Origins of Christianity: A Question For Christians’ Critics

Antonio Ciseri’s Ecce Homo, 1871.

[H]ear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

– Lukan Account  (Ac 2:22–24 ESV).

Question For Christians’ Critics: How do you explain the early Christians’ movement, if we reject resurrection hypothesis?

Advertisements

24 thoughts on “Origins of Christianity: A Question For Christians’ Critics

  1. Thank you Fallenangel.

    Thank you for a interesting comment. I believe you are correct I should ask a non-Christian(pagan) and that is what I did.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you Fallenangel

  2. Reblogged this on stOttilien and commented:
    Interesting question, but I am not sure if I understand it at all. It took earliest Christians more than 400 years to somewhat agree on the nature of Jesus as Son of God. As it has been pointed out, the reason why the early church survived has little to do if they believed in resurrection but more with political factors – i.e. how successful the perfect Christian organization took over a failing and degenerating West Rom and became state religion of East Rome by Roman Emperor Constantine. Even then, the remaining dissent (http://stottilien.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/christological_heresies_in_jesus_human_divine3.jpg) about Jesus’ nature supported the rise of Islam (for which Jesus is a minor prophet and do not believe in resurrection) as the Monophysites and others were more comfy being Dhmnis than Byzantine subjects. Some of my little knowledge I derived from the book “The lost history of Christianity – from Philip Jenkings.

    In regards to the quote Lucan (the physician in Antioch) authorship of the Acts is widely held, therefore it is useful to be examined in conjunction with the Gospel of Luke (my favorite Gospel anyway). Luke’s description of “Ascension of Christ” has a very important function in the Lucan work, told twice. The Gospel closes with the assumption of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles start with it. Behind this is a formulation of the early beliefs that Jesus was resurrected and raised to God.

    • Thank you Fallenangel for your comment and reblog.

      History tells a different story Fallenangel. We could explain the expansion of Christianity under the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337) as political but that would not be true for first Christian movement.

      My question is not if early Christians agree the deity(or dual natures) of Jesus of Nazareth, but how do we explain the first Christians movement, if we deny resurrection?

      Earlier to Lucanian account is Pauline quote(in 1 Cor. 15) of early Christians’ poetic hymn, which Historians both, Christian and non-Christians date it 2-5 years after the crucifixion of Jesus from Nazareth(C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 16.) :

      that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and
      that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and
      that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

      Paul of Tarsus argued that “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received”. It seems that earlier than Lucanian account, history records, that death and resurrection of the Nazarene was of first importance.

      Thus I ask, Fallenangel, how to explain the first Christians’ movement if we reject resurrection hypothesis.

      Prayson

  3. Thanks Daniel, for the interesting question, but I am not sure if I understand it at all. It took earliest Christians more than 400 years to somewhat agree on the nature of Jesus as Son of God. As it has been pointed out, the reason why the early church survived has little to do if they believed in resurrection but more with political factors – i.e. how successful the perfect Christian organization took over a failing and degenerating West Rom and became state religion of East Rome by Roman Emperor Constantine. Even then, the remaining dissent (http://stottilien.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/christological_heresies_in_jesus_human_divine3.jpg) about Jesus’ nature supported the rise of Islam (for which Jesus is a minor prophet and do not believe in resurrection) as the Monophysites and others were more comfy being Dhmnis than Byzantine subjects. Some of my little knowledge I derived from the book “The lost history of Christianity – from Philip Jenkings.

    In regards to the quote – Lucan (the physician in Antioch) authorship of the Acts which is widely held, makes it useful to be examined in conjunction with the Gospel of Luke (my favorite Gospel anyway). Luke’s description of “Ascension of Christ” has a very important function in the Lucan work, told twice. The Gospel closes with the assumption of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles start with it. Behind this is a formulation of the early beliefs that Jesus was resurrected and raised to God.
    aka fallenAngel.

    • Daniels remark “We could explain the expansion of Christianity under the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306–337) as political but that would not be true for first Christian movement.”

      I politely disagree; the history of Rome (and the Catholic Church) tells exactly that story. Let me elaborate what I meant with the perfect Christian organization took over a failing and degenerating West Rom. This story of the Church’s success started (AD 37) around the last years of the reign of Tiberius who a that time already lived at Capri to enjoy his pervert lifestyle. The empire was stretched from England to Africa and from Syria to Spain, its borders calm the vast majority of earth lived under Roman law and paid contribution. But the core was already rotten, the enormous wealth leads to a corrupted and decadent upper class and an alimented and circus entertained Roman underclass (slave work was cheap) and sophistication mixed with brutality terror, tyranny and greed. After Tiberius’ death, the crazy Caligula took over, then the weakling Claudius and then the infamous Nero. Except some bright spots, the situation only became worse in the next 300 years until the empire faltered und the Roman church took over the spoils.

