Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part I

With Palm Sunday behind us, we will now take the next few days to remember the Passion Week of Christ—soon to celebrate the death of Christ by Roman crucifixion.

Let’s be honest, it’s a rather odd thing to celebrate someone’s death, especially when it was such a brutal and barbaric execution. Have you seen Passion of the Christ (2004)?

Some skeptics today, certain that Christians are a few fries short of a happy meal, have written us off as sick delusional people. No doubt, it’s an old charge. We only need to remember how strange it appeared to Pliny the Younger who investigated the early church’s worship of the crucified Jesus—those who sang “a hymn to Christ as to a god.”

But for us who are Christians, Good Friday is a time of deep theological reflection. The biblical narrative from creation to fall, from exilic despair to salvific hope, from sinner’s debt to atoning sacrifice, has reached its climax in the life and death of Christ—the true Israelite, the promised Messiah who takes away the sins of the world.

It’s a beautiful death because it’s the first and only death in the history of mankind that has the power to save. The Creator God becomes human flesh and displays boundless love to his broken creation. The idea of it is too good to be compared to any ancient myth of dying and rising gods, and it is so self-incrementing that any man would or could make it up only to endure the wrath of empire for proclaiming it.

But we need to remember that the death of Jesus holds no power if he stays dead. That’s why the apostle Paul was so adamant about it to the Corinthians who were arguing about the future of those who had died before Christ’s Second Coming (parousia). He writes:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:14-17) NIV

There has been no shortage of books, articles, and journal entries written on the resurrection of Jesus, especially in the last ten years. There are excellent presentations that have been published that I could recommend—much of it is very readable, even to the man on the street (no worries, suggested reading list sure to come).

But I think we all know that a good number of folks won’t take the time to read them. So, I’ll bring out what I believe to be some of the strongest points in defense of the historical resurrection of Jesus. I will do this by discussing three primary reasons that have convinced me of the resurrection, while discussing many other interesting points along the way.

I. Reliability of the New Testament, Eyewitness Testimony & Multiple Attestation

All four of the Gospels record the death and resurrection of Jesus (Matt 28; Mk 16; Lk 24; Jn 20). If you engage folks today about anything pertaining to the Christian faith, and you appeal to the authority of Scripture, you may discover that the inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible is no longer a given anymore. There was a time not long ago that many assumed what is written in the Bible is accurate and reliable. Those days are gone.

Truthfully, the reliability of the Bible has been heavily attacked since the Enlightenment. It would appear that even those of us in the Bible-belt are now beginning to feel the affects. I think our response should be to step up to the plate and be willing swing for the fences with a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15). We can no longer afford to settle for the old clichés, church programs, and “momma said” or “my pastor said” or some other spiritual platitude.

The place to begin is by taking a look at the evidence for ourselves. While a case could be built for the death and resurrection of Jesus apart from the New Testament sources, I’m not so willing to give up on the reliability of the NT, and the Gospels as historical ancient biographies of Jesus.

Daniel Wallace has recently written, “In Greek alone, there are more than 5,600 manuscripts today… altogether about 20,000 handwritten manuscripts of the NT in various languages” (Wallace, 28). Even if someone were to destroy all of those manuscripts, the NT could be entirely reconstructed with the one million quotations by the early church fathers! We have more evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great.

What about all those discrepancies you say? Well, there are certainly textual variants in the many manuscripts we have, but don’t let Bart Ehrman convert you to agnosticism just yet. F.F. Bruce has written, “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (Bruce, 14-15). That’s enough to make Greek scholar Bruce Metzger come back to life and smack his old student (Ehrman) around a bit.

The more historical and textual criticism that is being done on the NT Gospels, the more scholars are recognizing just how meticulous the ancient authors were in their creative retelling of the life of Christ. For instance, Luke, a companion of the apostle Paul, says he consulted with the “eyewitnesses” and “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Lk 1:2-3). Luke’s concern to give an “orderly account” of the things that truly happened in the first half of the century simply can’t be denied if any historian is consistent with their treatment of historical texts.

Luke said it happened the way he reports it, and we have no historical reasons why we should doubt his account is an accurate retelling of the events, or any of the other Gospel writers for that matter, since they are sharing much of the same material.

Now, there will be some who will reject the “supernatural” occurrences within the Gospels. Thomas Jefferson did this in his “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” where all miracles of Jesus, including the resurrection, were cut out of the Gospels because they didn’t fit his eighteenth century naturalist perspective on the way things are in the world—a world where men can’t walk on water, blind people can’t be made to see, and dead men stay in the grave.

It is for the reason of “miracles” and the divinity attributed to Jesus that some “historians” find reason not to trust anything the Gospel writers say. They believe the Gospels are tainted with wishful thinking. Therefore, it’s hard to determine who the “historical Jesus” really is after all.

It will not come as a surprise to you that I’m not so quick to dismiss the miraculous as human inventions by lunatic disciples wanting to start their own religion on a failed Messiah. I think we must welcome in the mysterious possibilities and phenomenon of miracles into our decision-making. More on that coming up in my third reason for believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul passes along an early creedal statement about Jesus.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

James D.G. Dunn has written that we can be “entirely confident” that this tradition was formulated within months of Jesus’ death. So, with the early dating of the Gospels being within approximately 30 years of the actual events, the careful oral transmission and tradition between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, and the multiple eyewitness testimony that Jesus was seen in a resurrected form (something they had a difficult time finding the words to express), I would say that’s good reason to believe that something out of the ordinary happened.

I believe it happened just as it is written.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Now Read: Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part II.
Empty Tomb, Resurrection Appearances, & Growth of the Early Church

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

27 responses to “Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part I

  • Christopher

    A small note, Ehrman isn’t an agnostic because of the discrepancies in the Bible:

    The Christian claim that their religion is also divinely inspired is a theological view that historians have no way of evaluating; historians don’t have access to God, only to what happens here on earth in front of our eyes–or in front of someone else’s eyes. I personally do not accept this view any longer (though I once did)… the historical findings I am discussing here do not necessarily lead to my personal agnostic conclusions. But they should lead all people to see the human element in the development of the Christian religion… My personal view is that a historical-critical approach to the Bible does not necessarily lead to agnosticism or atheism. It can in fact lead to a more intelligent and thoughtful faith… it is true that historical criticism did more or less shatter my evangelical views of the Bible. But it did not lead me to become an agnostic. Something else was responsible for that… my inability to understand how a good an loving God could be in control of this world given the miserable lives that most people–even believers–are forced to endure here.

    You claim that “We have more evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great.” Ehrman has made this claim (ironically), and ancient historian Richard Carrier has pointed out in response that “I mean we have Cicero’s letters… And that’s just the tiniest tip of the iceberg (before we even get to inscriptions, coins, statues, the many extant books about him or that mention him written by his contemporaries and near contemporaries, and, again, Caesar’s own writings).” I would hardly say that we have this strength of evidence for Jesus’s “life, death, and resurrection.”

    Luke’s concern to give an “orderly account” of the things that truly happened in the first half of the century simply can’t be denied if any historian is consistent with their treatment of historical texts.

