Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Greatest Piece of Evidence (part 2)

In 1963 the body of fourteen-year old Addie Mae Collins, one of four African-American girls tragically murdered in an infamous church bombing by white racists, was buried in Birmingham, Alabama. For years family members kept returning to that grave to pray and leave flowers. Then in 1998 they made the decision to disinter the deceased for reburial at another cemetery. But when workers were sent to dig up the body they returned with a shocking discovery: the grave was empty.

Understandably, family members were terribly distraught.  Hampered by poorly kept records, cemetery officials scrambled to figure out what had happened.  Several possibilities were raised, the primary one being that her tombstone had been erected in the wrong place.  But no-one every suggested that maybe Addie had been raised from the dead.  You see, by itself an empty grave does not prove that a resurrection has taken place (taken from The Case for Christ).
Last week we saw that there is a credible case to be made for claiming that the tomb of Jesus was vacant. However, it is unlikely that the Jesus movement would have taken off if all that happened was that the tomb was found empty.  Indeed, look at Mary Magdalene; she knows that the body is not in the tomb but she assumes that someone must have taken it.  Let’s look at one of the resurrection appearances.
The resurrection is historical
Bible scholar, Craig Evans, explains that, ‘No serious historian of any religious strip doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.’  But these facts alone don’t explain the rapid emergence of the Christian church.
In fact the death of Jesus should have ended the Jesus movement.  That a movement would begin, centred on a crucified messiah is astonishing; the Romans saw crucifixion as shameful and scandalous, and the Jews believed it was a sign of being under God’s curse.  How could a church be established in the very city where Jesus was seen to be defeated and dishonoured? Something must have happened!

Again, it is worth noting the apparent discrepancies between the gospel accounts. Mark talks of a young man dressed in white, Matthew speaks of an angel whose clothing was as white as snow, Luke speaks of two men in dazzling apparel, and John speaks of two angels dressed in white.  So were these men or angels and how many of them was there?
Well, we need to realise that angels in the New Testament did not look like the angels of modern superstition; there didn’t appear with feathers! Angels often took the form of people. After all the writer of Hebrews talks of people entertaining angels without knowing it; because these angels appeared like anybody else. What we have in the resurrection stories are angels that have taken a human form.  As for their number: it is possible to only mention a spokesman without referring to those who accompanied him.
As I said last week, I believe the apparent discrepancies between these accounts are strong evidence of their authenticity.  Professor John Lennox writes:

If several witnesses to an event make statements in court that agree in every detail, word-for-word, any judge would be likely to deduce that the testimonies were not independent; and, worse still, that there had possibly been collusion to mislead the court. On the other hand, testimonies of independent witnesses, which were hopelessly in disagreement on all the main points, would be of no use to a court either. What is looked for in independent testimonies is agreement on all the main facts, with just that amount of difference which can be accounted for by different perspectives etc.
I also mentioned last week that the prominent role played by women in these stories is highly significant.  In that culture women were not considered to be reliable; their testimony was not admissible in court. If you were making this story up you would not have given women centre-stage; particularly a woman like Mary Magdalene—who had previously been possessed by demons.

William Lane Craig points out that it would have taken around a hundred and fifty years for legend to develop.  Interestingly, that is around the time when other gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, emerged.  But the accounts in the four gospels of the New Testament have none of the form of legend.  For example, a legendary Jesus would never have been portrayed as too weak, after a flogging, to carry the beam of his cross.
One so-called gospel, referred to as ‘the Gospel of Peter’, was written in the second half of the second century.  This has Jesus coming out of the tomb with a huge body that reaches up beyond the sky, and the cross comes out of the tomb and actually talks.  Now that sounds like legend!  But the four gospels do not sound like legend, but rather like accounts based on eye-witness recollections.

