1. General Responses Concerning History
I credit Christopher for his willingness to engage the claim of Jesus’ resurrection since he appears to realize it’s importance if it were true. He even quoted Paul’s famous line in affirmation of this (Cor. 15:4). But that important observation aside Christopher begins in saying that “The door to justified faith is only opened if we can show there is substantial evidence for Christ’s resurrection that is also independent of the assumption God already exists (i.e. faith).”
I think Chris at bottom understands what I am rooting for but I do have reservations about his standard of proof. Why, for example, does the evidence have to be “substantial”? Why can’t it be satisfactory or sufficient as I argued in my opener? Why when it comes to a claim, a miraculous one nonetheless, that is unable to mesh well with Chris’ naturalism then that the claim has to now bear “substantial” proof? Rather, I’d say let the evidence speak for itself, and if the best fitting explanation for the data is a miraculous one then it is that which is most rational to accept.
Christopher then captures the notion of confirmation bias quite well, “However, to look only for confirming evidence that Christ rose from the dead is to give ourselves over to confirmation bias… people tend to assign more credibility to evidence that confirms their beliefs and assign less credibility to evidence that disconfirms their beliefs… Confirmation bias affects not only human belief, but also human memory. People tend to remember information that supports their already established beliefs better than information that opposes their already established belief.”
Sure, I would hardly dispute what he has stated here. However, one shouldn’t somehow have the impression that this only applies to Christians who affirm the resurrection. Skeptics of the resurrection are often just as much susceptible to confirmation bias in both dealing with evidence and their own memory. How do I know this? Experience and just by talking to skeptics. The door swings both ways here.
Then we have this, “They [historians] stand by their claims because they can study the evidence and tell us the probability… But as time progresses, the trail of bread crumbs left by historical events begins to dwindle. The further historians go back in time, the more they have to rely on probability.”
Sure, and I made this clear in points 1, 5(b), and 6(a). As I said each of us is required to make “a persuasive” evidential case for our positions. In this way we’re dealing with probability as opposed to absolute certainly, however, that does not mean we should somehow avoid coming to informed conclusions. We need to value evidence and thus come to the most probable explanation given the historical data at our disposal. Chris then pens that over time “the trail of bread crumbs left by historical events begins to dwindle.”
This is problematic. When a historical event occurs it creates a “breadcrumb” but the breadcrumb doesn’t cease to exist or, as Chris put it, being to dwindle. In fact, what is of some importance concerning historical evidence is its proximity to a historical event. In this way it doesn’t matter whether we are dealing with ancient or recent history. Consider Mark writing 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark’s author, in time gap, would be similar to that of a German historian today penning his account of the Berlin Wall falling down in the year 1989. We are just as able to access Mark’s recollection of the past as we can our German historian. On the actual accounts themselves, there would be almost no difference in time-gap of Mark and this German historian. Both are in close proximity to a described event and both go down into history as a “breadcrumb” for what we can learn about the past. In fact, there are a number of breadcrumbs from which we can piece together history, specifically history surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. That is what I attempted in my opener where I put together several breadcrumbs (read: lines of evidence) together so that we can come to an informed conclusion concerning the resurrection.
But let’s continue with the breadcrumbs analogy. The breadcrumbs, albeit in a very simplified version, could go something like this:  While alive Jesus made a name for himself due to his miracles of healing, radical self-concept, and message,  Jesus made the religious Jewish authorities his enemy and was soon after crucified as a result,  Jesus’ followers were confused that their Messiah was put to such a shameful death and thus fled in fear and confusion,  Many of Jesus’ earliest followers would then to their astonishment receive resurrection appearances of the risen Jesus in which Jesus himself confirmed that what they were experiencing was genuine,  These early followers then underwent a radical transformation and begun spreading the good news of God’s raising Jesus from the dead,  This proclamation resulted in new converts to the cause,  This increase in conversions would subsequently result in conflict with Roman customs and beliefs and thus begins a tumultuous period of early Christian persecution,  Over the centuries this new religion flourished until it was eventually adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
That is a fair number of breadcrumbs for us to consider though one could certainly add to the list. For example, one could start in 400 AD, around the time in which Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and work his way back step by step through ancient history. When one does do this he ends up with an empty tomb and a resurrection at the very beginning. So, I don’t think the evidence necessary “begins to dwindle.” I think there is a substantial amount of evidence as found in textual sources and/or archaeological remains that could be used to affirm each one of the above-mentioned breadcrumbs. What this shows is that each breadcrumb does not exist in isolation. No, each is influenced by events that preceded it and time, rather than letting the evidence dwindle, produces a pattern that makes sense when pieced together. In this case, as I’ve contended, Jesus’ resurrection explains why we have these breadcrumbs in the first place.