    Certainly only Luke-Acts’ account is the only one that even claims to be historical. But looking at Luke 1:1-4, we can see that the claim that he actually was a good historian doesn’t follow.

    For the first point, he says that eyewitnesses handed down the information (1:2), not that he was a direct recipient of the information (or even that the other people compiling other narratives were). There is no reason to think that Luke even knew any witnesses, or even include himself as a witness (since “us” probably means “us Christians” as a group).

    For the second point, all he says is that he followed some unidentified sources closely and accurately. That doesn’t mean he applied critical judgment or that he tried to reconstruct the true story. All he really says is that other people wrote down the same story, so he thought it would be a good idea as well. He is giving Theophilus an accurate account of the stories being told, which doesn’t require being a good historian.

    Compare this to, say, Suetonius, and you can see that Luke is not a good historian.

    Luke said it happened the way he reports it, and we have no historical reasons why we should doubt his account is an accurate retelling of the events, or any of the other Gospel writers for that matter, since they are sharing much of the same material.

    Most historians and textual critics of the Bible would argue that the reason they are all similar is because they used Mark as a source. That doesn’t make the accounts accurate.

    It is for the reason of “miracles” and the divinity attributed to Jesus that some “historians” find reason not to trust anything the Gospel writers say. They believe the Gospels are tainted with wishful thinking. Therefore, it’s hard to determine who the “historical Jesus” really is after all.

    Certainly there are some who think this, but it is not the only reason. Many scholars would say they think you shouldn’t trust the Gospels because they are historically unreliable. This is very well documented. There have been so many different forms of Jesus that it’s astonishing. This isn’t because of the “miracles” cannot be taken into account, as there are many versions of Jesus that do take them into account (e.g. a wizard Jesus). Richard Carrier, in his latest book, argues that the multiple versions of Jesus are because the method used is wrong.

    In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul passes along an early creedal statement about Jesus… James D.G. Dunn has written that we can be “entirely confident” that this tradition was formulated within months of Jesus’ death.

    While it is most likely the case that this passage was written early (although from what I’ve read, it’s a stretch to say it was within months of the supposed event, and it is more likely to be a few decades late at the most), this doesn’t help. Paul, a second-hand witness, is the first and only nonanonymous source from before 90 A.D. That, and upon historical analysis of the passage, we can see that this does not give evidence of an actual resurrection.

    So, with the early dating of the Gospels being within approximately 30 years of the actual events…

    This is an extremely generous timeline. Most scholars say around 70 A.D.

    …the careful oral transmission and tradition between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels…

    Given the errors found in the Gospels, I do not think we have any good reason to think this.

    …and the multiple eyewitness testimony that Jesus was seen in a resurrected form (something they had a difficult time finding the words to express)…

    What are these testimonies and who gave them? And I have to agree with Dr. Carrier, I think that all of the reliable passages about resurrection imply that they thought Jesus would be supplied with an entirely new body, but I think that is a conversation for a different time.

    I would say that’s good reason to believe that something out of the ordinary happened. I believe it happened just as it is written.

    I must disagree. I do not think that we have any good reason to buy into the resurrection story.

    I look forward to the possibility of a constructive and civil discussion.

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher,
      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.

      Bart Ehrman has admitted that he is agnostic in recent interviews.

      This blog post is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject. It is only meant to be my brief thoughts on the matter, meant to encourage those (primarily believers) who haven’t studied these things for themselves. Most of my readers are Christians.

      I’m aware of many of the claims you are making, clearly siding with folks in the highly critical and skeptical Jesus Seminar. Yes, I’m aware of the other “gnostic” portraits of Jesus. However, the consensus of NT scholarship believes that these portraits are a generation removed from the NT Gospels (2nd cent). The sort of thing you hear on Nat Geo or the History Channel isn’t necessary so. In fact, a good bit of the time, you only hear from those who are unwilling to consider that the vast majority of NT scholarship is ahead of the curve. I don’t suspect their going to interview many scholars believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus. It is what it is. But we’re certainly bound to hear more ridiculous notions that they have found the tomb of Jesus, or some other scandalous thing.

      “Most scholars say 70 AD”? Says who. I would hardly say “most” scholars believe in this late date. Mainstream scholarship dates Mark in the mid to late 60’s; Luke late 60’s/early 70’s. Matthew around 70 AD; and John sometime late first century.

      What “errors” in the Gospels do you refer to? What scholars are you reading?

      According to Acts 9, Paul met the risen Jesus (first-hand eyewitness) on his way to persecute Christians. I’ll deal with this in my next post.

      • Christopher

        Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.

        And I thank you for having educated posts and civil comments.

        Bart Ehrman has admitted that he is agnostic in recent interviews.

        Certainly this is true. But his agnosticism is because of the Problem of Evil, not the errors in the Bible, like it seems you suggest.

        I’m aware of many of the claims you are making, clearly siding with folks in the highly critical and skeptical Jesus Seminar.

        As far as I know, the information I got wasn’t based on the Jesus Seminar. My main source, Richard Carrier, is highly skeptical of Q, if I understood him correctly.

        with folks in the highly critical and skeptical Jesus Seminar. Yes, I’m aware of the other “gnostic” portraits of Jesus. However, the consensus of NT scholarship believes that these portraits are a generation removed from the NT Gospels (2nd cent). The sort of thing you hear on Nat Geo or the History Channel isn’t necessary so. In fact, a good bit of the time, you only hear from those who are unwilling to consider that the vast majority of NT scholarship is ahead of the curve.

        I was actually referring to biblical scholars.

        Mark Strauss summarizes, in despair, the many Jesuses different scholars have “discovered” in the evidence recently. Jesus the Jewish Cynic Sage. Jesus the Rabbinical Holy Man or Devoted Pharisee, or Heretical Essene, or any of a dozen other contradictory things). Jesus the Political Revolutionary or Zealot Activist. Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet. And Jesus the Messianic Pretender (or even, as some still argue, Actual Messiah). And that’s not even a complete list. We also have Jesus the Folk Wizard (championed most famously by Morton Smith in Magic in the New Testament). Jesus the Mystic and “Child of Sophia” (championed by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and John Shelby Spong). Jesus the Nonviolent Social Reformer (championed by Bruce Malina and others). Or even Jesus the Actual Davidic Heir and Founder of a Royal Dynasty (most effectively argued in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor, who also sees Jesus as a kind of ancient David Koresh, someone who delusionally, and suicidally, believed he was sent by God and charismatically gathered followers…). There are even recent versions of Jesus that place him in a different historical place and time, arguing the Gospels were mistaken on when and where Jesus actually lived and taught….
        -Richard Carrier

        “Most scholars say 70 AD”? Says who. I would hardly say “most” scholars believe in this late date. Mainstream scholarship dates Mark in the mid to late 60′s; Luke late 60′s/early 70′s. Matthew around 70 AD; and John sometime late first century.

