Monday, September 04, 2006

Does A Vague Appeal To "Visions" Overcome The Problems With The Hallucination Theory?

Matthew Green of Debunking Christianity has written a response to me on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Steve Hays posted a response to his article yesterday. My response to Matthew is going to be lengthy, since Matthew's article is lengthy, and some people may not want to read through either article or my article in its entirety. I want to summarize what I think are the most significant elements of Matthew's article, then I'll move on to a full response.

Matthew writes:

"I am not sure what conditions have to exist in order for people to have visions."


"In fact, I would like to commend Christian scholars such as Gary Habermas, Gary Collins, and Mike Licona for rebutting theories of 'hallucinations'. They're right about hallucinations; hallucinations tend to be highly individualistic and one person cannot cause a hallucination in another person (except, perhaps by hypnosis?). I believe that 'visions' happen in honor-shame societies whereas 'hallucinations' happen in pride-guilt societies. Visions can be collective and occur in groups of people at a time and are considered normal whereas hallucinations are individualistic and are considered abnormal and are usually accompanied or caused by psychological disorders."

Matthew is acknowledging that what we know about psychological disorders like hallucinations is inconsistent with what the early Christians experienced. But he assumes, without evidence and without knowing what the necessary conditions would be, that people living in honor-shame societies would be able to share naturalistic visions. He gives us no explanation as to how an honor-shame society would be able to overcome the problems involved in concluding that people have shared a naturalistic vision. Matthew knows that modern research into psychological disorders is inconsistent with his theory, so he's assuming without evidence that some other category of naturalistic experience existed in the honor-shame society of ancient Israel. I'll address Matthew's argument in more detail below, but in this initial summary it will suffice to say that Matthew is just assuming without evidence that something naturalistic might have occurred in early Christianity, even though he doesn't know just what that something is and even though what occurred in early Christianity is inconsistent with what we know about naturalistic visions today. In other words, Matthew knows of no naturalistic explanation for the resurrection experiences of the early Christians, so he assumes that nature has capabilities not yet known, capabilities that would overcome the problems with his theory.

I'll now go back to the beginning of Matthew's article and respond to him in the order in which he wrote. Near the beginning of his article, he comments:

"It's not to just me that Mr. Engwer seems to have a self-righteous and condescending demeanor; I recall reading an article from Mr. Engwer's website in which he looked down on a retired couple in the most self-righteous and condescending tone I have ever seen. I found it quite appalling, wondering who the hell was Jason to look down on this couple for what they were doing ('wasting their lives' as Mr. Engwer put it; they were collecting shells when they could be trying to climb up to Mr. Engwer's spiritual plateau and be as holy as Engwer apparently thinks he is) and what business was it of Jason's? If I was the retired man in question, I would tell Mr. Engwer to rot in the very hell he apparently doesn't want us putrid heathens go to. I am pretty sure that Jason just looks down his nose at me personally, thinking what a waste my life is as an atheist, when I could be as high and holy as he is in the arms of Jesus! Please. The last thing I can think I would possibly want is to spend eternity with Mr. Engwer. I loathe arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental people and if Mr. Engwer is offended that I loathe him, too damn bad! He needs to get over himself!"

For those who are wondering, the "retired couple" are the people John Piper discusses in his book Don't Waste Your Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003). The point in mentioning them is that there are better things to do with your life than play softball and collect seashells. I don't know why Matthew thinks I'm "arrogant", "self-righteous", etc. for arguing that people can and should live differently than the people described in John Piper's book. Matthew criticizes me and other people for how we live, and the other writers at Debunking Christianity do the same. He gives us no reason to think that their behavior is acceptable, whereas mine isn't. And my theistic worldview gives me a basis for making objective judgments along these lines, whereas Matthew's atheism doesn't.

He continues:

"I want to make it clear that while I have no problem accepting that the resurrection of Christ did, in fact, occur, and that it validates the claims made by the Christian gospel of the New Testament, I would never willingly and gladly accept the Christian gospel."

Matthew tells us that he would have "no problem" accepting Jesus' resurrection. Yet, he puts forward so much effort to argue against it, even proposing widespread naturalistic visions and other highly speculative and unlikely theories to dismiss it. So, we're to believe that an atheist who argues at length against the resurrection, and is often angry and profane in the process of doing it, has "no problem" accepting the resurrection.

He writes:

"Mr. Engwer has so far written two responses to my posts"

Actually, there have been more than two, and some of my articles addressed primarily to other people mention Matthew Green's arguments in the process. For example, in addition to the two articles Matthew references, see here, here, and here.

Matthew goes on:

"I find it bizarre that Jason would want to link to someone who is so idiotic such as this."

Matthew cites an exchange between Farrell Till and J.P. Holding, an exchange that I don't remember ever reading (aside from what Matthew quoted). I don't know what occurred. If J.P. Holding was wrong in that discussion, it doesn't therefore follow that I shouldn't cite him on any subject. Before quoting Farrell Till, Matthew explained that "I do not think that Till is the best skeptic and inerrancy critic on the planet". If he can disagree with Till on some points, yet cite him on other points, then why couldn't I do the same with J.P. Holding? It doesn't seem that Matthew made much of an effort to think through his criticism.

He writes:

"If this is the quality and caliber of apologetics that Jason wants to associate himself with, I freely leave it to him, since by linking to and (in effect) endorsing Robert Turkel without qualification, Jason is only making himself look foolish."

Is the same true when Matthew quotes Farrell Till or when he associates with a blog (Debunking Christianity) that's hosted people like Acharya S? J.P. Holding is far more reasonable than the people Matthew is associating with.

He writes:

"As for his appeal to Glenn Miller and the Christian CADRE, I wouldn't exactly put much stock in what these folks have to say in terms of a rebuttal."

Apparently, Matthew would prefer that we consult sources like Farrell Till and John Loftus.

He writes:

"Do not Habermas, Licona, and Turkel also speak of the empty tomb as being a fact?"

Yes, they refer to it as a historical fact. But historical study involves probabilities. That's why Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, for example, in their The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004) repeatedly refer to probabilities (pp. 36-40, 307-308, etc.). The same is true of J.P. Holding and William Craig. The fact that Matthew didn't understand so basic an issue when he read these sources doesn't speak well for his knowledge of the subject.

He writes:

"The appeal to authority, I believe, is designed to intimidate the reader into accepting the burial and empty tomb of Jesus as being beyond controversy, or otherwise it would not enjoy such widespread acceptance among New Testament scholars."

Craig and Habermas, who both often appeal to what's commonly believed in modern scholarship, also go on to cite reasons for those scholarly conclusions. They're arguing for historical probabilities. Nothing Matthew has said in his latest article justifies his earlier suggestion that men like Craig and Habermas are arguing for certainties rather than probabilities.

Matthew continues:

"Jason should say that he believes the arguments of Craig, Habermas, and Holding’s arguments for an empty tomb is far more likely than Carrier’s speculations. But, no, I think Jason wants to intellectually force skeptics to accept the resurrection."

I have said that I'm arguing for probability, not certainty. Again, if Matthew keeps misunderstanding the claims that are being made, then that's his problem, not mine or anybody else's. And saying that I want to "force skeptics to accept the resurrection" is an inane charge that could be brought against anybody who's confident in his position as he makes his case on any issue under dispute. If arguing with confidence is equivalent to "forcing people to accept" your beliefs, then there's nothing wrong with such "forcing".

Matthew writes:

"Where did I say that I wanted to give readers a reason to reject the historical genre of the gospels?"

Here's what Matthew wrote earlier:

"It's possible that the empty tomb originated as a symbolic creation. Historian and fellow atheist Richard Carrier has proposed the possibility that the empty tomb is a symbolic creation; pious historical fiction created to teach a metaphorical truth. In his essay 'The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb', Carrier proposes this possibility and argues that it's plausible that Mark used the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible, Orphic mythology, as well as a 'reversal-of-expectation' motif in constructing his story of the empty tomb. Carrier argues that Mark falls into the genre of didadic hagiography and that the empty tomb is an example of a didadic creation of Mark to teach a spiritual truth. He argues that it was later taken as a core historical fact and was subsequently embellished as a legend in later gospels....Even if Carrier is wrong about some of the details of his plausibility argument such as Mark using the Psalms to construct his empty tomb story, I see no reason to throw out the core of his theory, that is, the empty tomb story is a symbolic fiction."

And elsewhere:

"We don't have any stated intent in the other synoptics or John that the accounts are attempts to record and narrate history accurately. There is no critical mindset that I am personally aware of!"

Notice that Matthew refers to how the gospel authors were perhaps borrowing from pagan mythology, were writing "pious historical fiction created to teach a metaphorical truth", "symbolic fiction", etc. And he refers to how we have "no critical mindset" in Matthew, Mark, and John.

Yet, now he claims that he wasn't disputing the historical genre of the gospels. What Matthew seems to be arguing is that if there are any historical elements in the gospels, then he can argue that large portions of the gospels are "fiction", "symbolic", etc. without thereby denying the historical genre of the documents. After all, some portions of the gospels are of a historical nature. Therefore, Matthew can claim that the gospels have a historical genre, despite the presence of a large amount of "fiction", "symbolic creation", etc.

The problem with Matthew's argument is that the evidence we have suggests a historical intent for the gospels as a whole, not just the portions Matthew wants to accept as having a historical intent. See the evidence I cited, such as the detailed analysis of the New Testament scholar Craig Keener, in an earlier response to Matthew. Notice that Matthew doesn't interact with such data, even though he claims to be giving a "point-by-point" response to my material. The sort of data I cited from Craig Keener and other sources is applicable to the portions of the gospels that Matthew is dismissing as not having a historical intent.

He writes:

"It doesn’t necessarily mean that I take Luke’s gospel is to be as anti-historical or necessarily unhistorical, it just means that I wouldn’t give the benefit of the doubt to Luke that I would give to, say, Thucydides or Tacitus."

Is that all that Matthew said earlier? No, as I've shown above, Matthew dismisses the gospels as containing large amounts of "symbolic creation", "fiction", etc. That isn't the same as saying that you don't trust Luke as much as you trust Thucydides. I could say that I don't trust Tacitus as much as I trust Thucydides, but it would be something else to claim that, in large portions of his writings that aren't relevantly distinguishable from the rest, Tacitus was engaging in "symbolic creation", "historical fiction", etc.

Matthew writes:

"Pray tell, Jason, what 'large amount of evidence' do we have? What was the 'manner in which the earliest Christian interpreters viewed the documents, the manner in which the earliest enemies interpreted the documents'? Jason will have to clarify what he means by this."

I gave Matthew some examples in earlier responses, and he's ignoring those examples. Luke interpreted Mark in a historical manner (if Mark was a source of Luke, as most scholars believe and as Matthew apparently maintains). Ignatius of Antioch interpreted events such as the virgin birth and the resurrection in a historical manner (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 1-2). Similar comments are made by Papias, Aristides, and other early sources. Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho has both Justin and his Jewish opponents interpreting the gospels in a highly historical manner, and Justin elsewhere refers to gospel events being corroborated in non-Christian sources, such as in a government record of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (First Apology, 34). This sort of highly historical interpretation of the gospels is found repeatedly in the earliest Christian and non-Christian sources. And we have widespread internal evidence for the historical intent of the gospel accounts. I've given Matthew a large amount of evidence supporting these conclusions, and he continues to ignore much of what I've given him.

He writes:

"All the verse [John 21:24] says is that this is from a disciple who testifies to such things and 'We know his testimony is true'. My question for Jason is how? Nowhere else in the gospel of John does the author say how we knows what happened."

Notice how Matthew is changing the subject. The original issue was whether the gospel writers intended to convey history. But Matthew has shifted the focus to how we know whether they met up to that intention. The primary issue here is whether a passage like John 21:24 reflects an intent to convey historical information. And it does.

On the issue of why we should think that John's gospel meets up to that intention, I would point Matthew to the many books that have been written on the subject by scholars such as Craig Keener and Craig Blomberg, as well as my past articles at Triablogue and elsewhere on the issue of the authorship of John's gospel. I'll be linking to some of those articles below.

He writes:

"I don’t see any critical prolouge in John’s gospel nor a naming of sources or methods or weighing of different stories of the same event or even expressing healthy skepticism towards anything."

Again, see the evidence I cited from Craig Keener regarding the genre of the gospels, including the gospel of John. The genre John chose to write in is itself an indication of his methods, intentions, etc. Similarly, the concern the document shows for eyewitness testimony is another indication. Matthew can define and redefine "healthy skepticism" however he needs to so as to deny that any of the gospel authors meet the standard, but denying that they meet Matthew's standard for "healthy skepticism" doesn't give us sufficient reason to reject their testimony.

He writes:

"And how am I personally to know that Matthew’s author didn’t make up that story used 'to this day'?"

Again, notice how Matthew is changing the subject. I cited Matthew 28:15 to illustrate the historical nature of the claims being made in Matthew's gospel. And Matthew Green's response is to ask how we know that the historical claims made in the gospel of Matthew are true. But whether an author is making a historical claim isn't the same issue as whether he's correct in that historical claim. Since Matthew has lost the dispute on the former issue, he's trying to shift to the latter issue in the middle of the discussion.

