Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman debate the resurrection of Jesus

From the Unbelievable radio show.

Details:

Bart Ehrman is well known as a US New Testament Scholar who lost his Christian faith and now questions many core precepts of Christianity, including the Resurrection of Jesus.  When Mike Licona had doubts he devoted himself to investigating the evidence and became convinced that Jesus resurrection is the only rational explanation for the facts.

They debate key historical facts about the resurrection – are the letters of Paul that report the resurrection and the Gospel accounts trustworthy or theologised and changed with time?  What about apparent contradictions between the Gospels? Does the consensus of scholars count as evidence, or is there a Christian bias?  Can a miracle count as an explanation for historical data?

The MP3 file is here.

Snarky summary of the radio debate: (items with * are my made-up paraphrases/clarifications)

This has got to be one of my silliest summaries, but Ehrman makes me so annoyed.

Ehrman:
- my new book is about forgeries in the ancient world
- some books were falsely attributed to prominent Christian figures
- there are mistakes in the Bible
- there are mistakes in the resurrection narratives
- the defeat of inerrancy led to his conversion to liberal Christianity
- the problem of evil and suffering caused him to become a non-Christian

Licona:
- there are minimal facts that are agreed to by a broad spectrum of scholars
- the minimal facts are accepted because they pass standard historical criteria
- Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
- Fact 2: Individuals and groups had visions of Jesus after his death
- Fact 3: Paul, a skeptic and an enemy, had an appearance of Jesus that converted him
- these facts are agreed to atheist scholars, liberal scholars, etc.
- virtually 100% of scholars agree with these three facts
- there is no naturalistic explanation of these three facts
- therefore, the best explanation of these three facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead

Ehrman:
- all historians would accept these three facts, except for maybe the group appearances
- the death of Jesus is irrelevant to the resurrection
- the second and third point can be collapsed together
- so really there is only one fact

Moderator:
- the crucifixion is relevant because Muslims don’t admit that fact
- the crucifixion important because it establishes a resurrection, not a resuscitation

Ehrman:
- well, if the point is that he died, then yes, this does require a resurrection

Licona:
- the crucifixion refutes Muslims who deny that Jesus died
- the crucifixion refutes the apparent death theory (swoon theory)
- the death is required for a bodily resurrection
- it’s important to know what facts most scholars, regardless of worldview, agree on
- it’s important to emphasize that Licona is working from historical bedrock facts
- the resurrection is the best explanation for the historical bedrock facts

Ehrman:
- you are trying to list 3 things, but really it is just one thing – the appearances
- and not ALL scholars agree that the group visions occurred

Licona:
- name one prominent scholar who denies the group appearances

Ehrman:
- the radically leftist atheist nutcase John Dominic Crossan denies the group appearances
* Crossan is so far on the left that I look like a nutcase for even citing him
* Crossan believes in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is a hoax – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan believes that the synoptics are LATER than gnostic forged gospels – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan presupposes atheism, so he cannot admit to miracle stories as a pre-supposition – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan pre-supposes religious pluralism, so he cannot allow any exclusive claims Christians make – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan is a good historian, it’s just that he is so far to the left that no one – NO ONE – agrees with his all of crazy theories
* I think it is a good idea to cite historians who pre-suppose atheism and political correctness before they sit down to do history

Licona:
- let me explain why most scholars accept the individual and group post-mortem appearances
- the best source for the appearances is the early creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15:3-8
- Paul himself had an appearance of Jesus after Jesus’ death
- Paul received this material from a source very soon after the appearances – within 1-3 years
- we know that Paul met with Jesus disciples multiple times prior to writing
- Paul probably received it from Peter and James, who were themselves eyewitnesses

Moderator:
- this early dating presumably rules out legend

Licona:
- well legends CAN start quickly
- it does show that Paul was an eyewitness
- it does show that Paul was in contact with reliable eyewitnesses

