Monday, September 19, 2016

Evidence for the Resurrection

In 1 Cor 15:14 & 17, Paul says if Jesus has not been raised, your faith is useless. It was music to my skeptical ears. I said I would try at some point to summarize the arguments for Jesus' Resurrection based on Gary Habermas & Michael Licona's "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus". They use a list of evidence 'widely accepted' by scholars & skeptics.

Here's the short summary followed by notes:

1) Jesus was crucified.
2) The tomb was empty.
3) The disciples & apostles said Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.
4) They believed it as shown by their violent deaths for their faith.
5) Paul & James Brother of Jesus were skeptics who converted & died for their faith.
6) Crucifixion kills the victim by asphyxiation.

1) is corroborated by non-christian sources outside the Bible like Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian & the Talmud.

2) The empty tomb is supported 3 ways. First Jewish authorities wanted to stomp out Christianity. They did not and this takes place in Jerusalem the holy center of Judaism. Second they did not produce Jesus' body or send people to the tomb to view it. Instead they said the disciples stole it. Third women find the empty tomb on Easter morning. Women were not allowed to testify in a Jewish court of law. A made up story would not convince Jewish men with the testimony of women. It argues for the truth of the story.

3) 1 Cor 15:6-8 lists people who saw the resurrected Jesus. Habermas & Licona cite 9 sources for the disciples claims that they had seen the Risen Jesus. Some from the New Testament & some from writings of the early church fathers. It's not really a big stretch to allow the idea that they said it. A skeptic can always say they were lying, hallucinating or just mistaken.

4) Foxe's Book of Martyrs written around the late 1500s has a good summary of the deaths of the disciples in the first chapter, but without sources.

Habermas & Licona give 7 early sources to show the disciples willingness to suffer for their faith. Acts 12:1-2 mentions James Brother of John being executed by the sword (beheaded). Although not one of the 12, Stephen's stoning is also in Acts. The other sources are all outside the Bible.

5) James Brother of Jesus was skeptical of Jesus divinity.  Saul of Taursus was known for persecuting Christians, so Ananias is scared to go restore his sight afraid he'll be tortured and/or executed. Saul was not a friend to Christians. What could make a James & Saul change their minds especially if Saul had been murdering Christians? Both James Brother of Jesus & Paul say they saw the Risen Christ. James later leads the church in Jerusalem and dies there. Nero persecutes Christians after the burning of Rome in the early 60s AD. He wanted to shift the anger of the people away from himself for letting Rome burn. Peter & Paul are thought to die in these persecutions.

Some argue that religous fanatics do die for their faith. The apostles are different because they actually knew what they saw or didn't see. Liars make poor martyrs. I would lie just to stay alive. Maybe they got caught with other Christians, but Acts (5:17-42) has an example of them arrested, imprisoned & flogged. They continued preaching anyway. Why? They honestly believed they had seen the Risen Christ. Why die for it? If Jesus could come back from the dead, so could they.

6) For 30 years, my explanation was they were mistaken about what they saw. Jesus passed out on the cross & revived in the tomb, but now I know the victim of crucifixion dies by asphyxiation. They have to push up with their legs to take a breath. Passing out on the cross is like passing out underwater & the victim dies in the same amount of time. That's why the Romans guards break the legs of the other 2 to speed up the execution.

You can argue alternatives, but they will fail to explain everything. For months I kept coming back to the deaths of the apostles & how crucifixion kills to begrudgingly accept the Resurrection as the best explanation. I didn't fall on my knees & ask to be forgiven. It just made me doubt my doubts & want to learn more. Habermas & Licona's book is thorough, but a bit intense for the atheist. I'd recommended Strobel's Case for the Real Jesus as a good starting point, if you are inclined to check things out for yourself.

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