Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fact #2-The Disciples Sincerely Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead and Appeared to Them

This is the second fact that supposedly is agreed upon by the majority of scholarship regarding the life of Jesus and his followers. Before delving into the evidence used to support this claim, I want to consider first a key assumption in this claim that in my mind somewhat undermines its usefulness to the Christian apologist.

I don't think the evidence supports the claim that the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. But let's assume that the majority of scholarship is right, and that they did. Does this mean that the disciples thought Jesus appeared to them in a physical sense? It doesn't. In fact, according to Greg Koukl, who admitted this to me in a phone conversation July 8th, (11-13-07 edit. As per Melinda's comments, it appears that Greg and I misunderstood each other and in fact he did not make the admission I claimed he made) scholars do no think the disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them physically.

This is a very important element of the apologists' argument. People even today claim that Jesus appeared to them. They don't always think it is a physical encounter. Yet some of them would be willing to give their lives for the messages they think they received from Jesus, who appeared to them. I know such people personally.

Paul doesn't actually say that he encountered Jesus in a physical way, nor does he say that the disciples experienced Jesus in this way. Habermas and Licona of course want to believe that Paul taught that when we rise from the dead we rise physically. I disagree that this is what he taught, and I'll be dealing with their arguments that it is in a later post. But even if it were true that he thought that, this would not mean that he claimed to have seen a physical Jesus. He would have to think that Jesus could appear to him in a vision even if in fact Jesus was raised physically.

Licona and Habermas number the supposed undisputed facts as "4+1". That is, the first four facts are supported by the vast majority of scholarship. The fifth fact (the empty tomb) is supported by a majority or scholars, but not as strong a majority as the previous 4 facts. They claim that 75% of scholarship accepts the empty tomb, while the other facts are supported by a larger majority.

If in fact the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead in a non physical way, then really it becomes pretty easy to make sense of the first 4 facts in a non-supernatural way. And as Habermas and Licona themselves admit (p82) natural explanations should be considered before supernatural ones. Jesus was crucified, some of the disciples and some others (Paul and James) thought he had in some sense appeared to them. Why they thought this we can't exactly be sure, because they don't give us a lot of details. Paul and James became followers. It's really not too hard to imagine that this could actually happen.

If a person were to accept that Jesus was buried in a tomb, then a natural explanation would need to account for that, and the naturalist might posit theories that seem unlikely. Perhaps the body was stolen by somebody other than the disciples, or by other committed followers that we don't know much about. Perhaps followers went to the wrong tomb. Perhaps Jesus survived and slipped away from the public eye. These theories seem pretty unlikely (and are dealt with by Licona and Habermas on pages 95-103 in a very weak fashion in my opinion). But you know what else seems unlikely? It is unlikely that a person that was dead for three days was supernaturally raised from the dead. We have zero confirmed cases of that event, as opposed to a handful of cases of the unlikely scenarios that I mentioned. Weighing one unlikelihood against another, a person must decide which they think is more unlikely.


Melinda Penner said...

Jon, You've either misunderstood or misconstrued what Greg said to you in the call on July 8, 2007. Greg did not "admit" that scholars don't believe Jesus appeared physically to the disciples.

Greg was speaking of two views liberal scholars hold. First, their professional estimation of the Gospel accounts, which have good evidence to support their historicity and early dating. Second, the belief in the resurrection these scholars hold, or their opinion of the content of the accounts. Even some scholars who personally don't believe the physical resurrection happened still offer professional credibility to the historicity of the accounts. Greg was making the point that even with the professional evaluation of these scholars who are skeptics of the claims, the Gospels have historical credibility and apologists can make a case from even these scholarly assessments. As he mentioned in the call, Gary Habermas has elaborated on this argument in his books. Greg was simply making a sort of worst case scenario argument that supports belief in Jesus' physical resurrection.

Many other scholars do believe the claims of the Gospel accounts. Greg did not make the claim that "scholars do not think the disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them physically," a consensus assessment, as you indicate in your post. He was referring to liberal scholars who still provide credibility to the historical records despite their beliefs about their content. Scholarship taken as a whole does provide credibility to the claim the disciples believed in the physical appearances of Jesus.

Jon said...

Well, I went back and listened again and I guess I can see that it is possible we misunderstood each other. What I was trying to ask Greg was, do scholars agree that the disciples had experiences where they thought they had been interacting with a physically resurrected Jesus, as opposed to some sort of experience that maybe they thought was non-physical. Perhaps Greg took my question to mean, do scholars believe Jesus was in fact physically resurrected.

Given here that you are denying that Greg admitted what I claimed he admitted, are you now saying that Greg's position is that the vast majority of scholarship, Christian and non, in fact believes the disciples had experiences of the risen Christ that in their mind was physical? If that is Greg's claim, or yours, I'd be curious what you would base that on. I haven't seen Habermas make this claim based upon his research. He simply says scholarship believes Christ appeared to them, but he doesn't specify that he appeared physically.

Anyway, I'll edit my post to reflect the information you provided.

Ken Temple said...

Of course the disciples understood the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a physical way -- the writers of the gospels went out of their way to affirm this by
Luke 24:49
"See My hand and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

John 20:25-28 "Unless I see, .... unless I touch and put my finger into the place . . . and put my hand into His side . . . "

Jesus said, "reach here your finger, and see my hands, and reach here your hand,a nd put it into My side, and be not unbelieving but believing."

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"

Acts 1:1-11
convincing proofs . . .
He was lifted up which they were looking on, and a cloud recieved Him out of their sight."

I Corinthians 9:1
"Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?