Rationality of The Resurrection of Jesus

Doubting Thomas

The truthfulness of Christianity solely hangs on the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried and on the third day he rose again leaving an empty tomb. If this is not true, Christianity is false, period.

Most Christians believe that Jesus rose again leaving an empty tomb through the internal work of God’s Spirit. But is it possible for a Christian to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks her for the sensibleness of her belief? Can a Christian, with love, gentleness and respect, present a persuasive historical case to show that it is rationally justified to believe that Jesus rose again from the dead?

This first part of my article seeks to demonstrate the rationality of the resurrection hypothesis using minimal facts methodology. Divorcing historical data from best explanation of that data, I chose two leading contemporary non-Christians New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and Bart D. Ehrman to assess what historian can know about Jesus of Nazareth.

I used minimal facts methodical approach because it, as  Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona explained, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.”(Habermas & Licona 2004, 44)

The historical data that these scholars, who hold different worldviews including atheists, agnostics, Jews and Christians (Licona 2010, 280), grant are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.

2. Jesus’ was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

3. Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the 3rd day.

4. Jesus’ followers believed to have seen the risen Jesus.

“That he[Jesus] was crucified” boldly asserted Crossan, “is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus […] agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact”(Crossan 1995, 163-4) Even though Crossan affirms  1 and 4 (135, 145, 154, 165, 190 & 1991,398 ), he  disputed data 2 and thus 3. He believes that the story is too good to be true (1991, 373). Mark must have invented Joseph of Arimathea story (1996, 188).

Crossan case against 2 and thus 3 are highly unlikely because he overlooked the hostility between early Christians toward a council that condemned their leader to death (Brown 1994). Unless it was true, it is least likely that Mark would invent a story where a fictional member of Sanhedrians acted nobly towards their master’s body.

In 1999 Ehrman argued that we can neither be certain about Joseph of Arimathea account nor that his followers proclaimed his resurrecting three days later, but “we can say with some confidence is that Jesus actually did die, he probably was buried, and that some of his disciples (all of them? some of them?) claimed to have seen him alive afterward.”(Ehrman 1999, 229)

Ehrman’s public position changed in 2003. Ehrman illuminated that historians can say with relative certainty that Jesus was indeed buried by Joseph of Arimathea. He added,

We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum. As so I think we can say that after Jesus’ death, with some (probably with some) certainty, that he was buried, possibly by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and that three days later he appeared not to have been in his tomb. (Ehrman 2003)

Moving from historical data to the best explanation of that data Crossan and Ehrman robustly rejects resurrections hypothesis. Their rejection is not based on historical data, but on what best explain these data. It is not a historical based rejection but a philosophical one, the impossibility of miracles.

Letting B = Background knowledge, D = Specific Data (Jesus’ burial, empty tomb, postmortem appearance, conversion of skeptic James and an enemy Saul of Tarsus, the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, et cetera) and R = Resurrection of Jesus, the probability of the resurrection hypothesis relative to the background knowledge and specific data can be calculated as follows:

Pr(R/ B&D) = [Pr (R/B) x Pr (D/B&R) / {[Pr (R/B) x PR (D/B&R] + [Pr (not-R/B) x Pr (D/B &not-R)]}

What is the possibility of a Jesus rose again miracle? Is the Pr(R/ B&D) greater than 0.5? Is resurrection of Jesus the best explanation of the data in a pool of competing rival hypotheses?  I attempted to answer these questions in my second article.

Bibliography:

Brown, Raymond E. (1994) The Death of the Messiah, 2nd Vol. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Crossan, John Dominic (1991) The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: Harper Collins.

______________________ (1995) Jesus: A Revolutional Bigrapy. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

______________________ (1996) Who killed Jesus? San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Ehrman, Bart D. (1999)  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. New York: Oxford University Press.

______________________ (2003) From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” The Teaching Company.

Habermas, Gary R.  & Licona, Michael R.(2004)  The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus .Grand Rapids: Kregel.

