RESPONDblog: Is it Rational to Believe in God when there is Evil?

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to believe that God exists and he is good while staring into the face of so many distressing and disturbing things going on in our lives? The evils we face; the brutal illnesses that cut people down in their prime; the painful situations that leave us speechless with grief. Is it rational and responsible to believe in God while we are sobbing the question, “Why?”

Before his conversion to theism, Anthony Flew didn’t think so and he made a compellingly case against belief. Flew’s argument is summarised by Steve Grant as follows:

“We are told that God loves us, and the sceptic points to a child dying of inoperable throat cancer. The loving father is frantic with worry, but God does not intervene. Does God loves us? And the theist claims, ‘God’s love is not merely a human love.’…If allowing a child to die horribly when one has the power to prevent it does not conflict with the claim that God loves us, then it starts to become unclear as to whether or not the theist is really using the word ‘love’ in a way which is recognisable…’What would have to occur…to constitute for you a disproof of the love of God, or of the existence of God?’”[1]

I would agree that when investigating a hypothesis using the scientific method, that we need to agree on some way to test a theory, to establish a set of criteria such that if they were met they would ultimately falsify our theory. If we don’t allow any criteria to undermine our theory…then it’s not a good scientific theory and we are trying to conceal that.

But to apply this process to Christianity is to misunderstand the Christian’s faith in God; like so much we take for granted in life, relationships are not scientific theories; either is Christianity. Is belief in God a sound choice, even though the Christian struggles to understand the causes of evil and the answer to the question, “Why?” Doesn’t my confusion ultimately falsify my belief in God?

I think the answer is no. For a start, the test is not yet complete; all the results are not yet in.

But in a deeper way, I’ll explain why I think the answer’s no by referring to Basil Mitchell’s “Parable of the Resistance Fighter”.

The parable asks us to imagine we are fighting the Nazis in occupied France during the War. Os Guinness, a pupil of Basil Mitchell, describes the scene:

“Imagine I come to you in a bar and I say to you, ‘I hear you want to join the local resistance. Well, I’m the local resistance leader. So, let’s talk for a while; ask me anything you want to know. But if you decide to join the resistance tonight, then you must agree to obey me BLINDLY. We will never speak openly like this again because it’s just too dangerous to do so.”[2]

In a sense, the Christian has become convinced of two essential truths. First, that God is there and second that he is good.

For myself, it is the person of Jesus Christ who has led me to both of those conclusions.

  • If God is the Father of Jesus…
  • if Jesus promises God’s love to each one who believes…
  • and if God raises Jesus from the dead specifically to show that God has validated Jesus’ work…

…then I’m in. Sign me up. And having signed up – I then choose to take a crucial step. I choose to trust God in the dark; when I don’t understand what’s going on in life and why it is happening.

Think back to the resistance leader for a moment.

Let’s say that following our conversation with him in the bar, we agree to join the resistance. Well – we’ve agreed to trust the leader – even though we don’t understand everything that he will be doing during the fight. There will be times we get confused, when it looks like he is helping the Nazis…not opposing them. But we are part of the resistance…we’ve got to hold on and keep trusting both the leader and his motives blindly.

Eventually, the end of the war will come, everything that is hidden is made public. All the codes are released, the motives behind the resistance leader’s confusing actions are finally laid bare for all to see. Then…ah…of course…that’s what he was doing…it’s obvious! He was resisting all along. But while we are in the heart of enemy territory…it’s a different story[3].

In a sense – the Christian is in enemy territory right now. Awful things are happening in this world today, sceptics point Christians to unsettling passages in the Old Testament. Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son? No honest follower of Jesus will claim to have all the answers to the question “Why?” She is in the dark on much of it.

Yet – the Christian is still rational to maintain trust that God is there and he is good.

Os Guinness explains why.

“We can say God – I trust you. Even though I don’t understand what is happening right now. Yet one day, perhaps we will know why. This is a faith that simply knows what it NEEDS to know right now; that God is there and he is good. So, we can trust him even though right now…in enemy territory…we are in the dark.”[4]

Is it rational and coherent for the Christian to say that they believe God exists and is good in the face of so much distress? Yes. The rationality of one’s trust in God is founded on the person of Christ, and is not undermined by everything we do not understand. We’ve got to hold on, to watch this world – and the evil within it – to play out and conclude. To do what we can to resist it.

But the war is not over.

Yet.

[1] Steve Grant, Talking about God, Richmond Journal of Philosophy 9, Spring 2005, accessed 15th March 2017, http://www.richmond-philosophy.net/rjp/back_issues/rjp9_grant.pdf.

[2] Os Guinness, The Journey: A Thinking Person’s Quest for Meaning, The Veritas Forum, accessed 15th March 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXzgs7Tyys.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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RESPONDblogs: Do Any Natural Explanations for the RESURRECTION Work?

emptyWhen it comes to identifying the most plausible explanation for an event…we start by gathering the eyewitness evidence and testimony about this event. And once the evidence has been marshalled, we then begin the job of finding a theory that best fits all the evidence and gives an explanation FOR the event.

