LCMS Pastors address Atheists on the Resurrection

LCMS Pastor Jordan Cooper has kindly agreed to respond to the ongoing debate here between Christians and atheists regarding the evidence for the Resurrection.  Below is his podcast response, copied from his excellent, always informative, orthodox Lutheran blog, Just and Sinner

Update:  As of May 28,2014, comments on the post below will only be accepted from ex-Christian atheist, “DagoodS”, LCMS pastor, Dr. John Bombaro, and if he chooses, LCMS Pastor, Jordan Cooper.  These gentlemen will be debating the historicity, and evidence thereof, for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Historicity of the Resurrection: A Response to Atheist Claims

A listener pointed me to some comments from an atheist on his blog, and asked me to give a response. This brought the program today into the realm of apologetics as we discussed some of the reasons for believing that the resurrection of Jesus is an actual historical event.

26 thoughts on “LCMS Pastors address Atheists on the Resurrection

  1. I left this comment on Pastor Jordan's blog:

    Excellent presentation, Pastor Cooper. Thank you very much.

    I would like your readers to have some background about “DagoodS”, the atheist whom you spoke of in this podcast.

    DagoodS grew up in a devout Christian family. He and his wife were Sunday school teachers and very involved in their evangelical Christian church. However, DagoodS made the same mistake that I did: he was surfing the internet one day and happened onto an atheist blog. He felt confidant enough in his knowledge of the Bible, that he made the fateful decision that he was going to “blow those atheists out of the water”. He started to debate them.

    Instead of blowing the atheists out of the water, his belief in an inerrant Bible was shattered by the information provided by the atheists. “The genie was out of the bottle” and as hard as DagoodS tried, he couldn't get it back into the bottle.

    He prayed and prayed, begging God to take away his doubts and to restore his faith. He was absolutely heart broken.

    However, one morning, he woke up, looked into the bathroom mirror, and realized he no longer believed in God. He had become an atheist.

    DagoodS is not a God-hater. He is not a Christian-hater. I personally believe that DagoodS is still sad about his loss of faith. He describes being “resigned” to the facts.

    I believe that DagoodS has done so much research on atheism and the “discrepancies” of Christianity, not for the purpose of attacking Christians, but because he is seeking that ONE piece of evidence that will convince him that Christianity IS true after all.

    DagoodS is an attorney. He is very smart and very well studied. He is looking for evidence of the Resurrection that would convince a neutral jury that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead.

    I very much hope that DagoodS will come onto your blog and discuss the Resurrection evidence further with you, Pastor.


  2. Let's assume you cannot believe in the resurrection of Christ, fine. What about the resurrection of lazarus by Christ? If He did not raise lazarus from the dead even though He claimed to and others claimed He did it as well why was this not brought up during the life of Christ to show Him to be a fraud? That alone would have put a quick end to His ministry and Hi followers would have laughed Him off and left.


  3. The atheists will respond with:

    How do we know that Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead? Most likely, the event never occurred, so that is why there is no story of the uproar it would have caused. Wouldn't Josephus, the Jewish historian, have recorded such a miracle if it had occurred? But he didn't. Neither did the Romans mention it. If someone walked out of his grave today after three days, how much attention do you think that this event would generate?

    This story, along with a lot of the other stories in the NT, developed during the “Black Hole” of forty years between the crucifixion and the writing of the first Gospel. Paul never mentions this account.

    That is what the atheists will say.


  4. So how do most atheists explain the existence of life? Are most of them Darwinian evolutionists who don't question that nearly as much as they do Christianity? Why claim to be an atheist and not agnostic? Atheism would imply you “know” there is no God/gods whereas agnosticism would seem to be a bit more intellectually honest if you're going down the godless hole.

    If you apply the same “how do we know” questioning to everything then how do we know Pilate was a real man, how do we know Nero was real? How do evolutionists know macro-evolution is real? Have you seen a species turn into another species? This is becoming pointless, it's chasing your own tail. You either believe or you don't. You have zero evidence to establish an absolute fact on how the universe came into being but it still exists, was Darwin there when it came into existence? If not then why do so many “smart” people accept his word/theory for something he wasn't there to see? What do you gain when you loose your faith? What have you gained by reading those stupid books? What have you lost?

    It's absolutely pointless to try to provide photographic evidence for something which is faith based, if you had a photograph then you would not need faith, and even still there would be those claiming the photo was fake.

    Luke 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.


  5. Dear Bro. Gary: I listened to Bro. Cooper's podcast today. Brilliant exposition on 1 Corinthians 15 and excellent rebuttal of the Atheist position.