Those interested in reasons for trusting the historical claims of the gospel of Matthew can consult a commentary such as D.A. Carson's or Craig Keener's. And the material I cited earlier on the genre of the gospels, such as how the earliest interpreters read the documents, is relevant.

Matthew writes:

"If Matthew is responding to a Jewish argument about the empty tomb, why is doesn’t Jason cite independent, attesting Jewish sources from the 1st century onward that attest to such an argument used by Jews? I regard the story as a Matthean creation."

There are a lot of beliefs and events of first century Israel that aren't mentioned in extant first century Jewish sources or other early Jewish sources. The fact that no early Jewish source mentions the empty tomb doesn't give us reason to conclude that the gospel of Matthew was wrong. It's unlikely that Matthew would have made up such an easily falsified claim, and some elements of Matthew's account are unlikely to have been created by the early Christians. The multi-layered nature of the argument (accusation of disciples stealing body accompanied by accusation of guards sleeping) would have been unnecessary for an early Christian creating such an account. (See William Craig's discussion here.) Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, 108) and Tertullian (On Spectacles, 30) confirm that their Jewish opponents were acknowledging the empty tomb, and they give details that aren't mentioned in Matthew's account, so they can't be accused of just repeating what they read in Matthew. Yet, Matthew Green would have us believe that the gospel of Matthew, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian are all wrong, since no extant early Jewish document confirms what they reported. Matthew doesn't tell us how his conclusion logically follows. He just asserts it. There are many beliefs of Christians and other groups outside of Judaism that aren't discussed in the early extant Jewish literature. We don't therefore assume that early Judaism had no response to such beliefs or that sources outside of Judaism who are reporting on the Jewish response must be wrong.

What Christians are arguing on this issue is accepted by scholars in other contexts. Craig Keener cites the example of Josephus: "Just as Josephus's response to the anti-Jewish polemic of Apion has inadvertently preserved the basic outline of anti-Jewish polemic in his day, Matthew's response to arguments against the early Christian claims about the resurrection preserves what must have been the basic charge of his day...Matthew would hardly invent anti-Christian polemic of this nature" (A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 713). It's unlikely that multiple generations of Christians (Matthew, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian), all of them known to have lived in Israel and/or to have had discussions with Jewish opponents of Christianity, would have been mistaken or dishonest about what their Jewish opponents were arguing on this subject.

Ethelbert Stauffer, in Jesus And His Story (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), argues that sources like Justin Martyr and Eusebius of Caesarea, in commenting on the Jewish polemic against the empty tomb, were responding to a letter sent out by the Jewish Sanhedrin (pp. 145-146). He also mentions that such Jewish arguments are preserved in some form in the Toledoth Jeshu. In the case of Justin Martyr, we do know that he was familiar with Jewish literature and beliefs outside the Biblical documents, and a work like his Dialogue With Trypho surely wouldn't have been composed without significant interaction with the Jewish argumentation of his day.

The traditional Christian site for Jesus' grave seems to be authentic, and it's unlikely that the early Christians would have preserved a site that initially still contained Jesus' remains:

"That Jesus’ followers would forget the site of the tomb (or that officials who held the body would not think it worth the trouble to produce it after the postresurrection Jesus movement arose) is extremely improbable. James and the Jerusalem church could easily have preserved the tradition of the site in following decades (Brown 1994: 1280-81), especially given Middle Eastern traditions of pilgrimage to holy sites (though admittedly evidence for early veneration there is lacking, perhaps because the body was not there – Craig 1995: 148-49, 152)….the Catholic Holy Sepulchre and tombs in its vicinity date to the right period. The tradition of the latter vicinity [Holy Sepulcher] is as early as the second century (when Hadrian erected a pagan temple there; he defiled many Jewish holy sites in this manner – cf. Finegan 1969: 164), and probably earlier. Good evidence exists, in fact, that this site dates to within the first two decades after the resurrection. This is because (1) Christian tradition is unanimous that Jesus was buried outside the city walls, and no one would make up a site inside (cf. Heb 13:12; Jn 19:41); (2) Jewish custom made it common knowledge that burials would be outside the city walls (4 Bar. 7:13; Wilkonson 1978: 146); (3) the traditional vicinity of the Holy Sepulcher is inside Jerusalem’s walls; (4) Agrippa I expanded the walls of Jerusalem sometime in the 40s A.D." (Craig Keener, ibid., p. 695)

Matthew writes:

"Matthew’s author doesn’t even cite his source. How does Matthew’s author know that this was an argument actually used by Jews 'to this day'?"

If Matthew was a Jew who was in contact with Jewish sources, as is highly likely, then he would have been familiar with the arguments being used by Jewish sources in his day. Why would the gospel of Matthew be expected to cite a source for something that was common knowledge at the time of his writing? Do people today cite a source every time they refer to George Bush as the President of the United States? The fact that Matthew Green has difficulty accepting that the author of Matthew's gospel would know what Jews were arguing in his day does more to undermine Matthew Green's credibility than it does to undermine the credibility of the gospel of Matthew.

He writes:

"In fact, in order for the gospels to be inerrant historically, they would have to be much more reliable than any other document from history can possibly be! Thus, synoptic authors such as Luke and Matthew would have to be more reliable than Thucydides could've possibly have been."

What does Matthew mean by "reliable"? The gospels can be correct, yet not have as much historical evidence supporting them as, say, documents about the Revolutionary War or video tapes of World War II. The concept of inerrancy requires correctness, but it doesn't require superiority to all other documents in every conceivable sense.

Even in terms of correctness, the doctrine of inerrancy doesn't require that the gospels be more correct than other documents. The fact that a sheet of paper saying "George Washington was President of the United States" is entirely correct does nothing to undermine the inerrancy of the gospels. If that sheet of paper is just as correct as the gospels, that fact does nothing to undermine the inerrancy of the gospels. The gospels don't have to be more correct than all other documents. Nor do they have to have more historical evidence supporting them than we have for any other document or source of any other type. If a historian of World War II relies on audio tapes, video tapes, the testimony of thousands of eyewitnesses, and other types of data more extensive than we have in support of the gospels, that superior evidence for the claims of the World War II historian does nothing to undermine the inerrancy of the gospels.

If Matthew is saying that people who believe in inerrancy would trust the gospels more than they trust other historical documents in general, then that's true, but what's the relevance? Belief in inerrancy would come from a variety of arguments, not just historical arguments. In addition to something like historical arguments for Jesus' resurrection, we would also take into consideration the other miracles attributed to Jesus, the miracles of the apostles, fulfilled prophecy, etc. Even if we have more historical evidence for the claims of a World War II historian than we have for the historical claims of Mark's gospel, for example, the person who believes in Biblical inerrancy would cite much more than the historical evidence for Mark's gospel in order to justify his belief in that document's inerrancy.

He writes:

"In each of these passages, Herodotus names his sources and how he got a hold of this information he finds worthy to pass on. Now I ask Jason: where do the synoptic gospels identify their sources? Where does John do so?"

I addressed this issue above and in earlier replies to Matthew. Since the gospels are first century documents (I would argue that three of them are from the middle of the century), it would have been known that they got their information from eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. They weren't writing about events of the distant past. And it was understood that historical accounts, such as Greco-Roman biographies, would require the consultation of sources, unless the author himself was an eyewitness. Furthermore, internal comments within a document aren't the only means of conveying where a document's information came from. The fact that Mark had Peter as his primary source, for example, was well known in the early sources, despite the fact that it isn't mentioned within the gospel itself. The idea that the gospels have to be written in the same manner as the sections of Herodutus that Matthew quoted is unreasonable.

Besides, Matthew claims to be reporting what was said by people in his day (Matthew 28:15), Luke claims to have gotten information from eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-3), and John claims that his gospel represents eyewitness testimony (John 19:35, 21:24), so there are some internal claims about sources. In addition to those internal claims, people would have known that Matthew was an eyewitness, that Mark was a disciple of the apostles, that eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus were still alive when the gospels were written, etc.

Matthew writes:

"Does Luke say how he knows what women went to the tomb, or how he knows where Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus after the dedication of Jesus? Does Mark say how he knows that Jesus cursed the fig tree?"

Does every historical document that makes a historical claim mention its sources every time it makes a claim about history? No. Does Matthew Green cite a source every time he makes a claim in one of his posts? No.

Luke's prologue (Luke 1:1-3) applies to his entire work, which would include the sections Matthew is asking about. Similarly, Matthew's eyewitness status would have implications for how he attained his information, Mark's relationship with Peter would have such implications, John's gospel appeals to eyewitness testimony (John 21:24), etc. A passage like Luke 1:1-3 demonstrates that a person can recognize the significance of consulting sources, yet not mention those sources every time he reports something. The idea that we can disregard Luke 1:1-3, since Luke doesn't cite every source every time he makes each historical claim, is absurd. If we applied the same sort of standard to other historical sources (or to Matthew Green's posts), then we would have to radically revise the historical record. No historian I'm aware of agrees with Matthew on this point. So, what Matthew probably will do is change his argument in the middle of the discussion again, then act as if his revised argument is what he had in mind all along.

He writes:

"No names, methods, weighing of evidence, competing claims, or anything like that in the gospels."

Actually, the gospels do often report the competing claims of Jesus' opponents and the early enemies of Christianity (the claim that Jesus broke the Mosaic law, the claim that He was empowered by Satan, the claim that Jesus' disciples stole the body from the grave, etc.). But the gospel authors shouldn't be expected to make a case for non-Christian arguments. Rather, they report the arguments and present their alternative. And, as I explained before, we know about the methods of the authors from the genre they chose to write in and what they tell us about their concern for accuracy and eyewitness testimony, for example. Luke not only tells us that he was concerned about eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-3), but also goes on to mention that he was a contemporary of the apostles and had traveled with Paul and had met Jesus' brother James (Acts 21:18). Matthew claims that we don't have any "names", but that assertion assumes that the names of the gospels' authors weren't part of the original documents. That conclusion needs to be argued, not just assumed.

Besides, internal evidence isn't all that we have to go by. For example, Tacitus isn't internally named as the author of the Annals. We accept his authorship of that work based on evidence external to the body of his text. Similarly, we have reliable external information about Matthew's gospel having been written by an eyewitness, Mark's gospel being derived from Peter's testimony, etc.

Matthew writes:

"In John 21:24, John doesn't say how we was able to determine that the 'testimony' is true. He doesn't say that he was an eyewitness to these events or that he interviewed people."

John 21:24 tells us that the disciple who was with Jesus "wrote these things". Furthermore, we have extensive internal and external evidence for the Johannine authorship of the fourth gospel. See here and here, for example.

Matthew continues:

"I mention as a possibility that the gospels may be sculpted from stories in the Hebrew Bible midrashically. Now, I am not committed to this hypothesis, but mention it as serious possibility that I would love to study in more detail in graduate school."

In other words, Matthew was just mentioning another highly speculative and unlikely theory that he isn't prepared to defend.

He writes:

"The fact remains that I do believe that the resurrection narratives are largely pious fiction and may well exist as apologies against heretics or critics. To believe, however, that these narratives are fictional and lack any factual basis, is not to suppose that they are fabrications. It is completely unnecessary to suppose any fabrication whatsoever. Often, fiction of this type served apologetic and even propagandistic purposes. This doesn't mean that the fiction is a deliberate and dishonest fabrication of any sort."

Let's use an example Matthew discussed earlier: Matthew 28:15. Matthew Green doubts the historicity of that account. Since Matthew 28:15 is referring to an event that was occurring at the time that the document was written, then how would the author have been honestly mistaken? Either the Jewish opponents of Christianity had been acknowledging an empty tomb or they hadn't been. If they hadn't been acknowledging it, then how would it be honest to say that they were acknowledging it? If Matthew wants to argue that the author of the gospel was honestly mistaken, then was he also honestly mistaken about everything else he reports that Matthew Green doubts? How could so many honest mistakes occur at a time when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive and when enemies of Christianity had an interest in correcting such errors? If there was no empty tomb, for example, then how could an account of an empty tomb arise as a non-historical account, then be mistaken as historical and be widely accepted as such when eyewitnesses and contemporaries were still alive? If Mark intended his empty tomb account to be fictional, for example (an idea that's contrary to the evidence we have), then how would Mark and the people who knew him and who read his gospel as giving a fictional account react when other people began interpreting him as giving a historical account? Did Mark and everybody who knew him die just after his gospel was distributed? Let me repeat a citation of Richard Swinburne that I included in an earlier reply to Matthew:

"It would be very odd indeed if Mark, seeking to tell his readers something, and phrasing his Gospel as a historical narrative and so understood by two near-contemporaries [Matthew and Luke] (themselves familiar with other churches, some of whom must have read Mark and could have corrected any obvious misunderstanding of it by Matthew and Luke), was really doing something quite other than trying to record history." (The Resurrection Of God Incarnate [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], p. 73)

Matthew Green not only wants us to believe that such a scenario could plausibly have occurred with the empty tomb, but he also suggests the same sort of scenario for other elements of the gospels that he wants to dismiss.

If, on the other hand, Matthew wants to argue that Mark wasn't misunderstood, that Mark did intend to convey historical information in his empty tomb account, then why didn't the many living eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles correct him? Matthew's suggestion that so much false information could have spread and been so widely accepted so soon after the events in question is a much less likely explanation of the evidence. Yet, Matthew tells us that he has "no problem" with accepting Jesus' resurrection. Why would somebody who has "no problem" with it be so angry and profane in arguing at length against it?