Christopher subsequently argues that the authors of our historical texts were at a disadvantage because “There was no such thing as peer review. There was no Google to fact check yourself before putting the news out there. There was no knowledge of social science that could inform writers about biases that affect witness testimony.”
I’d reason that this is questionable on several fronts. For a start, a lot of people don’t write peer reviewed articles today but we still trust their accounts. This can be anything from the likes of a letter one sends home via the mail, a personal testimony, or an article on a blog/website. Just because a certain text is not peer reviewed does not mean it is untrustworthy.
Secondly, it feels anachronistic to apply a modern 21st century peer review process to ancient writers. It speaks of 21st century bias. Further, our authors of the gospels and New Testament could, and did, fact check their sources. They didn’t just suck the content out of their thumbs. Most of them were alive in the time of the eyewitnesses and almost certainly inquired of them. The author of the Gospel of Luke is perhaps most informative in his prologue writing that “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1, emphasis added).
Luke informs his readers that he has fact checked his information. He obviously doesn’t want to make a mistake and he is trying very hard to impress the person to whom he is writing, the “most excellent” Theophilus. The author of 2 Peter 1:16 also says that they “did not follow cleverly devised stories” and that they were in fact, “eyewitnesses” to the resurrection. 1 John 1:1 claims that they have “have seen it and testify to it.” Such claims of fact checking is prevalent elsewhere in the texts themselves. The authors claim that they’ve fact checked their information with those who were eyewitnesses to the events described, that they checked multiple sources, and so on. That is pretty good fact checking.
Even the borrowing of content from Mark on the part of the authors of Luke and Matthew tells us something. It shows us that the authors of Luke and Mark, writing their accounts roughly 10 years after Mark’s author, saw the Gospel of Mark as an authoritative source of information on Jesus. So, did Luke and Matthew just make stuff up? No, they took it upon themselves to actually check out what Mark had already penned and thus felt it was reliable enough, probably because of its earliness and reflection of early Christian belief, to include in their own work. So, again, we have fact checking. What about hypothetical Q? Matthew and Luke both make use of this earlier hypothetical source that most scholars date prior to 70 and perhaps into the 40s/50s (1). We therefore do not have a process where the authors are just working loosely with information.
But what about a lack of peer review process? There was a review process although obviously not like what we have today in the academy of which hardly undermines the historical texts themselves. The documents and texts selected as scripture weren’t just uncritically accepted. Some important components to this process involved eyewitness composition and apostolic authorship. In fact, some later documents were rejected by the early church because they were considered to be fraudulent narratives offered by authors late in history who were not actually present for the life and ministry of Jesus. So, there was a selection process that took place over centuries of reflection (2). Again, while this is different to how modern day peer review functions it does inform us that the early church was careful in their consideration of what texts to select. There was indeed critical reflection that Chris I think seems to think was somehow missing. Further, I believe Christopher has a problematic approach to history, “Because of this, historians must remain skeptical and settle with what probably happened.”
Here Chris immediately takes the guilty until proven innocent approach. But why? Why not just approach the texts and let them speak for themselves and then come to an informed conclusion? Why should we just somehow impose this skepticism? I think, as I’ve just briefly shown, that Chris constructs such a view on the basis of misinformed ideas about how history operates, his hyper-skepticism (he later concludes that “we should be skeptical of all reports” of, I think he means, history), how the New Testament documents were selected, and so on. That, coupled with his philosophical naturalistic beliefs, would explain why he prefers this approach.
Christopher subsequently defines what he believes, given his naturalism, is an extraordinary claim, “Historians attempt to circumvent these false positive errors by being extremely skeptical of extraordinary claims regarding the past.”
