James Bishop vs. Christopher Cruz, “Was Jesus Christ Raised From the Dead?” (James’ Opening)


Cristobal (Christopher) Samuel Cruz self-describes as a naturalist with an inclination towards atheism. He is 24 years old and currently a graduate student working towards a PhD at The University of Southern Mississippi (United States) where he teaches and studies memory. Christopher also works as a clinical assistant at a local addiction center. Christopher will be arguing against the resurrection of Jesus.

James Bishop, 24, is a graduate from Vega School of Brand Leadership specialising in Multimedia Design and Brand Communications. He is currently enrolled at Cornerstone Institute (South Africa) studying Theology and majoring in Psychology. His theological interests encompass comparative religion and the links between science and religion. James will be arguing in favour of the resurrection.

See here for Christopher’s opening remarks.
1st Rebuttals forthcoming on 1/2/2017.

For readers to get a better gauge of what I’ve just presented in my opening the content flows thusly:

  1. The Debate.
  2. On the Extensiveness and Importance of the Resurrection Evidence
  3. The Historical Evidence
  4. The General Reliability of the Gospels
  5. The Historical Case for the Resurrection
  6. Supplementary Arguments
  7. What I Expect from my Opponent

Though I’d recommend reading from point 1 to 7 I believe readers may jump about as they see fit.

1. The Debate

I affirm the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. I believe that we have sufficient historical evidence that when put together makes an evidentially persuasive case. That supplemented with some convincing arguments is the real reason why I have decided to live my life in affirmation of this truth. Would I want to live for a lie? No, of course not. I would like for readers to see that I view myself as rational thinker in accepting the resurrection. Accepting the resurrection miracle is not wishful thinking, blind, or based on insufficient evidence as many have argued. I will present my case here.

To be successful in this debate I would need to make a persuasive case for Jesus’ resurrection as a historical event. I will also answer the objections Christopher raises against it. Alternatively my opponent will too be required to provide compelling reasons as to why we ought to not accept the resurrection as a historical event. This means Christopher has to come up with a rational explanation for several important details that I will make known as we progress. Likewise I will be required to deal with what he puts on the table.

2. On the Extensiveness and Importance of the Resurrection Evidence

Often skeptics will argue that “If Jesus was really raised from the dead then why isn’t there more evidence?”

I think this is a good question and one that will allow me to elucidate some important details. In all honesty I would much rather possess more evidence in favour of Jesus’ resurrection than we currently have. Who as a theological rationalist, or as a Christian apologist, wouldn’t? The more evidence the easier it would be to make the case for the resurrection. But does this somehow mean that the resurrection evidence is weak or unconvincing? No, it does not, and it is far from unpersuasive. Rather, my belief is that the evidence is sufficient. In other words, the evidence is neither overwhelming nor is it scraping the bottom of the barrel. The implication therefore is that the resurrection evidence will be persuasive for some while it won’t be for others. Not everyone will look at the evidence and find it as compelling as I do, and some will approach this discussion with their minds already made up either in favour or against it. But let us, to the best of our abilities, really grapple with what my opponent and I will present in this debate.

Sometimes skepticism whittles down to one’s standard of proof. If one is open to the miraculous then Jesus’ resurrection as a historical event is just as good, if not better, than many other historical facts about the ancient world that historians readily accept. But if one, as in the case of my opponent who is an atheist, rules out the miraculous a priori then no amount of evidence will prove persuasive. Then naturally Jesus’ resurrection, a miracle itself, cannot be accepted as historical. I will allow my opponent to respond but do note that such a rejection is not on the basis of evidence but on worldview constraints. However, we want to weigh the evidence. We ought to also realize that many people, many of whom possess the brightest minds, have been convinced of Jesus’ resurrection on the basis of evidence. I’ve engaged and interacted with a great number of these testimonies many of which have been of former atheists themselves. In other words, my opponent and I do have something very worthwhile to discuss and something that is important.

But why is this important? Not only would it be important as a matter of history for the historian but it is undoubtedly important if it is true given the nature of what is represents. What does it represent? Though certainly not limited to, it provides a  persuasive sign that God exists and that this being Jesus called “Father” is the one true God and creator of the universe. It likewise represents life after death which means we each have an eternal destiny to consider. I am sure most would agree that these things are quite important and if they were true we’d really want to know about it.

