My ongoing conversation with ex-Christian, atheist DagoodS

My initial discussion several months ago with ex-evangelical Christian-turned-atheist DagoodS involved this question:  Would a (neutral) jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

Dagood and I have had some very interesting and enlightening (at least for me) discussions since that time on both this blog and on his.  I left this comment for him a few days ago:

Dagood: Is it possible that the correct answer to your question, “Would a modern jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection” be… not “yes” or “no”, but “depends”?

If the jury is composed of twelve “Dagood’s” then the jury will definitely not find in favor of the Resurrection. However, if the jury is composed of twelve members who reflect the population at large of the United States, I think there would be a very good possibility that they would.

Why?

Studies show that 80% of Americans believe that miracles are possible.

Only if the jury is composed of persons like yourself who believe that miracles are impossible, would they definitely vote “no”.

Here are excerpts from Dagood’s response:

“Given all the information—what we know about Roman culture, and Hebrew Culture, and the First Century Mediterranean honor/shame society, and altered states of conscious, mixed with the language and writings of the time, combined with Christian documentation, archeology, geology, etc.—a jury neutral to the prospect of Jesus’ resurrection would determine it is more likely no resurrection occurred. This was a developed legend arising from disappointed followers of a perceived Messianic figure.”

“I reviewed your current set of blog entries reiterating apologists’ attempts to provide evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Alas, they present a much skewed, (sometime downright incorrect) recitation to a favorable audience in assurance the vast, vast majority of Christians will swallow whatever they feed to gratify their own desire to justify rationality within the Christian belief.”

“I strongly encourage anyone (and everyone) to go to a motion hearing day in a local court. A day set aside for the Judge to hear numerous Motions on various cases where the litigants hope to compel a decision on a parcel of the case. When the first lawyer talks, they recite the facts, and the law, and one cannot help think, “Wow!—what a great case. That other side is a complete idiot to think they could possibly win.” But then the other side stands up, and informs how the facts were not exactly as portrayed by the first attorney. And the law is not so crystal clear. And then you think, “Hmmm…not so cut-and-dried after all.”

You begin to realize how we humans (and those arguing vociferously for a position) shade the facts, and put our best position forward, and downplay or outright ignore any opposing situation. This is what your apologists are doing.

Let’s look at one example—I’ve used this previously.

”But three days later the tomb was empty.”
”Number one is the empty tomb of Jesus–everybody agreed in the ancient world that the tomb of Jesus was empty. The question is, how did it get empty?”
”A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb,…”
”The tomb was empty on Easter”
”The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.”

Okay, okay, okay…I get it! Pretty solid fact the tomb was empty on Sunday, right? Almost every apologist you listed mentioned it, it is highlighted as a fact, how do those skeptics explain THAT!?

But what…..is that the actual fact?

Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark. Written (by consistent methodology) after 70 CE, at least 40 years after the event. We do not know who wrote Mark, let alone where the person obtained their information. So instead of “The tomb was empty on Sunday” the actual evidence is “At least 40 years after the claimed event, an unknown person repeated what they heard from an unknown person who claimed the tomb was empty on Sunday.”

So skeptics do not have to answer the question, “How was the tomb empty on Sunday?” but rather, “How did the story of the empty tomb develop 40 years after the event?” As one can see, the actual evidence provides for an easy naturalistic explanation.

Reading through those blog entries I see error after unfounded claim after lack of evidence after unsubstantiated assertions. Sure it initially looks like strong arguments to those who want to believe it. Alas, once it is questioned, probed or researched, it is discovered to be a cardboard façade held up with tape and string.”

My response to Dagood:

My friend,

I want to address this statement in particular from your above comments:

“Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark. Written (by consistent methodology) after 70 CE, at least 40 years after the event. We do not know who wrote Mark, let alone where the person obtained their information. So instead of “The tomb was empty on Sunday” the actual evidence is “At least 40 years after the claimed event, an unknown person repeated what they heard from an unknown person who claimed the tomb was empty on Sunday.”

So skeptics do not have to answer the question, “How was the tomb empty on Sunday?” but rather, “How did the story of the empty tomb develop 40 years after the event?” As one can see, the actual evidence provides for an easy naturalistic explanation.”

