How Would One Determine if Jesus of Nazareth is Still Alive and that He is the Creator/Ruler of the Universe?

Image result for image of the resurrection

I have been involved in a very pleasant, polite, email conversation with a Christian blogger named, Peter, regarding the central truth claim of traditional Christianity—the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  He has agreed to transfer our conversation here to this blog.  My question to Peter is as stated in the title of this post:

Gary:  How would someone determine if Jesus of Nazareth is still alive and that he is the Creator/ruler of the universe?

Peter:  Are you familiar with how New Testament Christianity spread?  Can you please share with me your version of how Christianity spread to make sure that we are on the same page?

Gary:  According to the epistles of Paul, Paul and other Christians were sharing teachings concerning Jesus in multiple areas of the Roman Empire.  Paul’s writings are estimated to be from the mid to late 50’s of the first century CE.  The Book of Acts allegedly describes events occurring in the Christian community within a couple of weeks/months of Jesus’ death, but most scholars doubt that this book was written by an eyewitness or an associate of an eyewitness, therefore, the alleged events described in this book must be considered unverifiable hearsay, until and if better evidence becomes available demonstrating otherwise.

(Peter and I will respond to each other’s comments in the comment section below.  Readers are welcome to comment but please do not be offended if Peter only replies to my comments.)


17 thoughts on “How Would One Determine if Jesus of Nazareth is Still Alive and that He is the Creator/Ruler of the Universe?

  1. Hi Gary, thanks so much for transferring our conversation over to the blog. So mentioned in your comment that you doubt the authenticity of the book of Acts. I’m going to assume that you probably also doubt the authenticity of some other books in the Bible. So let’s go to outside the Bible to talk about how Christianity spread.

    How how did Christianity spread if you are using nonbiblical resources that you do trust?


    1. Until any written documents regarding Christianity appeared (the earliest we know about were probably written in the mid 50’s of the first century) the teachings of Christianity were spread by word of mouth. We have the (seven authentic) epistles of Paul which state that he and others were spreading the teachings of Christianity by word of mouth (preaching) to the eastern part of the Roman Empire. We have Roman records of the existence of Christians in Rome in the 60’s (Nero’s persecution).

      Quick and easy answer: word of mouth.


  2. Okay, so let’s assume that it’s word-of-mouth. There is extensive historical documentation that first century Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith. Why would the first century Christians choose to die for their faith if it was spread by word-of-mouth?


    1. Just because a story is spread by word of mouth doesn’t mean the story is not true. If I tell my wife to tell my son that he needs to clean his room and she does so, the message which my son receives by word of mouth is correct. The problem is, when the message is retold numerous times, by numerous different people, across numerous countries and even continents, over a period of decades: Is it possible that some of the message has been deleted, added to, or in some other way altered, even if unintentionally? Can such a story, spread by word of mouth, with everyone who repeats the story sincerely believing it is true, change over time?

      In the case of the stories in the Gospels, there is more to the story than simply Christian believers passing on a strictly historical record of Jesus. The Gospel authors themselves tell us that the purpose of their gospels was evangelization (so that you might believe). The majority of scholars believe that the Gospels were written in a particular literary style (Greco-Roman biography) in which adding embellishments (fiction) to the core historical story was perfectly acceptable. This made for better story telling. In this literary genre, authors were not at liberty to change the known, core, facts of a person’s biography, but they could embellish/add fictional details to those core facts, unlike in a modern biography. So when we look at the Gospels, how can we differentiate the core historical story from embellishments?

      First, let’s find the earliest Jesus story. Where do we find it: First Corinthians chapter 15. It is called “The Early Creed”, and in that creed we find this information:

      -Jesus was crucified.
      -He was buried.
      -On the third day he arose from the dead.
      -Then a list of appearances of Jesus to different individuals and groups is listed.

      The majority of scholars believe that this Creed developed within a few years of Jesus’ death. This evidence indicates that the belief that Jesus had appeared to people was not something invented by the Gospel authors. Prior to the writing of the Gospels, the stories of appearances were already present in the Christian community. But notice something: the Early Creed lists zero details about those appearances other than naming to whom the appearances allegedly occurred! Zero!

      So here is my question for you: Is it possible/plausible that the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John (but completely absent in Mark and the writings of Paul) are literary/theological embellishments meant to make a bare facts story much more interesting—by adding a visible walking, talking, fish-eating corpse?


  3. It’s a good question that you bring up, Gary. So several times throughout your comment, you said that there are scholars who believe that the Gospel accounts are tainted with embellishments that are based on fiction. Well, what if I were able to show you that there are plenty of scholars who do not believe that the Gospel accounts are full of fictional embellishments and that they are 100% accurate? Would you agree with me that you would probably dismiss those scholars as being wrong?

    I’m going to presume that your answer is yes. So then if that is the case, then would you agree with me that you have a confirmation bias tendency towards scholars who support that Christianity is a false religion? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you’re the only one with a confirmation bias here. I believe that all of us have confirmation biases and that would include myself.

    So if you and I have a confirmation bias, then what is your suggestion for overcoming it?


    1. Good point. Even experts can have biases. So how about we exclude the opinions of experts who are more likely to hold positions based on a bias than on evidence—the two extremes of scholarship? I would suggest that we eliminate the following categories of scholars:

      –atheist and agnostic New Testament scholars (such as Bart Ehrman and Gerd Luedemann)

      –liberal Protestant scholars and theologians (such as John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Rudolf Bultmann, and Bishop Spong)

      –evangelical New Testament scholars and theologians (such as William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, Richard Bauckham, and Gary Habermas)

      –fundamentalist Protestant NT scholars and theologians (Maas, Francisco, and Gene Veith)

      I suggest that we find a group of NT scholars who:

      –do not have a bias against the supernatural
      –have a reputation for looking at the evidence and letting the “chips” fall where they may.
      –are not constrained by a doctrinal statement of their denomination or employer that would hinder or deter them from giving a scholarly opinion which conflicts with that doctrinal statement.