Ehrman:
- 1 Corinthians is written around 55 AD, twenty-five years after Jesus died
- it is not implausible that Paul got the creed from the disciples, who were eyewitnesses
- but you don’t need a long time for legends to emerge, so that is a possibility

Licona:
- only about 3% of people could read and write back them
- instead, people had enormous capacity for memorization
- the Pharisees were particularly good at memorization
- Jews were very serious about passing along traditions accurately
- Paul, a prominent Pharisee, would have been capable of passing on early creeds accurately
- Paul, in 1 Cor 7, shows that he is willing to separate his opinions from authentic tradition
- Paul had an opportunity in 1 Cor 7 to put words into Jesus’ mouth, but he wouldn’t do it

Ehrman:
- cultural anthropologists show that things do get changed in some oral cultures
- in these oral cultures, it is assumed that the story teller will change the story
- only in written cultures are they careful to avoid changing the story
- in the New Testament, you can compare the same story in two different gospels, there are differences

Licona:
- Ehrman is right that the gospel writers pick and choose things from the oral tradition that they want to include in their gospels
- different oral tradition transmission schemes have more or less embellishment
- african tribes embellish more, rabbinic teaching embellishes less
* Jesus’ followers would have viewed him as a rabbi, and been careful about adding to his teachings
- Paul, an eyewitness, probably received the creed in 1 Cor 15 from other eyewitnesses
- Paul speaks about going twice to Jerusalem in Galatians
- he is meeting with Peter and James to check his facts

Ehrman:
- when you look at Mark and John, there are lots of differences in the narrative

Licona:
- I agree that the gospels have differences, but the oral tradition is likely fixed

Ehrman:
- but Mark and John have different sayings
- why doesn’t Mark have the same explicit high Christology that John has?

Licona:
- first, John is trying to weave the oral tradition into a compelling story
- and second, when you look in Mark, the high Christology is there in the Son of Man sayings
- the apocalyptic Son of Man is in Mark, and everywhere in the New Testament

Ehrman:
- the “apocalyptic Son of Man” isn’t in John

Licona:
- what about in John 9 with the man who was born blind

Ehrman:
- where is the apocalyptic part?

Licona:
- the healed man worships Jesus because he is the Son of Man
- that links to the apocalypic passages in the Old Testament

Moderator:
- what about the differences between the gospels?

Ehrman:
* well, now is the time for me to set up an inerrantist straw man and then knock it down!
* who was at the empty tomb: one angel or two angels? we don’t know, so the whole Bible is false!
* I used to be an inerrantist, so one minor difference is enough for me to dump the whole Bible
* I’ll kill you, you stupid straw man! I hate you, Moody Bible Institute! You lied to me!

Licona:
- many of these problems can be solved by realizing that the gospel writers compress time
- the stories don’t have to list ALL the characters in every scene
- you don’t have to force the Bible to meet some sort of wooden chronology
- the main thing is that the events happened, not that the descriptions match word for word across sources

Ehrman:
- you can’t infer a miracle from history, David Hume says so
* extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, David Hume says so
* no I don’t know what begging the question is, I’m not a philosopher
* no I don’t remember when Bill Craig kicked my ass on this Hume objection in our debate
- the New Testament gospels contradict each other at every point, they are not reliable at all!
* they cannot even agree what Jesus’ name is! There are 1 trillion variants of Jesus’ name!
* “one angel vs two angels” proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
* my expansive list of FOUR theologically insignificant variants proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point

Licona:
- um, the gospels agree on the central narrative and disagree on the peripherals
- and they agree on the minimal facts I presented, even if they disagree about the number of angels

Ehrman:
* they have to agree on everything and be inerrant! The Moody Straw Man Bible Institute says so!
* I really really really need to have the number of angels be the same, or Jesus didn’t die on the cross

Licona:
- but you don’t deny any of the three minimal facts I presented (crucifixion, appearances, Paul)