He writes:

"Wait a minute, the reference to 'untimely born' is used in the famous 1st Corinthians 15 creed. It may well be the case that Paul had historical events in view but that doesn't in any way establish that he was being critical with any history that he might have been trying to narrate."

Matthew is changing the subject again. The issue I was addressing was whether Paul was attempting to convey historical information in 1 Corinthians 15. Matthew responds by questioning whether Paul was correct in the historical information he conveyed. Those are two different issues.

Matthew keeps telling us that the gospel authors may have been writing "pious fiction" without an intent to be interpreted as conveying historical data. Then, when I present evidence that they were attempting to convey historical information, Matthew responds by saying that they may have been honestly mistaken. But there's a difference between, on the one hand, not attempting to convey historical information and, on the other hand, attempting to convey such information, but failing to do so accurately. Matthew needs to decide which theory he's going to go with.

If it's the former, then he needs to explain why the gospel authors were writing in the historical Greco-Roman biography genre, why Paul uses historical terminology in 1 Corinthians 15, why the earliest interpreters read these documents in a historical manner, etc.

If Matthew wants to use the latter argument instead, then he needs to stop making references to "symbolism", borrowing from pagan mythology, etc. He also needs to explain how eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles, men like Paul and Luke, would have been honestly mistaken about so much.

It seems that Matthew wants to have it both ways. He keeps vacillating back and forth between mutually exclusive theories, and when he argues for any of these theories, he relies on highly speculative reasoning.

He writes:

"Notice in the creed that Paul says that he is passing onto the Corinthians, what he himself received. Paul doesn't say whom he received it from nor does Paul say that he interviewed any of the people whom Jesus is alleged to have appeared to such as Peter, James, the Twelve, the disciples, or even the 500."

Notice, also, that no human being gives documentation for every belief he holds every time he expresses that belief. It doesn't therefore follow that he has no good reason for holding the belief.

Given that Paul lists himself as one of the eyewitnesses in 1 Corinthians 15, I would say that his own experiences gave him significant evidence for reaching his conclusions. And we know that he was a contemporary of at least the majority of the other witnesses he names. He had personally met James, Peter, and John (Galatians 1-2), and he was following the lives of the more than 500 brethren closely enough to know that a majority of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). Considering that the resurrection had occurred more than 20 years earlier, and considering the fact that Paul was still following these people's lives close enough to know that a majority were still living, it seems that he was making a lot of effort to be informed on these issues. He puts the information in 1 Corinthians 15 in chronological order ("then", etc.), he knows that a majority of the more than 500 brethren were still alive, and he himself was among the eyewitnesses. Yes, it would be theoretically possible that Paul had a naturalistic vision, that he misunderstood what all of the other witnesses said or that they also had naturalistic visions, that those other witnesses never corrected Paul when he made false assertions, etc., but a possibility isn't a probability. It's unlikely that Paul and the other people involved would have been so careless, especially considering that Paul had been an enemy of Christianity and considering what carefulness Paul demonstrates in this passage (1 Corinthians 15) and elsewhere.

As we'll see below, Matthew's speculations about naturalistic visions have led him to assume without evidence that modern research into such occurrences isn't applicable to an honor-shame society like ancient Israel. Thus, Matthew's most foundational assertion (that naturalistic visions can account for what Paul and the others reported) is dubious. Disputing lesser details, such as whether Paul was correct about everything he mentions in the creed of 1 Corinthians 15, is of less significance. Matthew's theory can't even get off the ground on the most foundational issue, so disputing lesser details doesn't accomplish much for his case.

Matthew writes:

"Paul doesn't say when he received the creed, from whom, or how he determined that the people whom he received it from were passing on anything that was reliable or trustworthy."

Paul would have to have received the creed prior to passing it on to the Corinthians. Most scholars date the creed within several years of Jesus' death. Since it was a creed, since it was known to Paul and to the Corinthians, since Paul refers to the other church leaders as agreeing with what he just described (1 Corinthians 15:11), and since we have no evidence against the creed's widespread acceptance (to the contrary, 1 Corinthians was widely accepted early on), it's likely that the information in the creed is reliable. If it wasn't reliable, then there would have been many opportunities for Peter, James, the more than 500 brethren, and other contemporaries of Paul to correct him and correct the Corinthians. (And, again, 1 Corinthians 15:11 suggests that men like James and Peter were in agreement with Paul.) Rather than any correction taking place, the canonicity of 1 Corinthians was accepted early and was undisputed. Other documents corroborate the fact that men like Peter (mentioned in the creed of 1 Corinthians) did see the risen Jesus. The possibility that Paul was mistaken doesn't give us reason to think that it's probable that he was mistaken. The evidence suggests that he probably was correct.

Matthew writes:

"Who were these 500 people? Why don't we have any independent, attestation from them?"

Do you demand independent attestation for every claim made by Josephus, Tacitus, and every other historical source? If so, then you disagree with mainstream historical scholarship, and you'll have to dismiss large portions of what we find in ancient historical sources in general, not just Christian sources.

Matthew writes:

"Why don't we have letters from any of these 500 to whom Jesus allegedly appeared to, documenting what they saw, when and where they saw it, how many people were present and under what conditions that Jesus is believed to have appeared."

Demanding more evidence doesn't explain the evidence we have. And considering that the early Christians preserved eyewitness testimony from apostles and their associates (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, Polycarp, etc.), why should we believe that this testimony can't be accepted unless it's accompanied by more testimony? Why should we believe that what we have is insufficient? Considering that modern skeptics have to resort to highly speculative theories about widespread memory loss, widespread hallucinations, widespread apathy, etc., the evidence we have is sufficient to make skeptics resort to ridiculous theories that are far less plausible than the Christian alternative. Why isn't that sufficient? And that's just on the one issue of Jesus' resurrection. When other issues are taken into consideration as well, such as fulfilled prophecy, the skeptical theories become even more ridiculous. Skeptics can always demand more evidence, but it doesn't therefore follow that the evidence we do have isn't sufficient.

And I would ask, again, does Matthew apply his standards consistently? When Josephus makes a claim about first century Israel, does Matthew demand that we have "letters from any of these people Josephus refers to, documenting what they saw, when and where they saw it, how many people were present and under what conditions"?

Matthew writes:

"I am not sure I agree that being a historical witness of the resurrected Christ was requisite for apostleship from day one. I can accept that it later evolved in the Church to weed out heretics claiming to have an authentic pedigree in terms of being annointed as an apostle from a succession of apostles going back to Christ himself, but I doubt that this was the case from the very beginning."

Notice the contrast. I cited passages like Acts 1:21-22 and 1 Corinthians 9:1 to support my position. These are documents of the first century Christians themselves. Matthew responds by saying that he doubts that the concepts mentioned in these passages were held "from the very beginning". He gives us no reason to believe that he's correct. He just tells us that he "doubts" the position I've argued for with citations of first century documents.

He writes:

"How was the Church able to know that the claims to being a 'witness' were indeed authentic and that the claims were not the result of some kind of delusion or indeed a fabrication?"

They give us some examples in their accounts of the resurrection appearances. Some of the people who saw the risen Jesus, heard Him, etc. weren't Christians (James, Paul, Paul's travel companions), so they probably wouldn't have been motivated by a desire to see the risen Jesus. The Christian witnesses thought that Jesus would remain dead. The women went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body. The people on the road to Emmaus were in unbelief. Peter and John went to check the tomb. Etc. Some of the resurrection witnesses saw physical evidence, such as an empty tomb, Jesus' eating of food before them, etc. The events surrounding the guard at the tomb would have offered further corroboration. People could have known that the resurrection witnesses were sincere by a variety of means. They would have known the background of such people, would have seen how they lived, etc. People would have seen the willingness of men like James, Peter, and Paul to suffer and die for a belief system that had the resurrection as an indispensable element of its core.

Matthew may deny that anybody actually saw the risen Jesus eat food or may deny that men like Peter and the women at the tomb were as skeptical as the gospels report, for example, but that would be a different issue. There's no denying that the early Christians claimed to have access to the sort of evidence I've outlined above. If Matthew wants us to conclude that they didn't have such evidence, then he'll need to explain why, not just make the assertion or say that he doubts it. He should also explain why the authors of the gospels, Paul, etc. would make so many references to evidence if the Christians living just before them had no such concern for evidence. Did a community of people lacking concern for evidence suddenly transform into a community that had a large degree of concern for evidence?

If Paul's concern for eyewitness testimony in 1 Corinthians, for example, was a later development, then that later development occurred only about 25 years after Jesus' death. The original Christians, who supposedly weren't so concerned with evidence, would still have been alive at that time. (And Paul was alive and a Christian within a few years of Jesus' death, so are we to believe that he had a radical change from not being concerned about evidence initially to being concerned about it later?) If the concern for evidence arose when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles and other relevant sources were still alive, then that desire for evidence could still be fulfilled by attaining such evidence. Why cite eyewitness testimony, an empty tomb, a guard at the tomb, Jesus' eating of food, Jesus' building of a fire, the fact that He appeared to groups of people at once, etc. if the Christians living just before them didn't consider such evidence important? If the earlier Christians were just writing "pious fiction", were just "creating symbolism", etc., then where did this large degree of concern for historical evidence come from? Why don't we find these earlier Christians, many of whom would have still been alive, arguing against what these later Christians were doing? Why don't the early enemies of Christianity mention such a radical change in Christian belief? Why is it that, repeatedly, Matthew's theories are so vaporous that they show up nowhere in the historical record and must be read between the lines?

Matthew writes:

"In this passage [John 15:27], Jesus is believed to be talking with his disciples. But not all New Testament critical scholars believe that passages like these are historically authentic and represent the authentic words of Jesus himself."

Matthew has changed the subject again. I cited John 15:27 to illustrate that the early Christians were concerned with eyewitness testimony. Matthew responds by arguing that Jesus may not have spoken the words of John 15:27. But that's a different issue. Matthew gives us no reason to reject the historicity of John 15:27, and the passage does illustrate early Christian concern for eyewitness testimony, even if Matthew doubts that Jesus spoke those words.

Matthew writes:

"I do not accept that this passage is historically authentic; rather, I tend to accept that this emphasis on 'eyewitness' testimony in the early Church was an apologetic device against heretics, many of whom claimed false pedigrees of having descended from an apostolic line of succession. Jason's evidence here is no real evidence at all."

Notice that Matthew offers no evidence for his theory about heretics, then he complains that my citations of first century documents "is no real evidence at all". At least I'm citing first century sources, unlike Matthew. And I've cited Christopher Price's article on Acts, as well as other sources that argue for earlier dates for some of the documents Matthew wants to date later than I do. 1 Corinthians repeatedly refers to eyewitness testimony (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:3-8), and the large majority of people, including liberal scholars, date 1 Corinthians to around the middle of the first century. Even if a document like Acts had been written in the late first century, eyewitnesses of Jesus and the apostles would still have been alive at that time. The idea that people in the late first century would have radically redefined Christianity, then would have been able to have quickly attained widespread acceptance of that radical redefinition, is implausible. Matthew is just assuming things without sufficient evidence in order to reach his desired conclusions. Yet, he tells us that he would have "no problem" accepting Jesus' resurrection.

He writes:

"Come on, Jason, you can do better than this! Oh, no, wait, you linked to Robert Turkel; I cannot expect any better than this trite."

Since Matthew keeps criticizing J.P. Holding, I want to remind the readers of how inconsistent Matthew has been on this issue. Until recently, Matthew spoke highly of J.P. Holding and was participating in lengthy discussions with him about issues like the ones I'm now discussing with Matthew. Yet, now he tells us that Holding's material is "trite", that anybody who cites J.P. Holding on any subject can't be trusted in his citations on other subjects, etc. It does seem that Matthew is going more by emotion than reason here. He's angry with J.P. Holding (as he's angry with me and a lot of other people, apparently), so he keeps trying to find ways to work negative references to J.P. Holding into his material, even when it only has a distant relevance. Compare J.P. Holding's material to Matthew Green's. Compare what Matthew used to say about J.P. Holding to what he says now.

Matthew writes:

"I haven't seen Jason give any reasons for believing that this is an authentic letter from Peter."

I have an article on the subject here. But, again, Matthew is missing the point. I cited 2 Peter 1:16 to illustrate early Christian concern for eyewitness testimony. Questioning whether 2 Peter was written by Peter is a different issue. And concern for eyewitness testimony about the resurrection isn't all that matters here, since we've been discussing early Christian concern about historical information in general. A passage like 2 Peter 1:16 illustrates that there was an early Christian concern for distinguishing between fabrications and reliable historical accounts, and Peter expresses that concern in the midst of discussing supernatural events (such as the Mount of Transfiguration).

Matthew writes:

"Well the ball is in Jason's court; if he wants us to know why we should side with him and his evangelical buddies over the world of critical New Testament scholars who reject 2 Peter as a forgery, that's up to him."