        Even though it is very hard to date the gospels with precision, most scholars agree on the basic range of dates, for a variety of reasons. Without going into all the details, I can say that we know with relative certainty–from his own letters and from Acts–that Paul was writing during the fifties of the common era. He was well-traveled in Christian circles, and he gives his own writings absolutely no evidence of knowing about or ever having heard of the existence of any Gospels. From this it can be inferred that the Gospels probably were written after Paul’s day. It also appears that the Gospel writers know about certain later historical events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE (possibly Mark, in 13:1, almost certainly Luke, in 21:20-22). That implies that these Gospels were probably written after the year 70. There are reasons for thinking Mark was written first, so maybe he wrote around the time of the war with Rome, 70 CE. If Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source, they must have been composed after mark’s Gospel circulated for a time outside its own originating community–say, ten or fifteen years later, in 80 to 85 CE… These are rough guesses, but most scholars agree on them.
        -Bart Ehrman

        What “errors” in the Gospels do you refer to? What scholars are you reading?

        Well, you have something obvious, such as Jesus’ genealogy, but there are also things, like the death of Jesus as told in Mark and John (e.g. What day was Jesus crucified? What time?) and the story of Jesus’ birth (e.g. Most of Matthew’s story is completely missing from Luke’s, and vice versa; Who was in charge when Jesus was born?).

        As for who, Ehrman, Paul Tobin, and most scholars agree with this.

        According to Acts 9, Paul met the risen Jesus (first-hand eyewitness) on his way to persecute Christians. I’ll deal with this in my next post.

        Acts 9 says that Paul saw a bright light and that the people with him saw nothing. He was converted by a vision, not by evidence (except possibly Ananias’ ability to heal Paul’s blindness). If Paul had all of the evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection, then surely this would have done it, not the need for a vision. Also, Paul’s account changes.

        Acts gives three different accounts of this event that are hopelessly contradictory, of course. In Acts 9:7, Luke says Paul’s unnamed traveling companions heard the voice but saw nothing (mêdena), but in Acts 22:9 Paul himself says they heard nothing but saw the light. In Acts 26:13-14 Paul doesn’t say what they saw or heard, though he says they all fell down with him, but in Acts 9:7 Luke says they remained standing.
        -Richard Carrier

        Hopefully you’ll address this later.

        • David D. Flowers

          Hey Christopher, I really do appreciate your willingness to discuss these things.

          I had to look Richard Carrier up because I had never heard of him. He is an “ancient historian” and a skeptic of Christianity by his own admission. He does not classify as a biblical scholar. He even questions the existence of Jesus! Frankly, I wouldn’t take anything seriously this guy has to say about Jesus or the origins of Christianity. Check these videos out here and here. I recommend the books: “Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ” by Gary Habermas and “Who Was Jesus?” by N.T. Wright

          Who is Paul Tobin? Is there anyone else you have in mind? You seem to be familiar with Ehrman. We can just engage his work if you like.

          Listen to Darrell Bock (NT prof at DTS) talk about some of Ehrman’s claims. This video addresses the so-called varieties and alternatives within Christianity. William Lane Craig (philosopher and theologian) talks about the “inconsistencies” in the Gospels.

          Here is a great summary of a recent debate between Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman and SMU. This overview plainly states the differences between conservative biblical scholarship and Ehrman. And here is Daniel Wallace himself talking about Ehrman’s claims.

          Difference does not mean contradiction.

          I’ll address Paul’s conversion in the next part.

  • Patricia

    Great Post David! Very encouraging!!!

  • Christopher

    I had to look Richard Carrier up because I had never heard of him.

    He just recently (as in within the past few years) got his Ph.D so he isn’t as well-known.

    He is an “ancient historian” and a skeptic of Christianity by his own admission. He does not classify as a biblical scholar. He even questions the existence of Jesus! Frankly, I wouldn’t take anything seriously this guy has to say about Jesus or the origins of Christianity.

    You dismiss his arguments because he came to a different conclusion? He is certainly not a Christian, but neither is Ehrman, so I hardly see why that matters. He has studied ancient history, so his statements regarding the time period should not simply be dismissed. As far as the existence of Jesus, he has stated “I have always assumed without worry that Jesus was just a guy, another merely human founder of an entirely natural religion…” He agrees that we need to accept the current authorities regarding his existence. He writes peer-reviewed papers regarding numerous subjects, and has one being reviewed about Josephus mentioning Jesus.To dismiss him because of any of this without actually reading what he says or analyzing his evidence seems to be intellectually dishonest. He is not a mythicist.
    I would ask you to check out his work on the origins of Christianity and the resurrection. You can look at them for free (specifically referencing his works Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False? and Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story.

    Check these videos out here and here. I recommend the books: “Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ” by Gary Habermas and “Who Was Jesus?” by N.T. Wright

    For the first video by Dr. Habermas,
    He says we have a dozen or so secular sources, but he doesn’t say what these twelve are. He mentions Pliny, but all he says is that there were Christians who gathered to worship on a certain day and sang Hymns to Jesus. All this shows is that people believed in Jesus.
    He mentions that Thallus references to the darkness that happened when Jesus was crucified, but this can’t be dated any more accurately than a century after the fact, so we can’t know if he was just reading the Gospels, and we can’t even confirm whether he even mentions Jesus in connection to the event. Given that no one cared to preserving his documents and that Thallus was probably not a witness nor an astronomer, and given the universal silence from everyone else, it is extremely unlikely that the event actually happened. This can be proven given Bayes’ Theorem.
    He mentions that “twelve of these eighteen sources tell us that Jesus died. many of them details.” But he never mentions what any of these are, yet he says there is good evidence.

    For the second video by N. T. Wright,
    He mentions there’s a little bit of a reference in Josephus and Tacitus, Suetonius and the Rabbis. He makes the claim that if you take these scarce and few references and add them to the Gospels, you get the conclusion that the whole thing is true.
    Tacitus cannot be shown to have written independently of the Gospels, so we have no way of knowing whether he just copied from them.
    Seutonius just mentioned that there were Christians in Rome, not that there was a Jesus.
    I’m not sure who he means by the Rabbis.
    As far as Josephus, I haven’t seen anything regarding Jesus that he couldn’t have picked up from a Gospel or a letter from Paul or any other Christian source relying on them (assuming the passages are completely reliable, which is apparently disputed by some, but I don’t think that’s too relevant).

    Who is Paul Tobin? Is there anyone else you have in mind? You seem to be familiar with Ehrman. We can just engage his work if you like.

    I jumped the gun with Tobin, I admit. He reviews are too biased. I’ll happily work with Ehrman, but I see no reason to discount Carrier either.

    This video addresses the so-called varieties and alternatives within Christianity.

    I don’t know how historians have come to the various conclusions on the character of Jesus. I am not saying Jesus doesn’t exist, as I have not been presented with an argument to think this would be the case, but we cannot deny that modern scholars have come with many conclusions about who Jesus supposedly is. Carrier suggests this is because of a faulty method, but I haven’t finished reading his book arguing this point, so I can’t say whether his method is any better.

    Difference does not mean contradiction.

    I completely agree, and Ehrman states this as well. He does say, however, that there are some instances where there really is a contradiction, such as the Gospels saying Jesus died on two different days at two different times.

    I’ll address Paul’s conversion in the next part.

