a statement for how any other of the Eleven died, please provide it as I have never seen it.

As far as I am aware, there is zero mention in any historical account of one of the Eleven being executed because he refused to recant seeing the resurrected Jesus.

Many people have been executed for being members of a new religious sect. That doesn't prove that their beliefs are true.
Will Vaus said…
Here is one online listing of each of the apostles and the circumstances of their deaths with some sources noted:

The thing is, the Christian "sect," as you call it, would not have existed without belief in Jesus as Messiah and the early followers of Jesus would not have continued believing in him as Messiah without the resurrection. Throughout the New Testament, this is a defining belief of Christians. So what did they give up their lives for if not this? Resurrection cannot be separated from the belief of these early Christians.

But Gary, while I continue to try to answer your questions, you seem to completely ignore mine. Let me reiterate my most recent question: since you obviously don't believe that the Gospels provide a reliable historical account of early Christianity, what alternative narrative explanation for the rise of Christianity do you have to offer from the first century?
Gary said…
I will review the link you gave me and comment in a moment, but let me address your question:

I do not believe that there is any way for a skeptic to prove that Jesus did not come back from the dead. But neither do I think that it is possible to refute Mohammad's claim that he flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem. I believe that the burden of proof should always be on the person or persons making a supernatural claim, not on skeptics.

So I believe that a resurrection is possible, allowing for the supernatural (which again, cannot be disproven), but the question is: How probable is the supernatural claim and is there a naturalistic explanation that is more probable? I will post a second comment in which I compare the Christian supernatural claim to what I believe is a much more probable explanation for the development of the Resurrection story.
Gary said…
Which of these two stories has a higher probability of having occurred:

Jesus of Nazareth is crucified in Jerusalem in circa 30 AD. As he draws his final breath, the entire earth goes dark for three hours, a violent earthquake shakes dead people awake in their graves, and rips the Temple veil down the middle. Jesus' body is taken down off the cross and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body which the previous night had voted unanimously to execute Jesus. The tomb is sealed with a large stone and Roman guards placed in front of it. Three days later, a second great earthquake shakes Jerusalem, causing the dead who had been shaken awake in the first earthquake to now come out of their tombs to roam the streets of Jerusalem and reconnect with old acquaintances; an angel (or angels) comes and rolls away the great stone in front of the tomb, causing the soldiers to faint, and testifies to one, several, or many women that Jesus' tomb is empty; that he had risen from the dead. Jesus later appears to the Eleven, and eight days (or forty days) later, ascends into heaven from a mountain in Bethany (or Galilee, or from the Upper Room in Jerusalem). The resurrection appearances of Jesus so emboldened the previously easily-frightened, doubting disciples that they now boldly preach the gospel of Jesus in the temple, Judea, and the world, dying martyrs deaths, refusing to recant their eyewitness testimony that they had seen the resurrected, walking/talking body of Jesus. These same disciples soon write the Gospels and several epistles which would soon become the New Testament of the Bible. The Gospel of Jesus spreads like wildfire, furiously persecuted by both the Jews and Romans, to become the dominant faith of the Western World for two thousand years.

Or, is this what happened:

Jesus of Nazareth is crucified. He dies. His body is left on the cross for days, as was the Roman custom, to warn any other "King of the Jews" pretender to think twice about stirring up trouble. After a few days have passed and the birds, dogs (Roman crosses were low to the ground), and other carrion have ravaged the body, the remains are taken down at night and tossed into an unmarked common grave---a hole in the ground--- with the bodies of other criminals executed that week. The location of this common grave is known only to a few soldiers, as the Romans do not want to give the "King of the Jews" a proper burial nor do they want a known grave to become a national shrine where Jews can later come to pay homage to their "King", possible inciting more trouble. Jesus disciples who were already in hiding, go home to Galilee to take up their prior professions---fishing and collecting taxes. The small band is devastated. Their beloved leader is dead; their hopes of reigning over the New Kingdom on twelve thrones with Jesus are dashed to pieces; there will be no overthrow of the hated Romans after all. All hope seems lost. Then...months or a few years after Jesus' death...a couple of women disciples see a man in the distance, at sunset, and in the silhouette of the fading sun...he looks like Jesus. Is it Jesus? He turns to them, waves with his hand, and then disappears behind a hill. "It was Jesus!" they exclaim. They run and tell the disciples. Soon other disciples are "seeing" Jesus. "He is risen, just as he said he would!" The disciples are ecstatic! They WILL reign in the New Kingdom after all! They begin to preach the Gospel of Jesus, telling everyone how he has risen from the dead, as he had promised.