3. The Historical Evidence

When it comes to the historical evidence for Jesus, his ministry, death, and resurrection we need to consider the New Testament documents and our gospel accounts. And where applicable we will be zooming in on some of our non-biblical sources too. Most historical scholars approach our New Testament in the same way that they approach any other ancient text. They don’t elevate its status to “God inspired” as Christians do for theological reasons; no, they simply approach them as historical documents. This will be our approach. We will not approach the gospels as inspired but only as historical documents.

4. The General Reliability of the Gospels

Perhaps the leading skeptic and scholar when it comes to contemporary Christianity is the agnostic Bart Ehrman. Ehrman denies that Jesus was raised from the dead by God. However, he still affirms the historical nature of the gospels, writing that “If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons—for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons, pure and simple” (1). In a similar fashion scholar Burridge argues the gospels to be reliable as historical sources, for instance when “judged by the criteria of the 1st century and I think they are pretty reliable documents. They share essentially the same story of Jesus’ public ministry, his teaching, his preaching, his activity, his healing and the events of the week leading to his death – and the fact that something very odd happened afterwards” (2). The literary critic and expert, Holly Ordway, says that the gospels “were fact, not story. I’d been steeped in folklore, fantasy, legend, and myth ever since I was a child, and I had studied these literary genres as an adult; I knew their cadences, their flavor, their rhythm. None of these stylistic fingerprints appeared in the New Testament books that I was reading” (3).

So, in the opinion of skeptics, literary experts, and credible academics the New Testament consists of historical documents that need to be examined. They are not just a bunch of stories that a couple of people made up for fun. No, they are well grounded in actual history and therefore represent what has happened in the past. And instead of assuming this to be the case we will examine why scholars see it this way.

4a. Genre as a Matter of Importance

The genre is of obvious importance for if the authors intended to write romantic fiction that would be very different than if they chose to write historical biography. According to my lecturer in New Testament Studies the gospels are “described as modified ancient biographies” (4) as likewise articulated in my course material penned by Professor Luke Timothy Johnson (5).

Scholar James Dunn explains that as contemporary scholarship has progressed “it has become clearer that the Gospels are in fact very similar in type to ancient biographies” (6). Graham Stanton agrees that “the gospels are now widely considered to be a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of biographies” (7). In an interview well-known scholar Craig Keener informs us that “Most Gospel scholars today—not all, but most—see the Gospels as biographies” (8).

However, what has convinced most scholars of the genre of ancient biography is that the authors aimed to portray their subject’s character by narrating his words and deeds (9). And although we are well aware of our gospel authors theological agendas they still decided to adopt Greco-Roman biographical conventions in order to explain the story of Jesus, and this suggests that they wished to convey what really happened (10). These several reasons, and others, are why most scholars hold that the “Gospels are a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of ‘lives,’ that is, biographies” (11).

4b. The Earliness of the Gospels & New Testament Evidence

The entire New Testament corpus dates prior to the end of the 1st century. Jesus died at 30 AD, and going on consensus dating in scholarship, scholars date our gospels from 70 to 95 AD whereas Paul’s letters tend to date even earlier from the 50s onwards. This means that what we have is 1st century testimony to the life of Jesus and thus are not dealing with testimony that is far removed from the events described given that a handful of decades is a small time gap. We are thus often dealing with first, second, and possibly third hand testimony which is quite valuable. For example, we can put this into perspective given that what we know about Alexander the Great (died 323 BC) comes from biographies written by Arrian and Plutarch within the 1st and 2nd centuries which is several centuries after Alexander’s time. This is why scholar Michael Bird argues that what we have for Jesus in our New Testament is early in “comparison to other historical figures” (12). Professor Keener explains that “Gospel materials written within four decades of Jesus’ execution therefore provide a remarkably special opportunity for early insight into Jesus’ ministry,” and as a result we are dealing with “substantive historical information” (13). As we will also see soon scholars have shown that we can actually get back earlier than 70 AD (the consensus date of our earliest gospel) when we examine several traditions that lie behind our gospels.

4c. Manuscript Attestation

It is true that we do not possess the originals of our New Testament so trying to reconstruct them is an important task for the historian. But can we construct them? According to most historians we can.