This process will throw up many different theories. But the better theories will be the ones with the widest explanatory scope. In other words, the theories which best fit with the most of the available data. We have a problem to deal with when we have theories that require us to throw some established data away. Any explanatory theory that requires us to throw data away is not a good theory.

 

In the 1st Century, over 500 people in and around Jerusalem claimed that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. It sparked a movement that in 2016 has 2.5 billion followers – CHRISTIANITY. Why did it spark this movement? Because the resurrection of Jesus confirmed the claims of Jesus – that he was the Messiah, God himself, and he had come to begin setting up God’s Kingdom.

I’ve attached below the uncontested historical facts that Christian and non-Christian historians agree on surrounding the death of Jesus and the birth of the Christian Church.

I’ve also gathered the bulk of the natural and supernatural theories that have been proposed over the last 2000 years since the claims of Jesus’ Resurrection were first made. There are 13 theories which try to explain the Resurrection event. What you can see – is that all the naturalistic theories bar one have a big problem. The numbers under each theory indicate which elements of historical data we must throw away if we are to stick with this theory. These theories have poor explanatory scope. They require us to throw established facts away. They are not good theories.

There are only two theories that fit with all the established facts. One naturalistic theory – and one supernatural theory.

EITHER

Jesus was an alien. I don’t find this explanation convincing. Because “Jesus is an alien” in a Star Trek way basically just paints a bullseye around the facts…and fires the Starship Enterprise at it. This explanation ironically explains nothing at all. But personally I like this theory because I love space movies. And I think in a very real sense…that Jesus was alien…but he wasn’t from another Galaxy. He simply wasn’t originally from our Universe.

OR

Jesus was who he said He was and God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead at that point in history to confirm the ongoing narrative that had been running for millennia…and continues to run…about the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It fits with a Judeo-Christian understanding of the past and the Christian expectation for the future. It clarifies it, and it explains it in a powerful way.

 

It seems to me as I look at the data and the possible theories, that the one that best fits the data, is the explanation that the first Christians themselves proposed. That on the first Easter Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

1 – HISTORICAL FACTS

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
  4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.
  7. This message was the centre of preaching in the early church.
  8. The message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
  9. As a result of this preaching the church was born and grew.
  10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
  11. James, brother of Jesus, who had been a sceptic was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus.
  12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

[1]

 

2 – NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL THEORIES

naturalistic_theories

[2]

 

[1] Craig Hazen, Evidence for the Resurrection, Biola University.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: Why Christianity Can’t Just Be Based On Wishful Thinking

i_want_to_believeIn 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something.

What exactly did Barney and Betty claim? You can listen to an interview with Betty online[1]. It’s fascinating and familiar to those of us with the benefit of 10 seasons of Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” to draw from!

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at Betty Hills outlandish claim…which sounds very much like fiction to me…I wonder whether Christianity sounds just like it to many people today. Christianity’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead 2000 years ago  – is this any less outlandish? Does the New Testament’s report of Jesus’ resurrection belong in the fictional “X-Files” cabinet, or is there more substance to Christianity’s claim that points toward its historical credentials?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

 

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird was happening that night. They reportedly stopped the car and took a good look. But the bright lights – and the erratic behavior of the object – began to freak them out. So they hurried back to their car and drove on. Before long – it became apparent they were 35 miles further down the road than they should have been. They appeared to have lost time!

Many weeks later, following a period of disrupted sleep and nightmares, they reportedly went thru regression hypnosis. And this brought out vivid details of little bald grey captors, operating tables and medical procedures.

Actually this is only the first well documented case of Alien Abduction – throughout the next 20 years, a number of similar claims were made by apparently ordinary people with no apparent reason to lie.

 

The New Testament contains 2000 year old eyewitness reports from apparently ordinary people too.

  • Reports of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the grief and shock of his friends.
  • Reports that these grieving people then subsequently encountered their friend back from the dead at various different times and places over a 40 day period.

 

Sounds pretty unlikely – right? Dead people don’t come back. Aliens don’t abduct people driving home in their cars.

 

Whatever historical event you are trying to verify – whether mundane or fantastical – historians apply 5 criteria to test the solidity of the report.

A solid Historical claim will[2]:

1 – be supported by multiple, independent sources

2 – be attested to by enemies (hostile witnesses) as well as friends

3 – include embarrassing admissions which reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling

4 – be supported by direct eyewitness testimony

5 – be supported by early testimony making legendary development impossible

 

The problem with the Barney and Betty Hills Alien Abduction claim is – by the criteria laid out above – we do not have a solid Historical report.