    The Atheists could respond in manner suggested. However, a couple of things. First, not to split hairs or to be pedantic, but Lazarus' raising by Jesus is a rescucitation, not a resurrection in the strictest sense of the word. That is an important disinction, being that prophets like Elisha also rescuscitated people by the power of God.

    Christ's resurrection is a completely different event than Lazarus' simply because, as briliiantly pointed out by Bro. Cooper, the Jews did not expect resurrection until the end of history and the Greeks and Romans did not have a category in their philosophies for resurrection.

    Resurrections signifiy a total transformation of the mortal physical body into an immortal physical body. (1 Corinthians 15) When Lazarus' was rescuscitated by Jesus, he would had died again at some point.

    The fact that mention is made of Jesus' resurrection in Josephus as part and parcel of his reporting of the Christian message shows us that it was regarded as noteworthy. It would seem that the Gospel records, shown to be valid records of history by their report of the resurrected Jesus, would by default prove the validity of Lazarus' rescusciation. The ball would be in the atheists court to disprove that account.

    I think David's conclusion is spot on from Luke 16:31. Well said David.


  6. Well…I listened to the podcast. Twice. Nothing really surprising or new here. My biggest question after listening would be this—why the inconsistent methodology? Why is the very same argument utilized to bolster one claim but then considered illogical, non-sensical or silly when the opposing person uses it?

    Pastor Cooper takes issue with my statement the actual evidence regarding an empty tomb is a written account in Mark, dated from 70 CE – 113 CE. He disagrees both with the fact it was the earliest AND the dating of Mark.

    Fair enough. Pastor Cooper relies upon 1 Cor. 15 to claim Paul implied (although did not directly state) there was an empty tomb by stating Jesus was dead, buried and then raised on the third day. I think it correct—if Paul believed Jesus was physically raised with a slightly modified but same basic body Jesus had before death, then 1 Cor. 15 more likely means an empty tomb.

    Did Paul believe Jesus was physically resurrected, or taken to heaven by God? Pastor Cooper recommends reading N.T. Wright, and makes the sole argument Jewish belief was in a physical resurrection, and would not be a spiritual one. (Pastor Cooper does not deal with the remaining part of 1 Cor. 15 which would appear to be referring to spiritual—not physical—resurrection, although he does indicate it would take too long to go into all the issues.)

    So the method is this: Since Jews did not claim a spiritual resurrection, then Paul would never claim a spiritual resurrection, therefore Paul would never have come up with the belief in a spiritual resurrection. But wait…aren’t we also told Jews would never come up with a dying Messiah, and therefore the disciples would never make it up, so therefore it must be…true?

    Which is it? If it was something the Jews would never have come up with (spiritual resurrection or dying messiah) and the someone is claiming it occurred (spiritual resurrection or dying messiah) must it therefore be false (spiritual resurrection) or true (dying messiah)?

    Do you see how the method changed to conveniently fit the apologist’s desired outcome?

    Secondly Pastor Cooper takes issue with my dating of Mark, recommending (but not providing the arguments of) J.A.T. Robinson. The crux of Robinson’s argument is that Acts does not list the Destruction of Jerusalem and Paul’s death. Therefore the author does not know the events. Therefore the events have not occurred yet—i.e. prior to 70 CE. (Robinson then states Luke is before Acts, and as Luke relies upon Mark, then Mark must be before Luke. Additionally, as Luke and Matthew rely upon Q, Matthew must be before or at Luke. Yet Pastor Cooper specifically rejects this synoptic solution. Pastor Cooper apparently relies upon the dating provided by Robinson while rejecting the entire premise used to demonstrate the dating! I couldn’t figure it out.)

    O.K., so the method in place is—if the author doesn’t list it and it would naturally be within the genre, then the author doesn’t know it. In the case of Acts—because it hasn’t happened yet. [I should note–I have discussed this dating at length. Two significant problems—Acts DOES know Paul is dead, and Luke DOES mention Jerusalem’s fall.]

    But..when I claim Paul doesn’t list any events in Jesus’ life (other than the Eucharist and 1 Cor. 15 tradition), and it would naturally bolster his doctrinal arguments (such as love, divorce, eating food, resurrection, giving, etc.), it is because he doesn’t know the Jesus legend as developed in the gospels, because it hasn’t been created it—Pastor Cooper says this is an illogical argument?

    Huh? Acts not listing means it hasn’t happened yet; Paul’s not listing means he is conveniently not using it as it doesn’t suit him.

    This is what I mean by inconsistent methodology.


