Saturday, April 15, 2006

Recent Trends In Resurrection Scholarship

Michael Licona writes:

"In a survey of French, German, and English sources that touch on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus written between 1975-2005, [Gary] Habermas discovered that of those scholars making a pronouncement of historical, nonhistorical, or unknown, approximately 75 percent awarded historicity, concluding that Jesus rose from the dead in either a bodily or nonbodily sense. Habermas further discovered that approximately 75 percent of those awarding historicity also held that Jesus rose bodily. This is a huge change from the scholarly consensus of the two decades prior to 1975." (Paul Meets Muhammad [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2006], n. 4 on pp. 174-175)

The book Licona is referencing was published earlier this year. In that book, Habermas writes:

"Over the past five years, I have tracked well over two thousand scholarly publications on the resurrection. Each source appeared between 1975 and the present, in German, French, or English, written by a wide range of critical scholars....As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus' death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord. Further, this conviction was the chief motivation behind the early proclamation of the Christian gospel. These basics are rarely questioned, even by more radical scholars. They are among the most widely established details from the entire New Testament....This [the belief that the earliest Christians thought they saw Jesus risen from the dead] has been a mainstay of critical thought since nineteenth-century German theology....More recently, James D.G. Dunn agreed: 'It is almost impossible to dispute that at the historical roots of Christianity lie some visionary experiences of the first Christians, who understood them as appearances of Jesus, raised by God from the dead.'...I have argued elsewhere that, while they still hold a decidedly minority position among the total number of commentators, recent decades have revealed a slight increase in scholars who espouse naturalistic hypotheses to account for Jesus' resurrection....As it was at the end of nineteenth-century German liberalism, as well as at the end of the twentieth century, probably the single most popular alternative to Jesus' resurrection was the hallucination, or subjective vision, theory....After a hiatus of many decades, arguably almost a century, the subjective vision theory has made a comeback....One old standby, the swoon or apparent death theory, has even appeared in a few places recently, although it is seldom espoused by scholars....Each of the naturalistic theories was attacked piece by piece by the liberal scholars in the nineteenth century, as each criticized the others' approaches. In the twentieth century, critical scholarship has largely rejected wholesale the naturalistic approaches to the resurrection....Exhibiting an amazing amount of consensus, most researchers across a very wide conceptual spectrum have rejected naturalistic approaches as explanations for the earliest Christians' belief in the resurrection of Jesus....Accordingly, the path of natural alternative theories is definitely a minority approach....Even before the publication of N.T. Wright's monumental volume The Resurrection of the Son of God in 2003, the tide had begun to turn toward the view that Jesus not only was raised miraculously from the dead but also appeared in a spiritual body. So, the resurrection is an event that happened to Jesus, rather than either an internal experience or a natural occurrence. The risen Jesus featured both bodily continuity, including qualities that could be observed and perhaps even touched, as well as transformed discontinuity. Thus, Jesus appeared as far more than a vision of light from heaven. Further, it was usually held that firm historical evidence accompanied these appearances....While sporting a few new wrinkles as well as some improvements, the view that Jesus was raised bodily is currently the predominant position, if judged in terms of scholarly support. Moreover, some scholars who reject this view still hold that it was at least the New Testament position, including Paul's own teaching. This is a marked change from recent decades when Paul's view was often interpreted far differently....less than one-quarter of critical scholars who addressed the historicity question offered naturalistic theories...The almost three-quarters of remaining scholars hold either of the two views that Jesus was raised from the dead in some sense....[more than three-quarters of these people] take the position that Jesus was resurrected in a real, though still transformed, body...The supernatural view that Jesus rose from the dead in one of two senses is a distinct majority position over the natural option (almost three to one). Very surprisingly, while the supernatural internal category (the old 'objective vision theory') was the most popular among scholars through the middle to late twentieth century, it has been relegated to a minority response in recent years, in favor of bodily appearances of the risen Jesus (more than three to one)." (Robert Stewart, ed., The Resurrection of Jesus [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2006], pp. 78-80, 82-84, 86, 88, 90-92)

In another book, William Craig discusses four historical facts accepted by most New Testament scholars:

1. After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb.
2. On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
3. On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
4. The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to.

Craig comments:

"For these and other reasons, the majority of New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb. According to the late John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is ‘one of the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.’…in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist in the resurrection, ‘By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.’…This [the fact that early Christians experienced what they thought were encounters with the risen Jesus] is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars…[atheistic scholar Gerd] Ludemann himself concludes, ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’…Ludemann himself admits that historical analysis leads to the ‘abrupt origination of the Easter faith of the disciples.’ In summary, there are four facts agreed on by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects that any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection." (in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, ed., Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], pp. 33-34)

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.

1 comment:

  1. Historical and recent Resurrection theology and scholarship may have wholly missed its significance. Did the Resurrection of Jesus mean that the living God was indeed prepared to intervene directly into the natural world in a personal and irrefutable manner?

    A new interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ, spreading on the web, is making that very assertion and with a great deal more than just abstract argument. I quote from OVI and Oped articles:

    "Using a synthesis of scriptural material from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the worlds great poetry, it describes and teaches a single moral LAW, a single moral principle offering the promise of its own proof; one in which the reality of God responds to an act of perfect faith with a direct, individual intervention into the natural world; correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception outside all natural evolutionary boundaries. Understood metaphorically, this experience of transcendent power and change is the 'Resurrection' and justification of faith."

    For the first time in history, a religious tenet exists offering access, by faith, to absolute proof for its belief. Trials of this new teaching are underway and might very well change the course of history!