It is of general academic opinion that the vast amount of copies we have at our disposal for reconstructing the New Testament is impressive (14). For example, we have over 5000 copies in the original language of Greek (15) with some 19 000 other copies in Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. It is true that such a number, the 5000 Greek manuscripts, outstrips what we have for our other ancient Jewish, Roman and Greek literature. This should help us to appreciate the manuscript attestation we have for our New Testament. For example, for Caesar’s Gallic War (written somewhere between 50 & 58 BC) we have only 10 decent manuscripts, and the earliest of which comes in some 800 years after he lived. The History of Thucydides (5th century BC) only comes down to us in some eight manuscripts. The earliest copy of these comes in around 900 AD (although a few small fragments date to Christian era), some 1300 years later (16). Arguably the next best preserved work besides the Bible is that of the Iliad, a work by Homer, that boasts some 650 copies with the earliest of them coming some 1000 years after the original (17).

But in comparison to these other ancient texts how does our New Testament fair? Our earliest extant fragments for Matthew’s gospel (general consensus puts Matthew at 80 AD) date between 150 & 250 AD, a large fragment from Mark (consensus is 70 AD) is dated to around 250 AD, and several large fragments from Luke (consensus is 80 AD) date to between 175 & 250 AD. Our earliest fragment of John’s gospel (consensus: 95 AD) is P52. P52 is dated to 125 AD and is our earliest fragment of any New Testament text. Several other fragments of John’s gospel date from after P52 to no later than 250 AD. Beyond our gospels several fragments of the book of Acts (consensus is 80 AD) is dated to the early 200s AD. The fragments for the rest of our New Testament documents range from 150 to 350 AD. Further, our first complete books of the New Testament date to around 200 AD, while the first complete copy of the entire New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus, dates to the 300s AD. Bearing in mind that our entire New Testament was completed no later than 95 AD this leaves a gap of over 200 years before our entire first copy. Many fragments date earlier than that. With this understood we are dealing with a negligible time gap in comparison to other major texts of ancient history. Scholar Gary Habermas captures the general idea, “What is usually meant is that the New Testament has far more manuscript evidence from a far earlier period than other classical works. There are just under 6000 NT manuscripts, with copies of most of the NT dating from just 100 years or so after its writing. Classical sources almost always have less than 20 copies each and usually date from 700-1400 years after the composition of the work. In this regard, the classics are not as well attested. While this doesn’t guarantee truthfulness, it means that it is much easier to reconstruct the New Testament text. Regarding genre, the Gospels are usually taken today to be examples of Roman biographies” (18).

4d. Transmission Process.

At the time Jesus lived no printing presses were available, rather documents needed to be hand copied by scribes. This was not unique to our New Testament but for all written history afterwards (until the first printing presses in the 2nd millennium AD) and before.

The skeptic might charge that the transmission process was like the “game of telephone.” According to the game a single message is inputted at one end and, by the time it is handed down via a chain, the message that pops out the other side is distorted and thus nothing like what it initially was. So, the skeptic’s argument is that we can know little reliable information on Jesus from our textual evidence because during the transmission process our data was garbled, changed, and many errors crept in.

However, historians have shown that the transmission of New Testament documents was unlike the game of telephone (GOT) (19). Firstly, whereas the GOT has a single line of transmission our New Testament has multiple lines. The original document was copied, and that copy was copied by several scribes, and then that copy was further copied by several scribes. Very soon there would be many copies of the original that were being passed down over time, and by comparing these together we can have a good idea what the original document said. Secondly, whereas the GOT involves oral transmission the New Testament involves textual transmission. This suggests that the original document, from which a scribe was copying, was available at all times to consult, whereas for an oral transmission process it is once off. Thirdly, the GOT, as a child’s game, involves joking about and being playful, however, our scribes were serious about their task and would have at least tried to be accurate. Also, that the scribes may have had access to earlier copies of documents from which they were copying suggests that a late 2nd century scribe may even have had access to the originals. Scholar Wallace captures this well, explaining that “the early copying surely wasn’t done in only a linear fashion: that is, the original manuscripts and other early copies were used more than once in making later copies. Textual criticism is not like the telephone game” (20).