  7. Dear DagoodS,

    It appears that the conversation has stalled on the term “spiritual”, where it seems the assumption is that “spiritual” equals that which is non-corporeal, immaterial, altogether non-physical, etc., Limiting our discussion to Pauline epistles, we find him employing the Greek “pneumatikos” (spiritual) not uniformly, but with great variation and different associations. It is a high-level word with a spectrum of meaning and use. Indeed, this is not only the case throughout this written corpus, but within 1 Corinthians itself. This is important because it mitigates against (1) a reading horizon that categorizes anything associated with being “spiritual” with things that are just immaterial and (2) setting in strict juxtaposition things material with things immaterial, for example: earth vs heaven, matter vs spirit, time vs eternity, visible vs invisible, nature vs grace. You get the point.

    Okay, so how does Paul use the term spiritual in 1 Cor? In many different ways, e.g., in 9.11 it is fairly obvious that its used as it that which pertains to the soul as distinguished from the body; in 12.1 and 14.1 ta pneumaticka modifies the noun “gifts” (hence the rendering: “spiritual gifts”). And several more uses could be discussed, but let that suffice for now. 1 Cor 15.44 is different because he does not use the exact same word as 9.11 (which is in the plural) and certainly not in the same way. He uses a masculine form in the singular, where word, sentence structure, and topic provide a meaning agreeable to pertaining to the nature of the Spirit. As we would say, e.g., humanly, but he says Spirit-ly. Put slightly differently, as we would say anthropological (of or from man), Paul says Spiritual (of or from the Spirit).

    Significantly, Paul is saying that the human body is acted upon by the Spirit so as to render it of or from the Spirit. In other words, the object (a human body) comes now under the domain, not of oxygen and glucose–the laws and principles of established physics–but the domain and power of the Spirit where it cannot die a future death (and needs neither oxygen or glucose, being suitably fitted for the future state of existence.

    Since Wright is the leading authority on this point I'll reproduce what he write here: “In verse 44 Paul contrasts the two types of bodies, the present one and the resurrection one. The words he uses are technical and tricky. Many versions translate these words as 'physical body' and 'spiritual body', but this is highly misleading . . . If you go that route, you may well end up saying, as many have done, that Paul is making a contrast simply between what we call a 'body', that is a physical object, and what we might call a ghost, a 'spiritual' object in the sense of 'non-physical'. But that is exactly what he is not saying. The contrast he's making is between a body animated by one type of life and a body animated by another type. The difference between them is found, if you like, in what the two bodies run on. The present body is animated by the normal life which all humans share. The word Paul uses for this often means 'soul'; he means it in the sense of the ordinary life-force on which we all depend in this body, the ordinary energy that keeps us breathing and our blood circulating. But the body that we shall be given in the resurrection is to be animated by God's own Spirit. This is what Paul says in a similar passage, Romans 8.10-11: the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah dwells within you at the moment, and God will give life to your mortal bodies through this Spirit who lives inside you.” 1 Corinthians (SPCK: 2003), 220-21.


  8. [here's the rest of my response. It was truncated due to a word limit]

    Is Paul referencing a physical body with respect to Jesus' resurrection. Yes. That is exactly what resurrection means – transformation (not annihilation) of the physical human body; and it is that paradigm (Jesus being the paragon) that sets the stage for the discussion in 1 Cor 15.

    It is important to remember that, just as Prof Colin Gunton (KCL) has explained, for the Jews of the first century, there was no Platonic worldview of upper and lower spheres of reality. There was one reality with two interlocking, interpenetrating dimensions. And those dimensions comprised what it means to be a human being. Death dehumanizes. Resurrection re-humanizes. Jesus, Paul has been saying, is the future of humanity in the here and now. We were not meant to be buried under the Earth but to rule on it.

    Paul is bearing early witness to multiple encounters with the same Jesus of Nazareth that was once thoroughly and certifiably dead who he says was manifest in the future state of humanity – transformed through a process called resurrection, so that this same Jesus could not die anymore precisely because his body was not comprised the same way as ours but rather empowered, if you will, by God's own Spirit.

    I hope this is helpful to advance the discussion.
    Kind regards,
    John Bombaro


  9. Attention all Readers:

    As both Pastor Bombaro and DagoodS are busy professionals, I want to devote the remainder of the comment section under this post to only Pastor B. and Dagood. Beginning now, only comments from these two persons will be posted under this post until Pastor B. and Dagood have completed their discussion.

    Other readers are welcome to comment on Pastor B. and Dagood's discussion, on other recent posts that have discussed this same issue.

    Thank you for your understanding.