The only witnesses were the alleged abductees. There are no independent sources or witnesses – either friendly or hostile – to the Hill’s claim.  While other people agreed something strange was seen in the night sky that evening in September 1961, no other witness to the alleged Close Encounter exists. We’re right to be skeptical – their case is historically unverified.

 

So – what about the Bible’s claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:24) Well – a historical case based on a minimal set of data does exist. What is this data and how solid is the case?

 

DATA POINT 1 – The Death of Jesus By Crucifixion

This fact is attested by every Gospel, and many non-Christian sources too. For example – Roman historian Josephus, Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata as well as the Jewish Talmud itself.

Jesus crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple independent eyewitnesses, early sources and enemy attestation.

Some have proposed that – maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely swooned, was then buried and was then revived in the cold tomb.

But this doesn’t work.

  • Roman executioners were excellent torturers and executioners
  • Jesus faking his resurrection goes against his moral teachings
  • There are no early reports he was wounded and not killed
  • A half dead Messiah could not serve as the foundation for a belief in the Resurrection. If his friends had encountered him bloodied and bleeding…they would not have called him the Lord of Life. They would have called him a doctor!
  • Jewish thinking said, only once at the end of human history would the dead be raised. This means that – on encountering Jesus alive again after his crucifixion –his followers would naturally have just assumed he didn’t die. Yet this is not what they claimed. It is highly culturally unusual for the Jewish early Church to proclaim him as Christ crucified and raised from death.

 

DATA POINT 2 – The Empty Tomb

All naturalistic theories that attempt to explain away the Resurrection presuppose the empty tomb. The body was reportedly gone.

From the beginning, the hostile Jewish authorities claimed that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body to fake his resurrection. But this claim gives no reason WHY they would have done so.

Further – the claim that the disciples stole the body does not work within Jewish culture at that time. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would become the suffering servant; who was executed shamefully by the Gentiles, and then raised bodily before the general resurrection at the end of time. Rather – Messiah’s were ten a penny in ancient Jerusalem. If your Messiah got themselves killed – you either gave up and went home, or you hitched your wagon to a different one. But the idea that Jesus followers stole his corpse and faked his resurrection just wouldn’t have entered their minds at that point in Jewish history.

Finally – if the disciples stole the body – this doesn’t explain the conversion of Christianity’s 1st century enemy turned Apostle – Saul who became Paul.

Surely if someone had managed to produce his rotting corpse and deposit it in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see….that would have been an end to it. But they could not.

DATA POINT 3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances

Scholars cite 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as the earliest snapshot of Christian belief about Jesus. Paul claimed to receive this creed from the original Apostles many years before he wrote his letter. Scholars date the creed to within months or weeks of the crucifixion itself.

Three of our four minimal facts are recorded there as an early statement of belief – Christ died, his tomb was discovered empty and he was seen by his closest friends. And then more than five hundred people saw him at once.

The early date of this creed rules out legendary embellishment because there simply wasn’t time for legends to develop. And besides – the eye witnesses were still alive at the time this was passed on.

Yet over hundreds of years some legends did develop; they are referred to as the 3rd century Gnostic Gospels. In comparison to the New Testament’s stark and excited eyewitness reporting, the Gnostic Gospels are full of bizarre and fanciful imagery.

 

Some have suggested hallucination as an explanation for the appearances. People saw what they wanted to see. But Psychologists have ruled this out. Hallucinations are private experiences yet crowds of eyewitnesses reportedly witnessed the risen Jesus. Remember, Jews would not expect to see a raised Jesus anyway. And finally – hallucination does not explain the empty tomb itself or indeed Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

 

DATA POINT 4 – The Origin of the Christian Faith

Within one generation of Jesus crucifixion, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. If Christianity is the effect – then what was the cause?

Well – surely the most obvious cause is the Apostles belief that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this belief transformed people’s lives. The cultural worship practices of Jewish people changed. Church moved to a Sunday.

Could the Disciples have stolen the body and made it all up? No lie or shared conspiracy or mistaken observation has the explanatory power to ignite the Christian church in human history.

 

IN SUMMARY

Jesus resurrection is based on historically verifiable evidence – it meets the 5 requirements outlined earlier in this blog. However unusual the event, there is powerful evidence of the event’s historical reliability. Even though we don’t understand how it happened – this does not preclude us from historically accepting that it did happen.

 

Really?

You’ve got to be gullible to believe Alien abduction reports – right? In the same way, dead men do not rise!

Hold on a minute –

The historical basis of the resurrection is incredibly strong. And no one claims Jesus was raised from the dead by natural means. Christians simply repeat what the Bible eye witness accounts say – that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Besides – you don’t have to understand something to accept the truth of it. Ask any Scientist to explain human consciousness; where does it come from? Then ask them what energy really is. They don’t really know. If Scientists can accept these things even though they don’t understand how and why they work – can’t we accept Jesus’ Resurrection as true based on observable and historically verifiable evidence?