However, errors do appear in these manuscript copies. This isn’t in dispute. The late conservative scholar Archer concedes that “Even the earliest and best manuscripts that we possess are not totally free of transmissional errors. Numbers are occasionally miscopied, the spelling of proper names is occasionally garbled, and there are examples of the same types of scribal error that appear in other ancient documents as well. In that sense—and only to that degree—can it be  said that even the finest extant manuscripts of the Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are not wholly without error” (21).

But how do these impact the historian’s effort in reconstructing the original texts? Professor Ehrman explains that “of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for any-thing other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us” (22). Likewise Wallace agrees that “The vast majority of them are quite inconsequential. And less than 1 percent of all textual variants both affect the meaning of that verse (though none affects a core doctrine) and have some plausibility of authenticity” (23). Thus, by putting our extant manuscript side by side we can iron out the scribal errors and thus determine with some confidence what the originals would have actually read like.

4e. Archaeological Confirmation

Often where our gospels can be tested archeologically they seem to pass the test. According to Professor Kruger, “John’s numerous geographical references have been tested and found to be very accurate,” and that the author of “John exhibits impressive knowledge of the places where the events of Jesus’ life took place” (24). The Gospel of Luke, moreover, demonstrates accurate knowledge of influential and political people of his time, scholar Bruce argues that “One of the most remarkable tokens of (Luke’s) accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned” (25). Archaeology has also been kind towards other gospel traditions as one of the world’s leading historical Jesus scholars Craig Evans indicates, “where they can be [archaeologically] tested, we find they are talking about real people, real events, real things that we can unearth” (26). He goes on to say that the gospels talk “about real people, real events, real places, and the archaeologist can show that…” (27).

Numerous discoveries have increased the historian’s confidence in the gospel accounts, for instance, the discovery of a 1st century boat that matches the description of the one Jesus and his disciples allegedly used to cross the sea (28), a synagogue that Jesus was described to have visited has been uncovered (29), many other sites (30), and even 1st century leprosy have been corroborated (31). For these reasons historian Paul Johnson concludes that “Historians note that mounting evidence from archaeology confirms rather than contradicts the accounts of Jesus” (32). Similarly Professor of Archaeology Millar Burrows says that “On the whole… archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics” (33).

5. The Historical Case for the Resurrection.

We’ve briefly examined several reasons why scholars accept the New Testament and gospels to be generally historical. Now we can actually look at these sources and use them to formulate an argument in favour of Jesus’ resurrection.

5a. The Minimal Facts Approach.

The minimal facts approach (MFA) is very appropriate for this debate. The MFA, explains Habermas, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” (34). This comes after Habermas has sifted through some 3000 peer reviewed academic articles penned in several languages. Having done so Habermas identifies 12 such facts (35) (36), however, we will consider just four that we need to make our case:

  • Jesus’ crucifixion.
  • Jesus’ burial.
  • Jesus’ empty tomb.
  • Jesus’ post mortem appearances.

Jesus’ crucifixion and burial aren’t as directly tied to the resurrection as are his empty tomb and post mortem appearances. However, they do remain important. Jesus had to be dead if he was ever to be resurrected. That Jesus was crucified, a common 1st century Roman punishment, is consistent with extra-biblical history which gives credibility to the gospel, and New Testament, documents. Moreover, the account of the burial, specifically in John’s gospel, is strikingly consistent with what we know about burial tombs and Jewish customs of the time. For example, that myrrh and aloes (19:38-39) and spices (19:40) were brought to the tomb, and that the tomb was in a garden (tombs in gardens were usually reserved for wealthier Jews as was the Sanhedrist Joseph who took it upon himself to bury Jesus) all point in the direction of the gospel author exercising fidelity with history. Now, what’s to say that they didn’t intend to do so when it came to the resurrection narrative itself? Why would the authors be so careful to record history in these small details and then all of a sudden include a fictional resurrection story? Thus, I believe we can generally trust the gospel authors in what they allege took place, and minimal facts 1 and 2 show us why.

5b. Evaluating the MFA Data Historically and the Criterion of Authenticity (CoA).