      Daniels remark: My question is not if early Christians agree the deity(or dual natures) of Jesus of Nazareth, but how do we explain the first Christians movement, if we deny resurrection?

      Thanks, here is the misunderstanding on my side. As a Christian I would never deny the resurrection as a central message, but my assertion was it was not the only and not the only factor of the church as an organization.

      Earlier to Lucanian account is Pauline quote(in 1 Cor. 15) of early Christians’ poetic hymn, which Historians both, Christian and non-Christians date it 2-5 years after the crucifixion of Jesus from Nazareth(C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 16.) :

      Daniels remark: How to explain the first Christians’ movement if we reject resurrection hypothesis.

      That I am afraid you have to ask a pagan. I even pointed out in my last post that in the Lucanian writings death and resurrection of the Nazarene was of first importance. For the reasons of fulfilling prophesy (here what he said to his followers about his death and resurrection) but even more as he did for our sins exactly this gave us back the promise of eternal life. Having said that, other offshoots like Islam quite flourish (in numbers) denying any claim of resurrections. For the early Christians it would have denied them the central message of hope and most likely would have stayed in despair of the Messiahs death…

      The success factures of the Christian church as an organization are two folded

      1) External success factors, the early followers used the globalized infrastructure (streets, common languages Latin and Greek) a revolutionary situation with brilliant apostles, an appeal to women, slaves and other disfranchised which had more clout than the eye met. This, together with learning and taking over a centralized global administration from within was the core reason of establishing a central Roman church organization which exists today.

      2) There were however, also unique selling prepositions (USP) of Christianity together with a superior quality of the Christian core teachings of the Apostles (e.g. Gospels). The Christian message is one of hope, but it has been multidimensional to some Jesus was the prophesy fulfillment of the messiah to others the promise of eternal life promised by the resurrection. As the pagan Seneca said: “Show me one being resurrected and I believe in eternal live”. But that was not all, I would agree with Henri Daniel-Rops (The church of apostles and martyrs), even more important was the Pentecostal event and the Sacrament of communion. Also the incredible uniqueness up today of the dual nature of Jesus: he was not man, he was not God but both – a union of two natures as undiminished deity and true human in one person forever, inseparably united God being fully God and man being fully man in ONE person forever. Jesus died as human for us and this gives us eternal life back. The image of a Christian god was one of unconditional love, not the punishing Yahweh or the many polytheistic manmade creatures before. A prior very recently explained me, that the Christian god can be seen more as mother than of a father, which almost annoyed me (my first association was the goodness Kali). But it’s true, that was exactly the reasons for the initial appeal to the powerless. Furthermore the message was refined and blended with Greek philosophy (e.g. the concept of an eternal soul came later and originates entirely on Plato and Plotinus.

      Summary: The message of the Resurrection of Christ important, even a crucial last stone in the church but the only reason for success of the first Christians’ movement or if denied of its compelling and mandatory failure:

      http://wp.me/s2bcCT-3671

  4. Prayson Daniel, does your question ask: if the resurrection did not happen, how did the early church survive? If so, my understanding is that the church survived because it was further developed by Roman Emperor Constantine (during the years 300’s) as a political incentive. It later developed into the Roman Catholic Church. How the church survived before this is beyond me. Maybe Jesus did resurrect, or never actually died. What really amazes me is that His message of God’s love and how we can show this love to our neighbors survived up to today, which is impressive to me. This is why I truly believe that this message is true. Jesus’ true identity, on the other hand, is still obscure to me.

  5. How do you explain the early Christian movements?

    You might as well ask how do you explain Scientology or Raëlism? Those two religious movements coincided with a broader new age movement. Likewise, Christianity arose at a time of intense messianic longings; a time when crisis cultists roamed Judea and there were large populations of displaced Jews (the diaspora) eager to consume stories.

    Like Christianity both Scientology and Raëlism are childish nonsense.

    All three, though, are in many ways sincere childish nonsense; the elaborate work of profoundly frightened individuals who never really took to adulthood and have remained desperate to believe someone or something was in charge and that the uncertain life we experience here on earth is not the life we’re destined to enjoy. To these audiences’ cafes, garden shops, libraries, drivers licencing branches, sitcoms, 12 year old whisky, particle colliders, flannel pyjamas, space telescopes, and even Michelin Star restaurants aren’t enough of a veneer standing between them and the brutal realities of jungle uncertainty. An & Ki, Marduk, Ahura Mazda, Yahweh, and Aliens are all of the same pot: wise parental figures waiting to lift us from some ghastly summer camp and take us “home.”

    • Thank you John for your brilliant comment.

