|Saul of Tarsus looks on at the stoning of Stephen|
I am posting my arguments from my recent debate with “Nick the Christian” on Theology Web:
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[a] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b] 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[c] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[d] of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
They still didn’t get it, did they?
These eleven guys had been with Jesus 24/7 for three years. They had witnessed his many miracles which demonstrated his super-human abilities, confirming his claim of being the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God…confirming, that is, if….the accounts in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts are historical facts. Let’s review them:
1. He predicted the only spot in a huge inland sea where they were able to immediately catch massive amounts of fish.
2. He turned water into wine.
3. He fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
4. He ordered the wind and the sea to obey his commands, and they immediately did.
5. He walked on water.
6. He healed blindness, leprosy, seizures, and irregular menstrual bleeding.
7. He commanded 2,000 demons to leave the body of a man to enter the bodies of pigs.
8. He reanimated the dead bodies of several deceased individuals.
9. He caused a fig tree to wither just by his verbal command.
10. He had the power to read the minds and thoughts of his enemies and friends.
11. His body was transfigured in front of their very eyes while meeting with the two most important Jewish leaders/prophets in Jewish history, Moses and Elijah.
12. They witnessed a voice from the sky declare Jesus as his son at Jesus’ baptism.
13. They witnessed Jesus reattach the severed ear of the high priest’s servant.
14. They witnessed three hours of darkness in the middle of the day at the moment of Jesus’ death.
15. The witnessed two great earthquakes, one at the moment of Jesus death and one the morning of his resurrection.
16. The witnessed dead saints walk out of their graves to roam the streets of Jerusalem.
17. They witnessed an empty tomb that had been guarded round the clock by Roman guards.
18. They received eyewitness testimony from female disciples that at least one, maybe two, angels had rolled the great stone away from the tomb entrance and had told the disciples to go to Galilee (or stay in Jerusalem) to meet Jesus (depending on which version of the story you read).
19. Jesus had previously warned them that he would be killed and that he would be resurrected on the third day.
20. Jesus had told them, after accomplishing so many supernatural acts, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, eternally present with the Father since the beginning.
Yet, none of this incredible evidence convinced the disciples that Jesus was God incarnate! Nope. And more than that, folks, even when Jesus appears to them…they don’t believe! They doubt. They think he’s a ghost! These guys still don’t believe in Jesus as God, even with his reanimated walking/talking body standing right in front of them!! Jesus is forced to provide even more evidence for these guys to finally believe! Jesus is forced to show them his wounds, ask them to touch his body, and, eat some broiled fish to prove to them that they are not hallucinating and seeing a ghost!!
And that still wasn’t enough! Jesus is finally forced to use his supernatural powers to “open their minds” so that at last, they believe!
Let’s now take a look at the Apostle Paul, previously known as Saul of Tarsus. When those of us who grew up going to Sunday School hear the name “Apostle Paul” we almost immediately think of this passage in the Bible, don’t we:
Paul before Agrippa
All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee…
Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.[b] 10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
“With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 when at midday along the road, your Excellency,[c] I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew[d] language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me[e] and to those in which I will appear to you. 17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.
—Acts chapter 26
Paul was a Pharisee, a rabbi. In another passage of the New Testament, he claims that he was a student of one of Judaism’s most famous teachers, Gamaliel. Therefore, Paul was very well-versed in Jewish customs, the Jewish religion, Jewish history, and the Hebrew Bible. Paul was also a policeman for the chief priest. He tortured and condemned to death many Christians in the attempt to get them to blaspheme Jesus and trying to extract information from them. Paul would have been very well acquainted, therefore, with the teachings of the early Church, with the leadership of the early Church, and have known the identities of the families and friends of the leaders of the early Church. Any good policeman is going to find out who the leaders are of the group of trouble-makers he is pursuing, and, find out information about their families and friends. So Paul would have known the following facts, or at least the following Christian beliefs/assertions of fact, about Jesus and the early Church:
1. Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe.
2. Jesus was the fulfillment of all messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. Since Paul knew these OT passages, he could compare these Christian claims to the Scriptures themselves to verify their veracity.
3. Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, both of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem, the city prophesied to be the birthplace of the messiah.
4. Kings from the East came to visit the new Jewish King as a child bringing expensive gifts, infuriating Herod the Great, causing him to slaughter every young male child under two years of age in Bethlehem, except Jesus, who escaped to Egypt.
5. At the age of 12, Jesus taught the meaning of Scripture to the rabbis and priests in the Temple.
6. Jesus had performed numerous miracles, including raising the dead and healing the incurable.
7. Jesus, the uneducated son of a peasant carpenter, was so wise in the ways of Scripture and Jewish law that he often dumbfounded the Pharisees and Sadducees, the brightest and most educated people in the land.