Gary said…
(cont'd from last comment)

...and forty years later, after Jerusalem has been destroyed and most of the disciples are dead, a Greek speaking Christian in Rome writes down the story of Jesus. However, the version of the oral story that this man hears circulating in Rome at the time tells of an empty tomb, the tomb of a member of the "Mark" writes down the story. A decade or so later, "Matthew" in another far away location and "Luke" in another, write down the story of Jesus. They borrow heavily from "Mark's" story, from another common source (Q), and from other sources that they do not seem to have shared. For instance, "Matthew's" story contains incredible supernatural tales, such as an earthquake occurring when Jesus died, causing dead people to come back to life...but they don't come out of their graves until three days later when Jesus walks out of his grave! One wonders what they were doing in their tombs for three days!

And two thousand years later, every Christian on earth believes that the stories written by "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" are the historically accurate accounts of the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus, when all they are are legendary stories. No one lied. No one made anything up. It's a legend. Now, dear Christian, how many supernatural events such as dead people coming out of their graves to walk around town chatting with friends and family have you seen in your life? Not many, have you? And how many times have you seen a simple story about a missing person or someone's mysterious death, evolve within days, into the wildest tale, with all kinds of bizarre details and claims?

So, honestly, friend: Which of the above two stories about Jesus is more probable to be true?
Gary said…
From your link:

"Simon Called Peter by Christ died 33-34 years after the death of Christ. According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary there is “satisfactory evidence that he and Paul were the founders of the church at Rome, and died in that city. The time and manner of the apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. According to the early writers, he died at or about the same time with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution, A.D. 67,68. All agree that he was crucified. Origen says that Peter felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was therefore, at his own request, crucified with his head downward.”

There is nothing in this statement that says that Peter believed he had seen the resurrected body of Jesus; that he was killed because he refused to recant seeing that resurrected body of Jesus; or even that he was killed solely for being a Christian. He could have been killed for other reasons. Some say he was killed because he told Roman wives it was a sin to have sex with their husbands. I doubt this is true. It is probably speculation, but so is your assumption that he was killed because he refused to recant his testimony of seeing a walking/talking dead man.
Will Vaus said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Vaus said…
Gary, let me respond to each of your most recent, thoughtful posts one by one....

I am glad to hear you admit that there is no way for a skeptic to refute the resurrection of Jesus. Personally, I think the story of Jesus' resurrection and the story of Mohammed flying on a winged horse are in two different categories.

I am glad that you believe the resurrection of Jesus is possible, given the reality of the supernatural. And I would agree that as thinking people we have to consider which explanation of the rise of Christianity makes most sense.
Will Vaus said…
Your two alternative accounts of how Christianity arose are interesting. The first, based upon the biblical sources, does not, to my mind, necessarily contain all historical elements. I think there is room for every Christian in comparing the Gospels to consider what elements of the story may have historical value and which elements do not. I take it that the bare bones story is given to us in Mark's Gospel. The others have elaborated on that story, some with historical elements drawn from their sources, others with what I might call "window dressing". The addition of angels and earthquakes might be in the realm of "window dressing".

I find your second account of how Christianity may have arisen interesting, but unconvincing. I cannot imagine such a vague experience of someone who may have looked like Jesus, seen from afar, inspiring anyone to leave Judaism and form a new religion.
Will Vaus said…
Regarding Peter: yes, there is nothing in the statement that says Peter died because of his belief in the resurrection. But clearly, in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, it was Peter's belief in the resurrection that changed the direction of his life and made him a continuing witness to Jesus. Otherwise he would have continued as a common Jewish fisherman of Galilee.
Will Vaus said…
Finally, your account of how the Gospels came to be written bears some resemblance to reality. But the Gospels hardly fall into the category of legend. Legends generally develop over a much longer period of time. The Gospels were all written within a generation of the events they record. C. S. Lewis was an astute enough literary critic to recognize, even in the days of his vague theism, that the Gospels were not legends.