So to summarize your position from this statement and from other conversations with you, this is what you believed happened regarding Jesus of Nazareth (correct me if I am wrong);

1.  A Jew, named Jesus of Nazareth, did exist in first century Palestine.
2.  He was crucified sometime in the early 30’s by the Romans.
3.  Sometime in the 50’s and 60’s Paul the Apostle wrote his epistles.  Paul gives very limited information about the life of Jesus, but does state that he “saw” Christ and that Christ was resurrected.  Whether Paul saw a walking, talking corpse or whether he saw a vision or a hallucination, is not clear.
4.  Approximately 40 years after the crucifixion the first Christian Gospel is written, Mark, describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So, you conclude, that since Paul seems to know very little about Jesus, and the fact that the first Gospel telling us anything in detail about Jesus, including that the tomb was empty and that Jesus “has risen” wasn’t written down for forty years after the fact, that gives forty years for Jesus’s disillusioned followers to either “make-up” a Resurrection story, or, more likely, in your opinion, using cognitive dissonance, imagine that they have seen a resurrected Jesus, whether in dreams or hallucinations, and based on these dreams/hallucinations they are emboldened to propagate this fantastic myth, which spreads around the Mediterranean, eventually is made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and conquers most of the known world!

But here is the problem:  the Gospel of Mark was NOT the first source for the Resurrection.  There were much earlier sources.  And if these sources were stating that a man who was publically crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans is now alive and well…don’t you think that someone would point out the fact that, 1.)  We know where his grave is and can produce the skeleton.  2.)  We watched the birds pick the skeleton clean on the cross (if the Romans didn’t bother to take it down).  3.)  The body was thrown in a common grave.  We have witnesses. 4.)  The body was stolen.  We have witnesses to the evidence at the tomb.

It would be like someone today saying that no one died in the Branch Davidian complex in Waco.  “What are you talking about??  There are plenty of people alive in Waco today who watched the building burn!”  The same with the crucifixion.  Too many people in Jerusalem witnessed this event for the disciples to get away with centering their new faith, based on a resurrected Jewish messiah, in Jerusalem.  There were too many witnesses in Jerusalem to get away with this tall tale, whether it was a lie or an hallucination-created myth.

Dagood, you make it sound as if the author of the Gospel of Mark made up the Resurrection forty years after the fact, and then all the other Gospel writers simply copied Mark.  Bart Ehrman, in “Did Jesus Exist”, doesn’t agree with you.  Listen to what he says:

“Once it is conceded that the Gospels can and should be treated as historical sources, no different from other historical sources infused with the authors’ biases, it starts to become clear why historians have almost universally agreed that whatever else one might say about him, Jesus of Nazareth lived in first-century Palestine and was crucified by the prefect of Judea.  It is not because “the Gospels say so” and that it therefore must be true (the view, of course, of fundamentalist Christians).  It is for a host of other reasons familiar to scholars who work in the field.  This opening section will not be convincing to naysayers, for reasons I will explain, but we need to start somewhere, and the place to start is with the surviving witnesses that we have in hand.”  Page 74

“It is almost (but not quite) universally thought among New Testament scholars that both Matthew and Luke had access to the Gospel of Mark and used it for many of their stories of Jesus…Some mythicists have taken this critical conclusion to a faulty end to argue that all of our Gospel accounts (even John, which has very little to do with Mark) ultimately go back to Mark so that we have only one source, not multiple sources, for the life of Jesus.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Matthew and Luke did indeed use Mark, but significant portions of both Gospels are not related in any way to Mark’s accounts.  And in these sections of their Gospels Matthew and Luke record extensive, independent traditions about Jesus’s life, teachings, and death.  So while in their shared material they do not provide corroboration without collaboration, in their unique material they do.  These Gospels were probably written ten or fifteen years after Mark, and so by the year 80-85 we have at least three independent accounts of Jesus’s life (since a number of the accounts of both Matthew and Luke are independent of Mark), all within a generation of so of Jesus himself…”  Page 75-76

“But that’s not all.  There are still other independent Gospels.  The Gospel of John is sometimes described as the “maverick Gospel” because it is so unlike the synoptic accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Prior to the narrative leading up to Jesus’s death, most of the stories in John are found only in John, whereas John does not included most of the stories found in the other three Gospels.  And when they do share the same stories, John tells them in such a different way that he does not appear to have received his accounts from any or all of them…John is generally considered the latest of our canonical Gospels, dated 90-95 CE.  So within the first century we have four independent accounts of Jesus’s life and death (Matthew and Luke being independent in a good number of their corroborative stories; John possibly in all, and certainly in most, of his).