  10. John Bombaro,

    Thank you for the discussion. I am not entirely sure what Gary is looking for here, so if you don’t mind, I would be happy to bounce some ideas, concerns and questions with you. I am not looking for a debate, nor some declared “winner”—more like two people talking over coffee. I am sure to state facts and concepts you already know—I am covering ground for any lurker.

    Focusing on whether Paul meant a spiritual or physical resurrection (in broad terms, as even those words come with qualifiers) in 1 Cor. 15.

    1 Corinthians is a letter to the Church in Corinth where Paul addresses numerous doctrinal issues. I would generally date it 50 CE +/- 5 years. One can almost see Paul checking off each subject as he covers it—divorce, eating, church worship, gifts, etc. Paul uses various devices in arguing doctrinal points, including the authority of God (7:10), Nature (11:14), Israel’s history (10:1-5), the Tanakh (10:7), Jesus events (11:23-27) and, of course, his own presentation of arguments. In short, Paul freely uses whatever means necessary to make his point.

    In 15:3-7 he reiterates a tradition he previously provided to the Corinthians, listing appearances of Jesus post-mortem, concluding with Jesus’ appearance to Paul. He provides no details as to when, where, how, what time, what was said (if anything) other than a chronological order. He does not record a Damascus road experience. When Paul indicates he saw Jesus (9:1), he gives no indication of Jesus’ form. Was it a vision? Was Jesus a physical body? Was it even on earth, or was it when Paul was transported to heaven? (2 Cor. 2:12). As you know, a theme in Jewish writing of the time involved heroes travelling to heaven, such as the Book of Enoch.

    The lack of detail and vagueness results in our still discussing, 2000 years later, what Paul meant by Jesus’ appearances in his letter!

    First Paul argues there must be a resurrection (15:12-34). It would appear some Corinthians were following the Sadducee (or other pagan) principle of no resurrection at all, otherwise, why would Paul spend the time on the topic? Raising the interesting question as to what WAS being declared in the early church regarding resurrection if…20 years after Jesus death…there was this divide on such a foundational doctrinal point. Additionally, vs. 29-30 indicate Paul encouraged people being baptized for the dead, and this ceremony would be useless if there was no resurrection, giving more insight to how little we know about the initial teachings and practices of Christianity. (Additional questions—how big was the Corinthian church? 5? 50? 100? Was it made up of Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles? Slaves, landowners, merchants? We simply do not know.)


  11. Then we come to the heart of our issue—Paul’s description of the Resurrection body. Vs. 35-58. Of course one can argue this was a physical resurrection. The Pharisees held to a physical body that would be revived and live again (Josephus Antiquities 18:14), and as Paul followed Pharisee philosophy, one would naturally assume he continued or transferred this belief into his Christianity. Paul appears to follow a belief in general resurrection in vs. 23, again similar to Pharisees. And in vs. 52 Paul talks about the dead being raised, as if their bodies would be a conduit for whatever happens in the next age.

    But…one could equally argue this was a spiritual resurrection—where the soul or spirit transports to heaven, while the body remains in the ground. He talks about the body being a seed, which becomes another kind of flesh. (vs. 37-38). The seed doesn’t remain; the seed doesn’t “transform” into another seed—it becomes an entirely different thing. As equally different as—to Paul—birds and fish and animals are different. Likewise Paul contrasts whatever body is in heaven with what is on earth. (vs. 39-41). It initially a natural body, when resurrected, it becomes a spiritual body. Just like Adam came from the dust (nature), Jesus is of Heaven (spirit.)

    The natural body is not the one to inherit heaven. (vs. 50). I have read N.T. Wright’s argument as presented, and it is not persuasive. It comes across as justification to avoid Paul’s forthright statement. What is the difference between a “spiritual resurrection” and a “completely new and different body provided by God in the afterlife animated by God’s spirit”? Isn’t this saying the same thing? Additionally, Paul indicates even if the natural body is completely destroyed, there will still be a spiritual body in heaven. (2 Cor. 5:1).


  12. At best…to Paul…the natural body is a seed or husk left behind to grow a new spiritual body. This is closely related to the Essene belief in the afterlife. A quote from Josephus:

    “For their [Essene] doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever; and that they come out of the most subtle air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. And this is like the opinions of the Greeks, that good souls have their habitations beyond the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with storms of rain or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is refreshed by the gentle breathing of a west wind, that is perpetually blowing from the ocean; while they allot to bad souls a dark and tempestuous den, full of never-ceasing punishments. And indeed the Greeks seem to me to have followed the same notion, when they allot the islands of the blessed to their brave men, whom they call heroes and demi-gods; and to the souls of the wicked, the region of the ungodly, in Hades, where their fables relate that certain persons, such as Sisyphus, and Tantalus, and Ixion, and Tityus, are punished; which is built on this first supposition, that souls are immortal; and thence are those exhortations to virtue and dehortations from wickedness collected; whereby good men are bettered in the conduct of their life by the hope they have of reward after their death; and whereby the vehement inclinations of bad men to vice are restrained, by the fear and expectation they are in, that although they should lie concealed in this life, they should suffer immortal punishment after their death. These are the Divine doctrines of the Essenes about the soul, which lay an unavoidable bait for such as have once had a taste of their philosophy.” War of the Antiquities, II, 8, 11.