But let's leave aside the Gospels for a moment. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the 50s of the first century. So that puts it within 20 years of Jesus' death. He says in chapter 15 that there were 500 people who witnessed Jesus alive again after his crucifixion, and that most of these 500 were still alive at the time of his writing. I find this claim, and all the other witnesses among the first apostles that Paul mentions, to be too concrete. If the resurrection of Jesus did not happen, why did no one refute Paul on the spot? Why do we have no other alternative explanation of Christianity (such as you offer) or refutation of the teachings of the New Testament, offered in the first century? Personally, I find the position that you hold to involve a much greater leap of faith than the position that I adhere to. So my hat is off to you because of your great faith.
Gary said…
Paul himself states in I Corinthians 15 that he received his information second hand. Most scholars, even Christian scholars, believe that I Corinthians 15 was an early Christian Creed. The Creed, which Paul received second hand, has details which conflict with the stories in the Gospels. No where in the Gospels is it claimed that Cephas was the first to witness the risen Jesus. Even if we forget about the women, none of the Gospels say that Peter was the first of the male disciples to see Jesus). And why not mention the women? Christians tout the use of female witnesses to tout the veracity of the Christian story, but yet Paul leaves them out. Why would the four gospel writers find this important but Paul never mentions the women? Is it because Paul had never heard about women witnesses? Is that because this legendary detail of the oral stories of Jesus had not been developed yet during Paul's lifetime?

Did Paul himself know any of the "500" or was he simply reciting a Creed? Remember, the letter of I Corinthians was written to Christians living in Greece, 1,500 miles from Palestine. Who was going to book a boat to sail to Palestine to confirm Paul's story? And, how do we know that Paul's epistles were circulating in Palestine before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when most or all of the "witnesses" would have been slaughtered?

Many, many, many assumptions, my friend.
Will Vaus said…
Again, allow me to respond point by point to your many insightful statements....

The language used in I Cor 15 is that of authoritative tradition being handed down. So within 20 years of the event, the resurrection, the witnesses, as well as Christ's death on the cross had become a matter of authoritative, accepted, Christian tradition.

We must remember in all of this that Paul's writings came first, so they are closer to the time of the events they purport to report. I think one reason Paul does not mention the women is because the testimony of women was not considered valid in his time. He conveniently glosses over this fact.

Thus, the fact that all four Gospels mention the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection becomes all the more intriguing. Paul leaving this detail out is understandable. What is amazing is that the Gospels mention it. Why mention it at all, unless it is the way it really happened?

While Paul is handing on authoritative tradition, the way he mentions some of the 500 being alive at the time of his writing, that bit is not part of what you call a "creed".

The story of Paul itself shows us how common such travel was in the first century. And it is actually 817 miles, not 1500. 710 nautical miles from Corinth to Jerusalem.

But one can imagine Paul's readers asking about these witnesses to the resurrection and wanting to meet some of them. Why would they believe without meeting some of them? Of course Paul himself was a witness to the resurrected Jesus so there must have been something about his testimony in and of itself that convinced the Corinthians.

Which raises the question: why would Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, become not only a Jesus follower but a spokesperson for the new faith without an encounter with the risen Christ? To me, the resurrection is the only thing that makes sense of all these disparate pieces and answers all of my questions.

I don't know if any of Paul's epistles were circulating in Palestine prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. It seems unlikely. But of course Paul himself went to Jerusalem and presented his teaching before the other apostles.

Furthermore, it seems not only possible, but likely, given the dispersion of the early Christians after the martyrdom of Stephen, that at least some, if not many, of those first witnesses to the resurrection were scattered outside of Jerusalem prior to its fall. Acts tells us that all but the apostles were so scattered at the time of Stephen's martyrdom.

So yes, we all make assumptions at times, assumptions that need to be examined if we are to be thinking people of faith.
Gary said…
So you believe that the Christian supernatural claim of a Resurrection is more probable statistically than the development of a legend, as in my example?

Ok, let's remove your supernatural claim from our scenario of probabilities and substitute someone else's supernatural claim and let's see if you feel the same way:

Two hundred years ago, near a small village in a remote area of southern Mexico, three women were out in the hills collecting fire wood when they saw a woman in a long, white robe in the distance. The woman turned to look at them, and as she did, the sun radiated off of her clothing in a brilliant fashion, so brilliantly that for a moment, the women were blinded. When they recovered their vision, the woman was nowhere to be seen.