Ehrman:
- well, I don’t know if the group appearances occurred – maybe they did
- i think Jesus died on the cross, and I think that people said they saw him alive afterward

Licona:
- if you deny the minimal facts, then you are outside the majority of scholars

Ehrman:
- the majority of scholars who agree to the minimal facts you presented are Christians
* Gerd Ludemann is an atheist Christian
* James Crossley is an atheist Christian
* Hector Avalos is an atheist Christian
* the majority of the atheist scholars are all Christians!
- VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY IN THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE IS A CHRISTIAN!!! (Yes, he said that)

Licona:
- you really think so?

Ehrman
- you name one non-Christian in the SBL

Licona:
- (incredulous) um, John Dominic Crossan is an atheist

Ehrman:
- but he CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN so that means HE IS A CHRISTIAN
* all you have to do to be a Christian is claim to be one
* you can even deny the existence of God and the divinity of Christ and still be one, you bigot!

Licona:
- would Jesus or the apostles recognize a Christian as being someone who doubts God’s existence

Ehrman:
- my view is that Jesus and the apostles would not recognize evangelical Christians as Christians
* a non-theist can be a Christian just by claiming to be one, but evangelical Christians are not Christians even if they claim to be Christians
- Christians can’t record accurate history about the resurrection because they are biased

Licona:
- on your view, if a person is a Christian then he can’t write about the evidence for the resurrection
- so then similarly, you would not allow Jews to write about the historicity of the Holocaust
- because you think that if people have an interest in what they are recording then they can’t be objective
- but you have to consider the evidence we have, taking the biases of the sources into account

Ehrman:
- but the only people who believe in the resurrection are Christians!

Licona:
- well, people can consider the evidence for the resurrection as non-Christians
- and then if they accept it they can become Christians

Moderator:
- what about your bias? you don’t believe in God – doesn’t that pre-supposition affect how you do history?

Ehrman:
- well, I presuppose naturalism, so I can’t admit to anything in history that implicates supernatural causes
* no I have never heard of the arguments for the Big Bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, limits on mutations creating information, habitability and so on – I never heard about that stuff from my atheist university professors and even if I had I would have been expelled for talking about it because that would make people feel bad about their sinning

Licona:
- so it’s not bias you are concerned about, it’s that you don’t want history to contradict your untested religion of naturalism?
- why not just do the history without pre-suppositions to gather the minimal facts and then see what the best explanation is?

Ehrman:
* well God is out of bounds as an explanation because I could not have got my PhD if I mentioned God
* I really needed my smart atheist professors to like me and give me good grades so God is RIGHT OUT
* ideas like a real God and moral laws and Hell makes my atheist professors uncomfortable and that means low grades for me
* I’m not really interested in butting heads with professors – it’s easier to just agree with them and move on to selling books to the gullible
* My books are much more sensational than Dan Brown books, so please buy lots of them!

Licona:
- what if the historical evidence is good enough to show that Jesus rose from the dead?

Ehrman:
- well I would not call someone rising from the dead a miracle – I would call it weird
* I also think that the Big Bang is “weird” but that doesn’t prove that God created the universe out of nothing
* if it’s a miracle then I’m going to have to not sin, and maybe even go to Hell, and we can’t have that

Licona:
- well, you accept the three minimal facts
- what if we try all the naturalistic explanations for those three facts and there are problems with all of them?
- what if the resurrection is the best explanation for the three minimal facts?

Ehrman:
- but I want to arbitrarily rule God put because I want to pre-suppose naturalism
- there is not historical reason I have to rule put supernatural explanations a priori

Licona:
- I think you are struggling with the theological implications of a historical conclusion

Ehrman:
- well when you do theology, you have to avoid grounding your theology on science or history
- theology has to be completely made up or it’s not good theology

Licona:
- I think you are letting your dislike of the implications of the resurrection determine your historical conclusions
- you have to use historical methods to gather the minimal facts that every scholar accepts, regardless of worldview
- then you weigh ALL the hypotheses, natural and supernatural, that could account for these minimal facts
- then you choose the hypothesis that best explains the minimal facts

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Fred Sanders reviews a book that makes the case for the deity of Christ

Putting Jesus in His Place

Putting Jesus in His Place

From Touchstone magazine, a review of “Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ” by Biola University professor Fred Sanders.

