Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easter Issues

Last year, I put up a post with some links to Easter resources (articles on the resurrection, reviews of debates on the resurrection, Steve Hays' e-book on the resurrection, an article about whether it's acceptable for Christians to celebrate such holidays, etc.). You can search the Triablogue archives to find more material we've written since then. Below are several examples.

Here's an article I wrote about the common skeptical objection that if Jesus rose from the dead, God should have provided more evidence for it. I wrote an article on some neglected evidence relevant to Paul's conversion after seeing the risen Christ. Here's my review of the second resurrection debate between Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman. In an article here, I argue for the strength of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection without the empty tomb. Steve Hays wrote about the guard at the tomb here, and I added a post of my own in the comments section. Steve Hays wrote about the spiritual body referred to in 1 Corinthians 15. There are other relevant articles as well in the archives.

In one of my articles last year, I mentioned a resource that some of you might be interested in. Timothy and Lydia McGrew have written an article arguing for the probability of Jesus' resurrection using Bayes' Theorem.


  1. I have a question.

    It's often argued, in support of the resurrection, that the disciples were not expecting it. That is, the fact that they weren't expecting Jesus to rise refutes the idea that they either invented the story or deluded themselves into thinking it happened.

    This is supported by several facts: The women on the way to annoint the body on Easter Sunday certainly weren't anticipating a resurrection; the shock of the disciples on hearing about the empty tomb; Thomas' doubts even after Christ was actually seen; the disciples on the road to Emmaus thinking the story was over and ended; etc.

    But now, we read in Matthew that "the chief priests and pharisees" remembered, and apparently understood, Jesus' prediction about rising on the third day, and were in fact anticipating a (staged, at least) resurrection.

    How do we reconcile this? Did the pharisees know better than the disciples to anticipate a resurrection? Were the disciples themselves expecting or hoping for it, despite indications in the Gospel to the contrary?

  2. I don't think it's all that difficult to reconcile (although I will admit that I don't believe "the disciples weren't expecting the resurrection" is a great argument as it doesn't prove anything and is only useful as a small plank in the apologetic wall). In any case, here's how I view it.

    No one will naturally believe anyone who says "After I die I will be resurrected in three days." If someone tells you that, you do not expect it to be true. When he dies, you expect him to stay dead. So it's no surprise that that disciples wouldn't be expecting the resurrection even after the claim is made.

    Put yourself in the shoes of the Pharisees. A radical teacher is claiming to rise from the dead. You don't expect this to happen either. But you assume this guys followers are nut bags and might try to take the body and pretend there was a resurrection. Therefore, even though you do not believe the claim in the least, you guard against it.

    Perhaps it might help to remember David Koresh of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. He claimed to be the Messiah. After his compound burned to the ground and it was widely reported he had set the fire himself (note: I'm not interested in getting into the conspiracy theories on this), I remember mentioning to my mom: "Wouldn't surprise me if he popped out of a hidden chamber he had in the ground in three days so he could claim to be resurrected."

    Now obviously that didn't occur because he was dead. But if I had been in the ATF or FBI, you better believe I would have been making sure there wasn't some underground hiding place, etc.

    All that to say that the Pharisees didn't need to understand Christ's claim any better than His disciples. They certainly didn't believe He would rise again. They were instead forced to act by the circumstances into which they were placed.

  3. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for posting this in time for any ardent atheists who want to discredit historic Christianity, and by extension, Bible-believing Christians.

  4. Speaking of searching the archives, why do some of the posts disappear from the archive list?

    For example, if you click on the “03/14/2010 - 03/21/2010” link in the archive list, the post at the bottom of the page is from March 16. The posts from March 14 and March 15 do no show up.

    As far as I can tell, the only way to see the posts from March 14 and March 15 is to click on the title of the bottom post under the “03/14/2010 - 03/21/2010” link, and then look at the available recent posts in the right hand column.

    Is this something you can correct in your blogger setup?