"It was the holy Virgin Mother!" the women exclaimed.

They rushed back to the village to report the sighting of the Virgin Mother. Over the next three days, thirty different people reported seeing the Virgin walking through the hills. Within a matter of weeks, the Virgin was appearing in visions to numerous devout believers in the village. On one day, the Virgin appeared to more than one hundred people at the same time, telling them to spread her message of brotherly love and hope in God. During this time period, there had been a severe drought for two years. With the appearances of the Virgin Mary, the rains returned and the harvest that year was the best ever recorded. Ten villagers who suffered from tuberculosis were cured by praying to a statue of the "Virgin of the Hills".

Now, what is more probable: a 2,000 year old dead woman made multiple appearances and healed the sick in southern Mexico in the early 1800's, or these very devout Catholics, caught up in religious hysteria, only imagined that she did?
Gary said…
"I cannot imagine such a vague experience of someone who may have looked like Jesus, seen from afar, inspiring anyone to leave Judaism and form a new religion."

Someone sees someone in the distance that they believe is Jesus. Next, someone "sees" Jesus in a vision. Then another has a vision, then another. That is how legends grow.

You may not be swayed by these claims, but the question is would uneducated, first century, dispirited Galilean peasant followers of a dead messiah believe them?
Gary said…
"in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, it was Peter's belief in the resurrection that changed the direction of his life and made him a continuing witness to Jesus. Otherwise he would have continued as a common Jewish fisherman of Galilee."

You are begging the question, my friend. You cannot use the text under question as a source of authority for the veracity of the very same text.

You have not proven that the Gospels accounts are accurate historical accounts, and not legends.
Gary said…
"Legends generally develop over a much longer period of time."

Gary said…
"why would Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, become not only a Jesus follower but a spokesperson for the new faith without an encounter with the risen Christ? To me, the resurrection is the only thing that makes sense of all these disparate pieces and answers all of my questions."

Have you ever heard of Joseph Cohen? He was a Jewish rabbi and settler who converted to Islam and is now a rabid, Jew-hating Muslim imam living in Israel.

Weird conversions happen. They do not prove that someone saw a walking/talking dead man.
Gary said…
"The language used in I Cor 15 is that of authoritative tradition being handed down. So within 20 years of the event, the resurrection, the witnesses, as well as Christ's death on the cross had become a matter of authoritative, accepted, Christian tradition."

I, nor most skeptics, question the sincerity of the followers of Jesus. Within a very short period of time, early Christians believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The question is: Why did they believe he had risen?

Without any solid evidence, which is more likely: A dead man walked out of his grave or someone thought they saw Jesus, in either a false sighting or in a vision (seems everyone had a vision those days), and a legend was born.

I would bet that everyone on planet earth, except for conservative Christians, would say that the legend option is much more probable.
Gary said…
When it comes to legends, the truth is that they can develop very quickly, especially when we are dealing with people who are highly religious and believers in the supernatural. Check out this excerpt from an article about Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued from the sea in the early 2000's:
In Elian's case, the messianic stories began two days after the rescue, when a caller to one of Miami's radio stations said he'd heard that the fisherman who rescued Elian on Thanksgiving Day had seen him surrounded by dolphins, traditionally the sea-bound messengers of angels.

In later versions, Elian was seen reaching his hand out to an angel floating above him. In some tellings, she is described as Our Lady of Charity, soother of panicked seamen. (In Cuban mythology, a virgin appeared before three fishermen lost at sea and promised to protect them. She led them to safety and they built a statue called Our Lady of Charity in her honor.)

A recent drawing in La Verdad (The Truth), a popular Little Havana newspaper, shows young Elian resting peacefully in his inner tube staring into the sky as a school of dolphins leap around him and two angels hover above.

Cuban-Americans are mostly middle-class, educated people and yet look how quickly a legend developed. The overwhelming majority of first century Galilean peasants were poor and uneducated. The fact that based on little if any evidence, in a very short period of time, they came to believe that their executed leader had been resurrected, is far, far less surprising.
Will Vaus said…
I do not believe the level of education of first century Galileans had anything to do with their belief in Jesus' resurrection. Those first century peasants knew as well as you and I do that in the normal course of life people do not rise from the dead. They were not expecting the resurrection nor looking for it as far as I can see in my reading of the Gospels. Even after meeting Jesus they had to be convinced that he had risen from the dead. Consider Mary in the garden who thought that Jesus was the gardener (in John's Gospel) and Thomas who did not believe the report of all the other disciples.