Excerpt:

The case as perceived by scholars for the deity of Christ is stronger now than it has been for a long time, and those who went through seminary more than a decade ago should take a moment to update their notes. Though the New Testament is clear about the deity of Christ, generations of modern critical scholars have picked away at the standard proofs. Here a verse, there a verse, the arguments that Christians have always relied on to demonstrate that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is God have been rendered dubious.

Putting Jesus in His Place does not simply reclaim those lost passages, revisit the standard debates, and bolster the old arguments (though in many cases it does that, and persuasively); it publicizes new arguments for demonstrating the deity of Christ, which have previously been available only to scholars.

The authors are ideal popularizers, each with one foot in the library and one in the local church. Robert Bowman is manager of apologetics and interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, while Ed Komoszewski is the founder of the educational ministry Christus Nexus and a director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

To help readers remember the arguments, they organize the book around the acronym “HANDS,” arguing that Jesus shares God’s Honor, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and Seat. The text breezes along in straightforward, popular prose—it paraphrases the Nicene homoousios as “Jesus: The Right Stuff,” for example, and explains pre-existence as being “Older Than Dirt—Literally!”—with more technical matters referred to the endnotes.

If you are looking to make a case for the divinity of Jesus, you should go to the earliest sources, and try to see if Jesus has a divine self-understanding, whether he is acting in the place of God.

The book is basically one-stop shopping at a popular level for the best scholarly arguments:

Jesus didn’t so much verbalize his claim to deity, for example; he enacted it. The people of God were waiting for the Lord to show up in person to bring reconciliation; Jesus walked among men, healing, forgiving, and doing everything that God was supposed to do. When, on occasion, he also claimed to be more than a prophet, his claim made sense because it put into words what he was doing in the flesh.

Jesus does what God does. This is the foundation for his claim to deity. N. T. Wright has recently helped his readers see this with his massive narrative arguments, and Bowman and Komoszewski boil a lot of Wright down to a manageable size.

[...]Readers alert to the scholarly scene will recognize that the authors reproduce at an accessible level the arguments of Richard Bauckham (particularly in God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament) and Larry Hurtado (in Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity), among others. (Bauckham and Hurtado are among the book’s many endorsers.)

Wright, Bauckham and Hurtado are three of the leading historical Jesus scholars in the world. I got the book because I wanted to know about the latest research from these experts – but without having to comb through an academic book!

I have some good news, too. The book is on sale in the Kindle edition for under $2 for a limited time. If you don’t have a single book on the divinity of Jesus, you cannot go wrong with this book. It’s good to have one book on this issue, because it comes up a lot in conversations with skeptics. You see annoying documentaries all the time claiming that Jesus was initially viewed as just a man, and then was embellished into a divine figure later. This book helps you to answer that objection.

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Rob Bowman reviews new book that refutes Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”

A very good, but very long, review of skeptical historian Bart Ehrman’s new book. It’s written by Rob Bowman, co-author of “Putting Jesus in his Place“.

Here are some of the really bad mistakes made by Bart Ehrman, according to the review.

#2: Ehrman thinks that Jesus didn’t think he was the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel:

A second notable weakness in Ehrman’s theory is his claim that Jesus expected to fill the role of the Messiah but not of the Son of Man. This interpretation gets its initial plausibility from the fact that Jesus routinely referred to the Son of Man in the third person. However, even in most of the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, it is quite clear in the immediate context that Jesus is referring to himself (Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8; 16:13; 17:22-23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2, 24, 45; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41; Luke 5:24; 7:34; 9:22, 44, 58; 19:10; 22:22, 48). The Messiah and the Son of Man are both understood as eschatological figures that receive an eternal kingdom on behalf of God’s people; it is simply not plausible that Jesus, who used the title Son of Man incessantly and rarely used the title Messiah or Christ, claimed to be the latter but not the former.