Gospels continued to be written after John, however, and some of these later accounts are also independent.  Since the discovery in 1945 of the famous Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, scholars have debated is date.  Even though some continue to place the Gospel in the first century, possibly prior to all or some of the canonical Gospels, more widely it is thought that in its current form Thomas comes to us from the early second century, say 110-120 CE.  Moreover, while some scholars think that Thomas relies on Matthew, Mark, and Luke for some of its sayings—there are overlaps in about half of them—it is more commonly thought that Thomas is independent, that it got its information from other sources.  In either event, a good portion of Thomas, if not all of it does not derive from the canonical texts.  To that extent it is a fifth independent witness to the life and teachings of Jesus.

The same can be said for the Gospel of Peter discovered in 1886…In either event, since it is in part or in whole different form the other Gospels, in these passages—and probably in is entirety…this would be a sixth independent Gospel account of Jesus’s life and death.

Another independent account occurs in the highly fragmentary text called Papyrus Egerton…Here then, at least in the nonparalleled story, but probably in all four, is a seventh independent account.

…If we restrict ourselves to a hundred years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, we have at least seven independent accounts, some of them quite extensive.  (It is important to recall:  even if some of these sources are dependent on one another in some passages—for example, Matthew and Luke on Mark—they are completely independent in others, and to that extent they are independent witnesses.)

What is sometimes underappreciated by mythicists who want to discount the value of the Gospels for establishing the historical existence of Jesus is that our surviving accounts, which began to be written some forty years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, were based on earlier written sources that no longer survive.  But they obviously did exist at one time, and they just as obviously had predate the Gospels that we now have.  (See Luke’s statement of “receiving accounts from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” in Luke 1:1-3)  …There is no reason to suspect that Luke is lying here.”  Pages 76-79

“Within a couple of decades of the traditional date of his death, we have numerous accounts of his (Jesus) life found in a broad geographical span.  In addition to Mark, we have source Q, source M (which is possibly made of multiple sources), source L (also possibly multiple sources), two or more passion narratives, a signs source, two discourse sources, the kernel (or original) Gospel behind the Gospel of Thomas, and possibly others.  And these are just the ones we know about, that we can reasonably infer from the scant literary remains that survive from the early years of the Christian church.  No one knows how many there actually were.  Luke says that there were “many” of them, and he may well have been right. “  Pages 82-83

“The information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30’s of the Common Era, as arguably does some of the material in the book of acts.  The information about Jesus in these sources corroborates as well aspects of the Gospel traditions, some of which can also be dates back to the 30’s to Aramaic –speaking Palestine.”

Dear Dagood:  Ehrman did not write “Did Jesus Exist” to prove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He wrote it to counter the mythicists who deny the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.  But I believe that Ehrman’s presentation of the many sources upon which the existence of Jesus is based, can also be used to support the Resurrection.  The Resurrection is not based solely on the author of the Gospel of Mark as you allege!

Ehrman doesn’t believe in the Resurrection because he believes that any excuse for an empty tomb is more believable than the supernatural Resurrection of a dead man.  He is not willing to believe in miracles, so he chooses to believe any other explanation for the story of the Resurrection but a miracle.  Ehrman believes, like you, that the disciples so desperately wanted their “messiah” to rise from the dead, that they hallucinated or dreamed his resurrection, and that these hallucinations/visions/dreams developed into a myth that snowballed into the Christian doctrine of the physical Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah.

But if the Resurrection is a myth developed by Jesus’s disciples during those forty years, one of two things happened:  Either the remaining eleven disciples sat down and created the most elaborate lie ever perpetrated on the people of the world…or…all the sources listed above, whose authors were separated from each other, by sometimes, thousands of miles, recorded the exact, same elaborate myth of Jesus of Nazareth:  minor variations, yes, such as the discrepancies in the Empty Tomb accounts in the Gospels, but all the major details are there, and even a lot of the minor details are in harmony.  Do you really believe, Dagood, that a bunch of uneducated peasants and fishermen were capable of spinning such an elaborate tale and keeping all the main details straight in their numerous writings, written down by multiple authors, none of them allowing any legendary silliness into the story, such as a Medussa or a Poseidon, and were able to maintain this story for almost 400 years (prior to being made the state religion) without having it unmasked as a fraud by either the Jews, Romans, or any other pagan religion??

