A review of evangelical theologian and apologist Randal Rauser’s latest book, Conversations With My Inner Atheist, Part 8. (I am going to intersperse my comments with those of Rauser in this post as his comments are lengthy and contain many, many assumptions, in my humble opinion):
“Mia” (Rauser’s nickname for his doubts): The next thing I’d like to talk about is the resurrection of Jesus.
Rauser: Good, because belief in Jesus’ resurrection is not only a matter of faith. There is some surprisingly strong evidence for the miraculous resurrection.
Gary: Really? Let’s see how “strong” this evidence is, shall we?
Mia: Too bad the reader can’t see my raised eyebrows.
Randal: Skeptics often make a couple of critical mistakes in their dismissal of the resurrection. First, they assume that the New Testament is a single document.
Gary: This is ridiculous. I don’t know of one skeptic counter-apologist who assumes that the New Testament is one single document. One of our biggest criticisms of the Christian holy book is that it consists of multiple texts, written by multiple (mostly anonymous) authors, with multiple versions of contradictory Christian teaching (eg. the Epistle of James vs. the Epistle to the Romans), written over many decades.
Randal: In fact, it is a complex library of writings from the first century and several of those writings provide important historical witnesses to the resurrection. Second, they [skeptics] are often skeptical of the writings just because they are in the Bible. But before these texts were ever recognized as being part of a religious collection of ‘inspired’ writings, they were works of secular history—everyday letters and biographies—which tell something amazing about how this extraordinary person Jesus impacted others.
Gary: The majority of scholars reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels (and Acts). And except for approximately seven “genuine” epistles of Paul, the majority of scholars believe that the authors of all the other books of the New Testament are unidentifiable. We don’t know who wrote these “inspired” texts! So out of 27 books, we have ZERO written by someone who witnessed the life and death of Jesus or was an associate of someone who did, according to most scholars! And we have only one New Testament author, according to most scholars, who alleges that he was an eyewitness to an appearance of Jesus, Paul. However, in his own writings, Paul tells us NOTHING about his alleged appearance experience with “the Christ”.
Randal: …While Paul quotes from [First Corinthians 15:3-8, a list of alleged witnesses to Jesus appearances] in his letter to the Corinthians from about AD 54, he notes that he relayed that information to the Corinthians on his earlier visit in 51. What is more, he also says that he received it earlier still. So when did Paul receive this teaching? Well, in Galatians 1 Paul includes some invaluable details about his own conversion. Scholars believe that Paul likely had his famous Damascus Road experience, that event which changed him from the chief persecutor of the disciples to being himself a disciple, in about the year 34, approximately a year after the death of Jesus.
Gary: Dear Dr. Rauser, please provide a mainstream (non-evangelical) scholarly source which states that most modern NT scholars believe that the story of a Damascus Road experience, as described in the Book of Acts, the author of which most scholars believe was not an associate of Paul or of any other eyewitness, has sufficient historical evidence to support the claim that it was a genuine historical event. I don’t think you can. The truth is, the only thing one can say is that Paul claimed in his writings to have seen “the Christ”. That’s it. In his own writings, Paul never once refers to his conversion occurring on the Damascus Road. Paul never once gives any details of his conversion whatsoever! Your claim is an assumption, Dr. Rauser. A HUGE assumption.
Randal: And as I said, in Galatians 1:18-19, Paul then recounts that three years after this he went up to Jerusalem and met for a couple of weeks with Cephas, that is Peter, as well as James, the brother of Jesus. So the very latest that Paul would’ve received this teaching is in the year 37 from Peter and James. And of course, they didn’t formulate this teaching just for Paul. By this time, it would have already been a fixture of the teaching of the early church.
Gary: Imagine if in the Koran, Mohammad claimed that he met with two important, influential persons in Mecca for fifteen days shortly after his alleged appearance experience with the angel Gabriel, insinuating that he and these two important people discussed and came to a meeting of the minds on all the claims Mohammad makes in his writings. However… neither of these two persons left any documentation corroborating that this meeting took place, nor did anyone else leave documentation that corroborates that this meeting took place! Yet—for over a thousand years, Muslims have used this one claim, by one man, as the sole basis for their trust in the divine calling, authority, and teachings of Mohammad! What would most Christians say about this claim by Muslims? I will bet that most Christians would say, “My goodness! Muslims are soooo gullible!”
Ditto, Christians! Why should we believe the word of one Christian man, Paul?
If you ask, “what did Paul have to gain by making this up?” my response would be: I suspect like a lot of “prophets”, Paul was not dealing with a full deck. I don’t think he was crazy, mind you, but any guy who is prone to “visions”, who isn’t sure whether he did or did not take an intergalactic trip to a “third” heaven where he overheard secret communications that he is unable to divulge to anyone, can’t be completely mentally healthy.
Paul was telling the people in his churches that he was an apostle of Jesus, equal (if not greater) than the original Twelve! Would they believe this claim based solely on his alleged sighting of the resurrected Jesus?? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. So just to be sure, he made up the Jerusalem trip to confirm in the minds of naive Christians in Asia Minor and Greece that he was a genuine apostle.
“Paul would never lie!” Christians will counter.
“Mohammad would never lie!” Muslims would counter.
I am not willing to take the word of either of these “prophets”!
Randal: Note a couple of things here. First, that means that we have evidence that the core confession about Jesus meritorious death and resurrection was already circulating in the early Christian community in Jerusalem and within a couple of years of the death of Jesus. There is no room for legend here. We are within a couple of years of the events.
Gary: More assumptions! Rumors and gossip (legends) can develop overnight. Christians like to claim that first century Jews weren’t like people today. First century Jews would never allow gossip and rumors to distort their oral stories. This is just nonsense. Take a look at the Gospels themselves. The gospel authors tells us that when John the Baptist started his ministry, many Jews believed the rumor that he was the prophet Elijah back from the dead! The gospel authors also tell us that when Jesus started his ministry, some Jews believed the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Whether these stories are true is irrelevant. The fact that the gospel authors included these stories in their books demonstrates that first century readers would not have had a problem believing that first century Jews were just as superstitious and gullible as everyone else!
Randal: And we need an explanation to account for the origin of the belief in the resurrection, by implication a tomb that was found empty, and the claim of these early disciples that they saw Jesus raised again.
Most probable explanation for the empty tomb: Somebody moved the body!
Most probable explanation for the Resurrection Belief: An unexplained empty tomb (because someone moved the body) triggered vivid dreams, trances, sightings involving mistaken identity, and maybe an hallucination or two…along with a heavy helping of cognitive dissonance.
Randal: And that leads me to my second point: while you may conclude that the evidence isn’t enough to persuade you, I’d hope you would at least recognize that you don’t, as yet, have a satisfactory natural explanation for this evidence and thus that you should keep working on one.
Gary: Satisfactory to whom? To you? Probably not. To most evangelical Christians? Probably not. But we skeptics have MANY alternative natural explanations that we believe are very satisfactory, and what is really interesting, there are millions of non-Christian theists (Jews and Muslims) who find our natural explanations for the Resurrection Belief much more believable than your supernatural explanation, even though these theists believe in the reality of the supernatural!
What does that tell you, Dr. Rauser, about the real strength of your “surprisingly strong evidence for the miraculous resurrection“??
–Randal’s comments are from chapter 15
Read part 9 here.
End of post.