However, this begs the question of what constitutes an “extraordinary claim.” Why, to begin with, does anyone have to accept the naturalist’s concept of what constitutes “extraordinary”? If Chris can just define what he, and fellow naturalists, consider an extraordinary claim then why can’t I also be afforded that opportunity? Perhaps I can make the extraordinary claim Chris’s view that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. In fact, there is something to that argument since it is in fact Chris who is the one making the extraordinary claim. As I presented in my opening Chris, and skeptics of the resurrection, has to believe the following without positing the resurrection of Jesus as an explanation:
1- The empty tomb fact.
2- The post-mortem resurrection appearances to the disciples that convinced them that Jesus was raised from the dead.
3- The post-mortem resurrection appearances to a diverse number of groups of people including a group of 500 (1 Cor. 15).
4- That Paul, as a persecutor of the early church, was convinced on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to him.
5- That James, as Jesus’ doubting brother, was convinced on the basis of Jesus resurrection appearance to him.
6- That a group of pious Jews, as were Jesus’ disciples, would somehow come up with an unJewish concept of a resurrection of a single person in the middle of history as opposed to the general resurrection at the end.
These several lines are in need of explanation from Chris if he wishes to avoid the resurrection hypothesis. We can give him the chance to explain these in his 2nd rebuttal. So, not only do I reject Chris’ idea of what constitutes an extraordinary claim but I also believe that it is in fact Chris who is making the extraordinary claim that Jesus was not raised from the dead.
Christopher: “Moreover, the argument regarding the validity of Christ’s resurrection is still debated among professional researchers—making definitive statements even that much more difficult to establish.”
This is a little strange. Just because something is debated doesn’t make it “difficult to establish.” Philosophers, of different worldviews, debate naturalism in hindsight of other worldviews as well as different tenets of naturalism but Chris wouldn’t say that because of this naturalism is difficult to establish. He wouldn’t because he believes in naturalism and is therefore a naturalist. However, what really matters at the end are the arguments and the evidence considered, and I find the rejection of Jesus’ resurrection unwarranted. Moreover, a number of historians I’ve engaged with leave the question of the resurrection open, for example, the influential historian E.P Sanders remarked “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know” (3). But, again, at the end we want to review the evidence.
2. Christopher on the Reliability of the Sources
Since my opening remarks weighed so heavily on the historical evidence from the New Testament I find that Christopher’s treatment of them in his opening is quite underwhelming, to put it mildly. We shall see why. Christopher begins this section saying that “there are no first-hand peer reviewed sources of Christ’s resurrection available today.”
This is as far as his criticism of the actual source material goes especially since he prefers to focus so much on psychology. However, his contention is a common one: the lack of first-hand sources.
It is true that the gospels are not 1st hand sources and this, as one might expect, gives skeptics some wiggle room. For instance, although an anonymous author penned John’s gospel it wasn’t actually someone who had met Jesus personally (4). Rather, the author is relying on the testimony of others who had in fact known Jesus first hand, or who at least knew of a person who did know Jesus. But second and third hand testimony is far from bad testimony. Testimony is testimony and where we find it we must consider it. It would also be foolish to dismiss testimony just because it isn’t first hand although one wouldn’t deny that first hand testimony is the best. Why? Because what matters is the tradition that lies behind the testimony, and whether or not that tradition is reliable or, as I would argue, generally reliable. If the tradition is generally reliable then there is no reason to doubt John’s testimony even though it is not first hand; the same applies to our other gospel accounts that often rely on much earlier testimony (Q, L, M) with some that can possibly be traced to eyewitness testimony (The Pre-Markan Passion Narrative). This also neglects the Apostle Paul. Although Paul did not meet Jesus personally he did know a lot about him (5). Paul not only heard early Christian preaching but also at a very early stage subsequent to Jesus’ crucifixion tells us that he met with Jesus’ brother, James, and Jesus’ closest disciple Peter (Galatians 1-2). So we are dealing with information very close to Jesus himself. In fact, one could make an argument for Jesus’ resurrection from just Paul alone. So, the testimony we have it valuable as well as sufficient.
