What do Habermas and Licona mean when they say that “[sketpics are] always looking for a way out“? What they mean is that we skeptics intentionally refuse to accept the most probable explanation of the evidence for the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus: that Jesus really was bodily resurrected. Instead we skeptics feverishly search for a “way out” from having to admit this “truth”. We are desperately searching for an alternative explanation for the facts that are staring us in the face. Why: We are rebellious sinners who refuse to submit to our Creator and Lord!
The reason we skeptics put forward multiple, naturalistic scenarios as possible explanations for the early Christian resurrection belief is not because we are stubbornly resisting “our Creator”, it is because the Christian supernatural resurrection story is so ridiculously improbable. It is just as improbable and ridiculous to skeptics as is the Hindu claim that the Buddha caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language and the Muslim claim that it’s prophet flew on a winged horse to heaven. Resurrected dead corpses, talking water buffalo, and flying horses just do not occur in the real world, my Christian friends! Could they happen? Maybe. But collective human experience says that they are very, very improbable and that there are many other much more probable, naturalistic explanations for why the original founders of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam first came to believe these very extra-ordinary claims.
Legends and Embellishments:
“Are embellishments responsible for the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection that we see in the New Testament? The textual purity of the New Testament is rarely questioned in scholarship. It is well established and agreed among almost all who have seriously studied the ancient texts that the text is virtually the same as what was originally written. Even critical scholars question very few words in the New Testament, and those words in question do not affect doctrinal issues. The question in scholarship today is, “Did legend creep into Christian traditions BEFORE they were put into writing?'” This is where we must show that legend is unlikely.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 85
Gary: Thank god! I am so sick of Christian apologists claiming that since there are thousands of copies of the New Testament with very few significant variants this proves the historical reliability of the New Testament. Nonsense. Thousands of copies with very few significant variants in no way proves that the original stories told in the Gospels and the Book of Acts are historically true. It only proves that we have thousands of very good copies. That’s it. The original stories could be complete fiction. I am happy to see that Habermas and Licona recognize that important distinction.
“Several problems beset the embellishment view of Jesus’ resurrection. First, the resurrection story itself can be traced to the real experiences of the original apostles.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 85
Gary: Really? Says who? The Gospels; the very documents under scrutiny for their historical veracity?? All we have is the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15, the Gospel Appearance Stories, and the Book of Acts with which to consider the historicity of the appearance claims made by the original apostles. The Early Creed is very short on details so not much help. The appearance stories in the Gospels and in the first chapter of Acts are full of discrepancies and could very well be later, literary embellishments typical of Greco-Roman biographies. After all, the first Gospel written, Mark, originally had ZERO appearance stories.
“If embellishments added details over time so that the ending of the story became the resurrection of Jesus, then the original story told by the disciples most likely would not have included Jesus’ resurrection. In short, the evidence from the disciples contradicts the embellishment explanation.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 85
Gary: What??? There may be some skeptics who believe that the concept of Jesus’ resurrection was a later embellishment but I don’t know of anyone myself who does. Except for the mythicists, all the skeptics I know believe that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been resurrected in some fashion. The belief in Jesus resurrection was not an embellishment. We skeptics believe that the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are most likely embellishments, that is why there are so many discrepancies among them. Some of us believe that the Empty Tomb pericope may also be an embellishment. But the resurrection belief itself an embellishment? No. This seems like a Strawman argument.
“Second, Paul came to Christ through an experience in which he thought he encountered the risen Jesus. This account also dates very early. We need reasons for his conversion from unbelief, since his conversion was based on a personal appearance of Jesus and counts very heavily against embellishment.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 86
Gary: Correction, “his conversion was based on his BELIEF that he had experienced a personal appearance of Jesus…” You were not there Drs. Habermas and Licona. Let’s not assume what we do not know. Let me repeat: I do not think that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was a later embellishment. However, it is the detailed appearances stories and the J. of A. rock tomb story whose historicity I question.
“Third, the same applies to James.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 86
Gary: We have no statements by James that he converted due to an appearance by Jesus. The only statement asserting such is found in the Early Creed. This is hearsay and therefore weak evidence. I find it very odd that neither the Gospels nor the Book of Acts mention that the resurrected Jesus appeared to the first Bishop of Jerusalem, his brother, James. That doesn’t mean he didn’t, but still…