Gary: I do not need to have “faith” that the laws of internal combustion exist. I can believe it because the overwhelming majority of experts say they exist, and if I want to, I can conduct research to prove it. Can you do the same with your belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator?
I do not deny the existence of a god…only the existence of your god, Yahweh/Jesus. 🙂
Taylor, conservative Christian: Is this a scientific position? And yes, I can! BUT I would like to note now that the argument has shifted considerably. We’re no longer debating about the existence of God in general, but about Christianity in particular. Does that mean that you’ve moved towards theism/deism?
Gary: No, I’m still in the same spot as when we began our discussion: I am agnostic as to the existence of a Creator. Experts are divided on the subject of the origin of the universe, so I remain on the sidelines on this issue until better evidence becomes available.
Taylor: As I say, I usually don’t argue Christian particularism unless the person already believes in God, but you have brought this up a couple of times now and I don’t want you to think I am dodging. Just know that this is HUGE topic and I am only going to hit some highlights here. Happy to provide resources for further reading, however. *Before I get started, I think it is worth pointing out that if you accept that it is possible that God exists (as you concede), you must also accept that, if God exists, then the resurrection is at least possible.
Gary: Absolutely. Anything is possible, but what is plausible/probable? That is the real question.
Taylor: Now then, the science of textual criticism is the same method that literary scholars would apply to any ancient text to determine its veracity. The New Testament stands remarkably well against this test.
Gary: Yes, we should use the same standard in evaluating the New Testament as we do any other book from Antiquity. We are in agreement on that issue. However, please provide a source which states that the majority of experts believe that the NT stands up “remarkably well” against this standard in regards to the historical accuracy regarding all its claims of fact.
Taylor: It was taken down very early after the events it described (unusual in a verbal culture).
Gary: The majority of scholars believe that Paul’s (seven authentic) epistles were written in the mid 50’s. Paul tells us a little, but not much, about the historical Jesus. The overwhelming bulk of information regarding Jesus comes from the four Gospels. The majority of scholars believe that the first Gospel was written in circa 65-75 CE. That is approximately four decades after Jesus’ death. That is plenty of time for an oral story to be embellished and changed dramatically. Conservative Christians frequently claim that in first century Judaism oral stories were carefully guarded by eyewitnesses and their accuracy strictly maintained. This is nothing more than an unproven generalization. But even if true, violations of strict rules and customs do happen.
Taylor: The historical and cultural context is absolutely correct. A forgery taken down much later will not correctly place historical/political figures, geographic landmarks, political climate, etc the way that the New Testament does. The congruence can be seen in the contemporaneous writings of Roman historians and the like.
Gary: I do agree that the authors of the Gospels had a great deal of knowledge about first century Judaism. For example, scholars agree that there is nothing in the burial accounts of Jesus that contradicts first century Jewish burial customs. However, most NT scholars do not believe that any of the Gospel authors were eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses. In particular, they doubt that the author of the first Gospel, Mark, was written by an eyewitness, primarily because the author seems to have a poor understanding of Jewish purification rituals and makes errors in describing basic geographical facts about Palestine. I’m sure you disagree, but I am not interested in debating all the minutia. I accept the majority expert opinion.
Taylor: There are several credible eye-witness accounts that vary on minor details, but are consistent on core claims of the gospels. Which, as any good detective will tell you, is a sign of authenticity.
Gary: Says who? The majority of NT scholars?? Answer: No.
Taylor: This is because accounts that match on every detail are almost always the result of collusion. But if several people witness the same event, they will agree on the core facts, but differ on minor details.
Gary: Or, three authors plagiarized the writings of an earlier author (Mark) and used his story as a boiler plate for their stories (the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John). The later three authors embellishing Mark’s original story to create their own version of the “Jesus Story”, creating four similar yet different stories. The overwhelming majority of NT scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were heavily dependent on Mark and scholars are evenly divided on the question of whether John was also dependent on Mark. If John was dependent on Mark, then it is possible that Christians only have ONE source for the entire Passion Narrative. The differences present in the Passion Narratives of the later three gospels from the original, Mark, simply being fictional embellishments. And to top it off, maybe Mark’s original story was an embellishment of the skeleton Jesus Story found in the Early Creed! Christians cannot prove that this is not the case, and if it is the case, the Christian religion is built on very, very shaky evidence!
Taylor: The eyewitnesses refused to recant when doing so would have spared them torture and death via Roman crucifixion… And they would have KNOWN that what they were saying was false; it’s not like they could have been sincerely mistaken that Jesus had died and then risen from the grave.
Gary: We have zero confirmed accounts of even one of the Twelve being offered clemency if he would recant seeing a resurrected body. For all we know, the disciples were killed because they were members of a new “heretical” minority religion. Tens of thousands of people belonging to minority religions have suffered the same fate for millennia! In addition, all the martyr stories about the Twelve are from centuries later and are considered by most scholars to be “Catholic tradition” and nothing more. We should no more believe in the historicity of the Martyr Stories than we should the historicity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Taylor: More than 5000 people over a 3 to 4 month period claimed to have seen Christ after his death.
Gary: Five thousand??? I think you mean 500.
Please provide ONE undisputed eyewitness account in which the alleged eyewitness describes seeing a resurrected body. The fact is, the only eyewitness account we have is from Paul in Galatians, and he doesn’t tell us anything about what he saw.
Taylor: There are contemporaneous accounts from at least 3 historians and 11 authors (not including the New Testament authors) who confirm the basic timeline of events.