3. Christopher’s Argument from Memory.
Christopher’s begins his argument thusly, “Before modern technology and record keeping, much information was passed down verbally. Essentially, men (and perhaps women) were tasked with remembering very long texts. This is relevant to the question of Christ’s resurrection because we know that the resurrection story was passed along verbally for about 30 years before it was first written down—requiring a strong and unbiased memory capacity.”
This is the first prong in Christopher’s multi-layered argument. But before we consider his argument we might one to briefly touch on how 1st century Jews worked with memorization in their predominantly oral culture (6). There was a gap of time between the events of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, and when they were first penned by the gospel authors. There was thus an oral period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Oral tradition is the transmission of a teaching or saying from person to person or from generation to generation by word of mouth rather than by the use of writing. So, how reliable was this process?
As I just mentioned 1st century Judaism was very much an oral culture. This is represented within Jesus’ own teachings. Jesus was seen as a rabbi and teacher in the gospel accounts (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mark 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Luke. 19:39; John. 1:38; 3:2), and a majority of his teachings were in poetic form in which he employed a number of devices such as alliteration, paronomasia, parallelism, rhyme, and so on. Jesus employed these deliberately so it would make his teachings easily accessible to memory and therefore memorable (7), and thus taught in a way that expected people to memorize his teachings. We find that he expected his listeners to “Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you” (Luke 9:44), “hear these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock,” (Matt.7:24), “to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). He also said that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). Also see John 6:63; 6:67-68, 14:10; 14:26; 15:7.
Therefore, in the words of exegete William Lane Craig, “In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus” (8). In other words, the Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was a highly developed skill and thus generally reliable. And as I stated in my opening the smaller details supplement this since they often suggest a reliable memorization process as in John’s mentioning of myrrh and aloes (19:38-39) and spices (19:40) being brought to the tomb, and that the tomb was in a garden which matched with what we’d expect from the Sanhedrist Joseph of Arimathea who buried Jesus. This is not to mention the many other smaller details pertinent to Jesus’ miracles of healing, multiplying of bread, and the raising of the dead (most compelling to me being the undesigned coincidences seen within the gospel sources when cross examined (9), and others). Further, as I also included in my opening, that many of the locations and structures that our gospels mention have been archaeologically corroborated is another sign of accurate memory transmission of the smaller details that were passed down through time and finally put into written form. If our gospels get those secondary details generally correct then why would they get the resurrection wrong? They wouldn’t for the resurrection is the very center of their story.
With that out of the way we shall proceed to Christopher’s argument. Chris includes a study or two conducted by a handful of psychologists to show that memory can sometimes be mistaken. However, this doesn’t get Chris to where he wants with the memory of the resurrection of Jesus even if we accept his argument and follow it to its logical conclusion. For example, Chris focuses on a study where some viewers of a certain video recollect seeing more demonstrators than another group who saw less demonstrators based on a deliberate question that mislead them. Let’s quote Chris in full: “…all participants were shown a video of 8 demonstrators who interrupted a classroom and half were asked whether the leader of the twelve demonstrators was a male and the other half were asked whether the leader of the four demonstrators male. In line with the results from the first experiment, people who were asked a week later about the leader with twelve demonstrators reported, on average, seeing more demonstrators than the participants who were asked about the leader with four demonstrators.”
In short, the way the researchers framed the question after some time fooled the viewers concerning the number of demonstrators that they thought they saw in the video. But this is not a good argument for the simple reason that both groups of viewers, independent of how many demonstrators they think they saw in the video, still saw the demonstrators! And even after being questioned later after some time both groups still testify to seeing the demonstrators. That is because the demonstrators were a central component to the whole video and exercise. This applies to the resurrection memory too since it is the resurrection that was the very centre of early Christian belief prior to, and after, when the gospel sources were written. So, whether one eyewitness perhaps saw something differently, and perhaps even wrongly, to another eyewitness simply says that they differ in secondary details. But the real focal point is what they all agree on. And what do they all agree on? They agree on several important details such as the resurrection itself, the empty tomb, and the post-mortem resurrection appearances. So, even granting Chris’ appeal to this study which he hasn’t sufficiently applied to the historical evidence, and assuming his interpretation of the study is correct, it doesn’t get him to where he wants to be in undermining Jesus’ resurrection. The same also applies to Chris’ other study concerning a certain car crash. Again, after some time, the researchers phrased a question that fooled certain people into believing that there was no stop sign at the place where the car crashed. But none of the subjects to the study testify to not seeing the car crash.