 

 

[1] Betty Hill UFO Encounter Interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO6VIMPZhwA.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

RESPONDblogs: The “Buddhist Jesus” Claim…and BATMAN!

buddhist

A friend sent me a Youtube link to a documentary that the BBC put together a few years ago asking the question – “Was Jesus a Buddhist Monk?”

 

Here’s the link I used to watch it (apologies if the link no longer works for you)

Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk (BBC Documentary)

 

The documentary makers claim that, because the Bible contains no description of Jesus of Nazareth between the ages of 14 and 29, that he must have gone to live in India to learn Buddhist ways. (of course!) Further, after surviving his crucifixion by the Roman Government, instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus fled to India and lived out the remainder of his natural life there.

 

This is a fascinating and fun story as it plays out. It reminded me very much of the story told about the comic book character Bruce Wayne, who spent his formative years learning from Ra’s al Guhl, his spiritual mentor, before returning home and donning his cape and cowl…”I’m Batman!” The documentary also feels very “Da Vinci Code”…which may give a clue to the dating of the piece itself.

 

From comic books + novels + movies …and back to history. This documentary attempts to dismiss the New Testament claim of Jesus supernatural resurrection from the dead and his ascension. And it portrays the people of Jesus’ time as gullible dupes who were setup to perpetuate the Christianity myth, while Jesus himself legged it back to Kashmir to live out his days there.

 

One wonders WHY the first Christians would be willing to be duped like that. Given that history and tradition indicates that all but one of Jesus’ inner circle were martyred for their faith in Jesus as God, killed for their persistence in sharing the world changing message that everyone who believes in Jesus can be sure of a resurrection body something like his in the future. Why would anyone die for a lie…when they personally knew the truth that their Jesus was really just an ordinary bloke…living an ordinary life…somewhere due East of ancient Israel? Certainly…the documentary makes no attempt at touching this rather relevant question.

 

Instead – it chooses SOME of the historical evidence we have for the life of Christ…and extrapolates wildly from that. I’m sorry…but honest scholarship would acknowledge all of the available evidence first….and build from there.

 

1 – Some Great Quotes from the Documentary

I heard some really head scratching statements being made while watching this documentary. I have no intention of pointing the finger here…so I’m only sharing the quotes, not the people who said them. Watch the documentary if you are interested.

 

 

“It is possible that Jesus was sedated on the cross and was removed early, before he died. This is very possible.”

Clearly this person has not studied the well documented ancient Roman practice of flogging and crucifixion. I’ve shared some details below in this blog.

Many people have tried to support the “swoon” theory, of a Jesus who survived his execution. Yet none of these attempts are historically convincing. More explanation below.

 

“The earliest Gospel is Mark…and it has no resurrection appearances at all. The last verses of Mark were added 200 years later.”

This misrepresents Mark’s surviving original text in chapter 16. Jesus’ resurrection is clearly announced by this text, although the women who discover the empty tomb leave it bewildered and frightened.

“When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,[b] who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” Mark 16:5-7, NLT

It also conveniently, or mistakenly, misses the fact that the earliest record of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t Mark’s Gospel at all…but 1 Corinthians chapter 15. This creed is dated to within weeks of the crucifixion itself…

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter[c] and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers[d] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, NLT

 

“The Gospels are not primarily interested in what actually happened historically…just what Jesus taught.”

Again – I’m wondering if this person cared to check their Bible? Luke the physician used great care to communicate the eyewitness reports of Jesus life.

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.[a] Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. Luke 1:1-4, NLT

 

“Jesus resurrection was just a picture and an image of hope. It was not literally true.”

What nonsense. If Jesus resurrection did not literally happen, then the message of Christianity is a dangerous delusion that leads people astray. It doesn’t comfort them at all – it misleads them in a cynical and dangerous way.

No – to be a carrier of hope, Jesus Resurrection has to have happened the way the Gospels clearly report that it did…based on eye witness testimony.

 

 

Overall – I’d say the scholarship that this documentary appeals to in making its case…is suspect. As a non-scholar myself…even I can see that! This hurts the documentary’s claims, I think.

 

 

2 – Why the Foundation of the Documentary’s Claims are Suspect

Going back to the claim that Jesus was a Buddhist, this is a great work of fiction…and this claim rests on two assumptions that seem to me to be absurd. If the assumptions aren’t solid…then you can be sure that their resulting conclusions will be unsupportable.

Assumption 1 – Jesus grew up in India between ages 14 and 29. But there is no evidence that Jesus spent any time outside of ancient Israel beyond his brief forays into regions like Samaria, as described in the Gospels.

Assumption 2 – Jesus survived his crucifixion and escaped back to India. But there is no reasonable way that Jesus could have survived his crucifixion.

 

Here are some of my reasons for making both of these statements.

 

First assumption – Jesus wasn’t living in Israel between the ages of 14 and 29.