We shall work from the basis that historians usually accept two independent sources confirming an event of history to be likely historical (37). I shall also make reference to the Criterion of Authenticity (CoA). CoA is a tool historians use that assigns probability to the deeds and sayings of Jesus, and, of course, the greater the probability the more confident we can be in an alleged saying or event (38). Of CoA we shall focus on (39):

  • Independent & early attestation: Event appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which it is alleged to have occurred.
  • Embarrassment: Event is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information. It is highly unlikely to have simply been made up.
  • Enemy attestation: Event is attested to by enemies which gives it a high probability.

 Fact (1) Jesus’ death by crucifixion – No mainstream historian doubts that Jesus was crucified. According to Professor Dunn the crucifixion of “Jesus command[s] almost universal assent” and “is impossible to doubt or deny” (40). Ehrman agrees that it “is one of the most secure facts we have about his life” (42). Professor Luke Timothy Johnson says the evidence “is overwhelming” (43), atheist Professor Ludemann says the “crucifixion is indisputable,” Crossan says he takes it “absolutely for granted” (43), and Paula Frederickson says it “is the single strongest fact we have about Jesus” (44).

The crucifixion is independently attested in 11 independent sources from both within and outside of the New Testament: Pre-Mark Passion Narrative, Q, John, Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter 2:24, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Martyr, Josephus Flavius, & Cornelius Tacitus. Pre-Mark and Q are very early dating to within years of the actual crucifixion. Other later, less valuable, sources such as Lucian, Serapion (depends on dating), Thallus and the Talmud all affirm a constant tradition of Jesus’ crucifixion (45). The crucifixion also passes the CoA. It is early and multiply attested (46), passes the criterion of embarrassment (47) (48), coherence (49), as well as being archaeologically consistent (50). Gospel crucifixion details also match what we know from contemporary medical science which gives them credibility (51).

Fact (2) Jesus’ burial – Consensus affirms Jesus’ burial. In accordance to CoA it is early and multiply attested. It is affirmed within an early pre-Pauline creed that Paul received less than five years after Jesus’ crucifixion (52). Habermas explains that these creeds “preserve some of the earliest reports concerning Jesus from about AD 30-50” (53). The burial is further attested in Mark’s Pre-Passion Narrative material which, according to exegete William Craig, “is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and dates to within several years of Jesus’ crucifixion” (54). Professor Richard Bauckham also dates it prior to 40 AD and probably “goes back to the Jerusalem church” (55). This is powerful early and independent evidence. The burial is further independently attested to by unique material M & L, Acts and John. In total we have six independent sources with several that are very early attesting to Jesus’ burial. According to John Robinson the burial is one of “the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus” (56). Moreover, the burial is enemy attested. The religious Jewish enemies of Jesus accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb according to Matthew 28:13, Martyr (57) and Tertullian (58). Such an accusation assumes that Jesus was buried within the tomb and that it was found empty.

Fact (3) Jesus’ empty tomb – Fact three is the exception since it is affirmed by roughly 75% of scholars. However, that is still a majority as Habermas explains, “a strong majority of contemporary critical scholars seems to support… that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was subsequently discovered to be empty” (59). Firstly, it is implied in the early pre-Pauline creed of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as William Craig notes, “For in saying that Jesus died – was buried – was raised – appeared, one automatically implies that the empty grave has been left behind” (60). Secondly, Christianity would have hit a wall if the tomb wasn’t actually empty. The easiest way to disprove the early Christian message of a resurrected saviour would be to go to the tomb where Jesus was laid, and expose it. Paul Althaus explains the resurrection proclamation “could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned” (61). Thirdly, that Jesus’ women followers were the first to discover the empty tomb passes the criterion of embarrassment, as Chris Price illumines that “In light of this cultural context, if you are going to create a story about an empty tomb you don’t make women the first eyewitnesses. This is a counterproductive detail included by the writer simply because he was committed to telling the truth” (62). It also boasts independent attestation. It is early and independently attested in 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative (63). It is also attested in the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke) and John. That is four independent sources as Habermas notes, “[the] empty tomb is reported in at least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources” which is why it is “taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars” (64). It was also part of the early Christian preaching in Acts (3:29-31 & 36-37) and is likewise enemy attested (65).