Notice that Matthew criticized men like William Craig and Gary Habermas for citing scholarly majorities in support of their beliefs related to the resurrection. Matthew referred to how Christians want to "force down people's throats" a belief in the resurrection by appealing to scholarly majorities. Yet, he appeals to majority opinion when discussing Petrine authorship of 2 Peter. Should we conclude that Matthew is trying to "force down our throats" his view of 2 Peter?

He writes:

"Um, isn't that rather Carrier's speculation? I introduced it as a possibility but to illustrate a general point that I have alluded to. I am undecided on the ultimate issue of gospel genre and I am not at this point, well-versed in gospel genre studies to reach an informed conclusion (and Jason, please, no rude and unsolicited advice here). I would agree that the question of gospel genre largely determines what we are to accept as fact regarding the death and burial of Christ."

Matthew keeps speculating and mentioning the theories of other people, but when such speculations and theories are answered, he tells us that he isn't committed to these positions himself. If Matthew is so undecided as to not even know what to make of the general genre of the early Christian documents, then why is he participating in discussions like this one? Why is he writing articles for Debunking Christianity? How much shorter would Matthew's articles be if he stopped including his own unjustifiable speculations and the theories of other people and started limiting himself to assertions he's willing to defend?

He writes:

"Even if I acknowledge the general historical-biographical genre of the gospels, that doesn't mean that all the details of the gospels are historically inerrant down to every dotted 'i' and crossed 't'. It doesn't mean that gospels cannot contain fictional elements."

As I told Matthew before, inerrancy and the resurrection are different issues. And my arguments for the resurrection draw from large portions of the gospels, not just minor details. For example, when the gospels repeatedly refer to one individual after another not expecting to see the risen Jesus, it would require dismissing many portions of the gospels (and Acts) in order to argue that the resurrection witnesses were in fact expecting to see Jesus. Similarly, when so many accounts in the gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians, etc. refer to Jesus appearing to groups of people, it would require dismissing many portions of these documents in order to conclude that Jesus was never seen by groups of people at once. Jesus' detailed interactions with more than one person at once in Luke 24 and John 21, for example, aren't the sort of thing that a psychological disorder like a hallucination would be likely to produce. (Matthew claims to be avoiding the problems with hallucination theories, but see my comments on that claim below.) If Matthew is going to dismiss every portion of these documents that contains such material, then he's going to be dismissing a lot of material. And on what basis would he dismiss it? Because it's inconsistent with his desired conclusion? But, remember, Matthew tells us that he would have "no problem" with accepting Jesus' resurrection.

He writes:

"Secondly, I don't believe that the presence of women is embarrassing- the gospels are not legal documents and so I don't see it as representing any stigma for readers or for audiences, whom the preaching of the gospel mentioned details like an empty tomb discovered by women."

Matthew is only responding to a portion of what I said. I referred to "the tomb's discovery by women while the male disciples are in unbelief and are hiding". The testimony of women was sometimes accepted in ancient contexts, but it was considered of less value than the testimony of men (Craig Keener, ibid., pp. 698-699 and nn. 282-283 on pp. 698-699). And choosing women rather than men makes even less sense when male disciples were available. Even worse, those male disciples are portrayed as being in a state of unbelief and hiding. These aren't the marks of a fictional account. Speculating that the account may have been made up doesn't demonstrate that such a scenario is probable. The issue here isn't how Matthew Green can speculate in order to avoid conclusions he doesn't want to reach. Rather, the issue is what explanation best explains the evidence.

He writes:

"Jason asks 'Which psychological disorders does Matthew have in mind with each individual involved'? Jason, where the hell did I say I BELIEVE psychological disorders are involved? Quote me, Jason! I would appreciate it if you didn't put words in my mouth like that, Jason! In other words, put up or shut up!"

I've already documented, in an earlier response to Matthew, that his first post on this subject argues that the visions in question were naturalistic. Referring to "altered states of consciousness" or citing examples of other people reporting such experiences in other contexts doesn't give us a naturalistic explanation for them. A term like "vision" or "altered state of consciousness" can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances, including something that was supernatural. If Matthew wants to argue for a naturalistic explanation for the resurrection appearances of Christ, as he originally claimed, then he needs to get more specific than using terms like "vision" and "altered state of consciousness". Saying that somebody like Paul had a "vision" could include everything from a variety of types of hallucination to a supernatural non-physical appearance to a supernatural physical experience with non-physical elements, for example. The fact that other people have had experiences that have broadly been classified as "visions" doesn't give us reason to conclude that something naturalistic occurred with those people or with the resurrection witnesses. Matthew needs to come up with a narrower category that's naturalistic, then he needs to show that his naturalistic explanation is preferable to mine.

He writes:

"Next, Jason will have to explain what he means by saying that these terms are vague enough to cover a large variety of experiences."

For example, in your first post on this subject you wrote the following:

"Robin Lane Fox, in his work Pagans and Christians also seems to provide an example of a ASC- group vision:'Every visitor to the Black Sea knew the special island of Achilles, and in his report on the area, a visiting governor, Arrian, informed the Emperor Hadrian how 'some said' Achilles appeared to them in broad daylight on the prow or mast of their ships, 'as did Castor and Pollux'. Maximus, indeed knew a man after Homer's own heart. Near the same island, visitors had 'often' seen a young, fair-haired hero dancing in armour and had heard him singing a paean.' (Fox pg. 144).According to Fox, Arrian informed Emperor Hadrian of reports that Achilles had appeared to groups of visitors to that special island of Achilles. In fact, according to this report, visitors 'had often seen' what they took to be Achilles. In fact, Fox stresses that Miletus was alive with glimpses of the gods which had been granted to all sorts of people (pg. 143)."

You give us no reason to believe that some naturalistic vision occurred in an altered state of consciousness. Rather, you assume it. People refer to everything from drug-induced experiences to out-of-body experiences as involving "altered states of consciousness". The fact that such a label is placed on an experience doesn't prove that it was naturalistic. Since people can enter into such experiences in a large variety of ways (drugs, sleep deprivation, etc.), you need to be more specific in explaining what you think occurred with the resurrection witnesses. If some ancient sources used drugs or deliberately entered into trance states, for example, it doesn't logically follow that such experiences were in the same category as the women going to the tomb of Jesus or Paul traveling on the road to Damascus.

Matthew writes:

"Therefore, if Jesus was not guilty to deserve crucifixion, then people who knew this would see Jesus' honor as being insulted by the powers that be. Therefore, the people who know that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve crucifixion or could be convinced that Jesus did not deserve it and thus his honor being insulted by crucifixion, would expect that God would restore the honor of Jesus by reversing the death process."

People also knew that men like Abel and Zechariah were put to death unjustly (Matthew 23:35), yet no resurrection occurred just after their death. Their resurrection in the end times might be viewed as some sort of reversal of what had been done to them unjustly, but an unjust death by itself wasn't enough to convince people that a resurrection was going to occur just after the death. And the early Christians tell us that people weren't expecting to see Jesus risen (Matthew 28:1-6, 16:1-3, Luke 24:11, John 20:25, Acts 9:1, etc.), even after they heard of the empty tomb (Luke 24:11, 24:21-24, John 20:2, 20:15, 20:25). Men like James, Paul, and Paul's travel companions weren't Christians, so why should we think that they were expecting any vindication of Jesus? And the people who saw Jesus repeatedly failed to initially recognize who they were seeing (Luke 24:13-31, John 20:15, 21:4, Acts 9:5). If they were expecting to see Jesus, then why would they initially not recognize who they had seen?

Matthew writes:

"Since a holy man communicated with God by means of altered-states-of-consciousness, if Jesus came back from the grave, the disciples would expect to be able to communicate with him in an altered-state-of-consciousness as well."

What Matthew associates with an "altered state of consciousness" is something the ancient Christians understood and described as something supernatural. Matthew is assuming that something naturalistic occurred in order to bring about visions in an altered state of consciousness. He needs to explain why such a naturalistic theory better explains the evidence than the Christian view. We know that people can think they see things that aren't objectively present when they're on drugs or have undergone extensive sleep deprivation, for example. The early Christians wouldn't have been deliberately entering into such states in an attempt to contact Jesus. If they thought that Jesus was physically resurrected, they would have expected to be able to see Him without doing anything unusual, such as entering into a hypnotic state or taking drugs.

If first century Jews thought that a resurrection had occurred, they would expect physical evidence to accompany it. As I explained to Matthew before, it's highly unlikely that a group of eleven men or more than 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6), for example, would all naturalistically experience a vision in an altered state of consciousness on the same subject at the same time, without realizing that they were mistaken. If these visions occurred in their minds, not outside their minds, then we would expect one person to see Jesus standing 500 feet away to the south, while another person would think he sees Jesus standing 10 feet away to the east. Different people would hear Jesus saying different things. When they compared their experiences, there would be major, widespread contradictions. Where's Matthew's evidence that people can naturalistically share detailed visions on the same subject at the same time? And if he thinks it can happen, why does he think it's probable with all of the resurrection accounts?

He writes:

"It's because of this social expectation of shame reversal that would trigger the expectation that the disciples would see Jesus again, in a visionary experience of some sort, as a way of asking forgiveness for having abandoned Jesus and having shamed him in the garden when in-group loyalty mattered most."

Matthew's theory is repeatedly inconsistent with what the earliest sources report. Matthew tells us that an empty tomb would trigger an expectation of seeing the risen Jesus, yet the gospels repeatedly refer to people doubting the resurrection even after hearing of the empty tomb. Matthew tells us that people would want to "ask forgiveness" from God for having abandoned Jesus, yet the gospels tell us that Jesus was viewed as having failed. Rather than concluding that they needed to ask Jesus for forgiveness, people were referring to how He must not be the Messiah after all (Luke 24:21). Rather than going to find the risen Jesus and ask for forgiveness when they heard about the empty tomb, Peter and John went to see whether the tomb was actually empty and still didn't understand what had happened after verifying that the tomb was empty (John 20:9). Thomas continued to doubt even after hearing of the empty tomb and after hearing the testimony of the others (John 20:25). Men like James and Paul wouldn't have been expecting to see the risen Jesus or have been seeking forgiveness from God for abandoning Him. They probably viewed Jesus' shameful death as a confirmation of their rejection of His claims.

Matthew tells us that he wouldn't necessarily accept details in the gospel accounts that are inconsistent with his theory, like the ones cited above, but so far Matthew hasn't given us any reason to reject such details. In contrast, I've mentioned many reasons to accept them, such as the fact that Jewish people who believed in a resurrection would be likely to seek physical evidence of it, the fact that the gospels are written in a highly historical genre, the fact that the early Christians were highly concerned with eyewitness testimony, particularly with regard to the resurrection, etc. Even if we were to conclude that there are some errors in the resurrection narratives, it doesn't follow that every detail inconsistent with Matthew's theory can therefore be dismissed. Some of the details in question are found in more than one source and can't plausibly be argued to contradict anything else in the historical record. If other details are erroneous, then you dismiss them, not all of the details.

Matthew writes:

"I am not sure what conditions have to exist in order for people to have visions."

In other words, Matthew doesn't know whether the early Christians' experiences are consistent with naturalistic visions, but he argues that naturalistic visions occurred anyway. Notice the contrast between my case and Matthew's. I've cited Gary Habermas' research of the relevant psychological data, for example, whereas Matthew tells us that he doesn't know what conditions have to exist in order for people to have visions. If Matthew doesn't know when naturalistic visions occur, then how can he evaluate whether they're likely to have occurred in early Christianity?

He writes:

"As for an empty tomb producing visions among skeptics like James and Paul- I don't think it would have needed to. We're not told when James converted. We are told of an appearance of Jesus to James in 1st Corinthians 15 but we are not told that it was that which converted James. James might've converted earlier or even later, after Jesus supposedly ascended into heaven."

It's highly unlikely that James would be included in the creed of 1 Corinthians 15 and would be considered an apostle by Paul (Galatians 1:19) if James didn't consider himself an eyewitness of the risen Jesus. The question is how he would have arrived at the conclusion that he saw Jesus. At least one appearance occurred after the appearance to James and before the appearance to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:7), and Luke refers to James as if he's a believer around the time of the ascension (Acts 1:14), so it seems that the appearance to James occurred prior to the ascension. John records that Mary was entrusted to his care rather than the care of any of Jesus' biological brothers (John 19:26-27), which is something unlikely to have occurred if James was a believer at the time. And it's unlikely that the early Christians would have made up such an account at a time when James had been a highly regarded leader of the church and had died as a martyr. The change in James' life seems to have occurred after Jesus' death and before the ascension. And we know that a resurrection appearance to him was widely believed to have occurred during that timeframe. If he hadn't believed the claims of Jesus' disciples prior to Jesus' death, then it seems unlikely that he would have believed their claims of a resurrection after Jesus' shameful death without the sort of evidence that 1 Corinthians 15:7 suggests.

Matthew writes:

"I believe that it might have been precisely a resuscitated Jesus that they thought that they had seen to begin with."

Then you need to explain why such a change in belief isn't mentioned by any of the early sources, Christian or non-Christian, why the early enemies of Christianity didn't make an issue of such changes in belief, etc. And if there was belief in a resuscitated Jesus, it would still be belief in something physical that occurred. Physical evidence would be expected, like the references we find in the gospels to touching Jesus' feet, seeing Him eat food, etc.