#3: Ehrman can’t explain the early church’s proclamation that Jesus was divine:

Ehrman’s main thesis on its face appears completely lacking in credibility. According to Ehrman, whereas Jesus did not view himself as anything more than a man and did not expect to become anything more than a glorious earthly king, within a few weeks or months of Jesus’ death his original followers were sincerely proclaiming that Jesus was a divine figure ruling over all creation at God’s right hand in heaven. Keep in mind that in Ehrman’s mind, Jesus did not rise from the dead and did not actually speak to his disciples after his death. Nor does Ehrman suggest that the disciples thought Jesus had made these stupendous claims about himself during his appearances to them. Rather, Ehrman credits the disciples with inferring these things about Jesus by interpreting their visionary experiences in the light of the apocalyptic worldview he had taught them before his death (205-206). What all this means is that Ehrman’s view requires that Jesus’ original disciples, who had walked all over Galilee and Judea with him and listened to him teach for hours on end, simply discounted Jesus’ own self-image as nothing more than the future human Messiah.

#4: Ehrman denies the burial of Jesus, which makes him one of a handful of ancient historians who do:

To make his theory work, Ehrman has abandoned his earlier view that the burial of Jesus in a tomb just outside Jerusalem was historically likely. He now accepts something like John Dominic Crossan’s view that Jesus received no decent burial at all. In a way, denying the tomb is a smart move on Ehrman’s part. As long as he acknowledged both the tomb and the appearances, he remained vulnerable to the vise grip of the historical argument for the Resurrection. Accept the empty tomb and discount the appearances, and you can postulate that the body was moved or stolen or lost. Accept the appearances and reject the empty tomb, and you can speculate that the disciples had hallucinations or “bereavement visions.” Accept both the empty tomb and the appearances and you have to come up with a blatantly ad hoc explanation like Greg Cavin’s identical-twin theory (what William Lane Craig mischievously labeled “the Dave theory”) or strain credulity by accepting two unrelated explanations for the evidence (e.g., the body was stolen and the disciples had hallucinations). So Ehrman, who knows he cannot deny that at least some of the disciples had experiences in which they thought they saw Jesus alive from the dead, has gone the more sensible skeptical route and questioned the burial in the tomb. But this move, while sensible enough from his agnostic perspective, lands him in evidential hot water, because the evidence that the Gospels are telling the truth about the empty tomb is very good.

#5: Ehrman discounts Paul’s resurrection appearance, which he speaks about in 1 Cor 15:

Ehrman’s attempts to explain the appearances of Jesus naturalistically ignore entirely the testimony of the apostle Paul that Jesus had appeared to him when Paul was still a persecutor of Christians. Ehrman quietly omits any mention of Paul’s experience throughout his treatment of the resurrection appearances in the fifth chapter of his book. Then, having finished with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, at the beginning of chapter 6 Ehrman says only that Paul, after converting to faith in Jesus, “later claimed that this was because he had had a vision of Jesus alive, long after his death” (214, emphasis added). That is all he says—and it is difficult even to take his statement seriously. That Paul sincerely thought he had a vision of the risen Christ is really beyond debate. That fact is a stubborn datum that Ehrman failed to incorporate into his account of the origins of the Christian movement.

The post mentions a new book out that challenges Ehrman’s book, and describes all of the responses to Ehrman’s views. It is edited by well-known Australian scholar Michael F. Bird, whom I have blogged about before.