The only ancient historical basis for this (the earlier the evidence the more credible it is to historians) is that Jesus’ biographies (the Gospels) do not mention anything about his life between those two ages. Someone once observed that – absence of evidence is never evidence of absence. This is sometimes called an appeal to ignorance…and formal logic says it’s a fallacious way of constructing an argument. It asserts a proposition’s true because it hasn’t yet been proven false (or vice versa). But there is another option – that there is insufficient data to prove whether its true or false. That’s what we’ve got in this case and – given Jesus documented peasant status – a more reasonable assumption to make – given the style and agenda of ancient biography – is just that the writers didn’t focus on any event in his life growing up in Israel between 14 and 29. Sure – they claim Jesus went to India – but they are simply inventing the story. So their assumption doesn’t logically follow from the evidence.

 

 

 

Second assumption – Jesus survived the crucifixion.

There was some conspiracy, or agenda to get him off the cross quickly so that he would survive his ordeal and recover. The primitive 1st century people didn’t know the difference between resuscitation and resurrection…and they leapt to a fantastical explanation…rather than go for a naturalistic one.

 

Again – great plot for a novel. I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory…and an episode of the X-Files too. But I don’t think the claim stands up to historical scrutiny and personally I don’t think this is a reasonable conclusion when ALL the available evidence is taken into account. Doctor Alexander Metherell is a Professor of Engineering and Medicine and he has written on the events surrounding Jesus crucifixion from a medical perspective. He is quoted by Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ”[1].

 

What does he suggest? He says that there is no way that Jesus could have survived his well-documented crucifixion. Look at what Metherell says about the proposition that Jesus survived his crucifixion:

 

“After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. So its preposterous to think that, if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his. There’s just no way.” – Metherell

 

Metherell goes on to assert that it is just unreasonable to say that Jesus survived his crucifixion. It’s a fanciful claim. He died on the cross. The evidence that Metherell points to in the Gospel accounts for this:

 

  • Jesus sweat was tinged with blood in the garden beforehand. Hematidrosis, the result of psychological stress. Would make his skin very sensitive.
  • Jesus was flogged before he was crucified. The roman whips were leather thongs with metal balls and sharp pieces of bone woven into them. Ancient historians talk of the victims back…down to the backs of their legs…being shredded by this process of flogging. Often exposing the victim’s spine and his internal organs. Many victims would die there and then from hypovolemic shock. It seems reasonable to assume Jesus was in this state as he staggered thru Jerusalem holding the upright beam of his cross.
  • Romans used 7 inch spikes that were driven thru the wrist (considered back then as part of the hand). It would go in where the median nerve runs. This is so painful that a new word was invented to describe it – excruciating…literally “out of the cross”.
  • His posture would have meant that his shoulders would have been dislocated.
  • As they say in the video…this is death by asphyxiation. To exhale the victim must push himself upwards…tearing the flesh of his feet every time. Until the victim eventually became exhausted…leading to respiratory acidosis.
  • Yes – the Romans would break the legs to speed up death. It talks of them doing this in the gospels because the Sabbath was approaching. Yet Jesus legs weren’t broken. Is that because he got special treatment so he might survive? Not at all. What the documentary conveniently fails to mention is that the Romans stuck a spear in his side to make sure he was dead!!
  • Hypovolemic shock apparently would lead to a fluid build up in the pericardium – so when the spear was thrust in – blood and “water” came out, as the gospels report.
  • Maybe Jesus wasn’t nailed? Well archaeology confirms the first century gospel claims. Nails have been found in the remains of victims buried in Jerusalem with nails in feet bones.
  • Maybe the Romans were just mistaken and Jesus wasn’t dead? Hang on – it was a Roman soldiers job to kill their victim. This was not hard to do – it was a well-documented process – and they risked their heads if they let a prisoner escape. Yes – the documentary points to the part of Josephus where he asks for 3 friends to be removed from their crosses…two die and one survives. But the difference here is – Josephus is a Roman Official – he has the power to make a request of Governor Titus to remove these people from their crosses. In Jesus situation – he had no one in power on his side. The one that could have saved him – Pilate – washed his hands of him. Just because people have been taken off crosses in the past…does not mean Jesus was.
  • Many people have claimed Jesus survived crucifixion over the centuries. The swoon theory is “impossible. It’s a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact” according to Metherell.

 

 

 

But – assume that by some turn of events – Jesus DID survive his crucifixion? He could not have walked around having had nails ripping thru his feet. And he couldn’t have used his arms because his shoulders were dislocated. Not to mention the gaping spear wound in his chest. Metherell’s interesting quote again…

 

“After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. So its preposterous to think that, if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his. There’s just no way.” – Metherell

 

 

Jesus didn’t survive his crucifixion – to claim so is unreasonable when all the evidence is taken into account – the documentary misses out lots of important pieces of evidence when making its case (I’ve only mentioned one or two of them).

 

Here’s another quote from a Doctor.

