Thursday, December 23, 2004

Defending the Resurrection

Antony Flew was, until very recently, the world's most famous atheist. He was heir to Russell's mantle. So it was naturally newsworthy when the grand old man of atheism publicly recanted his atheism. According to Gary Habermas, "he was rereading my arguments for the resurrection and was very impressed with them."

One can only hope and pray that he will come around to the faith before he dies. Speaking for myself, though, I've always harbored certain misgivings about this whole line of argument. I guess that approach got off the ground with Montgomery, and has since been formalized by the likes of Habermas, Moreland, and Craig. And there are some good elements to their argument. Still...

1. I don’t find one Biblical miracle more or less credible than another. What we think of miracles in general and miracles in particular has more to do with our basic predisposition and fundamental preconception of what is inherently possible or impossible.

Reports of a miracle may vary in their credibility (although the record of Scripture is equally credible throughout), but miracles do not vary in their credibility--excepting those that are mere circus tricks. This is how I would evaluate modern miracle claims.

2. I'm also not into carving out the Resurrection, as a freestanding event and apologia. I prefer a whole-to-part style of argument over against a part-to-whole style of argument.

I suppose one reason for the current method is that you can't argue for the entire Bible at one sitting, so you isolate a particular event. And, in terms of apologetic strategy, there's something to be said for that angle. But we've gotten into a rut.

3. I don’t care for the appeal to a pre-Markan Passion narrative or a pre-Pauline formula (1 Cor 15).

i) To begin with, I'm not into going behind the sources. They were not written to be taken apart, and it isn't possible to reconstruct the editorial process.

ii) I don’t find John any less credible than Mark. There's an assumption here that what's earlier is better. I don’t agree. The question is not earlier v. later, but early enough. Was the document in question written within living memory of the event?

Likewise, it all depends on the character of the informant. I don’t see that mythic embellishment has much to do with the elapse of time. On the one hand, it doesn't take any amount of time for a liar to embellish his story. On the other hand, an honest witness can live to be 100 and never embellish the story.

iv) I wouldn't lay so much weight on the appeal to 500 witnesses (1 Cor 15:6). This is, after all, a second or thirdhand source--at least the way it is generally put forth in the apologetic literature.

It really comes down to your judgment of Paul. Was he a good investigator? Did he ask the right men the right questions?

BTW, the conventional wisdom has it that Paul got his info on of his trips to the church of Jerusalem. Maybe so. But let us not forget that Paul, in his pre-Christian days, interrogated many Christians. At the time he was too blinded by animus to give them a fair hearing. But don't you suppose, after his Damascus Road conversion, as he thought back on those inquisitions, that he saw the sobriety and bravery of their testimonials in a whole new light?

I find Paul immensely credible. A brilliant man who threw away a brilliant career, who burned his bridges with his own social circle.

BTW, scholars usually conjecture that Paul must have been a married man at some point in his life. A man who moved in his circles had to be a married man. And since he was evidently not a married man by the time we begin to read about him, they conjecture that by then he must have been a widower.

Well, as long as we're indulging in speculation, I have my own pet theory: I think it far more likely that his wife left him after he became a Christian. Can't you just see it? Oh, the scandal! Oh, the shame! If nothing else, her family would have insisted on a divorce. How could she live with this traitor! This apostate!

4. Likewise, I would not, from an apologetic standpoint, put so much stock in the transformation of the disciples. It is true that this is inconceivable apart from the reality of the Resurrection. The problem, though, is that if someone doesn't believe in the record of the Resurrection, why would he believe in the record of their reaction to the Resurrection?

What all this comes down to is not some much the credibility of narrative, but of the narrator. And that brings me to another point: there is a common characteristic of Bible writers: holiness. On the one hand, they lack any trace of the professional ambition that you find so often in the church and in the world. Indeed, by following the Lord they normally sacrifice any promising or lucrative career they would otherwise enjoy.

On the other hand, they also lack the conspicuous mendacity that we see in cult-leaders and charlatans like Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Chas Russell, Judge Rutherford, et al. From an unbelieving standpoint, the writers of Scripture had nothing to gain and everything to lose.

5. I don’t agree with the way in which the NT account of the Resurrection is severed from OT expectation. Except for Isa 53 & Ps 22, there is very little by way of direct prophecy for the Messiah's demise; and except for Ps 16, there is very little by way of direct prophecy for his resurrection. That is one reason it caught so many of the Jews off-guard. They were not expecting the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

And even if there were more in the way of direct prophecy, liberals have a way of blunting the edge of Messianic prophecy by claiming that the Gospel writers simply concocted a story to dovetail with OT prophecy.

And yet, looking back, you can see the inevitability of the Messiah's demise and rise. This is contained, not so much in prophecy as it is in typology and theology. Of course the Messiah had to die! That was the whole point of all those animal sacrifices. But because typology is emblematic, the fulfillment is only something you can discern after the fact.

Of course the Messiah had to rise again! For that would be the divine sign that the sins for which he made atonement had been really and truly forgiven. He died to put an end to death.

6. There is also an indirect, but very telling testimony to the Resurrection which is lost sight of in the current literature. James and Jude never write about the Resurrection. But they write about a living Lord. Now, they would hardly write about Jesus the way they do if their half-brother were rotting in the grave!

Of course, this argument assumes the traditional authorship of the letters so denominated, but Guthrie and Schreiner, among others, have presented a very convincing defense of that attribution.

7. To me, it's a waste of time to debunk alternative theories of the empty tomb, viz., the swoon theory, mass hallucination, the stolen body, the wrong address, yada yada yada.

I suppose that, for the sake of completeness, there is some value in addressing each of these individually, but this misses the larger point: why affirm the gospel account of an empty tomb, but deny the gospel account of how it was emptied? This is where I’d take issue with the liberals.

Likewise, why spend a lot of time rebutting a "spiritual" resurrection? Does anyone really believe in this? Do those who deny the bodily resurrection dredge up the idea of a spiritual resurrection because they actually believe in it? I don’t think so. This is just a liberal blocking move.

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