    Then I look forward to reading your post!

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Christopher,
      Just to be clear, I’m not dismissing Carrier because he has not reached the same conclusions. As educated as the man is, he is not a biblical scholar (Koine NT-Greek & Biblical Hebrew–extensive formal studies on historical/biblical critical issues). That’s just the fact of the matter. However, Bart Ehrman is a biblical “textual” scholar and claims to be a historian. I can hear from Ehrman, but I wouldn’t take seriously the claims of Carrier. If I wanted to know about issues involving American history, or ancient civilizations, I would listen to what he had to say. But Carrier ventures off away from his area of expertise. Having advanced degrees, he can very easily lead folks to think he is an expert on the issues. It reminds me of my chapel address yesterday. When I began to speak of issues on science (which I have a great interest, but not formally trained), I made a few comments and directed the students to the expertise of the science department at our school.

      Habermas isn’t making this stuff up. I would look into his book, “Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ.” Thallos, Serapion, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, Lucian, Celsus, Josephus, Paul’s epistles, Gospels, etc. affirm the life of Christ directly or indirectly. Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud are all non-Christian sources that affirm the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact, the historical Jesus dying on a Roman cross is one of the points which all biblical scholars (conservative or liberal) agree upon. It’s a bit embarrassing for the Quran and others today that deny that Jesus died by crucifixion. Talk about contradictions!

      Tacitus was a Roman historian. Copied from the Gospels? I don’t think this is even a serious argument. For Suetonius to mention “Christians” and those followed Christ, there would need to be a Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. He simply affirms in one direction what the other sources are telling us. What is disputed in Josephus is not the mention of Jesus, but of the phrase “He was the Christ” which doesn’t seem to be something Josephus would have said. It was possibly inserted later, or maybe it should be understood, “He was called the Christ.” Which fits better from his point of view. But no serious scholar disputes the historical Jesus, or Josephus’ testimony about Jesus. I would rather not squabble over this issue.

      Here is NT scholar Craig Evans talking about “alternative” Christianities. Gnostic Christianity was refuted veraciously in the second and third centuries by the early church writers.

      I highly recommend watching John Dickson’s documentary “The Life of Jesus” (DVD).

      Also, check out William Lane Craig talking extensively about Bart Ehrman.

  • Christopher

    Just to be clear, I’m not dismissing Carrier because he has not reached the same conclusions. As educated as the man is, he is not a biblical scholar (Koine NT-Greek & Biblical Hebrew–extensive formal studies on historical/biblical critical issues). That’s just the fact of the matter. However, Bart Ehrman is a biblical “textual” scholar and claims to be a historian. I can hear from Ehrman, but I wouldn’t take seriously the claims of Carrier. If I wanted to know about issues involving American history, or ancient civilizations, I would listen to what he had to say.

    A look at his CV shows that he is qualified. He knows ancient Greek (including papyrology and paleography), one of his research interests is on the origins of Christianity, his dissertation was about science in early Rome (100 B.C. to 313 A.D.), and has written about the origins of Christianity for a number of peer reviewed papers. He may not be a biblical scholar by trade, and he would admit this, but he has certainly done his own first-hand research on the subject.

    Habermas isn’t making this stuff up. I would look into his book, “Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ.”

    Thank you for the recommendation and the list that he mentioned but did not specify.

    Thallos, Serapion, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, Lucian, Celsus, Josephus, Paul’s epistles, Gospels, etc. affirm the life of Christ directly or indirectly. Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud are all non-Christian sources that affirm the crucifixion of Jesus.

    Most of these people only mention that there were practicing Christians, though, do they not? Aside from Paul who never met Jesus, the Gospels who can’t make up their mind on what happened (assuming they are all valid, which most biblical scholars don’t accept), and Josephus who may or may not have mentioned the same Jesus (I’m inclined to think he did), the others simply reference the presence of Christians, or are too late to count. I’m also not aware if any of those sources mention their own first-hand account of Jesus’ crucifixion, which means they might simply be relying on hearsay. (Not to mention, doesn’t the Talmud have a completely different story of Jesus’ death? I might be wrong, but doesn’t it say that he was just beat to death, not crucified?)

    In fact, the historical Jesus dying on a Roman cross is one of the points which all biblical scholars (conservative or liberal) agree upon. It’s a bit embarrassing for the Quran and others today that deny that Jesus died by crucifixion. Talk about contradictions!

    But I don’t think most historians agree on this.

    Tacitus was a Roman historian. Copied from the Gospels? I don’t think this is even a serious argument.

    He was a Roman historian, yes. But we have no reason to think a second century historian did not consult someone who was getting information from early Christian writings or even (possibly) copied it himself.

    For Suetonius to mention “Christians” and those followed Christ, there would need to be a Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. He simply affirms in one direction what the other sources are telling us.

    Did the presence of people who worshiped non-existent gods mean there were these actual gods? No, it just means there were people who thought these gods were real.

    What is disputed in Josephus is not the mention of Jesus, but of the phrase “He was the Christ” which doesn’t seem to be something Josephus would have said. It was possibly inserted later, or maybe it should be understood, “He was called the Christ.” Which fits better from his point of view. But no serious scholar disputes the historical Jesus, or Josephus’ testimony about Jesus. I would rather not squabble over this issue.

    The most secure passage from Josephus that mentions Jesus is only in passing (in reference to “his brother James”). To say that “no serious scholar disputes the historical Jesus, or Josephus’ testimony about Jesus” is false, though. In a paper called “Textual Criticism and the Historical Jesus” by Michael Bird (published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus), Bird makes the comment “Of course even the textual integrity of non-Christian sources remains contentious as well, such as the Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus, Ant. 18.63-64.” It is also possible that Josephus’ passage was supposed to say “Jesus ben Damneus” and it was later changed to “called Christ” by the Christian translators.

    If you wish to move on from this point, then I will concede it.

    Here is NT scholar Craig Evans talking about “alternative” Christianities. Gnostic Christianity was refuted veraciously in the second and third centuries by the early church writers

    He seems to have dismissed the arguments because it “isnt’ Christian thinking,” which seems highly fallacious to do. (He would have to presuppose on theory is correct and then base all others off of it.)

    But the argument that there are many different versions of Jesus (more than just Gnostic ones) “discovered” by scholars is indisputable. Here are some of the references:
    The Historical Christ by Dale Allison; What Are They Saying about the Historical Jesus? by David Gowler; Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels by Mark Strauss; What Have They Done With Jesus? Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History and The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Ben Witherington III; The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-Four Formative Texts by Robert Price (although I should point out that I’m highly skeptical of Price’s work); Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels and The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies vol.1 by Craig Evans… The list goes on and on of sources pointing out how modern biblical scholars have come to different conclusions.

    Also, check out William Lane Craig talking extensively about Bart Ehrman.

    Craig is neither a biblical scholar nor a historian of early Roman history. He’s a philosopher, theologian, and apologetic. What makes him credible but Carrier not?

