PDF Hey, It’s Only a Story: A Layman’s Search for Understanding of Early Christianity

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Eventually I decided to investigate for myself. As I began to survey the secular literature for critical information on the resurrection of Jesus, I was completely surprised by what I found. Gradually, out of sheer frustration with the shortage of material critical of the McDowell school of apologetics, I started seeking information on the Internet about McDowell. In this essay, I want to discuss why I think the resurrection is an important historical issue that needs to be addressed by both Christians and skeptics.

Next I examine the whole question of miracles, and the implications for this debate. Then I want to give brief overview of popular and scholarly arguments for and against the resurrection, and outline the strengths and weakness of both sides. Notice that Lowder acknowledges that it is possible to make a strong case for the historicity of the Resurrection. This acknowledgment is important, because many skeptics dismiss the Resurrection off-handedly, assuming that no evidence could possibly exist.

A second mistake people often make is to approach the Resurrection as if it were a purely subjective, personal issue rather one that is accessible to objective investigation. However, if the Resurrection of Jesus is real event that occurred in history, then we can also approach it from a historical perspective. Before we can examine the evidence, we must first assess the reliability of the New Testament documents since these provide us with the most accurate information we have about the life and ministry of Jesus.

The main problem with such claims is that they run counter to a massive amount of evidence that we have for the general historical reliability of the New Testament. First of all, the idea that the New Testament accounts are purely legendary creations contradicts the non-Christian scholarly consensus regarding the dating of the New Testament documents. The scholars who originated the idea that the New Testament was purely mythological assumed that the New Testament documents were composed in the second or third centuries, long after any eyewitnesses had died out.

The discovery of numerous early manuscripts, the most compelling of which is probably the Rylands Library papyrus, has demonstrated that these late dates are completely implausible. The Rylands fragment contains passages from the Gospel of John and is believed to have originated in Egypt sometime around A. Consequently, the majority of non-evangelical scholars now date all four of the gospels between 65 A.

I personally think the NT documents were written earlier than this, but even if we assume that these dates are correct then the gospels would have been composed within the lifetime of the apostles and other eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus.

Second, non-Christian authors from the first- and second-centuries confirm the accounts of Jesus and the early Church that we have in the New Testament. Third, a substantial amount of archeological evidence supports numerous central and supporting details in the New Testament.

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Physical evidence such as inscriptions have also confirmed such figures as governor Pontius Pilate, Gallio proconsul of Achaia Acts , Erastus city treasurer of Corinth Rom , Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene Luke In summary, the idea that the New Testament documents are legendary and mythological does not accord with either their date of composition or the large amount of supporting evidence that we have for their historical accuracy.

For more information on the historicity of the New Testament, the classic text is F. Of course, the general reliability of the New Testament does not prove that the Resurrection occurred, but it does prevent us from discounting these documents as legitimate historical sources or dismissing them entirely without ever considering their claims. In my opinion, the case for the historicity of the Resurrection does not hinge so much on a single piece of evidence as on the collective weight of many pieces of evidence. Modern critical scholars —such as the participants of the widely known Jesus Seminar- assume that only a small fraction of the New Testament is historical and that the majority of the material is either fictional or only loosely based on historical facts.

To determine what material is historical, they use three major criteria 1 the criterion of multiple attestation 2 the criterion of embarrassment 3 the criterion of dissimilarity. If a saying or action recorded in the New Testament gospels meets one or more of these criteria, it is considered more likely —though by no means certain- that this material is historical. Obviously, as an evangelical Christian, I believe that there are serious flaws in the assumptions made by these scholars.

But as we will see below, the Resurrection accounts meet all three of these major criteria of historicity. The Resurrection clearly meets the criterion of multiple attestation. In addition, Matthew Matt. Hence, we potentially have five independent accounts of the Resurrection within the New Testament. Given that scholars accept attestation by even two independent sources as an indication of historicity, the Resurrection clearly satisfies this criterion. To see how this criteria is applied to the Resurrection, we need to consider that in all the gospel accounts, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women see Mark which scholars believe is the earliest gospel account written.

