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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection Series Part 6: More Objections

Welcome to part six of the resurrection series based on the book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Please see all preceding parts before reading this post. Today, we will continue to talk about a few more objections to the Resurrection that are often brought up by the skeptics.

The next method of the critic, then, is to claim that there are discrepancies in the Resurrection accounts, thereby calling into question the Bible’s inerrancy. But this approach does not call into question the Gospel writers’ “general trustworthiness when recording historical events” (page 122). Additionally, when a historian looks at an event, he does not immediately conclude that because there are discrepancies in the testimonies that the event did not occur. No one rejects other works of antiquity where discrepancies are present; instead, the data is examined more closely. In fact, the differences in the Gospels only points to more than one witness, giving the historian further proof of its reliability. In addition, we have biased testimonies included among the many witnesses; for example, Paul was biased against the Jews and James was biased against his own brother, Jesus! On the flip side, some try to argue that because the disciples were biased toward Jesus, their testimony cannot be trusted. However, if we take this approach, then we should reject almost all of history; for much of what we know comes from those who wrote out of interest for the subject! But even if the disciples are viewed as bias, this does not mean that they were wrong in the facts; many people in history have written about what they experienced, and we believe that they are accurate in what they report. Often, the skeptic will commit the genetic fallacy, claiming that we cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead, because the disciples were bias; it is a fallacy, because it does not address the data which the disciples provided in the four Gospels! The skeptics try to shift the focus from the truth of the Resurrection onto the point of why we believe it – or, why they don’t. If this does not work, the skeptic will focus on the one presenting the argument instead of the actual argument itself in an effort to “avoid arguing ad hominem” (page 125). This does not say anything about the material presented in the argument, and it certainly doesn’t make the argument any less legitimate. Thus, merely claiming that there are discrepancies in the Resurrection put forth by bias witnesses, does nothing to the evidence.

“But,” the skeptics will say, “if Jesus had really risen, and made such a great impact on the culture of the time, we would expect to have more records of Him.” To answer this, let’s contrast the works of several secular authors to the work of Christ. Very few records from 2,000 years ago exist today. All that is necessary is to take a quick look at some of the secular writings of the time. Approximately half of Tacitus’ writings are lost, and all of the writings of Thallus and Asclepiades of Mendes have been lost. Additionally, Nicolas of Damascus, secretary to Herod the Great, wrote 144 books for a Universal History, and none of them have survived to the present. Likewise, we only have the early books and excerpts from others of Livy’s works. Furthermore, even many of the early church fathers’ writings have not survived to the present. Of the writings of Papias, Quadratus, and Hegesippus, only fragments remain, though others have referenced their works. In contrast, the accounts of Jesus are quite impressive for several reasons. Jesus is mentioned by forty-two authors, all within 150 years of His life! These references include the nine traditional authors of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude. There are also twenty Christian authors outside of the New Testament: Clement of Rome; Polycarp; Didache; Barnabas; the author of the Shepherd of Hermas; the author of the Fragments of Papias; Justin Martyr; Aristides; Athenagoras; Theophilus of Antioch; Quadratus; Aristo of Pella; Melito of Sardis; Diognetus; the author of the Gospel of Peter; the author of the Apocalypse of Peter; and the author of the Epistula Apostolorum.  Additionally, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Apocryphon of John, and the Treatise on Resurrection – four heretical writings – all mention Jesus. There are also nine secular sources which mention Jesus. These are the Jewish historian Josephus; the Roman historian Thallus; the Roman politician Pliny the Younger; a freed slave named Phlegon who wrote histories; Mara Bar-Serapion, a prisoner awaiting execution; Suetonius; and Thallus. If we compare these statistics to those sources mentioning the Roman emperor reigning during Jesus’ ministry, Tiberius Caesar, only ten authors mention him within 150 years of his death (Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum, and Luke)! Compared to the forty-two sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life “That’s more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period” (page 128) for a ratio of 42:10! If we only consider the secular sources which mention Jesus and compare those results to Tiberius, we have an even ratio of 9:9. If we are to use the argument, as the critics do, that there should be more accounts of Jesus, then we should ask, why aren’t there more records of the emperor Tiberius?

The records of the Gospel make it quite evident that the disciples experienced something; they claimed it was the Resurrection of Christ – but many who do not wish to believe in the Resurrection will say, “We know that they experienced something, but what it is we will never know.” However, this approach does not reject the evidence, as the skeptics hope to do; rather, it rejects the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Additionally, we should not be focusing on what we do not know, but rather on what we do know; there is an abundance of evidence for the Resurrection, much like there are many pieces to a puzzle – and this puzzle reveals a Resurrection and nothing else. More importantly, the context provides evidence that we have no reason to reject. For example, Jesus’ claims to deity, His miracles, and many other facts point to the existence of God. Furthermore, these facts are not disputed by anyone; people just disagree on their interpretations of those facts. Therefore, “In the absence of a valid reason for rejecting Jesus’ resurrection, nothing prevents a rational person from concluding that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an event in history” (page 129).

Since many skeptics can’t explain away the Resurrection, they will merely state that Jesus was an alien. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Jesus was an alien who played a joke on all of humanity and merely deceived us into thinking that He died on the cross and rose from the dead! (This theory would also explain why some claim that aliens resurrected Jesus!) But the alien theory does not adequately explain Jesus’ resurrection; it merely denies that God was the cause of it. Additionally, Jesus’ life drastically differs from that of an alien. Aliens usually travel in a spaceship; but Jesus was born on earth. Alien appearances are usually short; but Jesus was on the earth for over 30 years! Aliens are known to be abusive; but Jesus is loving. But lest the adamant adherer does not consider this to be substantial evidence to discredit the theory, it should be noted that the scientific evidence for aliens is questionable; in fact, science tells us that there is a high probability that life cannot exist on any other planet except earth. In contrast, there is sufficient evidence that God exists; one only needs to examine creation to see this – if there is a creation, there must be a Creator. Additionally, the cosmological argument argues for a beginning to the universe – an eternal cause. Because the facts speak strongly in favor of the existence of God, Jesus’ Resurrection is better explained by His claims to deity than by an alien “playing a cosmic joke” (page 234). If a skeptic is serious about his claim that Jesus was an alien, respond, “Let’s stick with the academic arguments for now. Once we’re done with those, we’ll get back to some of the fun ones,” since no scholar agrees with this assumption. This let’s the objector know that this is not a genuine argument. Another good comeback is, “Yes, Jesus as Son of God was an alien and not of this world” (page 234).

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