If you were making the story of Jesus up you would never have him cry from the cross, ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’; such a detail is too open to misunderstanding (as Craig Evans writes, ‘except that they be historically true, these words are much too scandalous to be true’).  Similarly, if you were making this up you would be vague about names so that people could not investigate witnesses, but each of the gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea (an unlikely hero given that he was a member of the Jewish council that opposed Jesus), and Mark goes so far as to talk of ‘a certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus (it seems that his readers were acquainted with these men).
Sir Edward Clarke, a British High Court judge who conducted a thorough legal analysis of the events surrounding the resurrection concluded:
To me the evidence is conclusive, over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. As a lawyer I accept the gospel evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts that they were able to substantiate.
The resurrection is personal

Our passage opens with Mary Magdalene, alone at the tomb after the others have gone home.  She is weeping.  She looks into the tomb and sees two angels.  They ask her, ‘woman, why are you crying?’  From the standpoint of heaven there is nothing less logical than crying at the tomb of the risen Jesus!  Then Mary becomes aware of a man in her midst; who she, wrongly, assumes is a gardener.

It is interesting that she doesn’t recognise Jesus straight away.  Again, I think this is a great indicator of the authenticity of these accounts: if people fabricated this story, would they have shown portrayed people as slow to recognise Jesus?  While the morning haze may have affected her ability to see him, and she certainly wasn’t expecting to meet him, the main reason people did not recognise Jesus was that he had entered into a new level of existence.  Jesus was not merely resuscitated; he was raised in a glorious resurrection body. This body had both continuity (it bore the scares) and discontinuity (it would never die again).  It is the sort of body that the apostle Paul tells us that we will receive when Jesus returns to earth.

Mary thinks that this gardener may have removed Jesus’ body (she was not anticipating the resurrection). Then the gardener speaks her name: ‘Mary’.  Earlier Jesus had taught that he was the good shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep, and that the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name … the sheep follow him, for they know his voice (John 10:3-4, ESV).
There is something very personal about Jesus’ dealing with Mary.  It is the same personal relationship that he has with all his people.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians about, the Son of God, 'who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20).  With regards to this text in Galatians, Martin Luther advised us to:
Read the words "me" and "for me" with great emphasis. Print this "me" with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this "me." Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins.
The resurrection is news to be shared

N. T. Wright is a leading New Testament scholar; he was formerly Bishop of Durham, and now lectures in the University of Saint Andrews.  He explains that,
… after Jesus of Nazareth had been executed, anybody two days, three days, three weeks, or three years after that would never have said he was the Messiah, unless something extraordinary had happened to convince them that God had vindicated him …
That vindication was his resurrection, and our duty is to proclaim this good news—this is our concluding point!

Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him, for he has not yet ascended to the Father. Jesus may be saying that she will have other times to be with him before he ascends to heaven; or he may be saying that when he ascends to heaven she will get to experience him more intimately. Either way, she is to go and tell the others. Bible commentator Bruce Milne writes:
Tragically, over the centuries the Christian community has shown a far greater interest in sitting at Jesus’ feet, holding on to him amid the comfort of his presence, than in going out into the world to share the good news of the risen Lord with broken, needy hearts who have as valid a claim to be known of him as we.
Perhaps the primary piece of application Christians are to take from this text is the fact that we are to be people who tell others about the resurrection of Jesus.  We have a job to do before Jesus returns; we have a message that can change people’s lives; we are the people of good news.

Lee Strobel was educated at Yale Law School, and was an award winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune.  He described himself as an atheist until he began a twenty one month investigation into the claims for the historic Jesus.  He became convinced that the Jesus of the Bible was the Jesus of history and that he is now the risen king.  This truth changed his life; his five-year-old daughter went to her mother and exclaimed, ‘Mommy, I want God to do for me what he has done for daddy.’  Now he writes books arguing in favour of Christianity.  These are well-worth reading and include The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith.  Strobel knows this good message is not to be kept to ourselves and that our lives are to be spent sharing what we have learned about Jesus.


Paul said...

Part One
People can argue endlessly about the authenticity of the claims made in favour for the resurrection of Jesus. I could ream off many points that show the weakness of such a claim, but neither side is ever going to be able to prove it either way. As your much quoted William Lane Craig says (in the context of the resurrection argument), “to believe in the resurrection, you have to presuppose that God exists, because the resurrection hypothesis is related to miracles”.

So Paul, while you give arguments and quotes in favour of the resurrection, they are meaningless in and of themselves, because they are based on one huge supposition, namely that God exists, and therefore such a miracle could have taken place. So no matter what is argued or what you try to prove about the resurrection, such attempts will never achieve anything unless the listener assumes that God exists.