Although this fact does not seem particularly surprising to modern readers, we should remember that women in the ancient world were accorded such low status that their testimony was not valid in a court of law.

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Hence, there must have been tremendous pressure on the early church to alter the Resurrection accounts to make Peter or one of the other prominent male disciples the first witnesses of the Resurrection. The fact that all the accounts preserve the discovery by female disciples is most plausibly explained by the hypothesis that the gospel writers did not feel at liberty to tamper with the historical record. In this case, we run into a problem since the Resurrection could not possibly be incongruous with Christian beliefs; in fact, the earlier Christians held that this event was the cornerstone of all Christian belief!

However, it is interesting to consider how a belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus would have been viewed by either Jewish or pagan Greek society. The Jews believed in a general resurrection of all people at the end of time as Christians still do today , but the idea that a single individual could be Resurrected in the middle of history would have been preposterous.

In fact, in the decades before and after Jesus there were many people who claimed to be the Messiah, who gathered large followings, and who were eventually captured and killed by the Romans. In no other case did the followers of these figures ever claim that their leader had been Resurrected. Such a belief would have been bizarre and unbelievable to contemporary Jewish ears.

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Similarly, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus would have been repugnant to Greeks, who believed that matter was evil. But a physical Resurrection would have been both implausible and unpalatable to Greeks. In this sense, the Christian doctrine of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus appears to have no antecedents in either Jewish or Greek culture and therefore meets the criteria of dissimilarity see N. As seen above, these criteria corroborate- although they do not prove- the historicity of the Resurrection accounts. To argue that the accounts are complete fabrications, one would have to answer the following questions: 1 why do we have five independent accounts of a fictitious event?

Why would we hypothesize such a source only in this case? This fact would have been incredibly embarrassing to the early church. If the accounts were complete fabrications, why did the authors not advance Peter or John as the first witnesses? No other crucified Jewish messianic figure was ever claimed to have been bodily Resurrected.

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Such a claim would also have been a major stumbling block to the Greeks that the apostles were trying to evangelize see the incredulous Athenians response to Paul in Acts 17 quoted at the beginning of this essay. Pagan myths of gods dying and rising in some spiritual realm to mark the advent of Spring, for instance were not equivalent to the bold assertion that a Jew from Nazareth physically rose from the dead with nail marks in his hand and ate fish with his disciples.


Apostasy in Christianity - Wikipedia

If the Resurrection was invented to attract converts, why invent such an implausible, distasteful story? In my opinion, dismissing the accounts as complete fabrications is hard to square with the evidence. First, anyone who has read the New Testament recognizes that the ethical standards of the apostles were incredibly high.

These men had given up all they had to follow Jesus and to learn from him. They founded early Christian communities that were heavily populated by slaves, outcasts, and the poor 1 Cor.

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They brought together people of all races and classes and viewed one another as brothers and sisters Gal. Based on these observations, it would be extremely incongruous if these same men were consciously lying about having seen Jesus and were encouraging thousands of other Jews and Gentiles to risk persecution and death for a man whom they knew to be dead. In response, the obvious suggestion is that the disciples must have had some selfish ulterior motives for the promulgation of Christianity.

But we then must explain our second observation: the extreme suffering and persecution endured by the apostles. We have good evidence that Peter was crucified in Rome under the reign of Nero and that the apostle John was exiled to Patmos and died hundreds of miles from his home. Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus and another witness of the Resurrection, was stoned to death. The apostle Paul, who also claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, was imprisoned numerous times, flogged, beaten, and stoned before being executed in Rome around 69 A.

We have less information about the other apostles, but according to early church historians, eleven out of the twelve apostles were put to death for their Christian beliefs.

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Even if we are not certain whether all the apostles were martyred, there is almost no doubt that they suffered terribly for their faith. Yet there is no record of any of them ever renouncing their belief that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. All of this raises the question: what did the apostles have to gain? Surely, a man might die for what he believes to be true, but would anyone die for what he knows with certainty to be a lie? I can think of many examples of men and women dying for their beliefs, but cannot think of any examples of people dying for what they know to be false.