      I believe your position John, namely Jews, at intense messianic longing, eager to consume stories, would not do because of at least two historical data that we have:

      1. A dying messiah was unthinkable. The messianic longing was that of a conquering Davidic king who would free Jews from Romans bondage and

      2. There were many “messiahs” whom after they were killed or die, their followers either elected another messiah from the same family or abandon the movement.

      Thus John, even before I ask for historical support(s) that led you to the position you hold, I believe one could at least find fault in your position based on these two historical data.

      Thank you once again, John.
      Prayson

      • Prayson, many messiahs and messianic hopefuls…. Simon of Peraea, Menahem, Simon Magus, Apollonius of Tyana, Athronges the Shepherd, Judas the Galilean, John the Baptist, the ‘Samaritan Prophet,’ Theudas, the nameless ‘Egyptian Prophet,’ John of Gischala, Jonathan (the weaver), and even Simon bar Giora… all these factual characters and their deeds were recorded by historians.

        Not a word, nothing, was penned about Jesus. Odd, huh?

      • Your observation John echoes the historical data (2) 🙂 You could be correct John that it is “odd” but that does not answer the question namely, how to explain the early Christians’ movement, while rejecting resurrection hypothesis.

      • I did explain it…. its the same explanation as to why Raëlism has a following 🙂

        At the end of the day the early Christian cult wouldn’t have travelled any further than the northern diaspora had Constantine chosen Mithraism as Rome’s state religion.

        If you’re interested (you at least sound interested, which is great!) I wrote two pieces on the historical nature of Jesus.

        http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/jesus-facts-fiction-and-metafiction/

        http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/jesus-the-man-that-never-was-2/

        Curious to hear your views if/when you get a chance to read.

      • The “dying god” was a feature of many ancient religions. Osiris, Dionysius, Odin, Hercules, all had some variety of “death and rebirth” in their mythology. (Joseph Campbell has done some excellent writing on this theme.) Take that motif, mix it with Jewish messianic prophecies, the proliferation of apocalyptic beliefs in the Roman Era and add a big dollop of Hellenistic religion, and you have the beginnings of Christianity. Many “mystery religions” sprung up around that time, Christianity was simply the one that eventually won political support and gained the power to stamp out the others.

        • Hej Ubi,

          I believe the “dying god” objections does not pass historical examination. I went through some of gods in early articles, but I believe you would probably listens to skeptics and atheists who totally reject it and ask other atheists never to use this objection for it is embarrassing. Conspiracies: Skepticproject went through each “dying gods” and refute the features that are often paralleled together.

          Prayson

      • Thank you John for two interesting articles which questions the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. I enjoyed reading through as I find the discussion surrounding this character amazingly wonderful.

        I have read all three articles and would address them briefly. But before I do that John, I would point out that you did not address the two historical data that would discredit the explanation you gave above. Moreover I believe each case(origin of Christianity and Raëlism) need to be dealt separately.

        Even if I grant John that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, that does not answer the question but only reenforce it to: How do you explain the early Christians’ movement, if we hold that Jesus of Nazareth never existed.

        Sadly John it is on popular level that Jesus of Nazareth existence is in question. In scholarly level it is unthinkable to doubt this character’s existence. Historians, both Christians and non-Christians(skeptics, agnostics and atheists), on this field uniformly reject the idea that Jesus of Nazareth never existed.

        Atheist historian Michael Grant explained,

        This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth[…] But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms […]To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.’ In recent years, ‘no serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary. (Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels [1977], p.199-200)

        A secular humanist, Will Durant also observed,

        The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship; several, antedating A.D. 64, are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine. No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion[…] The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies, for example Hammurabi, David, Socrates would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature of the history of Western man.(The Story of Civilization, Vol III: Caesar and Christ. 1980)

        Cambridge University’s chair of New Testament Studies, Graham Stanton, concluded that, “[t]oday, nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which as to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher.”

        American New Testament scholar, who is agnostic leaning toward atheism, Barth Eerman just published a brilliant book on this topic: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. So even though in youtube, wikipedia and blogosphere, New Testament history untrained skeptics questions the existence of historical Jesus, in the scholarly level, this view is strongly rejected.

        I believe, in your second article John, you misunderstood Docetism. I wrote in length here: Docetism: Jesus The Illusionist.

        Thank you once again John.

        Prayson

  6. “[H]ear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—”

    For a start the earliest Christians did not believe jesus was God… at least not according to this statement.

    • Thank you Paul.

      I would love to explore if early Christian thought Jesus was God or not, but I believe that is not the questions I wish to hear from Christians’ critics. I wish to understand how they explain the early Christian movements, if one reject resurrection hypothesis.

      Thank you for everything Paul. I am humbled by your inputs.

      Prayson

Comments are closed.