When Paul discusses the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he has transformation of the body in view, not resuscitation. Given how early Paul was writing, how early he became a Christian, and the fact that other church leaders were agreeing with what he was saying about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:11), why should we believe that some change from resuscitation to resurrection occurred? Did it happen so early that Paul wasn't aware of it? Did all of the apostles prior to Paul collectively change their view, and no early Christian or non-Christian sources left any objections in the historical record? Again, why is it that Matthew keeps appealing to highly unlikely scenarios for which he has no evidence?

He writes:

"In fact, I would like to commend Christian scholars such as Gary Habermas, Gary Collins, and Mike Licona for rebutting theories of 'hallucinations'. They're right about hallucinations; hallucinations tend to be highly individualistic and one person cannot cause a hallucination in another person (except, perhaps by hypnosis?). I believe that 'visions' happen in honor-shame societies whereas 'hallucinations' happen in pride-guilt societies. Visions can be collective and occur in groups of people at a time and are considered normal whereas hallucinations are individualistic and are considered abnormal and are usually accompanied or caused by psychological disorders."

Matthew offers no evidence. He just makes an assertion. Why would the differences between an honor-shame society and a pride-guilt society allow for group visions? And why should we think that modern psychological research is only occurring in pride-guilt contexts? The reasons why psychological disorders like hallucinations don't occur in groups would cut across both honor-shame societies and pride-guilt societies. If a person thinks he sees something that isn't objectively occurring, if it's occurring in his mind without something corresponding to it outside his mind, then how could anybody share in such an experience? The fact that a person is in an honor-shame society does nothing to give him access to what's occurring within another person's mind. On the other hand, if Matthew wants to argue that these visions of the early Christians were objectively occurring outside the mind, then what were they? As I said before, all that Matthew is doing is using vague terms like "vision" and "altered state of consciousness" to dismiss historical reports that he doesn't like. Where's Matthew's evidence that people naturalistically share visions?

He writes:

"I believe that the chief reason why the resurrection details are unhistorical is because of the discrepancies and embellishments underlying them."

Matthew hasn't proven any "discrepancies and embellishments", and even if there were some errors in the resurrection accounts, an error on one issue wouldn't justify a dismissal of what's reported on every other issue. Some of the details most problematic for Matthew's theory are details that are agreed upon by all of the sources. For example, all of the sources agree that the resurrection witnesses weren't expecting to see Jesus resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 9:10, 16:1-3, Luke 24:11, John 20:25, Acts 9:1, etc.). The three documents that go into the most detail about the resurrection appearances (Luke, John, and Acts) tell us that people sometimes didn't initially know that they were seeing Jesus (Luke 24:13-31, John 20:15, 21:4, Acts 9:5). All four gospel authors refer to physical evidence produced by the resurrection (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:4-6, Luke 24:42-43, John 21:9-13, etc.). All of the sources reporting on resurrection appearances agree that Jesus appeared to groups of people (Matthew 28:17, Luke 24:36, John 20:26, Acts 9:7, 1 Corinthians 15:6, etc.). Thus, characteristics such as a lack of expectation, a lack of initial recognition of Jesus, an interest in and the presence of physical evidence, and appearances to groups of people (not just individuals) are widely attested, and there's nothing about the reporting of such characteristics that suggests "discrepancy" or "embellishment". These characteristics are widely reported and are inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations and other psychological disorders.

And you can't just assume that there was some type of naturalistic experience that occurred in ancient honor-shame societies that would be able to overcome such obstacles. If you have no evidence for such naturalistic experiences, then assuming the existence of them whenever you need to, in order to maintain your theory, isn't convincing.

Matthew writes:

"My point was that if these rival supernaturalists accepted the empty tomb and that Jesus appeared to his followers, then these rival supernaturalist faith groups, would simply devise theological theories of supernatural trickery, instead of having to accept that Jesus had risen. That was my point!"

The problem seems to be that Matthew was careless in reading what I wrote. I did answer the issue he's raising. As I said, we have no reason to accept Zoroastrian or Islamic explanations for Jesus' resurrection. If those religions were to offer a theory of supernatural trickery to explain Jesus' apparent resurrection, we would have no reason to trust their explanation. In other words, if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and the evidence suggests that He rose from the dead, then the most natural response to such evidence would be to conclude that He was the Messiah. If some group, like Islam, then comes along and claims that the apparent resurrection was supernatural trickery, then we would ask why we should believe Islam's explanation. If they have nothing more than an assertion to offer, then the existence of such an assertion doesn't give us reason to accept it.

Matthew writes:

"I would ask Jason what it would take to convince him that Jesus' resurrection did not happen?"

It would take a radically different set of data in the historical record. There would be more than one way for any purported historical event to be falsified, and I can't discuss every conceivable scenario in which Jesus' resurrection would be contradicted by the evidence. There could be eyewitness accounts of Jesus' body remaining in the grave, early accounts of the supposed witnesses of the resurrection initially denying that they saw Jesus, accounts of men like Paul and Peter retracting their claims, etc. But that isn't the actual state of the historical record. Instead, the record is so much in favor of the resurrection that people like Matthew, after having about two thousand years to come up with better arguments, are still appealing to absurd theories like widespread naturalistic visions that could occur in honor-shame societies, but don't occur in pride-guilt societies.

Matthew writes:

"I believe that there isn't any evidence for the resurrection but there is evidence against it, which I will elaborate on, if requested."

If Matthew actually had good evidence against the resurrection, I doubt that he'd mention it only "if requested". I'm requesting it, Matthew. Tell us what it is.

Matthew writes:

"In the case of the 'Santa' hypothesis, it's not a more rational theory because it fails other criteria and isn't a better explanation of all the data. But it is a simpler explanation of the observations I made in my essay. Thus, Jason's attempt to rebut me on this point fails."

In other words, if you single out some portions of the evidence pertaining to Santa Claus while ignoring large amounts of other evidence, the theory of Santa Claus' existence can seem more plausible than it would in light of all of the evidence. What is that supposed to prove? Who denied it? The supposed "simplicity" of Matthew's Santa theory only covers "the observations I made in my essay". What is Matthew's singling out of some observations of his choice supposed to prove?

Matthew writes:

"Jason is assuming that critics like me accept the resurrection accounts are accurate down to the details."

No, I've made no such assumption, and my replies to Matthew demonstrate that I haven't made such an assumption. In earlier replies to Matthew, I explained why some details of the gospel accounts are historically likely, even if we don't have such evidence for other details. Why would I have done that if I was assuming that Matthew accepts all of the details?

He writes:

"If the secondary details are wrong, inconsistent, inaccurate, why believe any of it happened, assuming that this was God’s chosen way to communicate to humanity that crown event of history?"

The reason why we could believe some portions of the gospels without believing every portion of them is the same reason why we often do the same thing with other historical documents. I think that Biblical inerrancy is the best explanation of the evidence, but believing in Jesus' resurrection while rejecting inerrancy would at least better explain the evidence than Matthew's theory does. Some people do believe in the resurrection while rejecting inerrancy, and though I think that the problems they face are worse than the problems I face as an inerrantist, those people at least don't have as many problems as Matthew has.

Matthew writes:

"With these considerations in mind, I now turn to the inconsistencies."

Charges of inconsistency in the resurrection accounts have been addressed by Christians for a long time and in many places. See, for example, here and here. These issues are addressed at length in Christian commentaries on the gospels and elsewhere. Given the large amount of time, places, people, etc. involved in the resurrection, the issue isn't whether any harmonization is possible. Rather, the issue is which harmonization among the ones available is most plausible. Practices such as telescoping and putting accounts in topical rather than chronological order were common in ancient literature, and they sometimes occur in modern literature.

Mark will put a lot of focus on Galilee for his own reasons, and will decide to leave out the resurrection appearances for his own reasons. Luke will focus on Jerusalem (as he does in Acts) and will say a lot about the resurrection appearances that occur there. Matthew, on the other hand, will put a lot of emphasis on the empty tomb and will only give two brief resurrection appearance accounts, although he surely was aware of other appearances (the ones mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, for example). And other authors will make other choices for their own reasons, whether because of the general themes they emphasize in their document, because they were coming to the end of their scroll, or for some other reason. When you have dozens of people involved in multiple resurrection appearances over weeks of time, with authors with different backgrounds and themes in mind giving the accounts, there's going to be a lot of potential for differences.

Matthew writes:

"In Matthew 28:2, it says that there was an earthquake and that an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone, apparently after all the women arrived."

No, the passage doesn't tell us that the women had arrived before the stone was rolled away. Similarly, Mark 16:3 occurred prior to the women's seeing the empty tomb, even though verse 2 refers to how they "came to the tomb", which could be read as a reference to having already arrived (and, presumably, they would have seen the tomb if they had arrived at it).

He writes:

"I ask readers again- who would believe that the author was narrating the story here as to suggest that the angels came to Jesus and started ministering to him before the devil left him? No, again, the phrase 'and behold' suggests that 'angels came' and 'ministered to him' occurred after the devil left him."

Nothing in the phrase "and behold" suggests what order the events occurred in. Matthew Green is appealing to other passages where we have other reasons for thinking that the event after "and behold" occurred later rather than earlier. It doesn't therefore follow that every passage using "and behold" has such an order of events. Matthew 28:2 could be about something that happened earlier, much like Matthew 14:3.

Besides, as I explained above, Matthew 28:1 could be a reference to the women setting out for the grave, not a reference to their having already arrived. If the author of the gospel of Matthew used Mark as a source he regarded highly, as many scholars believe, then he would have been aware of the fact that the stone had been removed before the women arrived.

Matthew writes:

"Did the women enter the tomb, encounter angels, remember the angels’ words and then run back and convey them to the disciples as all of the synoptic gospels say or did Mary Magdalene and whoever was with her, run to tell the disciples that someone had stolen the body and she had no clue as to where it was as in John 20:1-2."

Again, see the articles linked above that address such issues. There are many books by Christian scholars that address the issues as well. The suggestion that John was unaware of all of the earlier gospels, or that he thought that it would be acceptable to contradict them, is highly unlikely. As Craig Keener writes:

"Suggesting that the Fourth Gospel is not directly dependent on the Synoptics need not imply that John did not know of the existence of the Synoptics; even if (as is unlikely) Johannine Christianity were as isolated from other circles of Christianity as some have proposed, other gospels must have been known if travelers afforded any contact at all among Christian communities. That travelers did so may be regarded as virtually certain. Urban Christians traveled (1 Cor 16:10, 12, 17; Phil 2:30; 4:18), carried letters (Rom 16:1-2; Phil 2:25), relocated to other places (Rom 16:3, 5; perhaps 16:6-15), and sent greetings to other churches (Rom 16:21-23; 1 Cor 16:19; Phil 4:22; Col 4:10-15). In the first century many churches knew what was happening with churches in other cities (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 11:16; 14:33; 1 Thess 1:7-9), and even shared letters (Col 4:16). Missionaries could speak of some churches to others (Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 8:1-5; 9:2-4; Phil 4:16; 1 Thess 2:14-16; cf. 3 John 5-12) and send personal news by other workers (Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7-9). Although we need not suppose connections among churches as pervasive as Ignatius’ letters suggest perhaps two decades later, neither need we imagine that such connections emerged ex nihilo in the altogether brief silence between John’s Gospel and the ‘postapostolic’ period. No one familiar with the urban society of the eastern empire will be impressed with the isolation Gospel scholars often attribute to the Gospel 'communities.'" (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 41-42)

John surely was familiar with at least one of the Synoptics, probably all of them, and he probably regarded them highly, as other Christians of the time did. John's disciple Papias, for example, speaks highly of Mark's gospel. John was aware of many details he doesn't include in his account (John 21:25), such as the fact that Mary Magdalene wasn't alone. He only mentions Mary (John 20:1), but the next verse uses the plural "we" (John 20:2). Similarly, Luke 24:12 only mentions Peter, even though Luke apparently knew that Peter wasn't alone (Luke 24:24). There were at least five women in all (Luke 24:10), and in all likelihood they separated into different parties, much as the guards did (Matthew 28:11). Some of the gospel authors may not have known which women were at different places at each step along the way, so they made general references to the women as a group without intending to claim that every women was present on every occasion.

Matthew writes:

"So, in other words, Mary Magdalene and whoever went with her, successfully told them what they had seen. When the women told the eleven 'all these things', that logically, then, includes 'saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive', and verse 9 includes Mary Magdalene as one of them out of grammatical necessity here."

No, I view Luke 24:10 as a reference to all of the women involved in the previous verses going back to 23:49. Mary Magdalene could have been present the entire time, but need not have been. Luke 24:9 refers to the apostles "and all the rest", while verse 10 only refers to "the apostles". We don't know what order the women arrived in, who said what and when, how long each one remained there, etc. It isn't a matter of finding one possible resolution, but rather a matter of choosing among more than one possibility. See Glenn Miller's article linked above for a variety of examples of possible sequences.

Matthew writes:

"Were there Eleven disciples in the room on the first Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, to which Jesus appeared to (which would’ve included all the original disciples save doubting Thomas) or were there only ten as in John 20?...I can imagine Jason saying that the 'eleven' was only a figure of speech and that Luke knew all along that only ten were present! Yeah...sure."