How can 27 (I originally said 32.  My bad!)  canonical books, in addition to numerous non-canonical books, all written within 100 years of the event in question, keep all the basic facts straight, if concocted by hallucinating fishermen??  And these guys weren’t even expecting a Resurrection!  Many of them went home after the crucifixion to Galilee to start fishing again.  Yet these cowards, who ran away from a few Jewish guards in the Garden when Jesus wasn’t even dead yet, now, after a couple of them have a vivid dream or experience a life-like hallucination, find the courage to defy not only Jewish authorities but the mighty Roman Empire, risking, and in many instances, dying, in horrific circumstances!

Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, states in his writings, that he does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but he does believe that the physical resurrection of Jesus really did occur, and he bases much of this belief on the radical change in attitude and behavior of Jesus’s disciples. 

All these people had the same hallucination or vision?  No way!

In conclusion, I do believe that a neutral, non-Christian, non-atheist jury could very well decide for the validity of the Resurrection based on the multiple sources still in existence for this 2,000 year old event and on the radical change in behavior in Jesus’s disciples.

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “My ongoing conversation with ex-Christian, atheist DagoodS

  1. Gary,

    Since we are being precise about evidences, I will equally respond with precision as to the list of what I am persuaded:

    1. Jesus, a Galilean (not Judean*), probably from Capernaum, existed in 1st century Palestine.

    2. The Romans crucified Jesus in the early 30’s around Passover near Jerusalem.

    3. Paul wrote letters in the 50’s and 60’s to Gentile churches addressing various doctrinal issues. We retain 7 letters. He demonstrates no knowledge whatsoever regarding Jesus’ life, never personally mentioning a single pericope, sermon, message, statement, miracle, relation, event, locale, relative** or parable. The only exception is the Eucharist, and even there Paul highlights he did not receive this information from humans, but directly from God. Paul quotes a tradition of unknown origin giving only the briefest outline of Jesus’ death, burial and post-resurrection appearances with no dating, modifiers or parameters, allowing us to know when, where or why they occurred.

    Paul emphasizes the Jews are looking for miracles—such as a resurrection—and Christianity confounds them because it doesn’t provide them. Only Jesus’ death is presented by Christianity—not His resurrection. (Indeed the only reason Paul emphasizes the resurrection at all is to a) confirm his own apostolic qualifications and b) to argue for what happens to bodies post-mortem. Paul emphasizes physical bodies (such as what Christians propose Jesus had) would not enter heaven.

    It is astounding if Paul knew Jesus’ ministry on earth, he never, ever uses it to argue for doctrinal implementation, rather using his own reasoning. If Jesus was God to Paul (and the epistle’s recipients) why didn’t they find Jesus authoritative?

    Paul indicates he either personally or in a vision was in heaven. This was a common trope at the time.

    *the word “Jew” actually comes from a shortened version of “Judean.” English translators translate Ioudaios to “Jew” when really it is more correctly translated “Judean.” Judea was a different country than Galilee at the time of Jesus.

    **”James, the brother of Christ” is a possible blood relation, although in question.

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  2. Paul claims he saw Christ post-resurrection. Paul provides no details whatsoever regarding this encounter, but subsequent tales (Acts of Apostles) are adamant it was a vision. For a Christian to stay consistent in methodology (like saying, “32 [?] canonical books…all written within 100 years of the event in question, keep all the basic facts straight…”) claiming these basic facts are the same, then it is far more likely Paul experienced a vision rather than a physical body. Paul seeing a vision answers more questions than Paul seeing a physical body with the evidence we have.

    4. The first chronological account indicating an empty tomb is the Gospel according to Mark, written 70 CE – 113 CE.*** The next chronological account—the Gospel according to Matthew—uses Mark and deliberately modifies it in numerous places. We see legendary development within the subsequent writing, including in the empty tomb pericope. If legendary development was freely implement in what we DO see—in the writing—it is very probable legendary development equally occurred in what we DON’T see—the story’s growth from 30 CE to the original writing.

    The next chronological account—Luke—uses both Mark and Matthew and again, deliberately modifies them, again creating legendary development. Again bolstering the argument the legend developed prior to Mark’s writing. Again, there is modification in the empty tomb pericope.