      How does that sound?


      1. In fact, Peter, I will even add these stipulations:

        –they must believe in the reality of miracles.
        –they must represent a significant number of New Testament scholars
        –they must believe in the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

        If we can find such a large group of scholars who believe in the supernatural, believe in the reality of miracles, and believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, will you accept their majority opinion on the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels as not being based on a bias (I’m not asking you to accept their majority position, only acknowledge that their position is not based on a bias against Christianity)?


  4. Hi Gary, what if one of the people that you chose to eliminate is correct in their position? Then you would have eliminated somebody that is telling the truth. There must be a better way to overcome confirmation bias, wouldn’t you agree?


  5. The only exercise that I know that helps overcome confirmation bias is to study 3 alternative sources that take the viewpoint is opposite to your own. So for example, if your view is that Jesus of Nazareth did not resurrect, then you would have to study 3 resources that say that Jesus did rise from the dead. You would have to do an in-depth study on these views and ask questions like:

    Is this a source that can be trusted?
    How can I know which view is the correct view?
    Does the author have any alterior motives for taking this standpoint?

    To be honest with you, I have found very few people in the world today who are able to take this exercise seriously. That’s because it’s quite a long exercise that can’t be done in just one day. It’s something that takes a while and that takes patience.


    1. I will list below all the books I have read regarding the truth claims of Christianity. You will see that I have read quite a broad spectrum of authors, from fundamentalist Christian authors such as William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel; evangelical scholars such as Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, Liberal Protestant scholars, Jewish authors, and Roman Catholic scholars. How many books by skeptics of the resurrection have you read, Peter?

      What you seem to be saying is that the ultimate arbiter of the veracity of the historical truth claims of Christianity is none other than yourself. Would you make such an assertion for other historical truth claims? For instance, before you are willing to believe that Alexander the Great really did sack the city of Tyre have you fully and exhaustively examined the evidence for this historical claim, and ditto with every other historical claim? I doubt it. So why do you have a different standard for evaluating the truth claim of the resurrection of Jesus compared to all other historical claims? Is it possibly due to your bias?

      Books I have read related to the truth claims of Christianity:

      “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
      “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
      “The Death of the Messiah, Volumes I and II” by Raymond Brown
      “Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
      ” The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
      “Miracles, Volumes I and II”, by Craig Keener
      “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
      “Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
      “The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
      “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
      “The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
      “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
      “John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
      “The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
      “Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
      “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
      “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices” by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
      “Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
      “Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
      “Cold-Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace
      “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
      “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
      “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman
      “How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman
      “Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman
      “Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehrman
      “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
      “The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward
      “Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels
      “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne
      “Masters of the Planet-the Search for our Human Origins” by Ian Tattersall
      “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by philosopher Peter Boghossian
      “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh and Sean McDowell (currently reading)
      “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins (currently reading)
      “The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry” by Michael Alter (currently reading)

      I suggest that we seriously consider accepting the consensus position of NT scholars on the authorship and inerrancy of the Gospel texts which is that they were not written by eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses; that a generation or more separates any eyewitnesses and the authors of the Gospels; and that the Gospels do contain some embellished material. I believe that we can accept this majority expert consensus opinion as true because a very large group of scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Virgin birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the reality of the supernatural, and the reality of miracles occurring during human history AGREES with this majority consensus position. And who is this large group of New Testament scholars: Roman Catholic scholars, including the highly regarded NT scholar, Raymond Brown. If following a bias, Roman Catholics would side with fundamentalist Protestants on this issue. But they do not. They agree with the majority consensus because that is what the evidence strongly indicates.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your comment, Gary. I now better understand your position and where you’re coming from. I had no idea that you had read so many books about the subject. If you had to classify yourself into 1 of the 4 buckets below, which 1 would you put yourself in:

    A Christian who firmly believes in Christianity
    A Christian who doubts their beliefs about Christianity
    A non-Christian who doubts their current beliefs
    A non-Christian who firmly believes in their current beliefs


    1. I would add a fifth category:

      A former Christian who studied the central historical claims of Christianity and found them unconvincing, and therefore, deconverted from Christianity, but, is always open to new evidence and perspectives as he finds this subject very interesting.


  7. Thanks Gary for your candor. Like you, I have been doing this for a long time. Because I value your time, I want to be upfront with you that I can only help people who are in groups 1, 2, and 3. So I’m afraid that I’m not someone who can help you find what you’re looking for.

    Nevertheless, I just want to say how much I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I believe that you are a genuine person and I hope that you truly find what you’re looking for on your journey 😊.


    1. So you are not interested in evaluating your beliefs with a former Christian who is well read in the evidence? What would you say to someone of another religion with whom you wanted to share your beliefs and he refused, saying that he only discusses his faith belief with people who up front declare that they are interested in converting to his religion?

      Would you recognize a problem in this person’s worldview if he has set himself up as the final arbiter of truth?


    1. Peter, how can you be so certain that your belief, which is primarily based on your feelings, perceptions, and historical claims supported by only a small minority of experts, is true? How could a neutral observer find out if you are correct or if one of the billions of other equally devout believers who follow other faith traditions is correct?


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