Gary: What basic time line? That Jesus lived, was crucified, and that shortly after his death, some of his followers believed that he had appeared to them in some fashion? That is hardly convincing corroborating evidence for the resurrection! You may be able to list historians who mention the name “Chrestus” or even “Jesus” but please list someone providing corroborating statements about specific miracles, the empty tomb with angels and a stone that had been rolled away, or the detailed appearance stories.
Taylor: The empty tomb is a historical fact as certain as ANY fact from that time period.
Gary: Really? I accept the claim that the majority of NT scholars believe in the empty tomb. However, 25% of NT scholars do not believe in its historicity. This 25% figure comes from conservative Christian apologist Gary Habermas. But ask yourself this: Is Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon disputed by 25% of scholars? Is Alexander’s siege of Tyre disputed by 25% of historians? Is ANY OTHER historical claim, listed in our history books, disputed by a FOURTH of all scholars???? I don’t think so. Your claim is an exaggeration, my friend.
Taylor: Roman and Jewish authorities offered several explanations of why the tomb was empty. Why would such authorities say that “the disciples stole the body”, and so on, if they could have simply produced the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth and squashed Christianity before it began?
Gary: Says who, the Gospels and the writings of Justin Marytr, a Christian living one hundred years after Jesus’ death? Outside of Christian writings, we have zero corroborating evidence from the first century of any non-believing Jew or Roman making this claim. And why should the Jewish authorities produce the body of someone that only “120” Galilean peasants believed to be back from the dead? Maybe they didn’t care what these peasants believed. And even if they had wanted to produce the body on Pentecost, how could they? The tomb was empty, if 75% of scholars are correct! But remember this: there are plenty of natural explanations for empty tombs! Why buy the crazy ravings about a “resurrection” from a small band of superstitious peasants?
Taylor: This brings me to an argument that is sometimes called “the minimal facts approach”. The idea here is to argue only from the facts that are undisputed about the life and death of Christ. That is, the argument builds solely on the facts accepted universally by experts (so you should love this :)) both believing and non-believing. Those facts are as follows:
1) Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. This is recorded in all 4 gospels as well as several non-christian sources. It is attested to by the Jewish historian, Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus to name a few.
Gary: I accept this claim to be an historical fact. There is sufficient evidence to believe it.
Taylor: 2.) Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
Gary: The empty rock tomb is NOT a universally accepted “fact”. It is disputed as mentioned above.
Taylor: This can be taken as historically certain as the Jewish authorities accused the disciples of stealing the body!
Gary: So say anonymous Christian authors, and, Justin Martyr living hundred years after Jesus’ death!
Taylor: This presupposes, and therefore admits, that the tomb of Jesus was empty. If it wasn’t, they could have produced a corpse and ended the Christian religion before it even began… But they couldn’t.
Gary: Or…Jesus was a nobody, and, after his death, no body cared that a handful of Galilean peasants believed that their apocalyptic leader had come back from the dead. Nobody took this claim seriously. They could care less if a handful of Galileans believed that their leader was “risen from the dead”. Herod Antipas allegedly believed that John the Baptist was risen from the dead. If true, claims of someone being risen from the dead was not unheard of.
Taylor: It is also extremely unlikely that early Christians would have invented the fact that the WOMEN discovered the empty tomb. This was a society where the testimony of women was not even admissible in the court of law. Embarrassing testimony (of which this is not the most) permeates the gospels and is another mark of authenticity.
Gary: Maybe women did find an empty tomb. Maybe that part of the story is true??
Taylor: 3) Jesus’ disciples believed what they saw was the risen Jesus… Literally everyone agrees with this.
Gary: Literally everyone agrees that the disciples had experiences which led them to believe that Jesus was risen. To say that literally everyone believes that the disciples saw a literal resurrected body is absolutely false. Not even all Christian scholars believe that the disciples saw an actual body.
Taylor: 4) The skeptic and persecutor of Christians, Paul, was converted to Christianity. The man wrote 60% of the New Testament. Everyone agrees with this.
Gary: So what? History has multiple accounts of devoutly religious people of one religion converting to another religion.
Taylor: 5) The skeptic James was converted to Christianity. 100% agreement.
Taylor: 6) The Resurrection was the catalyst for the explosive growth of Christianity. Within one lifetime, it spread from Israel all the way to Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Gary: Maybe the STORY of the resurrection was the cause of the growth of Christianity but you cannot prove that the growth was due to an actual resurrection. Maybe the growth, especially among the lower classes, might have been to do with the claim that in this religion “all are equal” (social equality) and the habit of putting everything in common. That sure would sound good to a poor person.
Taylor: So what are we to make of these “minimal facts”? Suffice it to say that there have been several theories offered to explain all of these facts and any theory proposed must address all 6, but none have been successful – save for one; that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
Gary: Or…one disciple had a vivid dream in which (he believed) Jesus appeared to him and commissioned him to preach his Gospel to the world. This disciple was so convinced that his dream was real, that he convinced the other disciples it was real. Soon other disciples were having vivid dreams or simply experiencing illusions (bright lights, etc.) and believing that Jesus had appeared to them too. Emotional hysteria breaks out among these very religious, very superstitious, mostly uneducated peasants. Soon groups of people are seeing bright lights and believing that Jesus has appeared to them, similar to Virgin Mary sightings today.
And the resurrection story is born…
Taylor: Ok – there’s LOTS more that could be said here, but this deserves a post, nay a book, of its own! I’ll leave it here for now.
Gary: Thanks for your input. I did make it a post!
End of post.