    The next chronological account—John—is an amalgamation of numerous written accounts. Again, deliberate modification, legendary development and changes in the empty tomb pericope. We see legendary development over and over and over in the written accounts.

    They were NOT keeping the main details straight—quite the opposite. We can see where they read the previous account and modified the detail.

    And those are just the canonical writings. We see even more legends, more changes, more modifications in the continued non-canonical writings within the first two centuries.

    Further, we can see how the three-day time period developed during the first century, due to Hebrew beliefs when bodies lost their soul and began to petrify.

    ***Traditional historical method in dating writing is a range. Unless the writing itself provides us a date—i.e., “written in the 14th year of Augustus’ reign”—the bottom number is the first year it could be written and the top number is the first external mention of the work. As Mark 13 refers to the Temple’s destruction, and assuming Papias was referring to this Gospel, we get a range of 70 CE (temple destruction) to around 113 CE (Papias). Of course Christian apologists always ignore this historical traditional method and immediately place the writing at the earliest date. And then try to move it earlier.

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  3. Gary, you indicate Mark was not the first “source”—I am referring to written source. I am not aware of any written source prior to Mark—unless you date the Gospel of Peter prior to Mark as some scholars do—indicating an empty tomb. Sure there could have been other “sources.” We can freely speculate anyone said it anywhere. I am talking about actual evidence we have (with reasonable inferences.) We cannot speculate what the Christians said to whom prior to Mark. Further, the Hebrew authorities could not exhume the grave even if they wanted to, so claiming the Jewish leaders would have shown Jesus’ body to discredit the Christian’s resurrection story demonstrates a lack of historical knowledge. They were precluded from doing so, even IF there was a tomb, and a claim and a desire. All of which is speculative anyway.

    So these Christian apologists are guessing on a speculation, and then conjecturing on that guess to assume what they wonder might have happened. Yet after all this guessing, speculation, assumption and conjecture, the Christian apologists amazingly affirmatively states it MUST have happened in that manner and voila—their hypothesis is confirmed. Huh—color me unimpressed.

    You claim there were too many people in Jerusalem to get away with the Disciples making this claim. This demonstrates what I mean by the speculative nature.

    1) What precisely did the Disciples initially proclaim about Jesus’ resurrection? What is your source? What is the dating of this source?

    2) How old were the Disciples? Source? Date of Source?

    3) When did the Disciples make this initial proclamation? Source? Date of Source?

    4) Where did the Disciples make this initial proclamation? Source? Date of Source? (Careful on this one, ‘cause we begin to address Luke’s deliberate modification to Jerusalem origin contradicting Mark, Matthew and John 21’s Galilean origin.)

    5) What was the recipient’s response to the Disciples proclamation? Source? Date of Source?

    6) When were the Christian followers initially persecuted? What was the nature of the persecution? Why were they persecuted? Source? Date of Source?

    7) How did the Disciples die? (you claim “in many instances, dying, in horrific circumstances!”) Source? Date of Source?

    At this point we dangerously see the circular nature. The Christian apologist is using the Bible to prove the Bible is true. Under the same methodology, the Book of Mormon is true, because the Book of Mormon supports what the Book of Mormon claims!

    If we are using the Bible to prove biblical events, we must carefully point out the lack of corroborative evidence from non-Christian sources, the inconsistency of the Christian sources, (both deliberate and non-deliberate) and the complete speculative nature of what happened outside written the records. (Same as we do with the Book of Mormon.)

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  4. You further demonstrate the miscommunication promulgated by Christian apologists. I stated, “Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark.” Yet you strawperson my statement by claiming, “The Resurrection is not based solely on the author of the Gospel of Mark as you allege!” Where did I ever allege that? It is far easier to respond, mock and destroy an argument I never made. I referred to the Empty Tomb and only the Empty Tomb. Now…arguably…if you would like to put forth the arguments supporting the Gospel of Peter as the first written indication of an empty tomb, I would happily review them. I may even agree with you, as I am not wedded to Mark prior to Peter. I generally don’t bring it up, as most Christians have never even read the Gospel of Peter fragment, yet would immediately and intuitively argue against it being prior to Mark, and therefore I don’t bother entering the arena. Not worth the extra headache.