 

“Clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” – Doctor William D Edwards, Journal of the American Medical Association

 

No – personally I think it’s reasonable to go with medical opinion…and assume Jesus was dead when he was lifted from his cross.

 

And if he was dead, then there was no escape to India. And there is no simple naturalistic explanation to the historical evidence of the empty tomb and millions of changed lives down thru the centuries following the birth of the Christian church.

[1] Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ, Zondervan

RESPONDblogs: Did Jesus Exist?

suetonius

Jesus.

 

There have been many canvases painted, books written, stained glass windows mounted and movies made about him. There are many different opinions today on who he was and what he actually said. But he lived such a long time ago; isn’t it possible he has been made up? Perhaps Jesus is just a mythical talisman people use to salve their fears, legitimize their ministries, justify their philosophies and excuse their behaviour. Is Jesus a myth?

 

No – I’m going to do a series of posts where I will outline my reasons for asserting the historicity of Jesus, and I will base this position on historical sources external to the New Testament.

Why?

Because so many people come to the Bible with a pre-conceived notion that it must be biased in its portrayal of Jesus. But what if extra-Biblical historical sources, from people with no pro-Christian theological bias…and sometimes some anti-Christian bias… did refer to the person of Jesus? And what if they also corroborated many many details that we read about Jesus in the New Testament Gospels? Would you be interested?

 

These sources fall into three categories, “(1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian.”[1] I will focus on the first two.

 

The first Greco-Roman source is Gaius Suetonius, the Roman writer, lawyer and historian. He was chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian, and he wrote a history called On the Lives of the Caesars. His historical accounts were written with the aid of this Roman government documentation. Reporting on events in 49 C.E. he says,

“He [Emperor Claudius] banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”[2]

(The translator of Suetonius’s account notes that “Chrestus” is a variant spelling of “Christ”.)

A second related comment from Suetonius states that,

“After the great fire at Rome … Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”[3]

 

Taken together, these records from Suetonius tell us some important details:

1 – Jews were expelled from Rome

2 – it was Christ who caused these Jews to make a disturbance…leading to their expulsion

3 – these Jews had a belief that was described as mischievous by Suetonius, and also described the same way by Tacitus (as we will see later)

4 – the term “Christians” was coined to describe this Jewish group who followed the teachings of Christ

 

Sceptic Richard Carrier denies the historical Jesus completely; he has decided that Jesus is a mythical and fictional invention. Richard says of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome that, “This incident was more likely city-wide violence ginned up by a Jewish [rabble rouser] named Chrestus.”[4] But Richard has problems with this:

  • He cannot produce any evidence of this supposed rabble rouser.
  • there is no evidence of any Jew being given that name; “among hundreds of Jewish names in the catacombs of Rome, there is not one instance of Chrestus being the name of a Jew”[5].

It is much more likely that Suetonius is not mentioning a person named Chretus; rather he is repeating an error in his source. He is referring to Jesus (passing on the assumption that his name was Christ), but misunderstood him to be an “agitator who lived in Rome in 49 C.E.”[6]

 

Richard Carrier continues; “it cannot plausibly be argued that [Suetonius] meant Jesus, who was neither alive nor in Rome at any time under Claudius.”[7] Carrier is pointing out that, because these Roman disturbances are dated to between 41 and 54 A.D. when Claudius was emperor, there is clearly a time discrepancy. Jesus was crucified years earlier; how can he provoke disturbances if he is already dead?

Yet Carrier is forgetting that the early Christian Church clearly declared Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. Surely Suetonius was only reporting clearly what was occurring during Claudius’s reign; namely that the Jewish Christian disturbances were claimed to be instigated by the resurrected Jesus. It is likely that these disturbances were, “sparked by disagreement about who Jesus was and/or what he said and did.”[8]

 

Richard Carrier also denies that the Suetonius quote corroborates anything written in the New Testament[9], but actually the opposite is true. Suetonius second quote describing the aftermath of the fires in Rome corroborates a small detail mentioned in Acts chapter 18 that affects the friends of Jesus; namely that, “Paul met a Jewish couple from Pontus … who had recently left Italy because Claudius had demanded that all Jews leave Rome.”[10]

 

Given the well documented Christian Resurrection preaching and the corroboration of a Christian expulsion from Rome, it would seem reasonable to agree with the majority scholarly opinion that Suetonius mentions the person of the historical Jesus, not a lost Jewish rabble rouser named Chrestus.

Did Jesus exist? Suetonius certainly thought so. Next up – TACITUS

  [1] Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist? Search for Evidence Beyond the Bible”, Bible History Daily, accessed March 12th, 2015, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas”, Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Carrier, HITLER HOMER BIBLE CHRIST The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, (Philosophy Press 2014), 377.

[5] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 377.

[8] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[9] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 376.

[10] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence”.