Furthermore, you continue to talk about visions. However, there is only one of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection that is presented as a vision. That is his appearance to Paul in Acts. All the other appearances are very concrete. Jesus invites Thomas to touch him. Jesus tells Mary to stop touching him. In Luke, Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish. What the Gospels are presenting is so unlike the vague visions you are talking about that I see no connection between the two.
Will Vaus said…
Gary, obviously you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I do. We both have our reasons for believing or not believing. I doubt that either of us is going to convert the other.

I really have no comment on the appearances of the Virgin Mary. They may have happened. They may not. But it does seem to me that appearances of Jesus a few days after he died and appearances of Mary hundreds of years after her death (or assumption into heaven) are in two different categories.
Will Vaus said…
In regard to my comment about legends developing over time. I was thinking of such legends as the Arthurian tales or even the early chapters of Genesis which contains stories most scholars think were passed on orally at first, over a long period of time, then eventually written down.

In regard to legend I was also thinking of what C. S. Lewis had to say on this topic.In an essay entitled "What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?" which is contained in a collection entitled "God in the Dock". Lewis says,

"I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don't work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with his finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it."

Lewis says something similar in his autobiography, "Surprised by Joy"...

"I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion--those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them--was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognisable, through all that depth of time, as Plato's Socrates or Boswell's Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann's Goethe or Lockhart's Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god--we are no longer polytheists--then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word flesh; God, Man. This is not 'a religion,' nor 'a philosophy.' It is the summing up and actuality of them all."
Will Vaus said…
With regard to your comment about Saul of Tarsus: yes, weird conversions happen. And one conversion may not prove anything--except that in Saul/Paul's case something very dramatic must have happened to turn him from a rabbi persecuting Christians into the most articulate spokesperson for Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus in the first century.

Besides, it is not any one thing that has convinced me of the truth of Christianity. It is not Saul's conversion alone, nor the empty tomb, nor the appearances, nor the teaching of Jesus alone. It is the whole thing that I find convincing--not only the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole, but the changed lives of Christians down through the centuries, including my own.
Will Vaus said…
Regarding Peter: I am not begging the question. I am simply trying to spell out what I think the Gospels are saying as literary texts. And, by the way, just as a reminder, the New Testament contains more than one text by more than one author. So by comparing them scholars have tried to arrive at an approximation of what they think happened historically. Of course the search for the "historical Jesus" is a very old endeavour. And all we really have to go on is what is in the New Testament itself. The New Testament contains the oldest documents we have telling us about the life of Jesus. I cannot prove that all the details of the Gospels took place as the writers say they did. But I can't do that for any other ancient events either. Think how few historians were writing anything in the first century or before. Four different writers telling about the life of one person in the first century and writing about it in the first century, is more corroboration than you are going to get on the life of any other figure of the period.
Will Vaus said…
You say that everyone except for conservative Christians thinks the legend option regarding Jesus more credible than Christian belief. It is not only conservative Christians who believe in the resurrection of Jesus. All Christians, by traditional definition, believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I attend an Episcopal Church where we confess faith in the resurrection of Jesus every Sunday using the form of the fourth century Nicene Creed. This is what all Christians everywhere have believed for two millennia. And there are two billion Christians on planet earth at this time. I would say that is quite a large cross section of humanity who are believers. That does not make the story true, but it is interesting nonetheless. Add to Christians those of all other faiths who believe in a supernatural realm and then you have billions more who believe at least in the possibility of such miracles. Again, that does not mean miracles happen. We cannot prove it to your satisfaction perhaps. But the existence of so many believers in the supernatural is interesting to me nonetheless.
Will Vaus said…
Regarding your example of how "legends"may develop quickly: yes, I see the point of your example. A basic account of some historical happening can be quickly exaggerated. When I was speaking of legends developing over time I was referring to examples from ancient literature.

Again, neither of us is going to convert the other. So I think we have said all that is useful to say on this topic.

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