    You state an either/or prospect that the (11) Disciples created the most elaborate lie OR the accounts whose authors were separated by 1000’s of miles recorded the exact same elaborate myth of Jesus, with all the major details there and a lot of minor details in harmony. First, this is not an either/or prospect, there are a variety of variables. Secondly, what does it matter if Mark was written 1,000 or 10,000 or 10 billion miles away from Matthew, if Matthew had a written copy of Mark when writing his gospel? Not sure how the distance is an argument. Having a copy doesn’t make it more accurate the farther the copy travels….does it?

    Gary, “I do believe that a neutral, non-Christian, non-atheist jury could very well decide for the validity of the Resurrection based on the multiple sources still in existence for this 2,000 year old event and on the radical change in behavior in Jesus’s disciples.” [emphasis in original]

    8) What were the Disciple’s social status, economic status and honor status prior to following Jesus? Source? Date of Source?

    9) What were the Disciple’s social status, economic status and honor status subsequent to following Jesus? Source? Date of Source?

    Without this information, claiming they had a “radical change in attitude and behavior” is pure self-serving speculative fantasy.

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  5. Gary,

    Let me recommend reading something useful for your spirit and intellect: University of St. Andrews scholar, Richard Bauckham's, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

    You've been taking a long diet of atheist toxicity, it's probably high time to take in credible scholarship from Christian thinkers. Craig Blomberg new “Can We Still Believe the Bible?”

    Also, an outstanding rebuttal of the New Atheists is the excellent book book, David Bentley Hart, “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” (Yale University Press). Hart is a massively impressive thinker.

    Especially on the issue of the Resurrection, your approach is noble but in several places misinformed or under-informed. Paul is the earliest historiographical witness to the resurrection and he defers to even earlier hymns and creedal formulae (1 Cor 15.3-6). Cambridge University's Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Graham Stanton, dates the technical creed to between the years 34-36 AD. His conclusions are becoming consensus and for good reason. Missing in your discussion is the highly technical preservation of the oral tradition within Judaism-cum-Christianity. The written records are important, yes, but no more so than the formulaic manner of oral transmission within Judaism. This is entirely ignored by Dagood, as he uses, quite clearly, an anachronistic analytical method of analysis on the idea of witness and testimony within first century Judaism.

    You would do well to wade into the leading accepted scholarship on the resurrection, N.T. Wright's massive, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

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  6. Anonymous 11:12

    Do you have a link to Graham Stanton’s research on the 1 Cor. 15 Tradition’s date? I was unable to locate it on a quick googlewhack.

    I am aware of the oral tradition encapsulated within the Jewish community. It raises additional problems, and I can only tangent so much.

    Gary,

    I’ve read Bauckham, Bloomberg & Wright.

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  7. Dagood: Would you give us a “review” on Bauckham, Bloomberg, and Wright?

    I haven't read them. I would like to know your criticisms before I start reading them, so that I can make notes of their counter arguments.

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  8. To Anonymous: Excellent references and counsel on looiking to the scholarly resources above. Another scholar who has dealt specifical with the creedal statements in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 is Dr. Gary Habermas from Liberty University. His lectures on the subject explain how the creedal elements in 1 Corinthians 15 take us back to within 1 year of the crucifixion/resurrection.

    To DagoodS, Paul does exhibit knowledge of Jesus' earthly life. Not only that, but by simply considering the Book of Acts as a historical source (and you can't dismiss it because it is in the Bible), we can read for ourselves how Paul's sermons (where he began preaching within 3 years after the crucifixion/resurrection, taking his conversion in Acts 9 to be in 34 A.D).

    In the book of Acts we have 20 or so sermons, addresses and speeches recorded representing the Apostles and their preaching. We can begin to see evidence for how the early church developed its creedal beliefs from the Apostle's preaching. That preaching, or what is called the “Apostolic Kerygma”, would be used as the skeletal outlines in the Four Gospels.

    Those sermons, speeches and statements represent material going back to the inception of the Christian movement. Peter's sermon in Acts 10:34-43 for example lays out what would be a skeletal outline for Mark. Early church history records that Peter's preaching became the basis upon which Mark would write His Gospel. Paul's preaching in Acts 13 gives us a skeletal outline that resembles the Gospel of Luke. Church history attributes Luke's Gospel as being based along the preaching of Paul.