Fact (4) Jesus’ post mortem appearances – Consensus holds that James, Paul and the disciples had resurrection experiences of Jesus. According to atheist historian Gerd Ludemann “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (66). Agnostic James Crossley says it is “the hardest, best evidence we have” (67), and Ehrman calls it “a historical fact” (68). All four gospels independently attest to the resurrection. The appearance to Peter is independently attested to by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John (69). It’s further attested in Paul’s early creed (1 Cor. 15:1-11), in Paul’s authentic & disputed epistles, Q and Acts. The early creed is most significant since it records that Peter, the twelve disciples, 500 witnesses, James, and lastly Paul had experiences of the risen Jesus. Moreover, Clement of Rome provides 1st century and Polycarp early 2nd century supporting evidence of the resurrection appearances. Both Clement and Polycarp knew the disciples which gives their testimonies credibility.

Moreover, the disciples, James and Paul were sincere in the proclamation of the risen Jesus as affirmed by nine early and independent sources. Before his conversion, Paul persecuted the early church until Jesus appeared to him personally (70). James was Jesus’ unbelieving brother who was likewise convinced on the basis of a resurrection appearance (71). We also know of 11 sources that inform us of the disciples’ early proclamation of the resurrection and their willingness to suffer and die for it (72). Finally, we know that the early Christians Paul, James (Jesus’ brother), James (brother of John), Stephen, and Peter were all martyred for their belief in the risen Jesus. Moreover, these appearances cannot be explained away as hallucinations since Paul believed in Jesus’ physical resurrection (73), the risen Jesus ate fish (Luke 24:42), offered his disciples an opportunity to touch his resurrection body (Luke 24:39, John 20:27), had some grab hold of his feet in worship (Matt. 28:9), and the disciple Thomas allegedly put his finger and hand into the place where the nails had been in Jesus’ body (John 20:27). According to exegete Craig William Craig explains, “we have a completely unanimous testimony in the Gospels that all of them were physical” (74).

6. Supplementary Arguments

Though there have been arguments presented in the MFA points above there are some more I’ve come to find persuasive. Here are a few of them.

6a. The Facts Favour the Resurrection.

Traditionally, critics have proposed hypotheses but of which fall short in explanatory power and I look forward to see what Christopher has on the cards. The Swoon hypothesis says that Jesus never actually died but was later revived. This, however, fails to explain fact (4) as a severely injured Jesus would never convince the earliest disciples of his bodily resurrection. The hallucination hypothesis, namely that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus, fails to explain fact (3), the empty tomb. Alternatively, the resurrection hypothesis adequately explains both facts (3) and (4), and therefore is richer in explanatory scope.

But also consider probability. Now, considering the MFs, it is highly unlikely that we would have facts (3) and (4) should Jesus never have risen from the dead. In other words, given facts (3) and (4) it is more probable that Jesus was resurrected than him not being resurrected which certainly gives credibility to the resurrection hypothesis.

6b. The Dramatic Conversions of Paul and James.

Both Paul and James (Jesus’ brother) did not believe in Jesus’ message. Prior to his Damascus conversion Paul admits to persecuting early Christians (1 Cor. 15:9). He hated Jesus, and the blasphemous movement he founded since he saw a crucified messiah as a curse (Gal 3:13). However, Jesus appears to Paul on his voyage to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9) and, as a result, Paul incredibly converts and faces persecution in leading the very movement he tried to exterminate. Moreover, James, according to gospel traditions, rejected his brother’s message (Mark 3:21; 6:2-4, 6; John 7:5; 19:25-27). However, Jesus appears to him and he is likewise radically converted. Both Paul and James end up leading the early church and both die as martyrs. Both of their deaths are historically certain. What explains their radical change? According to them it was Jesus’ resurrection.

6c. Resurrection Conception.

Jewish beliefs about the afterlife excluded anyone rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world (75). Thus, it is rather odd that the earliest disciples, Paul and James, all of whom were Jews, end up proclaiming this very thing. They were proclaiming a single resurrection of a single man in the middle of history, an antithetical concept to Jewish thought. What accounts for this radical change? Our best evidence, and their own testimony, says it was the resurrection.

6d. The Uniqueness of Jesus’ Resurrection.