Christopher then rightly concedes that this should still not make us skeptical of all memory because it simply means that some people just “misremember” certain things. Thus, his argument is admittedly on shaky turf for it is therefore possible that the gospel authors, and those from whom they received their material, did not just misremember what had happened, and in fact are telling the truth even though they relay details differently as we’d expect from eyewitness testimony. Chris then writes, “Furthermore, we know that most people alive during the time of Christ were uneducated. It is likely that without an education, one’s working memory was not functioning optimally. This has implications because research has shown that low working memory capacity allows people to be more susceptible to the previously mentioned misleading information and thus false memories.”
However, this totally neglects the culture in which these “uneducated” Jews lived as we’ve touched on above and that we’ll round off briefly below. They were embedded within a culture that prized memory as a skill whether one was educated or not. But Chris’ argument also seems to suggest that uneducated Jews somehow forgot, or misread, the situation in which someone who they knew well, and had followed passionately, had appeared to them in a resurrected body after he had just died days earlier. Really? Just because these 1st century Jews were more limited than us in terms of general knowledge does that mean they wouldn’t be able to remember what they had witnessed or at least be able to explain it to someone else what they had seen? This is really clutching at straws because one would have to be very challenged to somehow forget, or severely distort, something of this nature. The late C.S. Lewis once called this chronological snobbery; a term used to identify those who believe that ancients were inherently inferior in terms of thought to those in the present due to temporal priority (10). This is what I think Chris is essentially arguing for: that 1st century Jews somehow forgot details much more easily than we do today even though 1st century Jews were brought up prioritizing memorization as an important skill! In fact, it is precisely the other way around for us 21st century westerners evidently lack such a developed skill of memorization.
Chris also assumes that all of our authors and early Christians were uneducated. Hardly so for some of them were in fact well educated. The authors themselves were educated to lesser or greater degrees simply because they could write though Mark seemed to struggle a bit in this regard. The author of the Gospel of Luke, however, wrote very well and is particularly striking in his introduction (see Luke 1:1), the disciple Luke was in fact a physician, and Paul was a Pharisee who was educated under the wise and popular (Acts 5:34) Jewish teacher Gamiliel (Acts 22:3), to name a few. Gamiliel was the leading authority in the Sanhedrin within the early 1st century AD so Paul would have been well taught. Moreover, upon a closer examination of the gospel authors themselves we can determine that they weren’t ignorant individuals but were quite aware of the history surrounding Jesus. For example, John being our latest gospel still shows an intimacy with Jewish traditions and the affairs of Jesus’s day, and not to mention Luke’s accuracy when it came to officials and locations in the book of Acts. Mark and Matthew (11), Luke (12), and John (13) all seem to have a good knowledge of the events they chronicle.
However, the nature of the resurrection was what we’d call a high impact event. Such an event has a very strong emotional involvement that survives accurately over a long period. For example, think of 9/11. We all saw the towers go down. I saw it when I was nine years old and I can still see it in my mind as if it happened just yesterday. That is the nature of a high impact event. But let’s draw in the resurrection. Imagine being intensely invested in Jesus as one of his followers only to see him murdered for his efforts. If you were like me you’d probably flee just as his disciples did, and we’d certainly not expect him to be raised from the dead since such a belief was contrary to our own shared belief system. Jesus had died and that was the end of it. Jesus, the leader we loved, passionately followed and who we had diligently listened over the years, had just died a shameful death, and thus been proved a false Messiah in the process. We’d now have no option but to find another leader or go on with our lives. However, three days later after having seen Jesus pinned to a cross where he was left to die he rocks up in our room and begins explaining that God had just raised him from the dead. This is something everybody would remember because of its unique, unusual, and unexpected nature. A dead person being resurrected is a good example of something that is not a normal, usual thing, and Professor Richard Bauckham explains as much, “The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases… the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably” (14). Bauckham thus comes to the opposite conclusion of Chris saying that “We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory” (15).
