Friday, November 30, 2007

Maybe the Disciples Recanted

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Habermas and Licona did in fact address some of the skeptical rebuttals to common Christian arguments. Christians point out that the disciples were really willing to die for the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. One of the major problems with this argument is that it is not clear that the disciples understood Jesus to be raised in a physical sense. This is a key problem. Another problem is that we have no idea whether or not they tried to recant after they encountered threats. The former problem was not addressed, but surprisingly for me the later one was addressed.

Habermas and Licona reply on page 59 of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus that even though it is possible they could have recanted, they would had to have known in the first place that getting involved in this sort of thing was dangerous. How would they know this? Well, if you take a look at the book of Acts it mentions the martyrdoms of Stephen and James. Hence the disciples would have known that proclaiming Jesus was dangerous.

This is a very disappointing response for me, and I have to wonder if even Habermas and Licona can't spot the transparently question begging nature of their rebuttal. Where is the argument that Acts records reliable history? With all of the talk about the "minimal facts" which are supported by the majority of scholarship, what is the scholarly position on the reliability of a book like Acts?

I'm inclined to assume that the scholarly consensus doesn't look good on this point, so it isn't mentioned. Further, the evidence we do have in fact indicates that there was nothing dangerous about being a Christian. Suppose the disciples knew very well that this was a fraud. As I mentioned in a previous post the reaction of the government is revealed in Pliny's letter to the emperor Trajan. He indicates that he asks people if they are Christians. If they are he threatens them and demands they offer incense to the state gods. If they do so, they are released. Trajan replies to Pliny and lets him know that this is an approach he approves of. If the disciples don't truly believe in what they are claiming, then where is the risk?

But had this happened, say Habermas and Licona, critics like Celsus would have made hay of this, using it to bludgeon his Christian opponents. Really? If someone as well connected as Pliny the Younger has no knowledge of even what it is that Christians believe while writing in the year 100 can we really expect Celsus to know the ins and outs of exactly who of the disciples recanted and who didn't while writing 80 years after Pliny? The gospels themselves can't even agree on who the disciples were. This just doesn't cut it as a response to the skeptical question, and hence I see no reason to think that we know that nobody recanted in the face of threats.

5 comments:

Ken Temple said...

Scholarly opinion on the book of Acts:
William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (London, 1895) Reprinted by Baker, 1962. His archeological research turned him from a skeptic to a true believer.
William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953
History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts
Edited by Ben Witherington, III (includes contributions by more than a few scholars)
Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky
http://www3.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521495202

Also,
F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Intervarsity Press, 1943, 1982.

Another good book on the Resurrection: (besides the others I gave you at Dave Armstrong’s site.)
Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection. Thomas Nelson, 2000.

And a famous book by a skeptic and liberal scholar,
John A. T. Robinson,
Redating the New Testament. SCM Press, 1976.

To bring the verses up front to this post in answer to your statement regarding the physical nature of the resurrection:

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, and 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 received 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?

Jon said...

Hey Ken.

With regards to scholarly consensus, really I don't put too much weight on that type of an argument. I only point it out because this is something Habermas and Licona put a lot of weight on. The whole approach of this book is to show that the schoarly consensus leads to certain truths, and these lead to the resurrection. What's happeneing though is Habermas and Licona selectively point to scholarly consensus. Of course you can find some conservative scholars that accept the historicity of a book like Acts, but what about the consensus of all scholarship, liberal and conservative, like Habermas and Licona emphasize throughout this book?

This same point applies to whether or not he disciples thought Jesus was raised physically. Of course the gospels indicate they did, but the approach of Habermas and Licona is to base their arguments only on facts accepted by the majority of scholarship, or "minimal facts." The accuracy of the gospels is not a "minimal fact." If you're just going to accept what the gospels say as true, then why bother with any arugment at all? Just say that the gospels say Jesus was raised from the dead, and that's the end of the argument.

Did Peter or Paul think they had seen a physically resurrected Jesus? They don't say that (Paul does say he saw Jesus, but so have my Pentecostal friends-we don't know that he was seen in a physical sense). In fact even the earliest gospel (Mark) doesn't say that. You have to get all the way past the Pauline texts and the gospel of Mark to finally see a claim about disciples seeing a physically resurrected Jesus. How much confidence can we have in that claim, as late as it is, and given that it is a secondary source. These things are just taken for granted by Christians.

Ken Temple said...

I can see your point; but I have no reason to doubt Luke 24:39 and John 20:20-28; John 21 (Jesus makes a fire and cooks fish and they all eat); and I Corinthians 15 (also part of Paul's testimony) as to what these verses are saying about the physical resurrection of Jesus.

It is not clear what kind of vision Paul had in Acts 9, that is true; but since the requirement for being an apostle seems to be to see Jesus in His resurrection body, and considering how Luke and John go out of their way to talk about the nails, wholes, sides, eating food, touch me, feel me, etc.; it seems that yes, Peter and Paul and John and Matthew and Mark (the empty tomb is something physical, in space and time) mean physical resurrection. Acts 1 and I Cor. 15 seem clear enough to me. Plus Mark 16:6 -- He is not hear, behold see the place where He was laid" are good evidences for me.

For me, Habermas and W. Lane Craig and others are great, but they give too much weight to what you are talking about; the "minimal facts" and liberal scholars. That almost makes someone want to doubt the other verses int he Word of God, just because they are not part of the minimal facts that guys like John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk and J. Shelby Spong find "credible". Liberal scholars are not credible, in my opinion; they have an anti-supernatural bias too much of the time. And your Pentecostal friends were probably too far on the other end of the spectrum.

As I said at Dave Armstrong's site:
If you can believe in an all good Perfect God, who does not lie (Titus 1:2, Heb. 6:18; and I John 1:5 and Hab. 1:13); then scribal errors in manuscripts and some small apparent contradictions should not shake your faith in inerrancy.

DagoodS said...

Ken Temple: Liberal scholars are not credible, in my opinion; they have an anti-supernatural bias too much of the time.

While I can understand this distrust—should the arguments stand on their own, regardless of any person’s predisposition?

I find it interesting, when looking over the course of history, that many previously “liberal” arguments have, through the strength of the argument, been assumed by conservatives. I wonder if the original proponent of literary dependence between the Synoptic Gospels was considered “liberal.” Now, that idea is passé even among conservative scholars.

Or 100 years ago conservatives would have taken Exodus as a literal, historical event. Archeology since 1970 has caused many, even among those who do believe in a supernatural intervention in Exodus, to modify their position to considering it includes legendary exaggerations.

Or the concept that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Again—when originally proposed, I would suspect scoffing as being too “liberal.” Again, many conservatives have recognized the strength of the reasoning behind the position, and are equally abandoning the idea of original authorship.

I am not saying you should start trusting liberal scholars—far from it! Please keep the skeptical review set to “high.” All I am saying is--review the arguments themselves. Understand why they would be convincing. And, perhaps…wonder if in the not too distant future what is “liberal” today may be “conservative” tomorrow.

Steven Carr said...

Paul was there, and he states in Galatians 6 that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision and that Christian leaders were happy to compromise their beliefs to avoid persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Christ.