Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Resurrected Jesus Appeared To At Least Five Non-Christians, Probably More

For the evidence that he appeared to Saul of Tarsus, see the many relevant posts in our archives, such as the posts in the thread here. And see the posts in the comments section of that thread, starting here, for a discussion of some of the evidence that at least two non-Christians traveling with Paul witnessed the resurrected Jesus in the manner I discuss there. For the evidence that at least two of Jesus' brothers claimed to have seen the risen Jesus at a time when they were unbelievers, see here.

And he could easily have appeared to more than the five non-Christians mentioned above. He probably did. There could easily have been more than two non-Christians traveling with Paul in Acts 9. And the appearance in Matthew 28:16 was announced ahead of time, which provided a lot of potential for non-Christians to be present. That Matthew 28 appearance seems to be the best candidate among the ones narrated in the gospels and Acts for the appearance to more than five hundred mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6. (See here for some evidence that the appearance at the end of Matthew 28 is the one Paul refers to.) Since that appearance in Matthew 28 was anticipated, it could easily be the case that one or more non-Christians were brought there (e.g., family members going with each other) or went on their own initiative. Given the nature of ancient Jewish culture and particular types of relationships (e.g., family members often traveling with each other), it's more likely than not that some non-Christians were present during the appearance to more than five hundred mentioned by Paul. And not every resurrection appearance is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 (e.g., the appearances to women), nor should we assume that every appearance is mentioned somewhere in our extant documents. So, there's a lot of potential for Jesus to have appeared to more than the five non-Christians discussed above.

We should be careful to think beyond Paul and James when the issue of non-Christian witnesses comes up. And we need to be careful about objections based on the premise that Jesus didn't appear to more non-Christians. He didn't need to appear to any, and people typically underestimate how many he did appear to and how many he could easily have appeared to without our knowing it.

I expect some people to acknowledge that it seems that Jesus was reported to have appeared to more non-Christians than Paul and James, but to object that he didn't appear to an even higher number and that he didn't appear to more prominent non-Christians. But asking for more evidence isn't an adequate response to the evidence you have. And see here regarding the number of resurrection witnesses and here regarding their nature (e.g., why Jesus didn't appear to somebody like the Roman emperor rather than or in addition to Paul). The latter post just linked discusses an illustration I've found useful, a contrast between Paul and Constantine. Critics often act as though it obviously would have been better for Jesus to have appeared to somebody like a Roman emperor than to have appeared to somebody like Paul. But the choice of appearing to individuals like Paul has been vindicated over time. Paul has had a deeper impact, one with some characteristics that wouldn't be present with somebody like Constantine (or Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, etc.).

Thursday, April 07, 2022

It's probably best not to base your argument on logical fallacies...

 Yesterday, Timothy Keller tweeted out the following:

“Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing religious people of His day. However-our churches do not have this same effect which can only mean one thing. Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did.”

Sadly, this statement contains several logical fallacies. We can start with the most obvious one being the false dilemma. When Keller says “this...can only mean one thing” he is clearly wrong. There are many things that it could mean, and it doesn't even take much imagination to think about what these other options could be. But Keller insists that no other options could possibly be relevant than that our churches today are not preaching the actual message of Christ.

Hey, isn't Keller a pastor preaching at a church? This can only mean one thing! Keller is admitting he doesn't preach the same message that Jesus did. See, I just used the same logical principal Keller did.

But, as I said, this false dilemma has many other alternatives. Some of the other things that he could have considered are overlooked by him because of other fallacies contained in the statement, so demonstrating these fallacies and why they are fallacies will help show why the false dilemma is, indeed, false.

Keller says that Jesus offended “the Bible-believing religious people of His day.” This, however, is anachronistic insofar as in Jesus's day, there was no complete Bible. The only Scripture that had been revealed at that point was the Old Testament, so there wasn't a single “Bible-believing” person of Jesus's day who actually believed the entirety of Scripture that we have today. Clearly, those who believe the New Testament along with the Old Testament are going to be in a different camp than those who believe solely in the Old Testament.

If you don't believe me, just ask a religious Jew. You'll find that they are still pretty well offended by the message Jesus taught, insofar as a religious Jew considers Jesus to be a false Messiah. Given this fact, one can immediately ask is Keller's follow up that “our churches do not have this same effect” even right in the first place? If our churches are offending the religious sensibilities of religious Jews, then clearly they are having the same effect that Keller points to.