Actually, group names like "the eleven" or "the twelve" or "the apostles" are often used when it's known that not every member of the group is present. Thus, John refers to "the twelve" when he knows that Judas is already dead (John 20:24), as does Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5). Craig Keener cites similar examples from non-Christian sources, such as Xenophon and Plutarch (1-2 Corinthians [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], n. 272 on p. 124).

Matthew writes:

"These are all explicit contradictions in the text that are impossible to resolve adequately without far-fetched plausibility scenarios, none of which are logical or remotely likely."

So, it isn't "logical" and it isn't even "remotely likely" to think that a group title could be used without every member of the group being present? Should we take your reasoning about "the eleven" in Luke 24 and apply it to "the twelve" in John 20 and 1 Corinthians 15 and to the examples of other group titles that Craig Keener cites from non-Christian literature?

Remember, while Matthew thinks it isn't "logical" or "remotely likely" to disagree with him on his three alleged "explicit contradictions" he cites in the resurrection narratives, he does think that it's logical to assume that naturalistic visions can be shared by people, as long as they live in honor-shame societies. Thus, the resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15, for example, aren't a problem for Matthew, despite what we know of hallucinations and other psychological disorders from modern research. The people of 1 Corinthians 15 lived in an honor-shame society, so they were able to share subjective visions that occurred within their mind. I don't know how an honor-shame society would give people the ability to share mental experiences that people in other societies don't share, but Matthew tells us that he thinks it could happen. But he hasn't looked into the details. It just seems likely to him that it could happen. I'm sure that Matthew has similarly convincing arguments to dismiss all of the other miracles attributed to Jesus, all of the prophecy fulfillments of the Bible, all of the miracles attributed to the apostles, etc. Matthew can't accept Christian harmonizations of the resurrection narratives, but he is willing to accept naturalistic attempts to dismiss every miracle associated with Christianity, even if it requires that he assume without evidence that naturalism can produce something like group visions.

Matthew writes:

"They will point to the first person plural of what Mary Magdalene says in John 20:2, 'For they have taken the body of the Lord and we don’t know where they have put them' Thus, apologists are fond of saying, the text implies that more than one women was present! If this is the case, then, does that mean that the angel’s use of first person singular in Matthew 28: 3 implies then, that only one angel was present? If not, why not?"

Matthew doesn't seem to have given this issue much thought. People usually don't speak in the plural when they're alone. However, people who are together often do speak in the singular. Matthew is assuming that the plural and the singular have comparable implications, but they don't.

Matthew writes:

"Did Jesus appear to the disciples first in Galilee or Jerusalem? Matthew and Mark imply that Jesus appeared to them in Galilee first while Luke and John. Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. Now apologists will quibble and say that the appearance in Galilee was not immediate but eventual."

Again, as I said above, John (and Luke) probably would have known about and would have highly regarded the gospels that had been written earlier. If John's gospel wasn't written until something like 30 years or more after Mark's gospel, then it's likely that John would have been aware of that gospel and would have agreed with his fellow Christians in accepting the document as authoritative.

The angel in Matthew 28:7 can't possibly mean that Jesus was in the process of going to Galilee at that time, without doing anything else along the way, since verses 9-10 go on to refer to Jesus as still in the area and as taking the time to meet with the women. Furthermore, as D.A. Carson notes, "a verb like 'go ahead,' if pressed to mean Jesus was actually traveling, 'would also seem to presuppose that the disciples also were on the way to Galilee' (Stonehouse, Witness of Matthew, p. 173). The verb [in Matthew 28:7] is not a progressive present but a vivid future." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Chapters 13 Through 28 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995], p. 588) R.T. France mentions "Matthew's tendency throughout to emphasize Galilee as the place where light dawns (4:12-16), as opposed to Jerusalem, the city where Jesus meets rejection and death, and over which he can only lament as he predicts its violent fate (23:37-39)." (Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], p. 407) John Nolland notes that "Jesus commissions the disciples to renew his ministry, beginning where he began in Galilee but now expanded to embrace all peoples and supported by Jesus' presence in a supernatural manner. The return to Galilee symbolizes a fresh beginning." (The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005], p. 1090) Even John eventually has Jesus meet the disciples in Galilee (John 21). Luke doesn't address the Galilee appearances, but probably because he's keeping the focus on Jerusalem in preparation for Acts. J.P. Holding writes, "More likely is that Luke has arranged things this way in order to emphasize Jerusalem as Jesus' destination, and in Acts, as the center for the spreading of the Gospel (Acts follows a pattern in which the Gospel is spread from Jerusalem in ever-wider geographical circles, even as people return to that city; cf. Acts 11:2, 12:15, 15:2, 18:21, 19:1 and 21, 20:16)."

The question is why Mark and Matthew report an emphasis on Galilee by both Jesus and the angel at the tomb. Matthew Green seems to be assuming that Galilee would be emphasized because Jesus would appear to the apostles there first. That's a possibility. But the themes mentioned above by R.T. France and John Nolland are possible explanations as well. Galilee would be emphasized because Jesus would commission His apostles there, just as He had begun His ministry there. Jesus would do other things before that commissioning (Matthew 28:9-10), but a focus on where Jesus' ministry began (and the region where some of His apostles lived) is reasonable, even if He would appear to them elsewhere as well. The "just as He told you" of Mark 16:7 suggests that an emphasis on the fulfillment of Jesus' promise is in view. And if the "you" in the "you will see him" of Matthew 28:7 includes the women, then verses 9-10 would demonstrate that Matthew wasn't excluding earlier appearances.

It's also possible that the comments of the angel and Jesus regarding Galilee have a more practical motive. Craig Blomberg refers to "the end of the week-long festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Galilean pilgrims would return home" (Matthew [Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992], p. 428). The point in saying that Jesus would appear to them in Galilee is that they shouldn't change their plans. Jesus would still appear to them in Galilee, as He had promised (Matthew 26:32). That doesn't exclude earlier appearances. All that it does is keep their focus on Galilee, where Jesus began His work and where the apostles would begin theirs with the Great Commission.

Matthew goes on to ask why the angel and Jesus would have the women give the apostles the message if Jesus Himself could have given it to them. But we don't know the details of the timeframe involved. Even if the women were to speak with the apostles only a few hours before Jesus' appearance to them, it would still affect their expectations and plans during that time. And the angel gives the women the message even though Jesus would say much the same thing just afterward (Matthew 28:10), so that sort of repetition doesn't seem to have been a problem in the eyes of the author of the gospel of Matthew.

Matthew writes:

"This discussion of discrepancies should prove to any rational person that the Bible is indeed errant and highly discrepant."

I've answered Matthew's claims of error, and many other Christians have answered these charges in other contexts. Even if we concluded that errors are present in the accounts, Matthew's theory would still face some major problems, problems far worse than the alleged Biblical errors he cites. Historians regularly accept the general trustworthiness of sources that contain probable or possible errors:

"But the divergent details [in the accounts of the resurrection appearances] suggest independent traditions, thereby underlining the likelihood of details the accounts share in common (e.g., Boyd 1995: 277-78). This fits what we should expect of eyewitness traditions. (Thus, for example, though two eyewitnesses who accompanied Alexander agreed that Callisthenes was indicted, publicly scorned, and died, and though their accounts could be called entirely trustworthy [pany pistoi], they differ even on whether he died by sickness or hanging – Arrian Alex. 4.14.3. The variation in the Gospel accounts is far less significant than this.)" (Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 697-698)

Matthew writes:

"Harmonization should be attempted whenever it’s legitimate to try and attempt it. Otherwise, how would you know when a harmonization of two apparently conflicting accounts was legitimate and when the attempt is nothing but a far-fetched plausibility scenario that is hare-brained, indeed, because some biblical apologists seem more interested in defending a pet theory such as biblical inerrancy to their dying breath."

As I explained before, the argument for Biblical inerrancy involves far more than something like the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection. If you judge the reasonableness of Biblical inerrancy by asking whether we would attempt to harmonize other historical documents if they had contents similar to the gospels, then you're only taking a portion of the evidence into account. A lot of other issues are relevant to inerrancy, such as Jesus' other miracles and Biblical prophecy. For example, what if we were to conclude that some passages in the gospels would seem erroneous to us if we found them in non-Biblical documents? Once we reach that conclusion, are we prepared to reject Biblical inerrancy? No, because there's more involved. However difficult it may be to harmonize passage A with passage B in the gospels, harmonizing them might be preferable if not harmonizing them would result in an even worse situation in light of other data.

As a Christian, I would argue that dismissing every apparent supernatural element of Christianity with theories of widespread memory loss, unusual coincidences, widespread hallucination, widespread apathy, etc. is far more implausible than Biblical harmonization. When a Christian appeals to something like copyist errors or different authors writing from different perspectives, he isn't appealing to anything radically unusual or unprecedented. On the other hand, when somebody like Matthew Green has to assert without evidence that people in ancient Israel may have been able to have group visions, in contrast to what modern research tells us about human psychology and other relevant subjects, he's not appealing to something common.

If Matthew wants to evaluate the resurrection as we would any other historical event, without stringing it together with Biblical inerrancy, then we can do that. But if he wants to bring in inerrancy, then he needs to open the door much wider to include considerations like Jesus' other miracles and Biblical prophecy as well.

Matthew writes:

"That Jason would acknowledge that harmonization is needed goes to show that the gospel accounts of the resurrection cannot be taken at face value as being reliable and that gospel narratives’ reliability has to be argued for despite appearances to the contrary."

As I explained to Matthew in an earlier response, I don't deny that differences in accounts require either harmonization or a conclusion that error is present. But I also went on to say that a historian would ask whether two differing accounts can be harmonized and whether we have reason for trusting the two sources who give us the differing accounts. Christians have harmonized their sources and have given reasons for trusting those sources. We believe that we've met the burden of proof. If Matthew thinks that the way in which we've attempted to meet that burden is unacceptable, then he needs to explain why. Simply repeating his comments about how the accounts differ, how we bear the burden of proof, how absurd he thinks Christian harmonizations are, etc. isn't enough. He needs to interact with the specifics of our arguments and explain why he thinks that his appeals to something like shared naturalistic visions, for example, are more plausible than our case.

Matthew writes:

"Jason should state that Christians have attempted to harmonize their sources and have tried to give reasons for trusting those sources but he won’t because he’s too over-confident about his apologetics for the resurrection. I, on the other hand, freely leave it to my readers to determine whether I have made my case or not."

Shortly before he made the comments above, Matthew wrote the following about how good his arguments are. He's discussing his attempts to prove that the resurrection narratives contain errors:

"These are all explicit contradictions in the text that are impossible to resolve adequately without far-fetched plausibility scenarios, none of which are logical or remotely likely....This discussion of discrepancies should prove to any rational person that the Bible is indeed errant and highly discrepant."

So, Matthew tells his readers that they can disagree with him on these issues only if they're willing to accept something "far-fetched" that isn't logical "or remotely likely". He tells us that his arguments should "prove to any rational person that the Bible is indeed errant and highly discrepant". Yet, Matthew tells us that he "leaves it to his readers" to decide the quality of his case, and he tells us that he's not "over-confident" like I am.

Matthew writes:

"Thus, I never said that if two gospels contradict each other that it proves that both are unreliable. I never stated this."

Matthew seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He'll suggest at one point that questioning one detail in a gospel isn't an attempt to dismiss all of the other details, but then he'll say at other points that he doubts the other details because of the details he's questioned. He'll comment at times about how he rejects all of the secondary details of the resurrection narratives.

As I've documented, there are many details in the early documents (and not just the gospels) that are inconsistent with Matthew's theory. For Matthew to sustain his theory, he has to propose that large portions of the early documents are unhistorical, and at a time when contemporaries and eyewitnesses of Jesus and the apostles were still alive and in prominent places of leadership. Matthew would have us think that Jews believing in a resurrection would mistake naturalistic visions for a physical resurrection, and would fail to look for the sort of physical evidence referred to in the gospels and Acts, then would allow their later contemporaries to make up the accounts we find in documents like the gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians. Not only did the early Christians allow it to happen and not leave any trace of opposition in the historical record, but the early enemies of Christianity either didn't notice it or also failed to leave any trace of their objections in the historical record. And Matthew proposes all of this, and more, just to dismiss one miracle associated with Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus. When you include the other theories he has to propose to dismiss everything else he dislikes, you end up with major portions of documents written by eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles that Matthew has to dismiss. What we have under Matthew's scenario is a Jesus who is radically redefined by eyewitnesses and contemporaries who were willing to suffer and die for what they were reporting about Him, and the people alive at the time who knew better apparently were too apathetic to do much about it.

Matthew writes:

"If two gospels contradict each other, it may be the case that one or the other is in error or perhaps one of them. So it is not accurate for Jason to state that if the gospels contradict each other, then that only proves that one gospel is unreliable. What if both are in error on a given point?"

I didn't deny that both could be in error. But an inconsistency between two gospels would only prove that one gospel is in error, even if other evidence would lead us to the conclusion that both are in error.

Matthew writes:

"But here is another problem I would ask Jason and his buddies: if no Jew was expecting any individual resurrections prior to the general one at the day of judgment, how is it that some people became convinced that one of the prophets of old had risen from the dead as Luke records? If Jason believes that these people merely believed one of the prophets of old had merely been resuscitated, fine, let him back it up with textual evidence."