    (I included this lengthy quote, as I have often heard the claim how Jews did not believe in a spiritual resurrection, and this demonstrates how Jewish and pagan beliefs varied extensively in the First Century.)


  13. Here is the real sticking point for me. Paul demonstrates throughout his letter he is willing to use numerous tools to make his point—including events in Jesus’ life. Paul indicates he received the 1 Cor. 15 tradition and it is often argued (and been argued in this blog) he received it from Peter and James when visiting Jerusalem. Gal. 1:18. And…it has been argued…they MUST have discussed the resurrection appearances.

    Now if Paul knew of the resurrection accounts as recorded in the gospels—why ever would he not mention them here? You want to know what a resurrection body looks like? “Why,” says Paul, “Let me tell you what Jesus was like.” Then Paul could describe how Jesus’ post-mortem resurrection body could walk, talk, teleport, retain knowledge, touch, see, hear, be touched, eat, float, breath, retain scars, make a fire and cook.

    Under my methodology, it would be more convincing to a neutral determinate that in 50 CE, Paul was required to make an argument for why resurrection had to exist at all, and then a convoluted (and still controversial) argument for what a resurrection body would be. Subsequently the belief it was a spiritual resurrection morphed into a physical resurrection, and the legendary elements surrounding the claimed physical resurrection developed through the chronological gospels. It is why the differing accounts exist.

    It is not convincing to claim Paul would know of the canonical gospel appearances, and completely ignore them in arguing for resurrection and for what a post-resurrection body would be like.


  14. For clarification: Dagood asked what I am looking for. This is it:

    1. Is there sufficient evidence to convince a non-biased person (or group of persons, such as a jury) of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth or is it really just a leap of faith?

    2. If there is sufficient evidence, does the bodily resurrection of Jesus validate Jesus as God and validate that his message, contained in the Bible, is true?

    You do NOT need to debate if the printed Bible or the existing manuscripts are inerrant. Orthodox Lutherans only hold that the “autographs” were inerrant, and since those autographs no longer exist (or have not yet been found), there is no means to prove or disprove that position.

    For orthodox Lutherans, Christianity rises or falls on the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, not on an inerrant book.


  15. Concerning the first section of your post above (and I apologize that I will not have time to respond any further than that for today, but will re-engage tomorrow): Your assessment of the dating of 1 Corinthians is in keeping with scholarly consensus and there is no point of discussion there. Let's call it 50 AD. And, yes, Paul utilizes various things to make points regarding sundry topics.

    Indeed, 15.3-7 is a reiteration of a tradition (elsewhere, “the” tradition) he previously provided to the Corinthians – which is important in this discussion, viz. “previously provided.” For, although he provides, as you note, “no details as to when, where, how, what time, and what was said” in this place, it is important to note that he spent considerable time with the Corinithians: eighteen months (Acts 18.1, 5, 11). Though an argument from silence, it would be unreasonably to assume that all of the aforementioned details, not present in 15.3-7, were rehearsed time and again over his tenure in Corinth. Indeed, he intimates as much since he passed onto them what was received in the technical creedal formula of transmission. What is more, several of these details are rehearsed elsewhere, in Galatians for instance.

    Even then, Paul is not tied to what we, post-Enlightenment analytical thinkers, would expect from conventional recapitulation. Women, for instance, are entirely omitted from his litany of witnesses. Certainly the Corinthians were aware that Jesus appear women. The point is this: this highly condensed, technical and formulaic recitation is confessional, not comprehensive. It does not function that way and it would be an imposition for us to expect it here. The Corinthians are being prompted, in a larger discussion about our anticipated participation in the resurrection, to recall the total teaching over Paul's tenure on the resurrection from a reductionistic creed.

    More important are your questions: “When Paul indicates he saw Jesus (9.1), he gives no indication of Jesus' form. Was it a vision” Was Jesus a physical body? Was it on earth, or was it when Paul was transported to heaven?” To these questions we'll turn when I return. (I have a 7 year old celebrating a birthday tonight!)