But, just to quickly return to the subject of memory in a 1st century Jewish context, children, for example, whether they’d received a solid education or not, learned to memorize the Torah by the age of 12. This coheres with Luke’s account of Jesus at the age of 12 visiting a temple in which he sat “among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:41-52). Jesus was also hardly an educated individual and in fact worked as a carpenter until the age of 30 (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55), but that didn’t stop him from memorization of the Torah. The age of 12 was, and still is, an important time in a Jewish child’s life for it is the time the child reaches Bar or Bat Mitzvah (16). The child is now considered a new adult and thus becomes obligated to fulfill all of God’s commandments. And, like any dedicated Jew would have done, Jesus made sure he knew his Torah just as the later Jewish teacher Judah ben Tema once explained, “At five years the age is reached for studying the Bible, at ten for studying the Mishnah, at thirteen for fulfilling the mitzvoth, at fifteen for studying the Talmud.” (Avot 5:21). So, in rounding this off, I think Chris’ argument from memory distortion simply fails to take in the context and therefore fails to hold any water whatsoever.
Let’s now quickly hone in on the following statement, “This is relevant to the question of Christ’s resurrection because we know that the resurrection story was passed along verbally for about 30 years before it was first written down—requiring a strong and unbiased memory capacity.”
I’d add to this that the resurrection memory, or the memory of the resurrection itself among the earliest Christians, can be traced back earlier than the 30 year gap using a creed found in Paul’s writing. 1 Cor. 15:3-8 houses an early creed that Paul received less than five years after Jesus’ death. Atheist historian Ludemann dates it to within three years of Jesus’ death saying that “the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus… not later than three years [and] falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.” (17). It records that Peter, the twelve disciples, 500 witnesses, James, and that Paul himself had witnessed the risen Jesus since he had appeared to them and convinced them that he had been raised from the dead. Thus, the resurrection belief is seen within just a few years of the event itself and therefore proves to be an exceptionally early and valuable line of evidence. It also shows us that the resurrection is an early belief and one of which has been passed down orally through time and eventually reflected in our gospel sources. The resurrection is also a central proclamation as recorded in the sermon summaries of Acts as proclaimed by the early church (Acts 1:21-22; 2:22, 24, 32; 10:39-41, 43a; 13:30-31, 34a, 37; 17:2-3, 30-31; 24:21; 26:22-23). Simply put the resurrection narratives in the gospel accounts post 70 AD is reflective of very early Christian belief. So, I think we are on fairly good grounds to reject Chris’ argument that the memory of the resurrection got distorted over time.
4. Christopher on False Recognition
Christopher then goes on about “false recognition” as a second component to memory distortion, “This happens when the falsely recognized feature is in some way related to the actual features of the environment… It has been established that false recognition can be produced for patterns and shapes (Slotnick & Schacter, 2004) and categories (Koutstaal & Schacter, 1997).”
Where does that leave us? Chris answers, “We know that the people who wrote the Bible and who purported to witness Christ’s resurrection were susceptible to these memory errors because memories errors are actually a symptom a naturally functioning memory system (see Schacter, Guerin, and Jacques, 2012 to hear this explanation spelled out). Therefore, if we want to assume that the writers of the Bible had naturally functioning memory systems, we also have to assume they were susceptible to memory errors.”