A second matter to address is Keller's claim that Jesus's teaching “attracted the irreligious.” He clarified in a subsequent tweet that “Luke 15:1-3 shows Jesus attracting the 'sinners' and offending the religious” but there are some important distinctions to make with this. First, Luke 15:1-3 is the introduction to the parable of the Lost Sheep, and in it the people who are drawing near to Jesus are referred to as “the tax collectors and sinners.” Where does it say that these people are “irreligious”?

Is Keller claiming that tax collectors and sinners weren't religious? If so, that claim is belied by Luke 18:13, where a tax collector is unable to even lift his eyes to heaven but just cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” That seems a rather odd statement for someone who is irreligious to say. On the other hand, if Keller is equating “religious” with “the actions of the Pharisees” then all the “irreligious” are simply non-Pharisees and not necessarily pagans or secular people, which seems to be a pretty non-standard definition of “irreligious” to say the least.

But adding in those qualifiers, if they are indeed what Keller means, reduces his statement to: “Jesus's teaching consistently attracted those who were not Pharisees while offending those who only believed in the Old Testament. However-our churches do not have this same effect....” And I just don't see how our churches do not have the same effect. As already mentioned, Christian churches do offend Jews who believe the Old Testament only, so that half already fails. And even if we grant that many churches draw people in the same mindset as the Pharisees (i.e., those who believe they are justified by outward actions that obscure their inner spiritual death), that does not imply that those same churches do not also draw those who are not Pharisees at the same time. It is actually possible to draw both sets of individuals at the same time. And as far as the actual irreligious, not just non-Pharisee, is concerned, I learned music theory in college from an atheist who attended services nearly every week because he enjoyed the music. Granted, he was going to a traditional church with old timey liturgy (I believe it was an Anglican church, but as this was more than 20 years ago I don't recall for sure).

And this brings me to the next part of the statement that isn't justified. Keller said, “Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious.” But is it Jesus's teaching that attracted people to Him? The Gospels themselves show that Jesus attracted many people who wanted to see signs and miracles, not because of what He was teaching. For example, John 6:2 states that the large crowd followed Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” And later, after the crowd followed Him across the sea, Jesus Himself said, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).

Thus, even if we granted everything else Keller says, one cannot conclude from the difference in crowd attraction that it is because the teaching is different, when it is just as easy to say it is because Jesus performed miracles and the church does not have the ability to do so.

Ultimately, Keller's conclusion isn't completely wrong. When he says, “Our preaching and practices are not declaring the same message that Jesus did”, that is true of many churches in America, although it is also false of many churches in America. But setting aside the existence of the genuine churches, we do not determine whether a church is teaching the message Christ taught by asking if the same people are drawn to the church as Christ drew to Himself—that is not the standard by which fidelity to His message is found. You find out whether or not a church is teaching the message of Christ by reading the message of Christ and seeing if it's the same as what the church is teaching. It really is that simple. Does the teaching of a church line up with the words Jesus said which are recorded in Scripture?

Because Keller is focused on the wrong thing to try to prove his point, his point is full of logical fallacies that are easily dismantled. That, perhaps, is the greatest problem with his tweet. Whatever valid points he could have made are undermined by the poor way in which he chose to “prove” it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Resurrection Implied By The Trajectory Of Scripture

"it is much more likely (particularly in a time of nationalistic fervour and a desire for independence [as in the late B.C. era]) that the seedbed for personal resurrection is to be found in Israel's traditional faith rather than in ideas and concepts imported from surrounding cultures. For instance, if the first major problem that unfolds in the Torah is death (as implied in Gen. 2, 3 and 5), one might reasonably infer that the solution will be its ultimate reversal. Even though not firmly grasped by many ancient Israelites, this is certainly implied by the trajectory of Scripture as a whole." (Paul Williamson, Death And The Afterlife [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2017], n. 68 on 82)

Monday, April 04, 2022

Difficult Details In The Resurrection Accounts

I've mentioned aspects of the New Testament resurrection accounts that were difficult for the early Christians in some way and, therefore, less likely to be fabricated accordingly. Augustine, writing a few hundred years later, provides us with some examples of how Christians were still struggling with those issues:

"And as for the pleasant color, how conspicuous shall it be where 'the just shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father!' [Matthew 13:43] This brightness we must rather believe to have been concealed from the eyes of the disciples when Christ rose, than to have been awanting. For weak human eyesight could not bear it, and it was necessary that they should so look upon Him as to be able to recognize Him. For this purpose also He allowed them to touch the marks of His wounds, and also ate and drank,—not because He needed nourishment, but because He could take it if He wished." (The City Of God, 22:19)