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – a Dangerous Edict

5 Claudius Nazareth Inscription - Paris copy

Some skeptical folks will want evidence for the claims of Christianity. Fair enough!  After all, one of the core claims of Christianity is – that God entered human history as Jesus of Nazareth at a specific point in history. If this is true – then surely he has left behind evidence of his time on earth?

I would argue that the New Testament documents form the basis of that historical evidence. Yet there is other supporting evidence to be found too. Little supporting pieces of history, like shards of buried treasure that point towards the truthfulness and the reliability of the New Testament record. And we find this evidence in the most surprising of places.

 

Back in 1878, amongst the ancient remains of the town Nazareth, archaeologists found a fascinating inscription engraved on marble. The inscription – which is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris today – has been named the Nazareth Inscription. The text says this:

“Proclamation of Ceasar. It is my desire that graves and tombs remain sealed for the benefit of those who have made them and for their children, family members and their religion. If, however, anyone accuses that another has either destroyed them, removed the buried, or with ill intent has taken them to other places in order to wrong them, or has removed the sealing on other stones, I order that person be brought to trial. Just as a man should respect the gods, so also with regard to men, for all should respect the buried. It is therefore forbidden for anyone to disturb them. Should this edict be violated, the offender is to be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violating a sepulcher.”

 

The marble inscription has been dated to around 41AD, less than 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and this edict is believed to have been made by Claudius Ceasar. The language fits with other surviving edicts from him.

 

So – the leader of the entire Roman Empire is making an edict here. Breaking the terms of this edict will lead to the death penalty – this is a big and serious deal. So which criminal act is being doubled down on, here? What is so threatening to the Roman Empire that such a clear warning would be given?

 

Removing dead bodies from Jewish Sepulcher graves

 

Seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Surely robbing of valuable items from graves – which I am sure, was common – is a more serious crime compared to stealing a dead body? What use is a decomposing corpse, after all?

 

It is a baffling edict – unless you choose to view it in the context of the New Testament’s report that …

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” Matthew 28:6

 

One of the oldest explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is – the disciples stole his body. According to Matthew’s gospel, this was the message that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem urged the Roman Tomb Guards to give. They even go on to say that, if this story gets passed up the Roman chain of command…we will make sure you don’t get into any trouble for it guys. You can read about this in Matthew 28:11-15.

Well it seems from the wording of the Nazareth Inscription edict that the Jewish Chief Priests story reached those in charge – and the response was a modification of the law in Palestine. STOP STEALING DEAD BODIES out of Jewish sealing tombs…or else!

 

I have no doubt that the 1st century Romans dismissed the preaching of the early Church as lies. They didn’t believe Jesus had been raised. They believed – as the Sanhedrin and the Guards had claimed – that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body following Jesus’ death. This theft had clearly led to social unrest, as described in part in Acts chapters 5 to 8. And so – the Roman Government’s  solution – was to make the stealing of dead bodies illegal.

 

It seems to me that the Nazareth Inscription corroborates parts of Matthew’s Gospel post resurrection account – namely the claim the Jesus had risen, and the counter claim that his disciples stole the body. It also seems very significant to me that the Nazareth Inscription itself was presumably installed…but certainly found in Jesus’ very home town.

 

What am I saying here?

I am NOT saying that the Nazareth Inscription provides archaeological proof of Jesus’ Resurrection. What I am suggesting however – is that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection was widely known in the years following the 33AD event; even to the Roman Emperor. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ first Disciples were the ones who circulated the resurrection reports. Jesus Resurrection was not an invention hundreds of years later, as has been claimed by some skeptical scholars who have tried to discredit Christianity.

 

It seems to me – the Nazareth Inscription is evidence that presents a question to us. Did the disciples steal Jesus body, or was Jesus really raised from the dead as they claimed?

 

 

Two final thoughts about the Stolen Body Explanation:

First – it assumes Jesus tomb was empty. And people knew then where  Jesus’ dead body was placed after his crucifixion.

Second – the record shows that Jesus’ friends were broken by his crucifixion. But something happened very quickly to turn this dispirited band into dynamic world changers. These men stood for truth and morality. And each one of Jesus original circle went to a premature death, standing for Jesus, his resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins.

It seems to me that it would take a lot more than a mistakenly missing body to turn frightened nobody’s into radical world changers.

Also – the idea that they knowingly stole the body in order to manufacture the birth of the Christian Church – does not fit with the record of these first Disciples. These people stood for truth and went to their deaths proclaiming it. What reason would they have for making this sacrifice, if they knew all along that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax?

Surely meeting the risen Jesus Christ – and being commissioned by him to spread his life changing truth – is a historically reasonable explanation for their positively changed lives?

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – an Unexpected Darkness

Capture

In my experience, one of the first questions that Biblical skeptics ask about the miracle claims in the Bible is this – “Is there any evidence for this event outside the Bible?” I think this is a very reasonable question.

My previous blog focused on extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus Resurrection and his claims to be God.  http://tinyurl.com/k7ltbp9

 

For this one, I’d like to focus on a very specific event that the Bible records as happening on the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.