Here’s one snippet:

Craig Evans’s treatment on the burial of Jesus is the stand-out chapter of the book. Evans rightly criticizes Ehrman’s argument from silence regarding the omission of the name of Joseph of Arimathea from the pre-Pauline confession of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (90-91). Evans shows, against Ehrman, that rabbinical and Qumran texts attest to the Sanhedrin taking responsibility for the burial of executed criminals (80-81, 88-89). This means that the supposed discrepancy between Acts 13:29 and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial (even Luke’s account!) evaporates. Evans is especially in his element when he documents painstakingly from both literary and archaeological evidence that burial in a tomb was not, as Ehrman had argued at length, inconsistent with Roman policies and practices regarding criminals who were crucified (73-80, 83-86). This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

You really can’t deny the burial – it’s in 1 Cor 15:3-7, and that’s early eyewitness testimony. I really am not sure what has gone wrong with Bart. You can’t say the things he says in this book and maintain your respect as a historian, in my opinion. His views are fringe, and worse, they are in conflict with evidence that is undeniable, historically speaking. He’s reaching, because something other than history is making him reach.

Here’s a video about the new book, featuring Craig Evans:

He talks about the evidence for the burial. That video is 20 minutes, but worth watching. If you want to get a full treatment of the divinity of Jesus, then click here and buy Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), for $1.99 (Kindle edition).

You can also view a debate on Youtube between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman here. (Transcript here)

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What criteria do historians use to get to the minimal facts about the historical Jesus?

Have you ever heard Gary Habermas, Michael Licona or William Lane Craig defend the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation for the “minimal facts” about Jesus? The lists of minimal facts that they use are typically agreed to by their opponents during the debates.

For example, in his debate with Bart Ehrman, Craig was able to quote Ehrman’s own writings where he agreed that all four facts were probably true.

Excerpt:

Now in his early published work Dr. Ehrman expressed skepticism about these facts. He insisted that we cannot really affirm these facts.

[...]Dr. Ehrman has himself come to re-think his position on these issues. Inconsistencies in the details notwithstanding, he now recognizes that we have “solid traditions,” not only for Jesus’ burial, but also for the women’s discovery of the empty tomb, and therefore, he says, we can conclude with “some certainty” that Jesus was in fact buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb and that three days later the tomb was found empty. 

When I discovered that Professor Ehrman had reversed himself on this question, my admiration for his honesty and scholarly objectivity shot up. Very few scholars, once they’ve gone into print on an issue, have the courage to re-think that issue and admit that they were wrong. Dr. Ehrman’s reversal of his opinion on these matters is testimony, not merely to the force of the evidence for these four facts, but also to his determination to follow the evidence wherever it leads. What this means is that my first contention is not an issue of disagreement in tonight’s debate.

So what are the criteria that historians use to derive a list of minimal facts about Jesus?

Dr. Craig explains them in this article.

Excerpt:

The other way, more influential in contemporary New Testament scholarship, is to establish specific facts about Jesus without assuming the general reliability of the Gospels. The key here are the so-called “Criteria of Authenticity” which enable us to establish specific sayings or events in Jesus’ life as historical. Scholars involved in the quest of the historical Jesus have enunciated a number of these critieria for detecting historically authentic features of Jesus, such as dissimilarity to Christian teaching, multiple attestation, linguistic semitisms, traces of Palestinian milieu, retention of embarrassing material, coherence with other authentic material, and so forth.

It is somewhat misleading to call these “criteria,” for they aim at stating sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. This is easy to see: suppose a saying is multiply attested and dissimilar but not embarrassing. If embarrassment were a necessary condition of authenticity, then the saying would have to be deemed inauthentic, which is wrong-headed, since its multiple attestation and dissimilarity are sufficient for authenticity. Of course, the criteria are defeasible, meaning that they are not infallible guides to authenticity. They might be better called “Indications of Authenticity” or “Signs of Credibility.”