When a Jewish rebel (seen as a messianic figure by Jewish followers as one who would vindicate Israel from foreign rule as prophesied in the Old Testament), with a following, was crucified the followers either disbanded the cause and searched for another Jewish rebel to follow or, alternatively, they died alongside their leader because of fighting the Romans. Either way the movement died. As far as we know this happened to Theudas, Simon ben Giora, Athronges, Bar Kockbar, John of Gischala, and others. However, this is what should have happened to Jesus. Jesus should have been crucified and his movement obliterated like everyone else’s. The disciples and earliest followers should have, judging from history, disbanded and gone looking elsewhere. However, from Jesus an entire movement begins. What do the earliest witnesses tell us it was? The resurrection.

7. What I Expect From My Opponent

Jesus’ resurrection is certainly the best explanation for the evidence I’ve presented above. However, Christopher does not agree. So what does he need to do?

I urge Christopher to make his case known on several fronts. Firstly, can the New Testament be approached as historical documents as I presented in section [4]? Does he have an alternative non-resurrection hypothesis that is wide enough in explanatory scope to be able to explain the MFA as I presented above in section [5]? Finally, does Christopher have an answer to the several arguments in section [6]? How does Christopher explain the dramatic conversions of both Paul and James if Jesus had never appeared to them in his resurrection body?

I look forward to Christopher’s response.


1. Ehrman, Bart. 2008. The New Testament. p. 229.

2. Burridge, R. 2013. All Four One And One For All. Available.

3. Thomistic Bent. 2013. Atheist Professor Becomes Christian. Available.

4. Cornerstone Institute. New Testament Studies. 2015.

5. Johnson, L. New Testament Foundations.

6. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. p. 185.

7. Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.

8. Keener, C. 2009. Will the Real Historical Jesus Please Stand Up? The Gospels as Sources for Historical Information about Jesus. Available.

9. Dunn, J. 2003. Ibid.

10. Keener, C. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. p. 13.

11. Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.

12. Bird, M. 2014. Yes Jesus existed… but relax, you can still be an atheist if you want to. Available.

13. Keener, C. 2009. Ibid.

14. F.F. Bruce in The Books and the Parchments (1963). p. 78; Limbaugh, D. 2014. Jesus on Trial. Kindle edition location 3979; Comfort, P. 1991. The Complete Guide to Bible Versions; Kruger. M. 2014. A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media. Available; Bock, D. 2013. How Did We Get the Bible and Can We Trust It? Available.

15. Elliott, K. & Moir, I. 2000.Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament. p. 1.

16. Bruce, F. 1960. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?

17. Moss, J. 1825. A Manual of Classical Bibliography. p. 526.

18. Habermas, G. Dr. Habermas Answers Important Questions. Available.

19. Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 71.

20. Wallace, D. 2010. Ibid.

21. Archer, G. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Available.

22. Ehrman, B. 2005. Misquoting Jesus. p. 208.

23. Wallace, D. 2010. Ibid. p. 71.

24. Kruger, M. 2013. Is the Gospel of John History or Theology? Available.

25. Bruce, F. 1960. p. 82.

26. Vision. 2013. Is the Bible Reliable? Available.

27. Vision. 2013. Ibid.

28. Sacred Destinations. Jesus Boat Museum, Tiberias. Available.

29. Williams, P. Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament. Available.

30. Williams, P. Ibid.

31. Evans, C. 2012. Jesus and His World: The archaeological evidence. p. 110.

32. Paul Johnson, “A Historian Looks at Jesus,” speech to Dallas Seminary, 1986

33. Burrows, M. 1956. What Mean These Stones? p. 1.

34. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.p. 44.

35. Habermas, G. 2012. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity. Available.

36. 12 Historical Facts (Most Critical Scholars Believe These 12 Items). Available.

37. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.

38. Bishop, J. 2016. The Historical Jesus and the Criteria of Authenticity. Available.

39. Craig, W. 2013. A Reasonable Response. Also see, Craig, W. 2014. Gospel Authorship – Who Cares? Available.

40. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. p. 339.

41. Ehrman, B. Why Was Jesus Killed? Available.

42. Johnson, L. 1996. The Real Jesus. p. 125.

43. Ludemann, G. 2004. The Resurrection of Christ. p. 50.

44. Paula Frederickson, remark during discussion at the meeting of “The Historical Jesus” section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 22, 1999.

45. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. p. 50.

46. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.

47. Hengel, M. 1977. Crucifixion. According to Hengel: “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.”

48. Craig, W. 2013. Stephen Law on the Non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Available.

49. Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 109.

