Monday, March 24, 2008

The Historical Reliability of the Resurrection

"That is why I would assert that the resurrection must be the “starting point” for the rational seeker and for our apologetic, as it is a fully defensible historic event."

"While I agree in substance with what you have said, I would disagree in detail. The fact is, that the resurrection is only defensible from a biblical perspective, as it is not historically recorded outside of the Bible, with the exception of a highly disputed passage from Josephus, unless you have a source that I am unaware of. Care to expound?"

GC, I have an issue with you separating a "biblical" perspective from a "historical" one. You are speaking as if the NT aren't ancient documents, historical in their own right. Do they express a theological bias? Sure! But if we are going to deny Jesus' resurrection from the basis of bias, then we can question any historical event on the basis of the bias of their authors. One example I think of is the existence and death of Socrates. Plato and Xenophon are the only documents we have of that death, and they are both clearly biased. So should we deny the event? No, because their biases were different, yet they both agreed upon the same event.

Or what about Julius Caesar's conquering of Gaul? All the first hand witnesses were biased in their writings, but we do not deny the event. Why? Because it offers the best explanation of later events, such as the mixing of Gaulish with Latin to create French, etc.

We have a similar case with the resurrection.

Here are some historical reasons for the resurrection:
1. We have writings of people who claimed to have seen Jesus, resurrected, after he died. One of which is Paul, who also referred to many others who claimed to see Jesus (I Corinthians 15) another is the writer of 1 John.

2. We have many documents that say that there are people who have claimed to see Jesus resurrected, and not just in the NT. Thus it is well known that there were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, whether those witnesses are declared credible or not. It is on these testimonies that Christianity, a great force in the history of the world, was built. Without these testimonies there is no real cause for Christianity.

3. Many of these witnesses died for their claim, including Paul, Peter, Stephan and many others. If they would have claimed that their testimony was not true, they would have lived. But they held to the fact of Jesus' resurrection through torture and death penalty trials. If a person dies for a cause, it at least means that THEY believed it, whether it is true or not. But in this case, either they experienced the resurrected Jesus or they did not. If they did not experience it, then they could have denied it and so lived. But affirming this experience was worth their lives. Thus their credibility raises. Either they were misled, insane or they truly saw what they said they saw.

4. Were they misled? Did someone tell them a false story? Well, like Paul, they claimed to have seen Jesus in real-life time, not in a vision or dream. This means that they claimed they had a personal experience, not a story told to them. Later witnesses, of course, had to believe the previous witnesses, so they could have been misled, but not the original witnesses.

5. Were they insane? It is possible to have a group hallucination, although very rare. This might be credible if they saw what they expected. But the earliest documents we have all agree that all original witnesses originally denied the belief of Jesus' resurrection, and it was only proved to them by seeing it first hand. For Paul this was a complete turn-around in his life. It does not seem likely that they had a hallucination.

6. Since that time, hundreds of thousands have experienced miracles based on the word of the person who it is claimed to be resurrected. This is not a direct claim of resurrection, but it is a strong affirmation of some kind of unknown power that rests in the person of Jesus, that indicates that there is something more than just a religious story going on here.

7. Given that there is sufficient ancient evidence for an ancient event, the strongest argument against the resurrection is this: "Resurrections simply don't happen. We have never seen a resurrection, therefore resurrections could never have happened." But this argument is an argument against someone else's personal experience based on the lack of personal experience. Just because we have not personally seen the surface of Pluto does not mean that such a surface does not exist. It is easy to deny that which we have not seen, and say that the evidence for it is shaky. But logically it doesn't hold water. We cannot deny what another person saw by saying that we have not seen it. We cannot deny that someone has not felt something because no one we know has ever felt it.

Thus, the fact is, there IS historical basis for the resurrection-- as historically reliable as many other events we have in history that we strongly affirm. And there is realistically only a philosophical presupposition against it.

-A Discussion from MennoDiscuss

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