    Kind regards,


  16. Gary, there should be two parts to my post: One about our conversation itself (referencing Myron Penner) and another starting a conversation about 1 Cor 15.3-7. Please let me know if they both were received because the blog made announcement concerning approval after the first “publish”.


  17. No, the one referencing Penner was not received. Please send again.

    If you are having trouble posting your comments, send them to me in an email, and I will post them on the blog.


  18. John Bombaro

    Why is it certain the Corinthians knew Jesus appeared to women? Far from it—no appearance is mentioned or can even be derived (like the claim the tradition refers to an empty tomb.) This may seem like a nit-pick, but it is demonstrative of the over-arching historical issue surrounding the resurrection claim, so let’s dive in a little bit.

    Mark made up the women seeing the tomb. Mark is the first writer to record it, and it is a Markan stylistic element. Mark likes reversal of expectation: e.g. (1) “the first shall be last, the last shall be first,” (2) the foreign Centurion ironically correctly identifying Jesus as son of God, whereas his own disciples do not recognize it, (3) letting the children come to Jesus (Mark 14:10) and so on. Mark, in creating the empty tomb story, uses the very people we would not expect to be the first witnesses—women–because they would be the least expected. I go into more depth on this argument in this blog entry.

    Matthew, concerned his source material—Mark—fails to have the women inform anyone, emphasizes while they were afraid, they told the Eleven. Matthew, of course, must modify the reason the women went to the tomb, as the Markan reason makes no sense in light of the soldiers Matthew introduces to the story.

    Luke, in reading Mark and Matthew, removes Matthew’s soldiers (as they are problematic), reinserts the Markan reason for the visit, but removes the women appearance. Luke is removing the Galilean element. Additionally, Luke adds a male witness to the empty tomb—Peter.

    The editor of John, when incorporating the synoptic gospel’s stories, adds the beloved disciple to Peter’s visit to the empty tomb (even saying the beloved disciple beat Peter there) to avoid Peter having preeminence.

    We can see the legendary development in the chronological written accounts. From no women in Pauline writings, to Mark’s adding the women for Markan style, to Matthew, Luke and John’s modifications according to their own purposes.

    This very minor issue, though, highlights the bigger problem: What method do we use to determine what is historical and what is legendary in the written accounts concerning Jesus?


  19. PART 1

    Dear Dagoods

    I am sorry that my first post did not make it online. It basically reiterated your spirit of non-combatant participation. My goal is best articulated by my friend Myron Penner in his book The End of Apologetics in which he says the rationalist approach to winning the argument, scoring the points, is inherently self-defeating for the Christian. Taking a Kierkegaardian approach to the apologetic endeavor, namely to edify, to build up your interlocutor intellectually, as a fellow human being. Please read anything that I write in that irenic spirit. I don’t need a fight or aggravation. And, frankly, if your life is even half as busy as mine, then time spent conversing here is a sacrifice.

    Concerning the women: With or without the women, Paul gives a first-generation witness to first-generation witnesses. The point I was making, baldly stated, was that it is altogether unreasonable to assume that Paul offered no discussion, no elucidation, no detailing of the resurrection event to those with whom he spent a year and a half teaching the gospel of Messiah Jesus, since he himself says definitively in the same chapter that it was the fulcrum of his message and the only guarantor of the same. This should not be much of a point of contention, if at all.

    That the “creed” of 15.3-6 (7) is not more detailed and can be faulted for omitting this point or that, indubitably betrays the genre (it is a pity creed or reductionistic hymn); works counter to Paul’s intention which was to take them back to the primer in order to extrapolate on related concerns (as you noted); asks more of this formula than can be expected given both its genre and context; and, lastly, overlooks Paul’s longest chapter devoted to details, elucidation, and discussion concerning the resurrection of Jesus and how it is tethered to the Christian Corinthians. Is that not a true-to-the-text and fair assessment? Either way, it is the classic consensual interpretative tradition of the text.

    Earlier I say “unreasonable” because the resurrection factors large into Paul’s message, his theology, his writings. So let’s amend my previous statement a bit. If women were witnesses, then it would be unreasonable to assume Paul omitted this point (undoubtedly circulated before and independent of Mark’s assumed contrivance) for nearly the space of two years.