50. Edwards, W. 1986. Journal of the American Medical Association. p. 1463.

51. Edwards, W. 1986. Ibid.

52. Ludemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. p. 38.

53. Habermas, G. 1996. The Historical Jesus:  Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. p. 143

54. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.

55. Bauckham, R. 2008. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. p. 243.

56. Robinson, J. 1973. The Human Face of God. p. 131.

57. Dialogue with Tryphyo, 108.

58. De Spectaculis, 30.

59. Habermas, G. The Empty Tomb of Jesus. Available:

60. Craig, W. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus. Available.

61. Althaus, P. quoted by Dale Allison in: Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. 2005. p. 317.

62. Price, C. 2015. Resurrection: Making Sense of Historical Data. Available.

63. Exploring Biblical Greek. 30-60 AD – Pre-Markan Passion Narrative. Available.

64. Habermas, G. 2005. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels. Available.

65. Flowers, D. 2013. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Available

66. Ludemann, G. 1995. What Really Happened? p. 80.

67. Crossley, J. 2015. Unbelievable? New Testament Q&A – Gary Habermas & James Crossley.

68. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 231.

69. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.

70. Ehrman, B. 2006. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. p. 101.

71. Habermas, G. 2003. The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. p. 22.

72. Sources: Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus.

73. Bock, D. & Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 208.

74. Craig, W. 2008. Reasonable Faith. p. 383.

75. Craig, W. & Armstrong, W. 2003: God?: A Debate Between A Christian and an Atheist. p. 24.



    • I think debate propositions such as “Was Jesus Christ Raised from the Dead?”, are, like “Does God exist?”, implicate so many critical subtopics and presuppositions that the participants could not do scholarly justice to them without either a) making the debate longer than the attention span of the expected popular audience, or b) shortening their treatment of these subtopics to a superficial degree in their effort to cover all the relevant issues.

      Notice how many sub-topics there are in the resurrection debate (this is just a small sampling):

      1 – Did Matthew author canonical Matthew? If, as most scholars believe, Matthew is anonymous, this would justify skepticism toward using this gospel as a “witness” (since we cannot know which portions of that gospel are his, if any, and which aren’t), in which case that’s one less witness in the apologists’s arsenal.

      2 – Did Mark originally author the “long-ending” of Mark 16, so familiar from the KJV, which is where the resurrection appearances are? Or is the majority view correct that this long-ending is a later interpolation? If the resurrection appearance stories in Mark’s long ending are mere interpolation, this might justify the skeptical view that Mark originally did not say anything about a risen Jesus actually appearing to any of his followers (and if Papias is correct, this would further justify the belief that Peter’s original gospel preaching didn’t mention such things either). If Mark is the earliest published of the gospels as most scholars agree, then the failure of the earliest gospel to tell of resurrection appearances strengthens the skeptical hypothesis that these appearance-stories are later fabrications.

      3 – Assuming Luke wrote Luke, was Luke’s bias in favor of his own religion, so strong as to cause him to write in a way that justifies skepticism toward his credibility?

      4 – Did anybody else except apostle John contribute to the text now present in canonical John? If so, how good are the arguments of conservatives that surely John 20, the resurrection appearances, was contributed solely by John? (otherwise we have testimony from anonymous witnesses, which is historically worthless beyond curious anecdotes).

      5 – Why doesn’t the NT provide any corroboration for Paul’s two direct statements to having “seen” the risen Jesus (1st Cor. 9:1 and 15:8), when this experience by Paul would be seen by NT authors as the ultimate proof that Paul was a true apostle?

      6 – Is there any evidence in the NT that would justify skepticism of apostle Paul’s general credibility?

      7 – Is there any evidence in the NT that would justify skepticism toward the general credibility of any other alleged resurrection witness?

      8 – How much of the resurrection testimony in the NT comes down to us today in first-hand form? The only possible places I can find where a NT author is directly telling the reader that he saw a risen Jesus, are apostle Paul, and the gospels of Matthew and John. Everything else is secondhand or “hearsay”.

      9 – Can a general skepticism toward miracles be reasonably justified on philosophical grounds?

      I am willing to have such separate debates with James. Paul takes precedence in the NT second only to Jesus, so we can start with Paul’s testimony/credibility if you wish.

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