    Furthermore, the creedal statements we find throughout Paul's Epistles (Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:15-16) are examples of early Christian hymns that predate the Gospels and appear in the letters Paul wrote. So yes Paul did evidence knowledge of Jesus' earthly life and ministry. The fact he quotes Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18 presents two striking truths: a). Luke's Gospel was already being used and viewed as authoritative as Deuteronomy, the other text he quotes in the same verse b). He knew about Jesus' teachings from quoting Luke, which was based off of Paul's preaching.

    I for one would never refer to the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Thomas as evidence, being that those documents are Gnostic, second century forgeries. I've read and studied each of them. The majority report dates the Gospel of Peter into the last third of the second century. We cannot conclude anything from the Gospel of Thomas, being that it is a collection of 114 aphorisms. The Gnostic elements of disdain for the material and salvation being equal to attainment of Gnosis gives the smoking gun that the Gospel of Thomas is no earlier than a century after the Apostolic age.

    The evidence, both Biblical and apologetical, can provide a compelling case for all concerned, but only the Holy Spirit can make such a case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Its one thing to bring proof, it is quite another to persuade.

    Finally, I'm glad you see that the empty tomb is vital and historical. You may wonder why Apologist make such a big deal over a seemingly insignificant detail. It is because the fact of the empty tomb demands a verdict. Neutrality has no horse in such a race.

    The Empty Tomb is “Point A” in making the case for resurrection. The sudden birth and growth of the Christian movement is “Point B”. The challenge for the Naturalist is to connect the dots from “point A” (the empty tomb) to “point B” (the radical birth and growth of the early church) apart from the resurrection. All versions of naturalistic explanations have failed throughout the centuries (mythcists, swoon, stolen body, etc). The fact they have to be recycled shows their inadequacy. The only explanation that has stood the test of time is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Outside of His resurrection, I don't think you can get from point A to point B.

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  9. mahlon,

    An interesting study is to write down all the historical elements Paul wrote regarding Jesus. (Only the 7 authentic works, of course. 1 Tim.’s quote of Luke is unhelpful as it was not written by Paul.) The details are sparse. Some are not very helpful—claiming Jesus was a male Jew in the line of David, for example, is not illuminating as this was typical of Messianic claims. The Eucharist is the most specific event, and as I point out, Paul claims he did not learn of this from humans.

    A concurrent interesting study is to see where Jesus’ statements, actions, miracles or parables would support Paul’s arguments on doctrine, yet are curiously unmentioned. May I suggest studying where Paul mentions love, or where Paul mentions the commandments being summarized in one? Both topics are touched on in multiple letters, yet in neither case Paul mentions what Jesus said. Nor necessarily follow what Jesus said.

    The Acts Sermons bring up an interesting question. In the first recorded sermon, Acts 2:14-36, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, which Komarnitsky forcefully argues is behind the 3-day tradition. More importantly, when discussing the Empty tomb, Peter makes direct reference to David’s tomb—vs 29—and how it was with the people today. And how David had not ascended to heaven.

    Yet Peter makes no mention of Jesus’ tomb. None. It would seem almost natural for Peter to say, “There is David’s tomb. David didn’t ascend. You can see the body. There is Jesus’ tomb. Jesus did ascend. There is no body.”

    Yet Peter, according to Acts, makes no mention of an empty tomb. And this, only 50 days allegedly after Jesus’ death.

    If Peter didn’t think it persuasive, why should we?

    Can you provide support the Gospel of Peter is Gnostic? I have heard this before, but never saw an argument supporting it.

    Gary,

    No, I am not interested in doing a review or criticism of any of the books. Read or read not—your choice. Be persuaded or be not—your choice. You have forthrightly admitted you will not read books counter to your position as you are afraid of hell. You rarely answer the numerous queries I put in comments. I am not all that interested in performing all the heavy lifting, when your motivation to believe is NOT “what is most likely true,” but rather, “How can I keep my beliefs because I don’t want to go to hell?”

    Like

  10. Mahlon,

    There are 14 millions Mormons in the world today. If the success of a religious movement requires a supernatural explanation, then you should believe that the Angel Moroni really appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him where to find the Golden Plates.

    All that is needed to explain the success of any religious movement, regardless of how bizarre its claims might be, are two well documented aspects of human nature: (1) people want their lives to have meaning; and (2) people are afraid to die.

    Like

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