  5. To add to what Peter has said, we should distinguish between what the Jewish leaders considered possible and what Jesus' followers considered probable. Not only do the Jewish leaders not need to think it's probable that Jesus will rise within a few days of His death in order to make the comments they make in Matthew 27, but they don't even need to think that's what Jesus meant. Rather, all they need to think is that it's one possible meaning. Jesus' followers, on the other hand, were trying to discern what Jesus probably meant. Even if they considered the possibility of a resurrection within a few days of Jesus' death, they probably would have considered other interpretations as well. The general Jewish expectation was that there would be a group resurrection at the end of the age, not an individual resurrection beforehand. A phrase like "after three days" could be taken as a figure of speech, as in Hosea 6:2. If Jesus' followers were thinking in terms of the general resurrection when they heard Jesus' predictions (John 11:24), then interpreting "after three days" in a less literal manner may have made more sense to them than changing their perception that there would be no resurrections until the general resurrection at the end of the age. Jesus' references to three days may have made them consider the possibility that He meant something other than what they were used to hearing in Jewish theology, but it wasn't enough to make them confident that Jesus meant something different. The Jewish leaders took precautions based on the possibility that Jesus meant to refer to three literal days or that He might be interpreted that way by one or more of His followers. Jesus' followers, on the other hand, hadn't yet concluded that a resurrection within a few literal days was Jesus' probable meaning.

    We should also keep in mind that different followers of Jesus could have had different understandings. Even if somebody had understood what Jesus meant, he may have doubted the prediction. People can neglect a prediction for a variety of reasons, not just because they don't understand what's being predicted.

    (continued below)

  6. (continued from above)

    Here's something I wrote on this subject a few years ago:

    You tell us that "Peter sees the empty tomb but has no concept that perhaps Jesus has risen from the dead". Where do the gospels say that? They don't. We're not told anywhere that they "had no concept that perhaps" it would happen. What the gospels tell us is what the people involved considered likely at the time, not what they considered possible. When the reports of the women were rejected as "idle tales" (Luke 24:11), it was known that a resurrection was being claimed (Luke 24:6). Thomas knew that a resurrection was being claimed when he doubted (John 20:25). It's not as if the possibility of resurrection never entered their minds.

    Jesus had just died a highly shameful and painful death, and they knew that the same could happen to them (John 20:19). Whatever faith they had left in Him could be hesitant, even though it shouldn't have been.

    The disciples' reluctance to believe that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise in such a manner is seen repeatedly in their reactions to the predictions (Matthew 16:22, Mark 9:10). They didn't have two thousand years to become accustomed to the concept, as we've had. They may have interpreted Jesus' comments as references to the general resurrection, as Martha did in John 11:24, since that was the view that was popular in the Judaism of that time. They also may have had a resuscitation in mind, since there were many precedents for it in Jewish history and in Jesus' ministry. The same is true of the religious authorities in Matthew 27:63-64.

    (continued below)

  7. (continued from above)

    Crucifixion was common, particularly for a person as disruptive of society as Jesus was, so the fact that Jesus had been executed "to a tee", as you put it, wouldn't have prevented people from doubting that something as unusual as a pre-eschatological resurrection would occur or that a resuscitation would occur. The religious leaders who accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan were the ones who arranged for His crucifixion. Some of Jesus' followers may have thought that it remained to be seen whether God would vindicate Him or, instead, His death was a vindication of the religious authorities.

    There are multiple possible reasons why they would have reacted as the gospels portray. We aren't given much information, and different people may have had different perceptions and motives. (See my comments above regarding different types of unfaithfulness.) We have good evidence for Jesus' predictions of His death and resurrection. See, for example, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004), pp. 29-30 and Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), pp. 432-433. The gospels tell us that those predictions weren't understood by some of the people who heard them, and that makes sense in light of the common Messianic expectations and common views of resurrection at that time. (Even a phrase like "on the third day" could be interpreted along the lines of the non-literal "third day" of Hosea 6:2 rather than as Jesus intended. People probably would have been looking for such an alternative understanding if they didn't think that Jesus' prediction made sense in light of common Messianic expectations and common views of resurrection.) It also would make sense that some people would have some doubts even if they partially or entirely understood what Jesus meant. More goes into doubt than an objective analysis of all of the relevant data. People are often influenced by emotions and impressions (such as the emotions and impressions involved in seeing your master publicly shamed, beaten, and nailed to a cross naked by people who would like to do the same to you), and people don't always think logically. If all four gospels agree that Jesus predicted His resurrection, yet some of His followers were skeptical, that's probably because Jesus predicted His resurrection, yet some of His followers were skeptical.

  8. Wheat,

    I've noticed problems with the archives as well. I don't know what's wrong. Sometimes the format of Blogger changes. For example, we used to be able to include more text within a comment in the comments section of a thread. Now we have to divide up a any lengthy post we want to include in a comments section, as I just did above. Maybe there's still some way to allow a larger amount of text, by changing a setting or something, but I don't know. I don't have much familiarity with the details of Blogger.

  9. Hey Wheat and Jason,

    Hm, I think it might be cuz of auto pagination. But I'll ask Charlie and see if he might know. He's way more knowledgeable and experienced than I am about these things.