8. Paul was either present in Jerusalem during the trial, crucifixion, and alleged resurrection of Jesus or shortly thereafter, as he was present at Stephen’s stoning. Therefore Paul would have witnessed first hand the earthquakes, dead saints roaming the streets, and three hours of darkness, or, received first hand testimony from eyewitnesses.
9. As a Pharisee and policeman for the chief priest, Paul would have known about the round the clock presence of Roman guards at the tomb, the guards’ story of angels opening the tomb, and the hush money paid by the high priest.
10 Paul would have known that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn down the middle.
11. Paul would know the location of the empty tomb and its significance to the claim of a resurrection.
12. Paul would have known that no first century Jew would have believed the claim of the resurrection of one dead man, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous, unless, the Jews in question had seen the resurrected dead man with their own two eyes.
13. Paul witnessed the change in attitude and behavior of the previously cowardly and timid disciples of Jesus, including the brother of Jesus, James, the leader of the Church.
14. Paul saw how thousands were converting (5,000 in one day!) to this “religion of shame”. A religion of which no respectable Jew or Gentile could be proud to be a member.
15. Paul saw how this religion of shame was spreading like wildfire throughout Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and even into Syria.
16. Paul saw scores if not hundreds of Christians willing to be tortured and even killed for their belief. I’m sure Paul also believed that “no one would die for a lie”.
17. Saul/Paul would have also known that the witness of women in the first century was not accepted in court, so the fact that Christians were using women as the first witnesses in their story should have weighed heavily in favor of the truthfulness of their story in Saul’s mind, right?
Saul still needed a personal appearance from Jesus (in a “heavenly vision”) to believe this tale. All this “cumulative” evidence did not sway him, including women being used as the first witnesses to the empty tomb.
Saul/Paul had all this evidence. Paul had the very same evidence that Nick has presented to me, and more, as some of the evidence he saw with his own two eyes and Paul was much closer in time to the events in dispute. So Paul had the same evidence that Nick and his Christian friends berate me for being so closed-minded, so prejudiced, (and so ignorant) for not believing…but…the exact same evidence Paul had, and more…yet Saul of Tarsus did not believe!!
Saul/Paul did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, as God, until Jesus made a personal appearance to him on the Damascus Road, and, blinded him, finally giving him back his sight three days later. Then, and only then, did Paul believe.
So Nick asks what kind of evidence I would require to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Here is my answer: I want the same quality and quantity of evidence that the Eleven Apostles and Paul required before they believed!
1. I want to see with my own two eyes Jesus’ walking/talking dead-but-reanimated superhero-body, including the nail holes and the sword wound.
2. I want to touch his body to make sure I am not hallucinating.
3. I want to watch him eat broiled fish.
4. I want to be blinded for three days, to regain my sight only when a church elder says a prayer for me.
5. Finally, I want the reanimated Jesus to use his supernatural powers on my brain, “opening my mind”, so that there is no doubt left in my mind as to the truth of the Christian claims of the reanimation of a dead first century Jewish prophet as God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. If this was the quality of evidence required by the eleven Apostles and Paul to believe, then why shouldn’t I demand the very same??
Now, I can already hear Christians saying, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.”
This is a quote from the Gospel of John where Jesus allegedly appears to the disciples a second (or third) time, this time with “Doubting” Thomas present. I use the world “allegedly” because I don’t believe for a second that Jesus ever said this. Why? This story is nowhere to be found in the first three gospels written, Mark, Matthew, and Luke. It only appears in the last gospel written, the Gospel of John, which most scholars believe was written in the last decades of the first century, maybe even the first decades of the second century. I believe that this little story is a blatant embellishment. So why would this story be added to the story of the Resurrection?
I believe the Early Church, or at least the author of the Gospel of John, saw that they had a big problem. Christian missionaries were telling potential converts in Asia Minor, Achaia, Rome, and elsewhere that they must believe in Jesus by faith, based on accepting someone else’s word as truth, when the very pillars of the Church, the Eleven Apostles and Paul, had demanded physical evidence to believe. Was the Church going to pay for round-trip boat tickets for all these people to travel to Palestine to see the empty tomb and interview the alleged 500 witnesses?? Of course not. So they had to come up with a reason why people with no access to physical evidence, should believe this wild tale. And this is what they/he came up with: Jesus himself had said that if converts would believe by faith alone, without evidence, they were more blessed than those who demanded evidence!
Very clever, early Christians!
Sorry. But I’m not falling for your clever “spin”. I still require the same quality and quantity of evidence demanded by the Eleven Apostles and Paul or I reject this whole story as one big concoction of superstitious nonsense. Call me close-minded. Call be biased. Call me ignorant. But then, Christian friends, you must explain why the Eleven and Paul were permitted to demand physical evidence in the quality and quantity described in the Bible prior to believing, but I am wrong for asking for the very same.