Licona, Michael (2010) The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach .Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Gnosticism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

Burne-Jones Edward Mirror of Venus

A first three centuries A.D. diverse religious and theosophical movement, which sponged some of Platonic Philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity traditions together. An gnostic held an “ontological dualism between the supreme, ineffable God of love and the material world, considered evil or, at best, indifferent.”(Myers 1987, 421)

A gnostic  believed that though she was imprisoned in the body, which is evil, she possessed a divine pneúma and can be set free through mediate, divine savior, by means of gnosis, a mystical knowledge of true seeing and hearing, to ascend to a state known as Pleroma.

“The focus of Gnostic redemption is not on God”, explained A.C. Myers, “but ultimately upon the individual’s self-understanding and the resulting freedom it provides.”(ibid: 421). Myer noted that many Gnostics tracked their teaching back to Christ Jesus’ secret teaching but “Gnostic christologies offer a savior without the incarnation (a Christ-spirit) who gives knowledge instead of calling for faith (cf. Mark 12:14; Gal. 2:16).”(ibid, 422)

Nicholas Perrin pointed out that “[f]or Gnosticism, existentialism, and deconstructionism alike, salvation/knowledge is obtained individualistically, quite apart from the mediation of communal interpretations and structures”(Perrin 2005, 258) He contended that by “the end of the second century, the church fathers (and rabbis) were eager to refute Gnostic claims.” because virtually every aspect of Gnostic teaching “stood at odds with emerging orthodoxy.”(ibid, 258)

Bibliography:

Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (421). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Perrin, Nicholas(2005): “Gnosticism” in Vanhoozer, K. J., Bartholomew, C. G., Treier, D. J., & Wright, N. T. Dictionary for theological interpretation of the Bible. London; Grand Rapids, MI.: SPCK; Baker Academic.

Questioning Rome’s Catholic Understanding of Matthew 16:18-20

Keys Given To Peter

When Christ said: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (verse 18), did He mean Peter or Peter’s confession, was the rock to which He built His church?

Leo the Great(c. 400-461 A.D.), the first Roman Catholic Pope, understood that it was Peter. This passage shows, according to Leo I, the ordination of Peter before the rest of Apostles. He wrote,

For he was ordained before the rest in such a way that from his being called the Rock, from his being pronounced the Foundation, from his being constituted the Doorkeeper of the kingdom of heaven, from his being set as the Umpire to bind and to loose, whose judgments shall retain their validity in heaven, from all these mystical titles we might know the nature of his association with Christ. (Leo 1895: 117)

An eminent Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott, following Roman Catholicism perspective, contended that it was Peter whom Christ buildt His church. As proof from Scripture, Ott quoted this passage to argue that, “Christ appointed the Apostle Peter to be the first of all the Apostles and to be the visible Head of the whole Church by appointing him immediately and personally to the primacy of jurisdiction.”(Ott 1954: 279 bold removed). He contended,

The primacy was promised on the occasion of the solemn confession of the Messiahship in the house of Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16, 17-19)[…] These words are addressed solely and immediately to Peter. In them Christ promise to confer on him a threefold supreme power in the new religious community […] which He is to found.(ibid 280)

Contrary to Rome Catholic view Origen (c.185–254 A.D.), Aurelius Augustine (c.354–430 A.D.) and John Chrysostom (c.347-407) believed that it was Peter’s confession, and not Peter to be the rock which Jesus would build his Church.

Chrysostom expounded that it was “on the faith of his [Peter’s] confession.”(Chrysostom 1888: 333) to which Christ promised to build his Church. Augustine also contended,

Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. “Therefore,” he saith, “Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock” which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock which thou hast acknowledged, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;” that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, “will I build My Church.” I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee. (Augustine 1888: 340)

Augustine, as Chrysostom, rightly concluded: “On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built.”(Augustine 1888b: 450)

If any disciple of Christ, according to Origen, confesses like Peter, then he or she “ become a Peter […] For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.”(Origen 1897: 456)

Question: Which reading, the Roman Catholic or Origen-Augustine-Chrysostom, which reformers picked up, is correct? I welcome a positive comment exchange giving reasons for or against these views. I am persuaded that Origen, Augustine and Chrysostom are correct. But before I share my reasons I want to hear from both sides, mostly from my Catholic brothers and sisters.