I know in a previous post you refer to the default Christian points e.g. – how did something come out of nothing? How could ‘creation’ happen without a creator?......etc.

If as you believe God created everything, do you not think it is disturbing that he had to design a world in which tectonic plates must move, causing tsunamis; in 2004 one of these killed over 230,000 adults, children and babies, in fourteen countries, some design! How then can Christians sing at harvest time “the wind and waves obey Him” if Christians really believe that this is true, they have a great deal of explaining to do. This is why the words of Craig mentioned in an earlier post are so deplorable, from his Christian view, God was doing all the children and babies a favour, they would be going to heaven anyway, so it would not matter that they were horribly killed by a tsunami. Mind you for nearly 1800yrs, Christians taught that babies/children did not go to heaven if they were not baptised

Paul said...

Part Two
With reference to the resurrection, as I am sure you know that Mike Licona has written a 700 page book in defence of the resurrection hypothesis, yet due to the fact that in ‘The Resurrection of Jesus ‘ he suggests that Matthew 27:52-53 might be apocalyptic, the wrath of the evangelical establishment,
(including Norm Geisler), had him removed from North American Mission Board and Southern Evangelical Seminary. What I am trying to explain to you Paul by this is, it is too simple to talk about faith, this is not enough for Christians, no matter even if somebody believes in the resurrection, it still has to be the ‘right kind of faith’, as evidenced by the above disagreement with Geisler, this shows exactly why faith is man made. Even if you remove one tiny block from the edifice of their faith, people such as Geisler (I think he wrote-I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist) are worried that it will fall. This is why Craig has to make such a sick reasoning for God commanding so much genocide in the OT. I would hope Paul that if you had a guest speaker at your church who made such a disgusting statement, that you would not have him back unless he retracted such words. Craig refuses to retract them, and I suppose he can’t, because they are the logical conclusion of evangelical belief.
By the way, another evangelical establishment figure Al Mohler condemns Licona when he says “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew, in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ, simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’…”

Yet Licona has written a 700pg book in its defence!-it shows the nonsense of even putting forward an argument in favour of the resurrection.

While I do not class myself as ‘an enemy’-all I wish to do is try and show how subjective Christian faith (or any other) is, and ask simple questions. The above is a classic example. Mind you, simply because I question the validity of faith, Christians say that “I am a pawn of Satan”, not sure if I am as highly qualified as that though!

I was very intrigued by one of your examples for the existence of God, namely “modern miracles”, I would be genuinely interested to hear more from you about this, if you were happy to do so.
Best regards,
p.s. Just to let you know, I am not a materialist.

To whom it may concern said...

Hi Paul
Glad to see that you are willing to borrow from the thinking of William Lane Craig. It is interesting that you point to pre-suppositions; I have always felt that athiests fail to engage with the resurrection because of their presupposition against the existence of God (for example, NT Wright's supervisor acknowledged the strength of his arguements for the resurrection but admitted that he chooses to beleive their must be another explanation).

I don't believe that the arguements are based on the presupposition of God, rather I believe that the arguements point to the existence of God.

Regarding your argument concerning tectonic plates etc., I am sure you have seen Craig address that in his debate with Hitchens.

With regards to modern miracles: I refer you to my link entitled, 'amazing things God does.' One of these miracles includes an event associated with one of my best friends, David Blevins. I amn certain of his character and have spoken to a neurologist about whether there was any possibility that it was a hallucination (he said that David's profile and circumstances suggested not). I don't make too much of the modern miracle arguement, given that those with an a priori belief that God does not exist will simply say that there must be an alternative explanation.

I hadn't realised that Licona had written a book on the resurrection (I don't even know who he is). I think that it is foolish to write off an arguement for the resurrection because you do not beleive in some of the author's points. I recently read a NT Wright article on this topic; I did not argee with some of his attitudes towards biblical inerrency, but nevertheless I believe that he is one of the leading proponents in favour of the ressurection.

Are you really saying that there is no point in making an arguement in favour of a given position because of disagreements between propenents of that view?

Paul, I hope that I will not call you any offensive names. If you are not a nmaterialist, what are you? I believe that you must do some defending as well as attackking.
Yours etc, Paul