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher,
      Carrier is not a biblical scholar. No, he knows ancient “classical” Greek, not NT Koine Greek. I have also done some first-hand research on this stuff, I suppose that makes me just as qualified. Are you getting much of your thought from Carrier? Is his work all that critical to the formation of your beliefs? If not, I would like to agree that in the realm of biblical scholarship, this guy is not even in the same vicinity. Plain and simple. Again, you can use Ehrman or some other biblical/textual scholar you’re familiar with.

      I have never heard anyone try to argue against the person of Christ because many of the secular sources only mention “Christians.” Again, this is a ridiculous thing to argue at this point. Hearsay? What “scholars” have you been reading that say such things? If that’s the case, you best call into question a great deal of historical work that has ever been done.

      “There are no substantial doubts about the general course of Jesus’ life: when and where he lived, approximately when and where he died, and the sort of thing that he did during his public activity …” (E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus. Penguin Books, 1993, p.11).

      Yes, legitimate scholars and historians in their field are all in agreement about Jesus being crucified. Christopher, with all due respect, listening to people who are not qualified (experts in the field) making bogus claims might just be why you seem to be all over the place with your suppositions. Can you share with me which authors (and their books) that you have personally read? Thanks.

      What Craig Evans was talking about was not “theory” but widespread knowledge and belief of scholars, not just the Christian ones. The likes of Ehrman, Pagels, Crossan, etc. are far outnumbered by the positions of those like E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, N.T. Wright, etc. who believe there is no case to be made for a first-century gnostic Jesus, or an “orthodox-Jesus” that simply won out over time. The reliability of the NT as historical first century documents is sound. I’m not arguing against the evidence of their being different versions of Jesus, I’m saying that these “alternatives” are formed from material later than the NT Gospels. As I said before, mainstream dating has all of the Gospels being written within the first century. That is huge!

      Compare that we this: the earliest biography of Muhammad (AD 570-632), was composed around AD 760, 125 years after his death, and continued to be edited for another 50 years; (2) the first written records of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) (448-368 BC) appeared 350 years after his death; (3) the most important source for the life of Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) is that of Tacitus, written around AD 114 or 77 years after.

      I admit that William Lane Craig is most qualified as a philosopher, theologian, and apologist. However, his dissertation was on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus! I don’t remember calling him a biblical scholar, technically he is not. Nevertheless, he did debate Bart Ehrman on issues that they are both qualified to discuss. Having studied within Christian universities and seminaries, I can testify to the great deal of biblical criticism that is done, especially at the PhD (Theology) level. So, I believe Craig can be trusted on many of these issues, long before Carrier. Roman history certainly helps in discussions of Christianity, but a lack of knowledge in the realm of historical-textual criticism is far better.

      I will be including a lengthy suggested reading and resource list at the end of the series. Thanks.

  • Christopher

    Carrier is not a biblical scholar. No, he knows ancient “classical” Greek, not NT Koine Greek. I have also done some first-hand research on this stuff, I suppose that makes me just as qualified. Are you getting much of your thought from Carrier? Is his work all that critical to the formation of your beliefs? If not, I would like to agree that in the realm of biblical scholarship, this guy is not even in the same vicinity. Plain and simple. Again, you can use Ehrman or some other biblical/textual scholar you’re familiar with.

    All I ask is that you check out his work, or at least look through his citations to see that he uses scholars of the field. He’s much more qualified than Craig, and I personally don’t think you are giving his work the credit it deserves. Having done your own research on the subject means that people should take you seriously and listen to what you say, yes.

    I have never heard anyone try to argue against the person of Christ because many of the secular sources only mention “Christians.” Again, this is a ridiculous thing to argue at this point. Hearsay? What “scholars” have you been reading that say such things? If that’s the case, you best call into question a great deal of historical work that has ever been done.

    So would you say the existence of believers in the Greek gods mean the Greek gods actually exist? I don’t see how that is faulty logic or history. In fact, if we are to assume that the Christian/Jewish religion is correct and the presence of people believing in other religions, then Bayes’ Theorem would suggest that we would think the same for Jesus. Again, I’m not saying Jesus doesn’t exist (I think he does). I just think there is a different reason to think so.

    Yes, legitimate scholars and historians in their field are all in agreement about Jesus being crucified. Christopher, with all due respect, listening to people who are not qualified (experts in the field) making bogus claims might just be why you seem to be all over the place with your suppositions. Can you share with me which authors (and their books) that you have personally read? Thanks.

    I don’t deny this. When the authorities of a subject come to an agreement, that gives us every reason to take them seriously (after all, that’s what it means to be an authority). And while most agree that Jesus was resurrected, they can’t agree on anything other than that broad point. The fact that most biblical scholars cannot agree on who Jesus was should give us serious pause, because that means they don’t all agree on Jesus.

    If you don’t believe me, check out Mark Strauss’ Four Portraits, One Jesus. He surveyed the scholarship.

    What Craig Evans was talking about was not “theory” but widespread knowledge and belief of scholars, not just the Christian ones. The likes of Ehrman, Pagels, Crossan, etc. are far outnumbered by the positions of those like E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, N.T. Wright, etc. who believe there is no case to be made for a first-century gnostic Jesus, or an “orthodox-Jesus” that simply won out over time. The reliability of the NT as historical first century documents is sound. I’m not arguing against the evidence of their being different versions of Jesus, I’m saying that these “alternatives” are formed from material later than the NT Gospels. As I said before, mainstream dating has all of the Gospels being written within the first century. That is huge!

    Helmut Koester came to the conclusion that “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering”; James Charlesworth agreed and said that “what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions”; Carrier has pointed out “The fact that almost no one agrees with anyone else should compel all Jesus scholars to deeply question whether their certainty in theory own theory is really even warranted, since everyone else is just as certain.”

    Evans himself has even written about the vastly different conclusions that scholars have reached in Fabricating Jesus and The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, vol.1: The History of the Quest: Classical Studies and Critical Questions.

    Whether these are formed using material later than the NT Gospels I do not know, but the conclusion that these scholars cannot agree is still telling. I am not arguing that this means Jesus didn’t exist.

    I admit that William Lane Craig is most qualified as a philosopher, theologian, and apologist. However, his dissertation was on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus! I don’t remember calling him a biblical scholar, technically he is not. Nevertheless, he did debate Bart Ehrman on issues that they are both qualified to discuss. Having studied within Christian universities and seminaries, I can testify to the great deal of biblical criticism that is done, especially at the PhD (Theology) level. So, I believe Craig can be trusted on many of these issues, long before Carrier. Roman history certainly helps in discussions of Christianity, but a lack of knowledge in the realm of historical-textual criticism is far better.

    And Carrier has debated Craig on the issue of Jesus’ resurrection, so would that not make him qualified by this reasoning? If Craig is to be considered “qualified” by writing a theological paper on Jesus’ resurrection, which by no means makes him an authority on the history of the subject, then someone who actually studied that time period in history would most certainly be qualified. And to accept a theologian on a subject of history simply because you are not familiar with the latter’s work seems a bit misguided as well.

    I will be including a lengthy suggested reading and resource list at the end of the series. Thanks.