Bibliography:

Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament R. G. MacMullen, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VI: Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (P. Schaff, Ed.). New York: Christian Literature Company.

____________________ (1888b). Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John J. Gibb & J. Innes, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VII: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies (P. Schaff, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Chrysostom, John (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume X: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (P. Schaff, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons C. L. Feltoe, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.)Vol. 12a: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume XII: Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Origen. (1897). Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew J. Patrick, Trans.). In A. Menzies (Ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX: The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV (A. Menzies, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Ott, Ludwig (1954) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Ed. James Canon Bastible, Trans. from Germany: Patrick Lynch. Roman Catholic Books. Fort Collins.

Tertullian, Jehovah’s Witnesses And Trinity

Tertullian

There are few pillars in Christian Church history that can tower one of the finest North African’s Latin theologian and apologist Tertullian (ca. 160- ca. 225 A.D.)

My interest in the life and works of Tertullian sprouted from an encounter with door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses. In one of our dialogues, I was handed the Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society’s brochure, “Should You Believe in the Trinity? Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God?” in which the Watch Tower Society argued that the doctrine Trinity God was alien to early Christians.

Noticing that “trinitas” appeared in the works of Tertullian, Watchtower Society contended that, “this is no proof in itself that Tertullian taught the Trinity”(Watchtower 1989: 5).  It took a decade for Watchtower’s organization to discover their mistake. Contrary to what they believed, Tertullian defended not only the doctrine of Trinity God but also the deity of Christ Jesus and the bodily resurrection, among other doctrines, which they deny. The Watchtower Society admitted,

“[Tertullian] coined the formula “one substance in three persons.” Using this concept, he attempted to show that God, his Son, and the holy spirit were three distinct persons existing in one divine substance. Tertullian thus became the first to apply the Latin form of the word “trinity” to the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit.”(Watchtower 2002: 31)

In this article, I pointed out a small potion of Tertullian’s work that caused Watchtower’s organization to alter their understanding of this Northern African’s giant.

Tertullian view of Doctrine Of Trinity

Writing against Praxeas, who taught Monarchianism viz., the doctrine that held the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to be one and the same person, Tertullian presented one of the earliest and most robust defenses of one and only God in three distinct persons. Tertullian contended:

Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other. […] Father and the Son are demonstrated to be distinct; I say distinct, but not separate[1].(Tertullian 1885: 603)

Quoting Isaiah 42:1, 45:1 61:1(Luke 4:18) 53:1-2, Psalms 71:18, 3:1, 110:1, Tertullian argued:

Still, in these few quotations the distinction of Persons in the Trinity is clearly set forth. For there is the Spirit Himself who speaks, and the Father to whom He speaks, and the Son of whom He speaks.(ibid)

Pointing to Moses’ usage of plural phrases “us”, and “our” instead of “me” and “my” uttered by God in Genesis 1-3, Tertullian correctly reasoned, that  God the Father “had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase”(ibid).

Though Tertullian did not contend in detail the deity of the Holy Spirit, he showed that the Spirit was the third person of tres Personae, una Substantia.

 Question: Did you know that the doctrine of one God in three persons was taught by early Christians?

Bibliography:

Watchtower (1989) Should You Believe in the Trinity?  Is Jesus Christ the Almighty God? Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

_____________ (2002) Who Is God? May 15th. Watch Tower Bible And Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

Tertullian. (1885). Tertullian In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.


[1] Tertullian explained further that its “on the ground of Personality, not of Substance—in the way of distinction, not of division.”