In point of fact, what the criteria really amount to are statements about the effect of certain types of evidence upon the probability of various sayings or events in Jesus’ life. For some saying or event S and evidence of a certain type E, the criteria would state that, all things being equal, the probability of S given E is greater than the probability of S on our background knowledge alone. So, for example, all else being equal, the probability of some event or saying is greater given its multiple attestation than it would have been without it.

What are some of the factors that might serve the role of E in increasing the probability of some saying or event S? The following are some of the most important:

(1) Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred.

(2) Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source.

(3) Embarrassment: S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S.

(4) Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms.

(5) Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebrew linguistic forms.

(6) Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus.

For a good discussion of these factors see Robert Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” in Gospel Perspectives I, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980), pp. 225-63.

Notice that these “criteria” do not presuppose the general reliability of the Gospels. Rather they focus on a particular saying or event and give evidence for thinking that specific element of Jesus’ life to be historical, regardless of the general reliability of the document in which the particular saying or event is reported. These same “criteria” are thus applicable to reports of Jesus found in the apocryphal Gospels, or rabbinical writings, or even the Qur’an. Of course, if the Gospels can be shown to be generally reliable documents, so much the better! But the “criteria” do not depend on any such presupposition. They serve to help spot historical kernels even in the midst of historical chaff. Thus we need not concern ourselves with defending the Gospels’ every claim attributed to Jesus in the gospels; the question will be whether we can establish enough about Jesus to make faith in him reasonable.

And you can see Dr. Craig using these criteria to defend minimal facts in his debates. For example, in his debate with Ehrman, he alludes to the criteria when making his case for the empty tomb.

Here, he uses multiple attestation and the criteria of embarrassment:

Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:

1. The empty tomb is also multiply attested by independent, early sources.

Mark’s source didn’t end with the burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial story verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John have independent sources about the empty tomb; it’s also mentioned in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36); and it’s implied by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have again multiple, early, independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.

2. The tomb was discovered empty by women.

In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus says that women weren’t even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Now in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples like Peter and John discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the discoverers of the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb, and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was an awkward and embarrassing fact.

There are actually a few more reasons for believing in the empty tomb that he doesn’t go into in the debate, but you can find them in his written work. For example, in his essay on Gerd Ludemann’s “vision” hypothesis. That essay covers the reasons for all four of his minimal facts.

So, if you are going to talk about the resurrection with a skeptic, you don’t want to invoke the Bible as some sort of inerrant/inspired Holy Book.

Try this approach instead:

  1. Explain the criteria that historians use to get their lists of minimal facts
  2. Explain your list of minimal facts
  3. Defend your list of minimal facts using the criteria
  4. Cite skeptics who admit to each of your minimal facts, to show that they are widely accepted
  5. List some parts of the Bible that don’t pass the criteria (e.g. – guard at the tomb, Matthew earthquake)
  6. Explain why those parts don’t pass the criteria, and explain that they are not part of your case
  7. Challenge your opponent to either deny some or all the facts, or propose a naturalistic alternative that explains the facts better than the resurrection
  8. Don’t let your opponent attack any of your minimal facts by attacking other parts of the Bible (e.g. – the number of angels being one or two, etc.)

And just keep in mind that there is no good case for the resurrection that does not make heavy use of the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. You have to use that – it’s the law.

Back to the minimal facts criteria. The best essay on the minimal facts criteria that I’ve read is the one by Robert H. Stein in “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“. It’s a good short essay that goes over all the historical criteria that are used to derive the short list of facts from which we infer the conclusion “God raised Jesus from the dead”. That whole book is really very, very good.

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Why does atheist historian Gerd Ludemann accept the post-mortem experiences of the risen Jesus?

William Lane Craig explains why even atheist historians like Gerd Ludemann accept that the earliest followers of Jesus had experiences in which Jesus appeared to them as resurrected Lord.

Excerpt:

Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:

1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred.

2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of such appearances.