    I appreciate it. I will check to see if my college has them in the library. And again, thank you for the civil discussion.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Christopher,
      It depends on the issue to which Carrier or Craig are speaking to as to whether they are the strongest voices, or worth hearing at all. It all depends on their (scholars) areas of expertise with formal training, years of study, peer-reviewed publications, etc.

      Yes, it is “faulty” logic. Mythology is just that, myth. There is nothing historical about the gods of Greece or Rome, other than some worshipped the gods as mythological beings in the heavens. Jesus of Nazareth was a real first century Jew who lived and died in real recorded time.

      I own Mark Strauss’ textbook. It’s a good book. I’ve met Mark and had a lengthy discussion. He’s a good guy. I don’t have any qualms about how he has pointed out, what many others have, that there are lots of different ideas about Jesus in the historical “quests” of him. Again, I acknowledge there are folks who don’t agree about Jesus. There will always be some nuance. But the kind of disagreements that you’re proposing are not as great as you think. Those who believe Jesus was anything other than that which is recognized by mainline biblical scholarship, are certainly in the minority. But you would never know it by the sort of things that are on television, in magazines, and make the headlines.

      Please check out some of N.T. Wright’s stuff. “Who Was Jesus?” and “The Challenge of Jesus” is a good place to start. Also, his Christian Origins series should be consulted if your serious about historical Jesus studies: “The New Testament and the People of God”; “Jesus & the Victory of God”; and “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

      I appreciate your patience. Online discussion can be interesting. Good luck in your studies. BTW: What school are you at? What’s your major?

      Thanks, Christopher!

  • Christopher

    It depends on the issue to which Carrier or Craig are speaking to as to whether they are the strongest voices, or worth hearing at all. It all depends on their (scholars) areas of expertise with formal training, years of study, peer-reviewed publications, etc.

    Carrier’s main work (relevant to this blog post) has been on the spread of Christianity in the first century, which is absolutely relevant to his studies. His most recent work (vol.1) is on the methods used by historians and how they all boil down to Bayes’ Theorem, and the next (vol.2) will be applying this method to the historicity question. To say that because he isn’t a biblical scholar he cannot evaluate things like Tacitus and Josephus, or the origins of Christianity, seems strikingly odd to me. Carrier writes a good bit about the philosophy of naturalism, but he does not step out of his areas of research and try to discuss the philosophical arguments of religion (e.g. ontological argument). I do not see why we should listen to a theologian on the subject of history when he has an obvious bias, when we can listen to a historian on the subject of history when he tries to suppress his biases as much as he can.

    Yes, it is “faulty” logic. Mythology is just that, myth. There is nothing historical about the gods of Greece or Rome, other than some worshipped the gods as mythological beings in the heavens. Jesus of Nazareth was a real first century Jew who lived and died in real recorded time.

    It wasn’t considered mythology back then, as far as I can tell. But to assume something is mythology and Christianity is true, and then base your interpretation of historical documents on this seems a bit fallacious. If we have two reliable, authentic sources, one claiming (say) the presence of Zoroastrians and the other claiming the presence of Christians, what are we to assume based on this evidence along? Should we conclude that certain people were actually worshiping a real god and the others weren’t? That seems to be question-begging. Should we conclude that the presence of worshipers means both gods are real? We could, but that seems like a stretch of the information. The most simple conclusion is that people simply thought it was true.

    I own Mark Strauss’ textbook. It’s a good book. I’ve met Mark and had a lengthy discussion. He’s a good guy. I don’t have any qualms about how he has pointed out, what many others have, that there are lots of different ideas about Jesus in the historical “quests” of him. Again, I acknowledge there are folks who don’t agree about Jesus. There will always be some nuance. But the kind of disagreements that you’re proposing are not as great as you think. Those who believe Jesus was anything other than that which is recognized by mainline biblical scholarship, are certainly in the minority. But you would never know it by the sort of things that are on television, in magazines, and make the headlines.

    How can scholars have access to all of the same information, use the exact same methods, and yet draw different conclusions, to which they hold strong beliefs that they are correct (just as strong as anyone else)? The information wouldn’t change, but the methods would have to have been wrong. This is why Carrier is proposing a more accurate way of analyzing historical theories.

    I would not get information from mainstream sources, or at least, not intentionally.

    Please check out some of N.T. Wright’s stuff. “Who Was Jesus?” and “The Challenge of Jesus” is a good place to start. Also, his Christian Origins series should be consulted if your serious about historical Jesus studies: “The New Testament and the People of God”; “Jesus & the Victory of God”; and “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

    Unfortunately, my school has very little resources when it comes to this topic. We are connected to other colleges in the state who might have them, but I haven’t checked yet. I’ll let you know if it does. I appreciate the references.

    I appreciate your patience. Online discussion can be interesting. Good luck in your studies. BTW: What school are you at? What’s your major?

    I appreciate yours as well. It is a rarity to find someone who can have this conversation with a collective head. I’m currently at Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia, studying English and Political Science. (Although I might be transferring to UGA to study English and Philosophy, I’m not quite sure.) Certainly I am not in any place to claim authority and I can only say what I’ve been told.

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher,
      Everyone is biased. Don’t be fooled into thinking that some or more biased than others. It’s only that some have biases that are more apparent. Beware especially of those who claim to not be biased. They are the most dishonest and untrustworthy ones of all.

      Again, Christianity is based on a historical person, whose actuality is substantiated by “eyewitnesses” and multiple attestation. Now, historical studies can’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God. That is a faith matter which involves assessing the evidence and embracing mystery to believe it. But let’s be clear, Jesus of Nazareth was historical. I’m not arguing that Jesus existed and must have been the Son of God because people worshipped him. I’m simply saying that you can’t deny that Christianity is historical, because it’s built upon a historical Jesus, a real person in real time.

      Scholars assess the same information and come to different conclusions, not only because of methods (which are important), but because believing in the Christ of the New Testament demands an entire change in worldview–a total paradigm shift. We should be honest about this. Some scholars are clearly operating off of the presupposition that miracles like the incarnation and resurrection of the dead does not and cannot happen. Carrier might call that a more “accurate” method, but he is setting the rules, which are at the outset against a belief in the theological claims of Christ.

      It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that there are differences of opinion. It’s because there is difference of interpretation, not only because of intellectual disagreements, but most of all because of the presuppositions that scholars begin with, which many are not honest about, with themselves or with others. Also, there are true limits to what a study of history can do. I think the New Testament beckons us not only to survey the historical Jesus of the past, but to encounter the living Lord of today, who is present in his Body, the church.

      • Christopher

        Everyone is biased. Don’t be fooled into thinking that some or more biased than others. It’s only that some have biases that are more apparent. Beware especially of those who claim to not be biased. They are the most dishonest and untrustworthy ones of all.

        I didn’t mean to make it sound as if he had no biases. I meant to say that he tries to be as objective as possible.

        Again, Christianity is based on a historical person, whose actuality is substantiated by “eyewitnesses” and multiple attestation. Now, historical studies can’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God. That is a faith matter which involves assessing the evidence and embracing mystery to believe it. But let’s be clear, Jesus of Nazareth was historical. I’m not arguing that Jesus existed and must have been the Son of God because people worshipped him. I’m simply saying that you can’t deny that Christianity is historical, because it’s built upon a historical Jesus, a real person in real time.