    But let’s set that aside for a moment and consider your assertion: “Mark made up the women seeing the tomb.” Now I am wondering how consistent your methodology might be. You say that Mark essentially invented the idea of women being the first witnesses as a stylistic device. Certainly that is far from established as a fact. It is purely perspectival, but certainly the conclusion one would expect if a reader approached a first century Semitic text with Westernized rationalistic expectations. But if a stylistic device, why would Mark openly contradict well-known and widely circulated Pauline teaching and risk immediate discrediting? There was no need for females, especially if his audience was Jewish, since Paul’s earlier recapitulation of the even earlier male-dominated “creed” precluded them. Even as a stylistic device it seems counterintutively superfluous at best, disastrous and alienating at worse. Still, this is not to deny that the use of the women—as real witnesses—does not achieve authorial intent regarding the resurrection. The employment of stylistic devices do not in any case necessarily abate attestation to a historical event. Do you consistently apply the same methodology to, say, a biography on Churchill because the author consciously selected certain details of reported events and arranged them to underscore a particular point? In other words, do all stylistic devices abate or nullify the possibility or other cases the probability of reporting historical phenomenon? Certainly not.


  20. Part 2
    Presently I am reading Martha Bayles’ Through A Glass Darkly: Pop Culture, Public Diplomacy and America’s Image Abroad (or something to that effect – I don’t have with me at present). Throughout this book she is selective in her antidotes, arranges and rehearses them in a particular manner to achieve rhetorical affect. Notwithstanding, one would not dismiss the historicity of the events she recounts, even if throughout the book she repeated employs such stylistic devices conscious of the effect she intends beyond mere data regurgitation. She interprets as she reports. Mark is no different.

    Indeed, let’s go one step further. To have Matthew “modify the reason the women went to the tomb” does not seem the most convincing explanation for his inclusion of the material. We know that Matthew does not report everything in Mark. We know also that Matthew includes many things not in Mark. Why not omit this contrivance rather than embellish it further, especially when Mark—nay, Paul (or at least the “creed” Paul recounts)—are already in circulation in the same region? How much more so when, reading in reverse, the soldiers in Matthew’s account, make the Markan account MORE troublesome? Matthew clearly is doing a poor job adhering to his circulating source and departing from the established tradition and at least contradicting the creedal formula, probably even the known teaching of Paul.

    Then, further still, Luke can’t figure out how to clean up these asymmetrical accounts. Unless, of course, it is simply unnecessary to tidy things up. They only need to do so if and only if they must be read in a linear and well-ordered fashion, which you and I know that that is not how gospel genre were written or intended to be read in the first century. Trying out your methodology on this minor issue, it seems inconsistent because now called into question is why Luke or even Matthew would be even the least bit troubled that women were reported present since it was just a stylistic device for rhetorical effect (as you assert) and not to be taken otherwise, e.g., reporting the real presence of women at the tomb. It seems incredulous that Matthew and Luke would be oblivious to this stylistic device (since they employ so many of their own) as to even give any attention to supporting this bogus element of the narrative, again, compounded by the fact that an earlier, well-established tradition was already present. Far more plausible than modern-day critics seeing this obvious device employed by way of a contrivance and contemporaries like Matthew and Luke being blind to it or complicit with it, is their mere omission.


  21. PART 3

    If one is to proceed methodologically without tripping over anachronistic hermeneutical principles (e.g., those of modernity or post-modernity, structuralism or deconstructionism), then it would not be unreasonable or illogical to engage the interpretative community closest in time and location to the reported events and ascertain their appraisement and distill their hermeneutics.

    So, if our conversation has taken us somewhere today, then (as I read your posts) we are in agreement that (1) history may be conveyed and ascertained; (2) we are treating a real historical figure—Jesus of Nazareth, whose death by crucifixion is certain; (3) that the gospels are a unique genre that are problematic for certain investigative and interpretative methods, including modern method(s); and (4) that the gospels are doing something in addition to being something. If (all things being equal and not falling into a morass of pedantry), we are standing together thus far, then—with as much specificity as we can muster—how would you like to proceed? Treating historical method? Reviewing the classic consensual interpretation of the events from the receptive community closest in time and location to the reported events?


  22. John Bombaro

    Thank you for the continued pleasant conversation. To answer your last question—where do we go from here?—my general impression is Gary desires to observe two individuals discussing the topics surrounding the resurrection. I guess I would focus on what method we use to determine historicity in the various accounts on Jesus.

    To clarify a few points, I would agree the 1 Cor. 15 tradition is limited to its own content, and we cannot ask it to do more than it was intended. To require it to provide details as to the crime Jesus was accused, or the exact coordinates of his burial is beyond its scope.

    But…are Christian apologists consistent in this? Indeed, in the podcast instigating this blog entry, Pastor Cooper derides my statement the tradition fails to explicitly mention an empty tomb, as…to him…it is clearly inferred. Yet if I indicate the tradition fails to mention the women appearances, now I am (gently) corrected to limit its purpose to the internal statements.