If the references to somebody being raised could be interpreted either way, then I don't need textual evidence that favors resuscitation over resurrection. All that's necessary is that the passage is consistent with resuscitation. Citing passages that can be interpreted either way, as Matthew has done, can't overturn the explicit passages in ancient Jewish sources referring to the resurrection not occurring until the end times.

Matthew refers to another article he's written on this subject. But other people have already interacted with Matthew's arguments, and I posted a response earlier this summer.

Matthew writes:

"I regard the stories as pious fiction (not necessarily fabrications, mind you, just pious fiction designed to illustrate the physicality of Jesus' resurrection)."

Again, you need to interact with what I cited from Craig Keener regarding the nature of Greco-Roman biographies. You also need to interact with passages like Luke 1:3-4 and John 14:26, where emphasis is placed on the accuracy of details, "exact truth" as Luke puts it. John's resurrection accounts come between two passages that emphasize the eyewitness and truthful nature of what he's reporting (John 19:35, 21:24). It doesn't seem that he viewed his work as one of "pious fiction", in part or in whole. None of the earliest Christians or their opponents interpret the documents in the manner you're suggesting. They don't dismiss resurrection accounts, which were among the most important eyewitness accounts the early Christians were interested in, as "pious fiction". Rather, they treat them as attempts to convey actual historical events, including in their details. Furthermore, the sort of interest in physical evidence that we see in all of the gospels and Acts is what we would expect among Jews who thought they saw a resurrected man. The idea that all of these people had naturalistic visions around the same time on the same subject and in groups, repeatedly failed to recognize their error and failed to seek physical evidence like what the gospels and Acts record, then allowed their later contemporaries to make up "pious fiction" to the contrary, or other people who also knew better allowed that "pious fiction" to occur, is absurd.

Matthew writes:

"As for Luke referring to Jesus as appearing to people over 40 days, well, 40 need not be taken literally. 40 was a number that was often used in the Middle East"

You only dismiss the apparent historical meaning if you have reason to do so. What's your reason, Matthew? As I explained earlier, 1 Corinthians 15 suggests a lengthy period of time, since so many appearances occurred and since Peter was present during at least three of them, which suggests that he had time to move around and be with different people at different times. Similarly, John's gospel refers to significant time passing (John 20:26, etc.). There were many appearances that occurred over a long period of time. Yet, you want us to believe that nobody during that time realized that they were mistaken or sought the sort of physical evidence the gospels and Acts refer to.

Matthew writes:

"No one doesn't have to accept inerrancy before asking questions like these but one has to presuppose biblical inerrancy in order to assume that the gospel accounts and 1st Corinthians 15 are complementary. It's only then can apologists like Bill Craig and Gary Habermas argue that a 'diversity' of appearances exist."

No, people can accept a diversity of resurrection details without accepting inerrancy. For example, many scholars believe that Paul was an enemy of Christianity when he thought he saw the risen Jesus, whereas Peter was a disciple of Jesus when he had his resurrection experience. Thus, Paul and Peter are resurrection witnesses who had significantly different perspectives, even from the standpoint of scholars who reject Biblical inerrancy. Similarly, a scholar can reject inerrancy, yet accept Paul's report that the people mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 thought they saw the risen Jesus. And the accounts in 1 Corinthians 15 are diverse: individuals as compared to groups, people who thought they saw Jesus repeatedly (Peter) and people who thought they saw Him once (Paul), etc. Many people who reject inerrancy accept the fact that the resurrection accounts have the sort of diversity that men like William Craig and Gary Habermas refer to. Even if a scholar rejects some of the potential areas of diversity that an inerrantist would accept, he would still agree with the general principle Craig and Habermas are appealing to.

Matthew writes:

"As for my hypothesis being unpopular- for whom? Scholars of what theological stripe? Even scholars who are nonbelievers? Or are we talking about Christian scholars?"

See Gary Habermas' comments about the unpopularity of naturalistic visionary hypotheses among modern scholars, such as here.


  1. Not impressed, Jason. Why not just say what is really behind this volume of words: "it's true that Jesus rose because I want it to be true"?

  2. Saladin said:

    “Not impressed, Jason. Why not just say what is really behind this volume of words: "it's true that Jesus rose because I want it to be true"?”

    Not impressed, Saladin. Why not just say what is really behind this failure to interact with the arguments given: "it's not true that Jesus rose because I don’t want it to be true"?

  3. Beef said:

    Not impressed, Saladin. Why not just say what is really behind this failure to interact with the arguments given: "it's not true that Jesus rose because I don’t want it to be true"?

    Because I in fact do want Jesus' resurrection to be true. I'm just not impressed with Jason's attempt to defend it. Plus, I don't think wanting it to be true makes it true. I'm looking for something more substantial to hang my hat on, and still haven't found it. I certainly haven't found it here.

    Got any more cutesiness?

  4. Saladin said:

    "Because I in fact do want Jesus' resurrection to be true. I'm just not impressed with Jason's attempt to defend it. Plus, I don't think wanting it to be true makes it true. I'm looking for something more substantial to hang my hat on, and still haven't found it. I certainly haven't found it here.

    Got any more cutesiness?"

    Stating that you’re “not impressed” is entirely unimpressive. You offer no reasons for your conclusion. At least attempt to printout the deficiencies in Jason’s argument that are unimpressive. Such sweeping statements are hollow when there is no stated criterion of “impressiveness.” What part of the evidence argument is weak or faulty? What type of evidence will suffice as impressive?

    Got any more substance?

  5. They weren't writing about events of the distant past. And it was understood that historical accounts, such as Greco-Roman biographies, would require the consultation of sources, unless the author himself was an eyewitness.

    I would further add that i this genre of literature can name its sources on its pages, in part, through the art of name dropping, or by giving unique, personal details that only an eyewitness could give. It's a way of naming sources without producing a laundry list bibliographical material or footnotes, like we do today.

    Let's take Luke. Luke traveled with Paul. Paul spent time in Ephesus. Luke traveled with him off and on. In addition, Paul mentions one who is famous with respect to the things of the gospel, and that his reputation has spread throughout all the churches, in 2 Corinthians 8. The most widely held view of the date of 1 Corinthians is 57 ad, with 2 Corinthians following no more than a year later.

    Mark was with Barnabas at this time and is associated with Alexandria. No tradition involving John has him being strongly associated with Paul but they did meet. Matthew's gospel is associated with Palestine and Alexandria. When Paul quotes a gospel, he quotes from Luke. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude he is talking about Luke. The date is a factor here too, because Paul was @ Ephesus around this same time. When Acts mentions Luke the first time, he is already known by Paul. So, in 2 Corinthians, this is likely Luke, and he has either already written his gospel, or he had composed enough of it and/or collected enough information for it that news of it had spread.

    So, what's the connection? The connection is Ephesus and John or Jerusalem and James John, by tradition, has been associated with Ephesus. Luke would have met Mary in Ephesus, because Mary was with John, if she was still living. If not, he still would have met John. If not John, then he certainly met James in Jerusalem (Acts 21).

    So, the birth narrative, for example, most likely comes from Mary, John, or James. It is most likely Mary, because it gives family details that only she would know. The other alternative is that he may have obtained it from James the Just who was still living, or to another place where he could obtain this information. The language and style are distinctive, and bear the marks of a translation from a Hebrew source. If so, that strengthens the liklihood Mary or James, Jude, or Simeon wrote it down, and John either gave it to Luke if Mary was dead, or Luke obtained it from her directly or from James, Simeon, or Jude. Some may dispute this on the grounds that it includes songs in LXX form, to which I would reply that Jesus and his family were educated and highly literate. We know this, because James led the Jerusalem church and wrote James (the epistle). His cousin or brother, Simeon led that church to Pella, and Jude is also believed to be Jesus' other brother. They all knew the Scriptures well and could write. Thus, it would not be strange to find a record written in such a form, even by Mary. Luke himself may have chosen that form as well if he was well acquainted with the style, in order to emphasize, perhaps that his source was, at a minimum, Hebrew and had a close connection to and knowledge of the events described. Since Luke focuses on women, it is likely it was Mary herself who made this contribution either directly to Luke prior to her death, or through her diary, passed to Luke from John or James.

    Some gospels name people that others do not. It is likely that when you see those names, those are the sources of their material, if not their own memories, in the cases of Matthew and John in particular. Likewise, Luke travelled, so it is likely he met many who had known Jesus and had been eyewitnesses of these events. Zaccheus' story is in the L material, the fact that it names him and is given the cast of a personal recollection tells us that, very likely, Zaccheus was still living and told Luke of this account. The Emmaeus walkers are also persons that Luke would have used as sources. Luke tells us about the commission of the 70. Who might have supplied that material? Perhaps one of the seventy. He tells us unique information about Mary and Martha in chapter 10. What's his source for that? Well, if Luke knew Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is quite likely, then he knew John too. John contains even more material about Mary and Martha. So, the most likely source is John, since it appears he may have known them well. John is also a very likely source for the material on the triple trial in chapters 22 and 23.

    There are other "L" materials too, and the sources aren't as clear for them as these, but the point here is that we can construct a reasonable and likely hypothesis if we know some basic details about who Luke knew, his style of writing, and the associations he very likely would have had without resorting to all sorts of gymnastics. What's more a later date could actually strengthen the argument for these sources, because John took over the oversight of the churches in Asia Minor after Paul was imprisoned and executed. If we go with a later date, and not an earlier one then John and the Ephesus connection stand out even more, because a person "famous" with the things of the gospel would be likely to go to John to get his information, since John was the most prominent leader. What if John's residence in Ephesus is spurious? Well, John's gospel has also been connected to Antioch, and, we are reasonably certain that John was in Asia Minor, so that is not a defeater for this hypothesis. Luke could still have likely had contact with him. The personal nature of the Marian narrative in Luke points most likely to her, and she would have been with John, who was charged with caring for her. The point is, however, to answer Mr. Green, we can construct a reasonable hypothesis about the sources themselves through information in the gospels and the NT themselves as well as the external testimony about a handful of other facts.

    "These are all explicit contradictions in the text that are impossible to resolve adequately without far-fetched plausibility scenarios, none of which are logical or remotely likely....This discussion of discrepancies should prove to any rational person that the Bible is indeed errant and highly discrepant." Then why, Mr. Green, do you follow after Richard Carrier and others? Mr. Carrier in the book The Empty Tomb offers no less than 3 mutually exclusive theories for the Resurrection. Then, since that writing, he has concluded that Jesus did not exist. So, based on your own yardstick for reliablity, we should dismiss Richard Carrier. In fact, the other contributors to that volume contradict each other repeatedly. What's more this was supposed to be an edited book putting forth a unified thesis. It's one thing to argue that an event happened and try to harmonize the accounts, but it is quite another to argue that an event did not happen, then offer multiple, conflicting hypotheses as an alternative, many of which do not account for all the evidence or speculate without any evidence at all. So, by your own yardstick, we can dismiss The Empty Tomb and the contributors within it that contradict themselves and each other, some of which are persons you cite approvingly.

  6. Gene makes a good point about potential sources available to people living in the first century. We know that people had far more sources than we have today in our extant historical record. That's why Luke can refer to "many" accounts before his (Luke 1:1). And we know that ancient Jewish society put a lot of emphasis on committing things to memory and on the concept of historical revelation. The modern skeptical suggestion that it would have been easy for first century sources to radically redefine who Jesus was, and to gain such widespread acceptance of that revision, is dubious.

  7. Wow, you guys can write a lot of text. How do you find the time?

    I've read much of what you've posted Jason and of course I run across several things I'd like to comment on, but in my repeated efforts with you to focus our discussion on one issue rather than covering dozens of issues at once, I'll make a comment about one subject.

    Matthew sometimes talks about certain theories he suspects may be true, but which he hasn't studied a whole lot. Jason, you respond to him somewhat rudely, similar to the way you'd talk about how I'm "lazy" and how I need to study before I engage in discussion, as if I am not well studied on Christian claims and arguments. For instance, with regards to his speculation that the gospels may not be of the historical genre, you say:

    "How much shorter would Matthew's articles be if he stopped including his own unjustifiable speculations and the theories of other people and started limiting himself to assertions he's willing to defend?"

    But in fact the points he is making are points that should be made, regardless of whether or not he's studied the veracity of them. The reason is because his overall belief does not require a supernatural explanation. Yours does. Since you present yourself as a Bayesian you should recognize that supernatural beliefs have an extremely high presumption against them. If an alternative theory (such as belief that the gospels are not of historical genre) is even remotely plausible, it renders belief in the supernatural explanation of the resurrection irrational.

    This point is made very well by my brother here. You may have no good evidence at all for an alternative explanation for Mrs. Stewart's performance, but the mere possibility of alternative theories is enough to convince a rational person to disbelieve that Mrs. Stewart has ESP.

    This point applies to Gene's comments regarding Richard Carrier. The book The Empty Tomb is not intended to show that in fact Jesus body was stolen, or in fact hallucinations occurred, or in fact the body was moved in accordance with Jewish law. It was intended to show that it is irrational to beleive the supernatural explanation. The authors don't have to agree on what actually did happen with regards to Jesus. They simply agree that a miracle did not occur. Carrier provides evidence for the stolen body hypothesis in an effort to raise that alternative to a level necessary to overcome the initial probability of belief that a miracle occurred. Since belief that a miracle occurred has such a low initial probability Carrier burden is very low. If there's even a one in a million shot, this makes Christianity irrational. So he doesn't raise this theory to a level of actual believability, but only to a very low possibility. So it makes perfect sense for him to on the one hand argue for theft as a very low possibility, but on the other hand actually believe that Jesus did not exist.