        But if the evidence we have that is used to justify Jesus’ Earthly existence is mostly based on the fact that there were people who worshiped him, then this would call into question the idea that Jesus was a real person, which is the point I was trying to make. I personally think it just means he was extremely insignificant, but that doesn’t rule out the other conclusion.

        Scholars assess the same information and come to different conclusions, not only because of methods (which are important), but because believing in the Christ of the New Testament demands an entire change in worldview–a total paradigm shift. We should be honest about this. Some scholars are clearly operating off of the presupposition that miracles like the incarnation and resurrection of the dead does not and cannot happen. Carrier might call that a more “accurate” method, but he is setting the rules, which are at the outset against a belief in the theological claims of Christ.

        So if you are admitting that scholars are essentially presupposing that Jesus needed to (or maybe even had to) exist, then why would I possibly think they are being good scholars and think they’re right? It would be an obvious corruption of facts. Carrier is making the argument that Bayes’ Theorem is a more objective and reliable method to analyze historical data. Bayes’ Theorem has been formally proved, so the conclusion necessarily follows. The question, then, is whether we can use it to analyze history. If we can, then the conclusion will necessarily follow. This isn’t him “setting the rules,” it’s him trying to argue for a better historical method.

        It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that there are differences of opinion. It’s because there is difference of interpretation, not only because of intellectual disagreements, but most of all because of the presuppositions that scholars begin with, which many are not honest about, with themselves or with others. Also, there are true limits to what a study of history can do. I think the New Testament beckons us not only to survey the historical Jesus of the past, but to encounter the living Lord of today, who is present in his Body, the church.

        I disagree. It seems that you would have to presuppose your conclusions before you start doing your research. A good scholar wouldn’t do this.

        • David D. Flowers

          Christopher, I think you have not entirely understood several of my points. In some ways, we are arguing in circles.

          1. Every good scholar tries to be as unbiased as possible, while still recognizing that they are in fact bias. We are all conditioned (in one way or another) by culture, upbringing, personality type, traditions, philosophy, theology, formal education, etc. etc.

          2. Christopher, the evidence we have for Jesus is not just those that refer to “Christians.” It seems you have reduced it to that. I believe the NT Gospels, Paul’s epistles, Josephus, Tacitus, Mara Bar Sarapion, Celsus, the Talmud, and even some of the gnostic/apocryphal gospels testify to a historical Jesus of Nazareth. This is overwhelming evidence. I can’t believe we’re still discussing this issue. I think this bit of our discussion is the one thing that I really don’t like. You’re honestly sounding like the atheists that comment on YouTube videos who know absolutely nothing about real history, historical method, and the reliability of the NT. I can’t take them seriously. Can we move on from this? I have recommended a few books already. I would also suggest Gregory Boyd’s book, “Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma.”

          3. I was talking about “presuppositions” that scholars have about Jesus that go unchecked. With the more liberal scholars, many of them begin with the belief that there is no God (at least he’s not knowable), no possibility of miracles, and so anything that hints at that sort of thing must be explained naturally, or discarded as the theologizing and divinizing of a failed Messiah. This is what I meant by “setting the rules” of the most “accurate” method. Everyone has presuppositions of some kind.

          Furthermore, all you have to do is read the NT Gospels as they are to discover they are calling people to believe in Christ as Messiah. There is no debate about this. I was simply acknowledging the intentions of the four canonical Gospels that unfold in the reading of them.

          It would seem that based on some of your responses that you’re not reading my comments carefully? I’ll try to be more clear with my comments.

  • Christopher

    Every good scholar tries to be as unbiased as possible, while still recognizing that they are in fact bias. We are all conditioned (in one way or another) by culture, upbringing, personality type, traditions, philosophy, theology, formal education, etc. etc.

    I agree wholeheartedly. But when you have someone like WLC who says that nothing could convince him he’s wrong, that is not trying to be as unbiased as possible. This is what I was referring to, so I apologize if I wasn’t clear.

    Christopher, the evidence we have for Jesus is not just those that refer to “Christians.” It seems you have reduced it to that. I believe the NT Gospels, Paul’s epistles, Josephus, Tacitus, Mara Bar Sarapion, Celsus, the Talmud, and even some of the gnostic/apocryphal gospels testify to a historical Jesus of Nazareth. This is overwhelming evidence. I can’t believe we’re still discussing this issue. I think this bit of our discussion is the one thing that I really don’t like. You’re honestly sounding like the atheists that comment on YouTube videos who know absolutely nothing about real history, historical method, and the reliability of the NT. I can’t take them seriously. Can we move on from this? I have recommended a few books already. I would also suggest Gregory Boyd’s book, “Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma.”

    I didn’t mean to make it sound like the only evidence we have is from people referring to Christians. While I was talking about those pieces of evidence specifically, and saying how they don’t really provide justification, I am not grouping other evidence with these. I was trying to make the point that, while I think Jesus did exist, the evidence is not as strongly supported as people let on.

    I was talking about “presuppositions” that scholars have about Jesus that go unchecked. With the more liberal scholars, many of them begin with the belief that there is no God (at least he’s not knowable), no possibility of miracles, and so anything that hints at that sort of thing must be explained naturally, or discarded as the theologizing and divinizing of a failed Messiah. This is what I meant by “setting the rules” of the most “accurate” method. Everyone has presuppositions of some kind.

    I wouldn’t say that more liberal scholars think there is no god or miracles, but that, like Ehrman has said, historians can’t assume that things in history are miracles. But I see what you mean. You seem to be objecting that the Argument to the Best Explanation requires that the hypothesis must make the evidence we have very probable, and because miracles are, by definition, improbable, it is best for historians to assume it isn’t a miracle. At least, that’s the point I think you are trying to make? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Furthermore, all you have to do is read the NT Gospels as they are to discover they are calling people to believe in Christ as Messiah. There is no debate about this. I was simply acknowledging the intentions of the four canonical Gospels that unfold in the reading of them.

    I didn’t mean to make my comments sound as if I was calling this into question.

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher,
      If Craig’s conclusion is that nothing could convince him otherwise, that’s one thing. But if his method (the starting place) rules out certain possibilities, then that is wrong. Craig hasn’t done that. Sooner or later, it is right to come to some conclusion.

      The evidence is not strongly supported? I guess we’ll just have to disagree. I listed a good bit of the evidence. I think that moves us in the realm of “high possibility” as the saying goes in historical investigations.

  • Christopher

    If Craig’s conclusion is that nothing could convince him otherwise, that’s one thing. But if his method (the starting place) rules out certain possibilities, then that is wrong. Craig hasn’t done that. Sooner or later, it is right to come to some conclusion.

    He has made this point.

    Yes, if the bones of Jesus were to be found, then he did not rise and Christianity would be false; but given the Spirit’s witness we will never be justified in thinking that any bones discovered were those of Jesus.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/witness-of-the-holy-spirit-and-defeasibility-of-christian-belief#ixzz1r6ci4nCU

    I am sorry to say, this is terrible scholarship.