With respect to the first supporting line of evidence, it is universally accepted on the basis of the early date of Paul’s tradition as well as the apostle’s personal acquaintance with many of the people listed that the disciples did experience postmortem appearances of Christ. Among the witnesses of the resurrection appearances were Peter, the immediate circle of the disciples known as “the Twelve,” a gathering of 500 Christian believers (many of whom Paul evidently knew, since he was aware that some had died by the time of his writing), Jesus’s younger brother James, and a wider group of apostles. “Finally,” says Paul, “as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (I Cor. 15.8).

The second supporting line of evidence appeals again to the criterion of multiple attestation. The Gospels independently attest to postmortem appearances of Jesus, even to some of the same appearances found in Paul’s list. Wolfgang Trilling explains,

From the list in I Cor. 15 the particular reports of the Gospels are now to be interpreted. Here may be of help what we said about Jesus’s miracles. It is impossible to ‘prove’ historically a particular miracle. But the totality of the miracle reports permits no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact performed ‘miracles.’ That holds analogously for the appearance reports. It is not possible to secure historically the particular event. But the totality of the appearance reports permits no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact bore witness to himself in such a way.38

The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Paul and Luke (I Cor. 15.5; Lk. 24.34), the appearance to the Twelve by Paul, Luke, and John (I Cor. 15.5; Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20.19-20), the appearance to the women disciples by Matthew and John (Mt. 28.9-10; Jn. 20.11-17), and appearances to the disciples in Galilee by Mark, Matthew, and John (Mk. 16.7; Mt. 28. 16-17; Jn. 21). Taken sequentially, the appearances follow the pattern of Jerusalem-Galilee-Jerusalem, matching the festival pilgrimages of the disciples as they returned to Galilee following the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread and traveled again to Jerusalem two months later for Pentecost.

Lüdemann himself concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”39 Thus, we are in basic agreement that following Jesus’s crucifixion various individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Christ alive from the dead. The real bone of contention will be how these experiences are best to be explained.

Triablogue notes that most historians accept these post-mortem experiences of the risen Jesus:

In their 2004 book, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona mention five facts accepted by the large majority of scholars:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
5. The tomb was empty.

Habermas and Licona write:

“On the state of Resurrection studies today, I (Habermas) recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975. I studied and catalogued about 650 of these texts in English, German, and French. Some of the results of this study are certainly intriguing. For example, perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim that what they saw were hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something….roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact.” (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 60, 70)

Habermas and Licona explain that even “the majority of nonbelieving scholars” (p. 149) accept such facts, not just Christian scholars. And even many professing Christian scholars are Christian in name, but reject much of what Christians have traditionally believed. Skeptics sometimes suggest that a scholarly consensus on facts related to Jesus’ resurrection isn’t of much significance, because so many of the scholars are Christians, but traditional Christians make up only a small percentage of scholarship.

When talking about the appearances, the challenge is always to make the move from “through they saw” to “they actually saw”. In chapter 6 of their introductory book on the resurrection of Jesus, “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus“, Mike Licona and Gary Habermas give some reasons why the post-mortem appearances of Jesus were not hallucinations. First, they argue that hallucinations are had by individuals, not groups. Second, they argue that the hallucination hypothesis leaves the empty tomb unexplained. It also doesn’t explain the appearances to skeptical James and antagonistic Paul. Finally, the appearance narratives are too varied to be hallucinations, i.e. – individuals, groups, friends, enemies, different times and different places.

If you want to read a scholarly response to the hallucination hypothesis, it’s right in the article by Dr. Craig that I was quoting from above. He assesses the hallucination hypothesis as put forward by atheist scholar Gerd Ludemann against the standard criteria for judging multiple competing historical explanations. It’s too much to quote here, but click through and read it when you can. If you want to see a good summary of the arguments for the empty tomb, go right here.

See it used in a debate

You can see the arguments made and defended from criticism in this debate with the atheist scholar James Crossley.

This my favorite resurrection debate.

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