 

The Synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew 27:45; 51-52, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44-45) all record an unexpected period of darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion. Matthew goes further to give it duration – 3 hours – and also claims it was accompanied by something like an earthquake.

Are there any extra-Biblical references to this?

If it really happened then surely it would have been a source of shock and surprise to the wider population of Jerusalem that day? The gospel account does not give any clue as to how large an area was affected by the claimed darkness. Was it restricted to the areas surrounding Jerusalem in some way? Was it felt by people living elsewhere on the planet? The text does not tell us. Again – we can assume it…but we don’t know from the Gospel itself.

 

Well – a very ancient extra-Bibical account of the 3 hour long darkness and rock splitting earthquake – does in fact exist. To find it we need to read reports from one pagan Roman historian who was a contemporary of Jesus living in Palestine, one pagan Roman historian from the 1st century and another who lived two hundred years later in Jerusalem.

 

Thallus, est. AD50:

Roman historian Thallus, believed to be a Samaritan, recorded strange events during Tiberius Ceasar’s reign around Jerusalem. Thallus is mentioned by various historical sources including his colleague Josephus. Thallus describes an “eclipse of the sun”; he gives a naturalistic explanation of an event which is dated to the time period of the crucifixion.

Phlegon, est. AD137:

Phlegon was believed to have been born around the time of Jesus crucifixion, and wrote an account later in the 1st century. He too mentions the darkness and even records the time and duration of the event; and it lines up with Matthew’s report – between the 6th hour and the 9th hour. He also mentions the earthquake affecting Bythinia and part of Nicea (hundreds of miles north of Jerusalem). I will quote a surviving fragment of his “The Olympiads” below.

Neither Thallus or Phlegon appear to have made any attempt to link the events specifically to Jesus crucifixion. Why would they? Yet a later 3rd century historian – Julius Africanus – did just that.

Julius Africanus, est. AD230:

He researched the earlier Thallus and Phlegon reports…and he added some commentary of his own. I will quote Julius Africanus at the bottom of this blog…but let me pull out some threads of what he is saying – and what he is not saying – in his account.

 

1 – He points specifically to “This darkness” . It was a well-known historical event that is being discussed. The three hour darkness –  and its associated earthquake – clearly affected a large region because many people got caught up in the discussion about it afterwards. Just how large the region was, though, is hard to tell.

2 – He quotes Thallus’ historical mention of the darkness. But he challenges Thallus’ reasoning for its occurrence. How can this have been an eclipse of the sun when the dates and times were all wrong? There was a full moon at that point in the Jewish calendar, and an eclipse of the sun would have been impossible.

3 – It seems that there were many different conflicting explanations suggested for this darkness at the time.  This is to be expected; people are curious – and inquisitive. We aren’t talking a cloudy day or a sudden rain downpour. This was a significant event that was debated amongst learned people at the time. There must have been many theories for what had happened that day! Julius is not convinced by Thallus’ naturalistic explanation. This is not just any astronomical event that is being discussed here – this is a very specific one which occurred during the reign of Tiberius Ceasar – around the time when Jesus Christ was crucified.

4 – He also points out Phlegon’s precise timing of the darkness and rock splitting event. This lines the account up with the claims in Matthew’s Gospel. He goes further and mentions the “resurrection of the dead” – a claim that Matthew’s Gospel specifically makes as having occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death. (Matthew 27:52-53). Julius is writing a hundred years after these events. But his report seems to refer to events that were known from the time.

5 – Julius is not specifically arguing that a supernatural event occurred that day. I will sometimes hear skeptics talk down to those who lived in 1st century Palestine. “Oh, they would have believed anything back then!” But these people were not stupid – and not as naive as many folks assume. Julius’  focus here is on recording what happened that day and when. He is also very focused on arguing what did not happen – this event could NOT have simply been a natural eclipse.

6 – Julius is not writing a Christian apologetic on the crucifixion, here. This is written as a historical commentary underpinning the tradition that had been communicated by the canonical Gospels for over 100 years prior to Julius investigations.

 

 

In summary, we have independent, extra-Biblical witnesses of an unexpected and specific 3 hour period of darkness on the day Jesus was crucified.  And we have historical evidence of a debate for the cause of this unexpected astronomical event.  We also have the Phlegon account of the earthquake felt as far north from Jerusalem as Nicea. I am unsure whether Thallus or Phlegon mentioned the resurrections as well; but Julius certainly does (although Julius was not an eyewitness of those events himself).

So the answer to my question is – YES. I think we DO have corroborative evidence outside the Bible for another of its miracle claims.

 

 

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. (The Extant Fragments of the five Books of Chronography of Julius Africanus XVIII.1)

 

In the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad, there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before, for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night, and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occured in Bythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicea. (The Extant Fragments of The Olympiads of phlegon)