  8. Jon, I discussed these issues with you at length on Greg Krehbiel's message board last year, and you left the discussion with a lot of my comments unanswered. Steve Hays discusses the subject at some length in his recent book as well.

  9. The book The Empty Tomb is not intended to show that in fact Jesus body was stolen, or in fact hallucinations occurred, or in fact the body was moved in accordance with Jewish law. It was intended to show that it is irrational to beleive the supernatural explanation.Carrier provides evidence for the stolen body hypothesis in an effort to raise that alternative to a level necessary to overcome the initial probability of belief that a miracle occurred.

    This is simply incompetent. The Empty Tomb was not written by Carrier alone. It is a multi-authored work. The gospels are also multi-authored works. So, we have two multi-authored works, and we're told by you that one is "irrational" because (a) the probability is low and (b) the accounts are contradictory, but you apply a different standard to another multi-authored work, offering blatantly contradictory materials.

    In point of fact, Carrier, in this same volume, puts forth more than one hypothesis to explain the empty tomb, Jon. Do you not know this? The book itself does more than put forth the thesis that it is irrational; it tries to point toward alternative hypotheses. The problem is that not one of them is on epistemic parity with the Resurrection. Each one of the ignores parts of the evidence at hand, and even flatly contradicts some of the evidence at hand. It does this, while demanding evidence for the Resurrection. So, the writers want us to believe theories for which there is no evidence or that contradicts the available evidence while castigating Christians for believing the testimony with respect to the available evidence, based on probability. Uh-huh. In Christian apologetics, the disagreement is not over the underlying event, but over the best argument for the event. What we have in ET is a mélange of competing theories and contradictory theses that suffer from being placed into the same volume, each of which posits a different event. One wonders why the editors did not attempt to reign in their contributors. What is an unbeliever to do? Which is more believable: (a) Jesus rose from the dead or (b) the persons purporting to prove that He did not rise from the dead have successfully made their case while simultaneously offering mutually exclusive theories and contradicting each other in the process, while offering theories without any evidence whatsoever for them?

    Within the pages of chapter 5, Carrier offers no less than three explanations of the empty tomb, the hallucination theory and a theory of narrative origin based on comparative mythology. Later, in chapter 9, we are offered a theory that the body was stolen. We also learn that, since contributing to ET Carrier has decided Jesus did not really exist. Which is it? One truly wonders why we should take him seriously. According to my notes, he contradicts himself no less than nine times. He charts a course from Jewish diversity through Greek paganism and engages in what can only be termed free association and “parallelomania,” while offering three conflicting theories of what happened in chapter 5 alone. Lowder offers another thesis, that the body was relocated. Derrett proposes the swoon theory. This is typical, and makes ET seem incoherent. Christian apologists offer competing explanations for the same event, but hold to the same story. Here, we have these unbelieving essayists offering not only competing theories for the empty tomb, but also different events. Here's a sample what we find in TET:

    1. a. Drange: There are only isolated proof texts for the resurrection in Scripture (Ps.
    b. Contradicted by Carrier, who documents the OT resurrection motif extensively.

    2. a. Carrier: Unwanted texts were not preserved and their adherents were “hunted down and destroyed.” This is a known fact of history.
    b. Carrier: History can’t be trusted.
    Question for Carrier: If history can’t be trusted, then why trust this “known fact?”

    3. a. Carrier: The authors of the Gospels wrote after 70 AD.
    b. Carrier: Mark was written between 60AD and 80AD.
    Which is true?

    4. a. Carrier: We should dismiss the gospels on the basis they are overtly polemical.
    b. ET, the book to which Carrier contributes, is overtly polemic. Should we dismiss
    it too?

    5. a. Carrier: The empty tomb is really nothing more than a mythological parallel.
    b. Carrier: The body was stolen (Ch.9).

    6. a. Carrier: Belief in ghosts discredits the empty tomb.
    b. Carrier denies belief in ghosts to prove the Paul was speaking of a “spiritual” body.

    7. a. Carrier: Matthew and Luke handle their sources very carefully.
    b. Matthew and Luke embellish their sources cavalierly.
    Question for Carrier: Which of these two options is true?

    8. Carrier: See 5 a and b.
    c. Carrier: The tomb was empty; the disciples hallucinated.

    9. a. Carrier objects to “pseudoscience.”
    b. Carrier appeals to “subliminal motivations” – pseudoscience, according to his own
    standards. Why appeal to it when it suits you?

    10. a. Carrier: We should rule out Josephus’ record of portents at the seige of Jerusalem.
    b. Josephus should at least corroborate the tearing of the curtain in the Temple.
    Question for Carrier: Isn’t that also a portent? Why then should Josephus confirm it?

    11. a. Carrier: The text is a-historical.
    --To construct his hallucination theory, Carrier must assume:
    b. The text is historically accurate, at least for the tomb being empty.

    12. a. Kirby: The involvement of Joseph of Arimathea is implausible, because he was
    said to be Sanhedrinist.
    b. Kirby: “A request from some Jews for the bodies of the crucified to be taken down
    before the Sabbath may be historical, as this is plausible and even to be expected

    13. a. Kirby: The young man at the tomb in Mark is an angelophany.
    b. Carrier denies this. Which then is true?

    14. a. Lowder offers the relocated body/tomb hypothesis.
    b. Carrier: See 5 and 8 above.
    Note: We now have competing theories in ET. Which one is correct?

    15. a. Fales ascribes the text of the Gospels to be the construction of a myth, including
    the resurrection.
    b. His fellow contributors don’t deny the writers were describing a bodily
    resurrection. They may disagree whether the assertion is true, but not over
    the authors’ intent.

    16. a. Carrier: The disciples stole the body.
    b. Carrier says grave robbers would not likely be Jews, which immediately
    eliminates disciples as culprits.
    Note: There is no positive evidence for this theory in the New Testament or any other source, so Carrier is contradicting the evidence and some of his own assertions. He espouses one theory, only to contradict himself a few pages later.

    17. a. Carrier: Matthew’s account using down parallels is drawn from Daniel’s events at
    b. This contradicts his thesis on the Romulus myth and Genesis 1-3—so now he has
    offered 3 competing theories for the source of these texts. Which is it?

    18. a. Carrier: The trial narrative is a fiction.
    b. Fales: The irregularities of the trial narratives depicted in the narratives give it the
    feel of authenticity.

    19. a. Derrett offers the swoon theory.
    b. See 5, 8, and 14 above. Which are we to believe?

    20. a. Derrett: Jesus was buried by one of the richest men available, Joseph of Arimathea.
    b. Tell that to Kirby and Carrier who deny he existed.

    21. a. Derrett says the doctrine of resurrection is part of normative Judaism and a notion
    of the Pharisees in the first century.
    b. In chapter 5, Carrier denies this.

    22. a. Derrett says we have no record of secret debates held over the disposal of the
    b. If these debates are secret and we have no record, how does Derrett know this?

    23. a. Martin says Jesus tacitly approved of slavery. This assumes he is in a position, as
    an atheist, to moralize.
    b. His fellow contributor, Lowder, along with Edes and Cline (also atheists) has noted
    Martin’s case for secular ethics is a failure.

    24. a. Carrier: multiple theories as to what happened are provided in this book. (See
    b. Since contributing his essays, Carrier has become convinced Jesus did not exist.
    Question: Why should we trust anything he says? Remember, his arguments are repeated by some of his fellow contributors!

    25. a. Parsons assumes we have an accurate picture of pre-70AD Jerusalem.
    b. Parsons cited scholarship dates the Gospels after 70AD. How can “a” be true?

    If we should not believe in the Resurrection narratives because they are allegedly contradictory, then, I would wonder, what should we make of The Empty Tomb? If we applied the same logic as these critics to their own writing that they have in their book, then logic dictates I believe in the Resurrection. I thank them for having made that clear for me.

    With respect to the probability of the event having happened, which is more reliable, the probability of the event or the testimony that the event happened? Yes, it might be one in a million, but all it takes is one such event, even if the odds are greatly against it, in order to negate the odds against it. All it takes to validate the event is reasonably historically accurate testimony to that particular event. So, all invoking probability does is beg the question with respect to naturalism. Probability is only relevant when we have no knowledge of concrete particulars. The Resurrection is not an ordinary event happening to an ordinary person. It is an extraordinary event happening to an extraordinary person.

    You also need a baseline to calculate probability for an event. What, pray tell, is the baseline for calculating the Resurrection of Christ? You can't probilify from a general class to a specific class or vice versa. That's a level-confusion.

    What, pray tell, is the probability of a alternate theory about what happened to the body of Christ that runs completely contrary to the evidence at hand or discounts part of it? When you assert these contrary theories in order to call belief in the Resurrection "irrational" you only draw attention to the Resurrection itself and lard your own theories down with probability problems worse than the thesis you are trying to refute. To quote Steve from TJE:

    The contributors to the ET would not be going to such fanciful lengths to concoct an alterative theory of events unless they recognized the absolute need to come up with an alternative explanation. You see, even if you don’t believe in the Resurrection, it is not enough to merely deny it. You must still account for the account itself. You must explain how a nonevent generated the record of an event.
    The contributors constantly remind us of how far-fetched the Resurrection is. That’s the bedrock of their unbelief. But it doesn’t occur to them that the more far-fetched the event in question, the harder it is for them to explain why anyone would believe it in the first place. The more they willfully accentuate the improbability of the Easter fact, they more they unwittingly accentuate the improbability of the Easter faith. They are putting the burden of proof on their very own back, and loading it down with cinder blocks and boulders.

    The purpose of ET was not simply to label belief in the Resurrection "irrational." Rather, "Not only must one show that its [the resurrection] final epistemic probability is greater than for theft (as also for each and every other alternative), which I doubt can be done, but one must also show that the sum of the final epistemic probabilities of theft and all other explanations that exclude a resurrection—is less than 50%." Those aren't my words, those are Carrier's own words.

    The Resurrection is not just one explanation among many. It is the only explanation with any evidence. The Resurrection is not a theory of the events. The Resurrection is what the NT actually and directly attests. Why not examine the probabilities for these other explanations, and specifically of theories that run contrary to evidence at hand? Carrier has absolutely no positive evidence that a disciple stole the body. There’s no NT evidence to that effect. There’s no evidence outside the NT to that effect. His theory goes against all of the available evidence. It even goes against some of his own admissions. So, why should I believe this hypothesis in view of his stated purpose? What is the probability that is true, according to the groundrules set regarding at least having evidence? Likewise in arguing the body was moved to a second tomb or they went to the wrong tomb, where is the evidence for this? We have no evidence of a second tomb. and the evidence we have rules out a second tomb. The contributors regularly talk about literary dependence and higher critical theory? Where, pray tell, is the evidence for any other theories of authorship of the gospels than the traditionally ascribed titles give? That's called an argument from silence.

  10. Gene, I really don't see how you've addressed the issue I raised and it also seems to me that you just don't understand how Bayesian inference works. Read the discussion relating to ESP that I linked to above.

    As I explained before, it is perfectly reasonable for Carrier and others to offer mutually exlusive alternatives, one of which may contradict another. This can be readily shown with both examples and with math. I will give an example.

    Suppose I was to tell you that I traveled to my destination today via interstellar spacecraft. I first did a loop around our galaxy, then returned to earth for a round of golf near where I live. Should you believe me?

    You wouldn't believe me. You would recognize that there are several explanations for my claim, none of which require that I actually flew around in a spaceship. These explanations might even contradict one another.

    For instance, you might consider that I'm delusional. Or you might consider that I'm lying. These are contradictory theories. Either of them might not be what you would actually believe. You might actually conclude a third alternative. Perhaps someone threatened me and required me to make this claim.

    Now, let's suppos you write a book about my claim. You offer lying as a hypothesis. You offer delusion as a hypothesis. You provide evidence for each hypothesis. You might say that you don't really think I'm lying or that I'm delusional. But it is more reasonable to come to either one of those conclusions than it is to come to believe that I really travelled via interstellar spacecraft. And moreso, it's certainly more rational to believe that I was either lying or delusional than it is to believe that I really travelled in a spaceship.

    This is what Richard Carrier is saying. You quoted him as follows:

    "Not only must one show that its [the resurrection] final epistemic probability is greater than for theft (as also for each and every other alternative), which I doubt can be done, but one must also show that the sum of the final epistemic probabilities of theft and all other explanations that exclude a resurrection—is less than 50%."

    So in my illustration, to get you to accept the claim that I flew in a spaceship, not only must I show that that belief that I flew in a spaceship exceeds the 50% threshold as compared to the belief that I lied (which can't be done), it has to exceed the lying explanation combined with all alternative hypothesis (delusion, threats, etc), which is an even greater hurdle.

    So it is more rational to believe that I'm lying than it is to believe that I flew in a spaceship. But you may not actually believe I lied. You may conclude something else. But the lying hypothesis alone is enough to discredit my claim.