    The evidence is not strongly supported? I guess we’ll just have to disagree. I listed a good bit of the evidence. I think that moves us in the realm of “high possibility” as the saying goes in historical investigations.

    You did list a good bit of evidence, but it can easily be called into question. (Whether this means the evidence is strong or not is a different point, but I’m trying to say that it can be called into question.) And, possible does not mean probable.

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher, did you read all of Craig’s response? He is talking about a “counterfactual” claim. I believe this is something that people on the opposite side of faith get confused about. It’s not terrible scholarship if you understand what he’s trying to say. Craig began where you appear to be in your journey. He did not begin with the position he holds about the testimony of the Spirit. That is an “after-the-fact” sort of claim.

      Of course it can be called into question. You could call my own existence into question.

      I was using the “high possibility” found on the scale of a historian’s quest. Yeah, it is possible that you’re not talking to a man right now. In fact, you could be having a dialogue with a computer program. It’s possible, but it’s not probable at this point in the discussion. And that’s like how I feel that we can arrive at the truth about Jesus. It’s highly possible that the historical Jesus really did all that stuff in the Gospels. Considering all the evidence we have for his life, death, and (the case I’m making in these posts) his resurrection… I believe it’s even highly probable that Jesus was the unique Son of God and promised Messiah.

      At the end of the day, what is “highly possible” or even (in my view) “highly probable” will never convince anyone. There is a deep element of mystery that must be embraced once a sufficient amount (determined by the seeker) of investigation has been done on the evidence. To ignore the spiritual (heart) dynamic of this issue is quite an arrogant thing that I’m unwilling to do. I’ll be talking about this in Part III: The Limitations of Science & Human Reason.

  • Christopher

    Christopher, did you read all of Craig’s response? He is talking about a “counterfactual” claim. I believe this is something that people on the opposite side of faith get confused about. It’s not terrible scholarship if you understand what he’s trying to say. Craig began where you appear to be in your journey. He did not begin with the position he holds about the testimony of the Spirit. That is an “after-the-fact” sort of claim.

    His meaning of “counterfactual” is something that goes against his subjective experiences.

    On the one hand, we have the factual claim that the fundamental way in which we know that Christianity is true, including the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, is through the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I’ve defended the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater for anyone who attends to it.

    “Counterfactual” isn’t meaning “against historical facts,” it means “if it contradicted my subjective experience.” This entire post reeks of this bias:

    But we can be confident that no such discovery will ever be made because we have the self-authenticating witness of the Spirit that Jesus is risen… I’m sure, Zach, that you’ve confused the counterfactual claim that if the bones of Jesus were to be discovered, then Christianity would be falsified with the quite different claim that if we were to find bones which are purported to be those of Jesus, then we might have sufficient evidence to falsify Christianity. I do deny the latter claim because, given the witness of the Spirit, no such evidence could be forthcoming.

    He is undeniably saying that no evidence could convince him he’s wrong because of his subjective experiences. This isn’t an “after-the-fact” sort of claim, but even if it were, this is still fallacious and biased. He makes it evident he does not think evidence matters when push comes to shove. He is simply not a scholar who should be taken seriously when it comes to history.

    Contrast to Carrier, who has said:

    All historians have biases, but sound methods will prevent those from too greatly affecting our essential results… You may still want to know what my biases are. I am a marginally renowned atheist, known across America (and many other corners of the world) as an avid defender of a naturalist worldview and a dedicated opponent of the abuse of history in the service of supernaturalist creeds. I am a historian by training and trade (I received my PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) and a philosopher by experience and practice (I have published peer-reviewed articles in the field and am most widely known for my book on the subject…). I have always assumed without worry that Jesus was just a guy, another merely human founder of an entirely natural religion… I’d be content if I were merely reassured of that fact. For the evidence, even at its best, supports no more startling conclusion. So I have no vested interest in proving Jesus didn’t exist. It makes no difference to me. I suspect he might not have, but then that’s a question that requires a rigorous and thorough examination of the evidence before it can be confidently declared… [Believers] need Jesus to be real; but I don’t need Jesus to be a myth…

    Can you not see who will be more objective when it comes to the research? A historian who studied that time period who has stated that he doesn’t care what the results are, or a theologian who has not studied that time period who has stated that nothing will change his mind?

    Of course it can be called into question. You could call my own existence into question. I was using the “high possibility” found on the scale of a historian’s quest. Yeah, it is possible that you’re not talking to a man right now. In fact, you could be having a dialogue with a computer program. It’s possible, but it’s not probable at this point in the discussion. And that’s like how I feel that we can arrive at the truth about Jesus. It’s highly possible that the historical Jesus really did all that stuff in the Gospels. Considering all the evidence we have for his life, death, and (the case I’m making in these posts) his resurrection… I believe it’s even highly probable that Jesus was the unique Son of God and promised Messiah.

    I could, but not reasonably. However, it is reasonable to call into question the evidence for miraculous claims in history.

    At the end of the day, what is “highly possible” or even (in my view) “highly probable” will never convince anyone. There is a deep element of mystery that must be embraced once a sufficient amount (determined by the seeker) of investigation has been done on the evidence. To ignore the spiritual (heart) dynamic of this issue is quite an arrogant thing that I’m unwilling to do. I’ll be talking about this in Part III: The Limitations of Science & Human Reason.

    I agree that history can be mysterious, but if the authorities agree it is mysterious (with good reason), then they shouldn’t say we know something. If the authorities cannot agree on something and say things like “No evidence could convince me otherwise,” then this is not a good reason to think they are correct. History is not based on whether we want something to be true (i.e. what our “hearts” want). If this was the case, then we could really justify anything.

    • David D. Flowers

      Christopher, this will be my last response for a little while. I need to do some writing.

      I can’t write it any more clearly: all historians and scholars are biased, regardless of what they tell you. Carrier is biased toward an atheistic worldview and naturalism. I recommend watching the documentary/debate with Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens, called Collision. Wilson talks about this very clearly at the beginning–two different worldviews. The atheist does not get to set the rules to what can and can’t happen, in regards to miracles and the “supernatural” (unexplained).

      And I didn’t mean that history alone is mysterious. I meant matters of the whole cosmos. Faith involves the intellect, emotions, the will, and embracing mystery when you come to the end of reason. For me, the evidence leads to Christ as Messiah. Where there is mystery, I embrace it. Since having embraced it, I have discovered many new aspects of this faith in Christ. That’s where Craig was coming from.

      Talk to you later.

  • Christopher

    Not to continue this discussion any further, since I don’t want to be a distraction, Collision is one of my favorite ‘documentaries,’ and the book they co-wrote is in my Top Ten.

    Also, I asked Carrier if he knows NT Koine Greek and he says he does.

    Looking forward to seeing Part III!

  • seandurity

    Your original post is great! The evidence for the resurrection and the NT documents is overwhelming despite attacks by the likes of Ehrman and whoever the Carrier guy is. My studies assure me that my faith is solidly placed.

  • Josh

    Good series here, David. And very insightful conversation between you and Christopher. Thanks!

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