    Which is it? Should we limit it to the tradition or should we broaden the scope to what it infers as well? And I should note, as the tradition is listing appearances, the fact the women are not listed is far more relevant as they are conspicuous by their absence. Why are the Christian apologists allowed to broaden the scope to claim 1 Cor. 15 supports an empty tomb, but we must then immediately shrink the scope back to the precise wording when it comes to the women appearances?

    I quite agree with your statement, “If women were witnesses, then it would be unreasonable to assume Paul omitted this point…for nearly the space of two years.” Pretty big “IF.” If they were not (as I contend) then it is quite reasonable Paul would omit this point, as he has no knowledge. Staying consistent within this small method—it is reasonable Paul would know of Jesus’ physical appearances, yet omit the point when arguing for what a resurrection body would be like? Is it reasonable Paul knew Jesus’ resurrection physical abilities yet when describing what a post-resurrection body was like Paul would use every tool in his belt such as tradition, analogy (seeds and clothes), church practices (baptism for the dead), and argument (“our faith would be in vain.”)? But not the far more simplistic act of describing Jesus’ body? Something—under this method—it would be unreasonable to assume he omitted for nearly two years.

    Paul starts 1 Cor. 15 with, “Remember what I told you” and then repeats what he told them. But when it comes to the physical properties, Paul goes through arduous, complicated descriptions rather than simply state, “Remember what I told you” and repeats the resurrection accounts? While I would agree we cannot ask the tradition to do more than intended, the later arguments of Paul in the same chapter make it far more likely Paul had no knowledge of the appearances as later generated and recorded in the gospels.


  23. I rarely flat-out state a gospel writer is making something up. However, after studying the situation, and Markan style, I am forced to conclude this is exactly what Mark did with the women’s appearances. See my previous comment for a link outlining the argument for why.

    You ask “why would Mark openly contradict well-known and widely circulated Pauline teaching and risk immediate discrediting?” First, I am uncertain why contradiction equals immediate discrediting. Paul contradicted Peter in his teaching, yet appeared to thrive. Paul discusses divisions in the church significant to need addressing—why does contradiction necessarily entail discrediting?

    Secondly—much like my question regarding the Corinthians knowing the women appearance accounts—how do we know the 1 Cor. 15 tradition was “well-known and widely circulated” at the time of Mark?

    The only points aligning in the tradition with Mark are the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection 3 days later—all of which AGREE with the tradition. Mark has no appearances. Matthew, chronologically later than Mark, demonstrates no knowledge of the tradition. No appearance to Cephas, no appearance to the Twelve (if, as some argue, “the Twelve” was a title, Matthew has no allegiance to such a title, using “the Eleven.”). No appearance to 500, no appearance to James, no appearance to apostles.

    The Christian argument has become, “Paul knew about these other appearances, but didn’t mention them” and “Matthew knew about these other appearances, but didn’t mention them.” If they are not mentioned, why are we claiming the authors knew them?

    Luke, chronologically later than Matthew, demonstrates partial knowledge of the tradition, but a willingness to not list all the appearances mentioned. Why? Luke has “James” a significant leader in the church, yet fails to even account for the appearance? In fact, Luke does not specifically refer to “James, the Leader” as “James, the brother of Christ”!

    I equally agree we must stay consistent in reviewing other works. I suggest reading this blog entry for a description of ancient accounts, how they disagree and how historians generally approach them. The money quote, “[T]he different authors had different views of Jesus and adjusted their material to fit their own theological purposes. Mark is not Luke, Luke is not John. Just as we saw with Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio, these authors reported different versions of events in accordance with their own narratives.”

    Matthew leaves the women…because they do not impinge upon his narrative. What DOES impinge would be their going to the tomb to complete the burial process and their concern about removing the stone, as Matthew has now introduced guards and a seal. Thus Matthew freely modifies Mark to have the women just being spectators. Luke appears to be more concerned about modifying the Galilean statement to keep the disciples in town than whether Jesus appeared to the women. Possibly they were cut out for space.

    Unfortunately, as you know, Jesus historical studies is a hopeless mess. If we look to the receptive community closest to the time and events, we are left with the 1 Cor. 15 tradition. If we broaden our horizon, we see the chronological accounts freely employ modification, legendary elements and theological purpose, undermining the reliability of the earlier tradition. Thus the reason I am curious what method you might propose to resolve the quandary.


  24. No one ever tried to discredit Jesus by saying his miracles didn't happen or were frauds. No one–not even his enemies questioned the validity of these miracles. They accused him of getting his powers from the devil. He elegantly argued why this was not possible. They accused him of blasphemy, and of being possessed. He denied this and showed them all to be liars.


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