But this is not an argument against my position. If I was arguing that our memory is 100% reliable, thus unfailing, then Chris’ argument would have value. But I’m not arguing that and for now this is merely a statement about human beings being susceptible to memory errors. And? So, what? Where has Chris applied this to the New Testament context? Should we just assume then that Paul, James, and Mark made mistakes in recollection of Jesus’ resurrection because they had “naturally” functioning memory systems as Chris claims? On what basis can we draw such skepticism from the texts themselves? At most what Chris has presented is a psychological fact that is interesting but nothing more than that. In fact, we could go a step further and note that it is incredibly unlikely that several groups of individuals who had witnessed the risen Jesus would be convinced on the basis of seeing some “patterns and shapes” in the environment. Moreover, how one would square this with the gospel texts themselves is beyond me. Did the disciples, for example, eat fish on the beach with a bunch of patterns and shapes that they though was Jesus in his resurrected body (John 21:1-14), or did doubting Thomas put his finger in the wound of a shape? (John 20:27) Simply saying that we “have to assume they were susceptible to memory errors” is a far cry from actually arguing from the primary sources themselves that they did in fact make memory errors…
5. Emotional Influence on Memory
We arrive at the third and final point of Christopher’s argument, “The final memory error I wish to mention is emotion and its influence on memory.” How does Chris apply this to the historical evidence? Chris explains: “This is arguably the most important aspect of memory to consider due to the emotional connection many of Christ’s followers had with him. For instance, what emotions were Christ’s followers experiencing when he died on the cross? The exact influence of emotion on memory seems to depend on what type of emotion is being experienced. For example, it has been shown that emotionally arousing events can enhance memory for central details, but inhibit memory for peripheral details.”
Okay, fair enough as a scientific observation because Chris has given us a tour de force of his knowledge of psychology, which I do admire. Chris subsequently dedicates much space to a study or two focusing on the manipulation of a subject’s emotions, and the effects of sadness and anger on attention and memory. But what ultimately matters is how this stands as an argument against the resurrection. However, this is as far as I think Chris tends to go, “This seems to be good news if we want to establish the reliability of resurrection witnesses because surely they were emotionally aroused due to Christ’s death… Christ’s followers were either angry or sad (or both) when he died.”
But, again, what follows from this? What Chris has done, in a very similar fashion to point 2 above, is simply state a psychological observation. He does not on any level grapple with the historical evidence, focus on any of the disciples themselves, gospel authors, nor anything from the New Testament. To make his argument solid he needs to grapple with the historical texts themselves of which he has not done.
6. Concluding Remarks
As I’ve analyzed Christopher’s opening remarks I can see that he has a sophisticated knowledge of several important facets of psychology. After all, he teaches in it and that is clearly reflected in his writing. However, this knowledge does not extend to the historical evidence that we’re discussing and of which I’ve placed on the table before us. But it is exactly the evidence that is important here. There’s very little interaction on his part with the New Testament minus the exception of one or two brief remarks surfacing in single sentences that we’ve just answered. This lack of engagement is not only seen in his considering of the historical evidence but also in his application of several psychological studies to this debate. This is because there was little, if no, application of the studies to the historical context and the primary sources. Does this perhaps suggest that Chris is unable to do so given an unfamiliarity with the evidence itself. At best we’ve just got to assume that the studies Chris included somehow applies to the earliest Christians, their memories, and the gospel authors. We have to assume this because Chris hasn’t made a case. But to have to assume my opponent’s argument only shows us that his entire piece lacks argumentation. Even further to his detriment is that he assumes that psychoanalysis can be done on historical people, however, all of the studies he has included focuses on researchers working with individuals in a face-to-face scenario in the present or in recent history. But has Chris somehow argued and shown us that this is even possible? So, in summing up I don’t think Christopher’s arguments, or lack thereof, against Jesus’ resurrection are at all very persuasive. At most we’ve got three psychological observations and no engagement with historical evidence.
1. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making Volume.
2. Biblica. How Were the Books of the Bible Chosen? Available.
3. Sanders, E. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. p. 280.
4. New Testament Foundations. p. 58.
5. Bishop, J. 2015. Interview with David Wenham: “Was Paul or Jesus the Founder of Christianity?” Available.
6. Casey, M. 2014. Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?
7. Reid, D. 2004. The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. p. 460.
8. Craig, W. The Evidence for Jesus. Available.
9. McLatchie, J. 2011. Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences: The Ring Of Truth. Available.
10. Lewis, C. 1955. Surprised by Joy. p. 206.
11. Bishop, J. 2016. Authorship of Mark & Matthew. Available.
12. Bishop, J. 2016. Authorship of the Gospel of Luke & Acts. Available.
13.Bishop, J. 2016. Authorship of John’s Gospel. Available.
14. Richard Bauckham cited in Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims. 2009. p. 87.
15. Richard Bauckham. Ibid.
16. Kogan, S. At what age does a child’s Torah education begin? Available.
17. Ludemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. p. 38.
18. Habermas, G. The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus.