On this blog, I have put forth an essay series on the visionary origins of Christianity. I have decided to make it a five-part series, beginning with an essay on visions and four subsequent posts defending objections to my visions. Jason Engwer of Triablouge has seen fit to compose a rebuttal of what I have written on the subject of visions. In what follows will be a point-by-point rebuttal to what Mr. Engwer has written.
After I began composing my posts answering objections to visions, Mr. Engwer began his response. He wrote a blog post entitled "Matthew Green's Attempt to Dismiss the Resurrection Evidence". Now that sounds like a confrontational title to me. I was thinking that perhaps it was more confrontational than Engwer had intended but as I began reading, I realized that it was just as confrontational as the title suggested. I was thinking that perhaps he could word it "Matthew Green's Attempt to Rebut Arguments for the Resurrection" but no. Mr. Engwer, in my opinion, isn't out to merely present arguments he finds persuasive. Rather, as I see it, he wants to shove the evidence in skeptics' faces ( and ram it down their throats) and if these skeptics are not intellectual cowards, they will accept Christ, become Christians, and will adore Mr. Engwer as their dear, precious brother in the Lord! Pardon me while I gag!
I want to make it clear that while I have no problem accepting that the resurrection of Christ did, in fact, occur, and that it validates the claims made by the Christian gospel of the New Testament, I would never willingly and gladly accept the Christian gospel. On the contrary, I find the Christian gospel to be horribly repugnant but that doesn't mean that I won't be intellectually dishonest. If I came to believe that the resurrection happened, I wouldn't embrace such a conclusion gladly. Contrarily, I would only, ever, accept it extremely grudgingly, and I would have to be violently dragged kicking and screaming into the Christian faith. Since I have no desire to spend eternity with the Christian god, or his followers like Mr. Engwer himself, if I came to conclude that the Christian faith is valid, I would most likely take my own life. I mean, seriously, if I lived, knowing that Jesus Christ was alive and that the gospel claims about him were true, what would I be accomplishing by living as though he wasn't risen and alive and trying to avoid the implications of the gospel? If I found the Christian faith to be that repugnant, wouldn't it make much more sense to take my own life sense I am accomplishing nothing by delaying the inevitability of Hell itself? Oh, what? Mr. Engwer doesn't like that decision of mine? Pity I don't care. If he doesn’t like it, all I feel I can say to him is: drop dead!!!
But I do not find the case for the resurrection persuasive. It's my goal to do my best to show why there isn't any "evidence" for the resurrection. If Mr. Engwer feels so inclined, he can shout that there is all he wants to but I ask readers to carefully consider my critique. This is going to be quite a lengthy rebuttal and so it might take some time to digest. In this rebuttal, I plan to respond point-by-point so I will use the ID markers "Green" for me and "Engwer" for Darth Engwer, erm..Jason. Mr. Engwer has so far written two responses to my posts, "Matthew Green's Attempts to Dismiss the Resurrection Evidence" and "Were some of the Gospel Narratives Fabricated.." So, folks, without further ado, I give you my rebuttal to Mr. Engwer's nonsense.
1.) The Spin Doctor Is In....or Darth Engwer rides again..
Green: Jason is correct here. I appreciate that he links to my posts on the subject so readers can read for themselves what I write. This is unlike some other Christian apologist I know of who seem to lack the sophistication of showing his readers both sides of an argument and laughably accuses people of sound-bites when he himself doesn't answer his critics point by point.
Engwer: In his articles, Matthew makes reference to the work of Richard Carrier, though he sometimes distances himself from Carrier and comments that he's only mentioning his view as one possibility among others. He also mentions Robert Price. Carrier and Price, including arguments of theirs like the ones cited by Matthew, have been answered at length by Glenn Miller, J.P. Holding, and Christian CADRE, for example.
Green: Oh dear lord, no! Jason didn't just link to Robert "No Links" Turkel, did he? Is this the same Robert Turkel who made a complete fool of himself by stating that the gospels sometimes list the Greek word for "anistemi" twice and hasn't apologized for it because his ego is way to big to allow for that sort of thing! Is this the same Robert Turkel who took a link by my fellow skeptic Stephen Carr and altered it so it went to an article that Turkel himself wrote and then lied about altering the link later? Is this the same Robert Turkel who made the incredibly idiotic statements below? I reproduced this from Farrell Till's "The Humpty Dumpty of Apologetics" in Part 5 of his rebuttal. Note that although I do not think that Till is the best skeptic and inerrancy critic on the planet ( I thought he was extremely foolish not to take up studies of New Testament social-science criticism such as the Context Group works but that was just my opinion- nowadays we agree to disagree as friends) but I do think that Till hit the nail on the head in this particular instance. Here is the following:
Turkel:We have only ourselves to blame if we find the message of the Bible "unclear": It is we who made our language less colorful and less idiomatic than Hebrew. It is we who choose to look down on other cultures and pronounce them inferior, rather than trying to understand them.
This has to be the stupidest argument I have ever heard. I speak English because I was born in a place where English was spoken. I had nothing to do with the evolution of English from its Germanic forerunners, so I cannot be "blam[ed]" if "less colorful" idioms in English conceal from me some of the "nuances" in Hebrew. The same is true of a person now living in China or Japan or Norway or India or wherever.
It is time to call a spade a spade. I cannot believe that even Turkel would be stupid enough to make an argument like this, as if any person is responsible for the language that he learns as he is growing up. I suppose that on the day of judgment
Really, Turkel, you have outdone yourself
Green (continuing). I agree with Till. I find it bizarre that Jason would want to link to someone who is so idiotic such as this. If this is the quality and caliber of apologetics that Jason wants to associate himself with, I freely leave it to him, since by linking to and (in effect) endorsing Robert Turkel without qualification, Jason is only making himself look foolish. I have no problem with that. In my opinion, Jason has long arrived at this point and I see him as little more than another spin-doctor out to fleece the world of faith. As for "distancing" myself from Carrier, Jason makes it sound as though I find Carrier's theory too far-fetched and embarrassing to endorse and that I am only appealing to it at arm's length. That's hardly the case if Jason thinks that this is what I am, in effect, doing. I just lack the expertise to decide one way or another. The simple truth of the matter is that I would love to embrace Carrier's theory, in all its details. As for his appeal to Glenn Miller and the Christian CADRE, I wouldn't exactly put much stock in what these folks have to say in terms of a rebuttal. If Jason links to Turkel, I cannot reasonably expect the work of Miller or the CADRE to be of any higher quality. Neither should any other rational, carefully thinking adults.
Engwer: Since Carrier and Price have already been answered to such an extent, and since Matthew sometimes distances himself from their arguments and doesn't make much of a commitment to their claims, I'm not going to be saying much about their theories. Readers interested in more of a response to Carrier and Price can consult sources like the ones linked above. My focus will be on the views of Matthew Green.
Green: I wouldn't trust Christian apologists to effectively rebut Carrier and Price. I hardly trust them to sit the right way on a toilet seat. I mention the views of Carrier and Price as a serious possibility that I am seriously interested in investigating. Both Richard Carrier and Robert Price seem to endorse the Radical Criticism school of New Testament thought. Although I find such an approach fascinating, Jason is right in that I don't necessarily commit myself to their views because I lack the scholarly expertise to make that kind of a judgment, although I would love to embrace the school of the Radical Critics; I'm just not sure if it's necessary or not. It all boils down to scholarly expertise. As for him focusing on my views, good! I hope to make him wish, he hadn't.
Engwer (quoting me)"Although I have no philosophical objections to accepting an empty tomb as a core historical fact, I do have serious reservations about accepting it as solidly factual. I do not find the arguments of William Lane Craig or Gary Hagerman to be persuasive. However, rather than critique their attempts to defend the empty tomb here, I wish to focus on a chief reason for my hesitation in accepting the empty tomb as historically factual. It's possible that the empty tomb originated as a symbolic creation. Historian and fellow atheist Richard Carrier has proposed the possibility that the empty tomb is a symbolic creation; pious historical fiction created to teach a metaphorical truth....Carrier argues that Mark falls into the genre of didadic hagiography and that the empty tomb is an example of a didadic creation of Mark to teach a spiritual truth. He argues that it was later taken as a core historical fact and was subsequently embellished as a legend in later gospels....Even if Carrier is wrong about some of the details of his plausibility argument such as Mark using the Psalms to construct his empty tomb story, I see no reason to throw out the core of his theory, that is, the empty tomb story is a symbolic fiction....It's precisely because I cannot rule out the possibility that Carrier is right about the empty tomb being didadic fiction, I cannot agree with Christian apologists that the empty tomb is an incontrovertible historical fact."
Engwer: Matthew repeatedly mentions Christians like William Craig, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and J.P. Holding, but all of those men speak of probabilities, not "incontrovertible historical fact" (unless they use such a phrase in the sense of high probability). Saying that a theory of Richard Carrier is possibly true isn't saying much. The issue we should be primarily concerned about here is probability, not possibility or certainty, and what men like Craig, Habermas, Licona, and Holding argue about the empty tomb is far more likely than Carrier's speculations. A probability isn't a certainty, but it's better than a possibility.
Green: Oh, is that so, Jason? Craig, Habermas, Licona, and Turkel only speak of probabilities? Let's see, for instance, what Dr. William Lane Craig says. I am quoting him in a debate he had with Gerd Ludemann. Here is what Dr. Craig has said:
"Fact 2: On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers" (pg 33). In response to Craig's case, New Testament scholar Robert Gundry wrote the following:
"Craig's argument grows out of what he regards as "four established facts": (1) Jesus' burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, (2) the discovery of Jesus' tomb to be empty, (3) postmortem appearances of Jesus as risen and (4) the original disciples' coming to believe that he was physical risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to believe. Craig then argues that Gods' resurrecting the dead body of Jesus offers the best explanation of the facts." (pg. 104).
Do not Habermas, Licona, and Turkel also speak of the empty tomb as being a fact? Granted, the word “incontrovertible” is my own qualifying word but I do believe that it is justified. My reason for thinking so is the consensus appeals of Craig and Habermas to what the majority of New Testament scholars think. Craig, himself, appeals to four “established facts” that the majority of New Testament scholars accept, or so-sayith Craig. The appeal to authority, I believe, is designed to intimidate the reader into accepting the burial and empty tomb of Jesus as being beyond controversy, or otherwise it would not enjoy such widespread acceptance among New Testament scholars. Craig is, in effect, saying “Hey, look, the majority of New Testament scholars believe that the empty tomb is a fact so if you disagree that means that you are on the radical fringe; you don’t want to go against the expert consensus of opinion do you? Do you want everyone to think that you’re crazy for not going with the mainstream opinion? If you deny that there was an empty tomb, then you might as well deny that the earth goes around the sun!” As for saying that Carrier’s theory is a possibly doesn’t amount to much in Jason’s eyes, but I may have simply misphrased what I meant earlier. I believe that Carrier’s theory is a promising possibility and that it’s quite plausible but in saying that I don’t know how to rule out that possibility, all that I am saying is that I don’t know how to rule out Carrier’s possibility as implausible or improbable. It need not be proven logically or historically impossible for me to rule it out. Jason should say that he believes the arguments of Craig, Habermas, and Holding’s arguments for an empty tomb is far more likely than Carrier’s speculations. But, no, I think Jason wants to intellectually force skeptics to accept the resurrection.
Engwer: Matthew asks whether the gospel writers intended to refer to historical events. He uses a similar line of reasoning in his second article, regarding the diversity of the resurrection appearances. In that second article, he comments:
"This is made all the more problematic, in my opinion, with the lack of clear authorial intent in some of the narratives. The closest thing we have to an authorial intent to narrative events accurately is the Lukan prologue. Such a statement of authorial intent is clearly lacking in Matthew, Mark, and John. We don't have any stated intent in the other synoptics or John that the accounts are attempts to record and narrate history accurately. There is no critical mindset that I am personally aware of!"
We have far more than Luke's prologue to go by. Even if we only had Luke's prologue, however, Matthew hasn't given us a reason to reject the historical genre suggested by the gospel of Luke's prologue.
Green: Where did I say that I wanted to give readers a reason to reject the historical genre of the gospels? My argument, rather, was that since there is a lack of authorial intent in regards to critical narration of historical events, we cannot be justified in giving it the same doubt-benefit that we give to historical works of antiquity that do display clear authorial intent in terms of narrating history critically. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I take Luke’s gospel is to be as anti-historical or necessarily unhistorical, it just means that I wouldn’t give the benefit of the doubt to Luke that I would give to, say, Thucydides or Tacitus.
Egwer: And if Luke's gospel was intended to convey history, it seems likely that the three other gospels, written in such a similar manner, had the same intent.
Green: And Jason knows this......how? How does it seem likely?
Engwer: In addition to Luke's prologue, we have a large amount of evidence from the manner in which the remainder of the documents were written, the setting in which they were written, the manner in which the earliest Christian interpreters viewed the documents, the manner in which the earliest enemies interpreted the documents, etc. Matthew's treatment of this issue suggests that he doesn't know much about it. Statements such as we find in Luke's prologue aren't the only means by which an intent to write history can be expressed.
Green: It may surprise Engwer that my original posts on the subject weren’t meant to be a detailed, extensive argument on the historicity of Luke, his genre, historical context and setting, or the related gospels. Pray tell, Jason, what “large amount of evidence” do we have? What was the “manner in which the earliest Christian interpreters viewed the documents, the manner in which the earliest enemies interpreted the documents”? Jason will have to clarify what he means by this. The fact that my “treatment” of the issues was not as detailed and as extensive as Jason would like and that he feels the need to suggest that I am ignorant of New Testament scholarship and critical history in general is just meant as an insult to me personally. If Engwer would like to debate the issue with me in greater detail, I am willing, provide that he doesn’t act so damn condescending and arrogant. Will he change the tone of his writings? Will pigs fly spontaneously through the air? I am not holding my breath here.
Engwer: Even if we limited ourselves to such statements, why wouldn't a passage like John 21:24 also qualify?
Green: Well, shit, Jason this isn’t a hard question to answer, you know. All the verse says is that this is from a disciple who testifies to such things and “We know his testimony is true”. My question for Jason is how? Nowhere else in the gospel of John does the author say how we knows what happened. Such phrases like “We know his testimony is true” doesn’t really say that much because John’s author doesn’t identify his sources nor does he explain who “we” is in the verse. Who is “we”? And how does “we” know “his” testimony is true? I don’t see any critical prolouge in John’s gospel nor a naming of sources or methods or weighing of different stories of the same event or even expressing healthy skepticism towards anything.
Engwer: Or when Matthew 28:15 refers to a Jewish argument about the empty tomb still being used "to this day", what are we to conclude other than that the Jewish enemies of Christianity had used the argument in the past as well, and that such an argument about physical evidence related to Jesus' resurrection was part of the discussion occurring between Christians and Jews of the time?
Green: And how am I personally to know that Matthew’s author didn’t make up that story used “to this day”? My problem here is that I am not aware of any independent Jewish sources from the 1st century recording any such argument used by Jews. If Matthew is responding to a Jewish argument about the empty tomb, why is doesn’t Jason cite independent, attesting Jewish sources from the 1st century onward that attest to such an argument used by Jews? I regard the story as a Matthean creation. Matthew’s author doesn’t even cite his source. How does Matthew’s author know that this was an argument actually used by Jews “to this day”? He doesn’t say that he interviewed any Jews of his period or that he consulted any Jewish sources on the matter.
Lest anyone think that I am being far too stringent in terms of the level of evidence that I am demanding, let’s bear in mind that Mr. Engwer himself believes that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God, right? This would have to mean that the gospels, as biographies, would have to be the most historically accurate and flawless books ever written in the history of mankind. They would have to be far more reliable and historically accurate than our best critical historians from history. In fact, in order for the gospels to be inerrant historically, they would have to be much more reliable than any other document from history can possibly be! Thus, synoptic authors such as Luke and Matthew would have to be more reliable than Thucydides could've possibly have been. Unfortunately, the gospels don't give any indications of strong reliability to such a degree that they are more reliable than our best historians from antiquity. Let me give an example. One of the first critical historians was the Greek historian Herodotus. He wrote a collection of his works titled, simply, The Histories. Herodotus, unlike any gospel authors, states his sources and methods. Let's look at a few passages from Herodotus, shall we?
Book 1.5: "The Persians for their part say that things happened thus; and they conclude that the beginning of their quarrel with the Hellenes was on account of the taking of Ilion. As regards to Io the Phenicians do not agree with the Persians telling the tale thus; for they deny that they carried her off to Egypt by violent means, and they saw on the other hand that when they were in Argos she enjoyed sex with the master of their ship, and perceiving that she was with child, she was ashamed to confess it to her parents, and therefore sailed away with the Phenicians of her own will, for fear of being found out. These are the tales told by the Persians and the Phenicians severally; and concerning these things I am not going to say that they happened thus or some other way, but when I have pointed to the man who first within my own knowledge began to commit wrong against the Hellenes, I shall advance the story, giving an account of the cities of men, small as well as great."
Here, the Greek historian Herodotus identifies his sources and it seems to be oral tradition and interviews. The Persians and the Phenicians he has interviewed have told him these things and he has related this information as far as his sources have allowed him to. This is an example of an historian explaining his sources and methods. Let's look at another passage, shall we?
Book 2.123: "Now as to the tales told by the Egyptians, any man may accept them if such things appear credible; as for me, it is to be understood throughout the whole of history that I write what I hear reported by the people in each place. The Egyptians say that Demeter and Dionysos are rulers of the world below; and the Egyptians also first reported the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal, and that when the body dies, the soul enters into another creature which chances then to be coming to the birth, and when it has gone the round of all the creatures of land and sea and of the air, it enters again into a human body at birth; and that it makes this round in a period of three thousand years. This doctrine certain Hellenes have adopted, some earlier and some later, as if it were of their own invention, and of these men I know the names but I abstain from recording them"
Here, Herodotus once again identifies his sources and how he came in possession of any information he deems credible. He tells of what people he interviewed and listened to told him, and in this case, some Egyptians have told him of Demeter and Dionysos and the Egyptian's belief in the immortality of the soul. There is another passage that I wish to look at:
Book 4. 195: "Opposite these, as the Carthaginians say, there lies an island called Kyrauis, twenty-three miles in length but narrow, to which one may walk over from the mainland; and it is full of olives and vines. In it they say there is a pool, from which the native girls with birds' feathers smeared over with pitch bring up gold-dust out of the mud. Whether this is really so I do not know, but I write what is reported. It might be true, for even in Zakynthos I saw myself pitch brought up out of a pool of water. There are several pools, and the largest of them measures seventy feet in diameter and is six feet in depth. Into this they plunge a pole with a myrtle-branch bound to it, and then with the branch of myrtle they bring up the pitch, which has the smell of asphalt, but in other respects it is superior to the pitch of Pieria. this they pour into a pit dug near the pool; and when they have collected a large quantity, then they pour it into the jars from the pit; and whatever thing falls into the pool goes under ground and reappears in the sea, which is a half-mile distant from the pool. Thus then the report about the island off the coast of Libya is also probably enough true"
In each of these passages, Herodotus names his sources and how he got a hold of this information he finds worthy to pass on. Now I ask Jason: where do the synoptic gospels identify their sources? Where does John do so? Herodotus writes what he hears from the Egyptians, Carthaginians, and Persians. Does Luke say how he knows what women went to the tomb, or how he knows where Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus after the dedication of Jesus? Does Mark say how he knows that Jesus cursed the fig tree? Does Matthew say how he knows about the story of the wise men and Herod? No. Does John's author say how he knows that Jesus cleansed the temple and overturned tables? or how he knows that Jesus supposedly raised Lazarus from the dead? No.
This is the problem: none of the gospel writers bothers to explain their sources or methods. What we have that even comes close is the Lukan prologue and an obscure appeal to credible testimony in the ending of John's gospel. No names, methods, weighing of evidence, competing claims, or anything like that in the gospels. And Jason would have us believe that the gospels are more reliable than Herodotus, more reliable than Thucydides or any other historian from antiquity. He has to in order to believe that these documents are divinely inspired of God. Herodotus even goes onto name his sources (1.20-21, 2.29, 4.14, 4.29, 5.86-87, 6.53-54, 8.55, 8.65). Luke doesn't at all. Nor does John. If Jason disagrees, fine, he can do so to his heart's content but I want to know why I should consider the gospel authors to be more critical and historically accurate than the gospel authors. Come on, Jason! I defy you to!
Engwer: Such indications of an intent to convey history are found over and over again in the gospels, Acts, and other relevant sources, including in their resurrection accounts.
Green: Nope, sorry, Jason, try again. John 21:24 is not an intent to convey history. Nothing in John's prologue suggests that he wants to convey history to his readers. Nothing in Matthew 28:15 is intended to convey or narrate history in a critical fashion. In John 21:24, John doesn't say how we was able to determine that the "testimony" is true. He doesn't say that he was an eyewitness to these events or that he interviewed people.
Engwer: Matthew suggests that the resurrection accounts in the gospels might have been derived from or shaped by Old Testament passages, but the Old Testament is rarely cited in the passages of the gospels addressing the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. The resurrected Jesus in the gospels is never made to appear as the resurrected righteous of Daniel 12:3, for example, and there isn't anything in the Old Testament that's detailed enough to be a plausible basis for something like the resurrection appearances of Luke 24 or John 21. The parallels drawn between the Old Testament and the gospel accounts are far too vague to demonstrate a probability of fabrication.
Green: I mentioned this as a possibility because I discussing the possibility that Richard Carrier has raised. That the Hebrew Bible is rarely cited in the passages of the gospels addressing the empty tomb and the resurrection story doesn't prove that the Hebrew Bible did not influence it in some way. I mention as a possibility that the gospels may be sculpted from stories in the Hebrew Bible midrashically. Now, I am not committed to this hypothesis, but mention it as serious possibility that I would love to study in more detail in graduate school. As for the parallels drawn between the Hebrew Bible and gospels accounts being "far too vague to demonstrate a probability of fabrication" I ask Jason: where the hell did I say that I believed that they might have been fabricated? I have not and do not suggest that the resurrection accounts are fabricated. Why the false dichotomy between inerrant gospel (pun intended) truth on one hand and deliberate, deceitful fabrication on the other? I am reminded of apologists like Josh McDowell who think that if you don't accept the resurrection, you must either think that someone stole the body. These apologists love to try and trap skeptics into admissions that Jesus had to rise from the dead or you're left with three (quite nonsensical) remaining possibilities: the body was stolen by the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples.
The fact remains that I do believe that the resurrection narratives are largely pious fiction and may well exist as apologies against heretics or critics. To believe, however, that these narratives are fictional and lack any factual basis, is not to suppose that they are fabrications. It is completely unnecessary to suppose any fabrication whatsoever. Often, fiction of this type served apologetic and even propagandistic purposes. This doesn't mean that the fiction is a deliberate and dishonest fabrication of any sort. Yet apologists like Jason will not have any of this. Another problem, which will become apparent, is that Jason has made a straw man of my arguments to make his task of rebutting much simpler by assigning me the role of early skeptics who accepted the historical inerrancy of the New Testament gospel narratives and yet sought naturalistic explanations for the events narrated.
Engwer: We know that when Paul discussed the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he had historical events in view. That's why he uses "then", "untimely born", and other references to chronology.
Green: Wait a minute, the reference to "untimely born" is used in the famous 1st Corinthians 15 creed. It may well be the case that Paul had historical events in view but that doesn't in any way establish that he was being critical with any history that he might have been trying to narrate. Notice in the creed that Paul says that he is passing onto the Corinthians, what he himself received. Paul doesn't say whom he received it from nor does Paul say that he interviewed any of the people whom Jesus is alleged to have appeared to such as Peter, James, the Twelve, the disciples, or even the 500. Paul doesn't say when he received the creed, from whom, or how he determined that the people whom he received it from were passing on anything that was reliable or trustworthy. Paul doesn't say that he interviewed Peter or James or the Twelve. Who were these 500 people? Why don't we have any independent, attestation from them? Why don't we have letters from any of these 500 to whom Jesus allegedly appeared to, documenting what they saw, when and where they saw it, how many people were present and under what conditions that Jesus is believed to have appeared. Was it to believers? To Skeptics? So far Jason is treading on weak ground here.
Engwer: Similarly, we know that the book of Acts was written in a highly historical genre. See Christopher Price's discussion here.
Green: I haven't read Mr. Price's discussion but being that Jason had linked to Robert Turkel, I am not expecting to be impressed with Price's discussion. I have seen what quality and level of caliber that Jason thinks is good apologetics. On the other hand, there are some scholars who believe that Acts is fiction and contains nothing of any high historical reliability whatsoever. I have in view New Testament scholars like Vernon Robbins, who, I wouldn't be surprised if Jason looks down his nose at as an inferior mind.
Engwer: Though documents like 1 Peter and Revelation say less about the resurrection, they do, like other New Testament documents, have a historical resurrection in view.
Green: Or they might have the resurrection as part of their creed. 1st Peter doesn't say anything about there being any eyewitness testimony to the resurrection nor is there any critical affirmation of the traditions handed down underlying the gospels. I have yet to see anything about the book of Revelation intending to narrate events in a highly critical and historically authentic manner.
Engwer: Considering that being a historical witness of the resurrected Christ was a requirement for apostleship, and considering that the New Testament documents put so much emphasis on eyewitness testimony (John 15:27, Acts 1:21-22, Hebrews 2:3, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:1-3, etc.), why should we think that the writers of the gospels and Acts would decide to use non-historical accounts when discussing the resurrection?
Green: I am not sure I agree that being a historical witness of the resurrected Christ was requisite for apostleship from day one. I can accept that it later evolved in the Church to weed out heretics claiming to have an authentic pedigree in terms of being annointed as an apostle from a succession of apostles going back to Christ himself, but I doubt that this was the case from the very beginning. Besides, even a requisite for apostleship such as being a witness of the resurrected Christ, doesn't establish that any such claims to having been a "witness" means that those claims were reliable or that the so-called "witnesses" were not victims of visions or delusion. I ask Jason this: how did the early Church go about determining which "eyewitness" claims of having seen the risen Christ were reliable? How was the Church able to know that the claims to being a "witness" were indeed authentic and that the claims were not the result of some kind of delusion or indeed a fabrication?
As for Jason's claims here that the New Testament documents put so much emphasis on eyewitness testimony, let's have a look at some of these references.
John 15:27, "And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning"
In this passage, Jesus is believed to be talking with his disciples. But not all New Testament critical scholars believe that passages like these are historically authentic and represent the authentic words of Jesus himself. Even if this passage from which this verse of Jason's was culled, did represent the authentic words of Jesus, it doesn't in any way establish the historical reliability of the resurrection of Christ. The passage is not even about the resurrection. The proceeding verses talk about the "Counselor" being sent from God (a reference to the Holy Spirit) who will testify about Jesus. Doesn't sound like a historically reliable and critically narrated event of the resurrection and it doesn't seem to establish the historical reliability of any "eyewitness" testimony underlying the resurrection accounts.
Acts 1: 21-22, "Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection"
In this passage, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. Considering that I accept a relatively late date for the composition of Acts, I have doubts that this passage is historically authentic. In fact, I believe that the very passage that contains these verses contain a different and contradictory account of how the Field of Blood got it's name than the one in Matthew 27: 6-8 following Judas' death. I do not accept that this passage is historically authentic; rather, I tend to accept that this emphasis on "eyewitness" testimony in the early Church was an apologetic device against heretics, many of whom claimed false pedigrees of having descended from an apostolic line of succession. Jason's evidence here is no real evidence at all.
Hebrews 2:3, "..(H)ow shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him"
Okay, who is "us" in this passage? How was it "confirmed" and by who? Names, places, dates, methods anyone? Who heard "the Lord" and who confirmed it.
Come on, Jason, you can do better than this! Oh, no, wait, you linked to Robert Turkel; I cannot expect any better than this trite.
2 Peter 1:16 "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty."
Who is "we" and how did "we" know "we" weren't following cleverly invented stories? And is this a reference to the resurrection of Christ and any eyewitness testimony that has been critically and authentically established? No! In fact, it's a reference in a letter that is believed by the majority of New Testament critical scholars to be a forgery. I haven't seen Jason give any reasons for believing that this is an authentic letter from Peter. Oh but wait, to HELL with critical New Testament scholarship when it dares to disagree with Jason. Morons they are, aren't they? Well the ball is in Jason's court; if he wants us to know why we should side with him and his evangelical buddies over the world of critical New Testament scholars who reject 2 Peter as a forgery, that's up to him. I trust people should know better than to accept it as authentic based on the pontifical say-so of apologists like Jason.
Engwer: The idea that all eyewitness accounts of the resurrection witnesses would be ignored or radically altered by the time the gospels and other such documents were written is unlikely. If events like the ones the gospels and Acts discuss didn't occur, then why is there such widespread recording of such events at a time when there was still so much concern for eyewitness testimony and when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive?
Green: Wait a minute! How does Jason know that there were "eyewitness accounts" to begin with? Who says that the eyewitness accounts would be "ignored" or "radically altered" by the time the gospels and other New Testament documents were written? Who is saying this and how are people suggesting any eyewitness testimony would be "ignored or radically altered". Someone here is beginning questions left and right. As for the events in the gospels and Acts not occurring as recorded, Jason asks "why is there such widespread recording of such events at a time when there was still so much concern for eyewitness testimony and when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive?" What "widespread recording" of such events is Jason referring to? What "widespread recording" of such events was there when the eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive? What? Is Jason not going to tell us what "widespread recording" there was, how it was reliable, trustworthy, who it was written by and when? Come on, Jason!
At this point, Mr. Engwer included some lengthy quotes such as from Christian New Testament scholar Craig Keener, Richard Swineburne, and the early Church father Ignatius. I won't go through each of these quotes, point by point as I have been doing with Engwer's comments. I do want to make some general observations about the quotes though. First of all, I am well aware of the work of New Testament scholars like Richard Burridge who argue that the gospels are in fact biographies. I believe that the school of thought of the gospels as biographies are more rational than the form-critical school which holds that the gospels are not biographical in terms of genre. I believe that Charles Talbert has done good work in helping to turn the tide away from Rudolf Bultmann and his disciples. I have no real problem in the long run with accepting a biographical genre of the gospels as Burridge has argued for. But the fact of the matter is that I am still undecided on the question of the genre of the gospels. There is the work of Richard Burridge who argues that the gospels are biographical in nature. Dennis MacDonald, holds that the gospel of Mark is an "anti-epic" of Homer. Michael Goulder has proposed a lectionary genre for the gospels and believes that they are not meant to be historical in any sense.
I have say that I am undecided on the issue of gospel genre and I don't honestly expect to come to a conclusion about it until I get into graduate school. I plan to study very closely gospel genre as well as source criticism. I am sorry to say that I cannot comment any more on this topic.
Engwer: Regarding Matthew Green's speculation that Mark might not have been attempting to convey historical information about the empty tomb, Richard Swinburne writes:
"It would be very odd indeed if Mark, seeking to tell his readers something, and phrasing his Gospel as a historical narrative and so understood by two near-contemporaries [Matthew and Luke] (themselves familiar with other churches, some of whom must have read Mark and could have corrected any obvious misunderstanding of it by Matthew and Luke), was really doing something quite other than trying to record history." (The Resurrection of God Incarnate [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], p. 73)
Green: Um, isn't that rather Carrier's speculation? I introduced it as a possibility but to illustrate a general point that I have alluded to. I am undecided on the ultimate issue of gospel genre and I am not at this point, well-versed in gospel genre studies to reach an informed conclusion (and Jason, please, no rude and unsolicited advice here). I would agree that the question of gospel genre largely determines what we are to accept as fact regarding the death and burial of Christ. A question of genre has great bearing on whether we can determine if Jesus was buried in a tomb or shallow grave, whether he was buried honorably or dishonorably, whether the burial was fictional or historically true, whether it was symbolic or factual.
Engwer: Much more could be said, but the point is that Matthew's suggestion that the gospels might not have meant to convey historical resurrection accounts is unreasonable. Matthew can't acknowledge the general historical genre of the documents, then arbitrarily exempt some passages he wants to dismiss as unhistorical, since there is no way to single out every passage Matthew would need to single out for exemption. The resurrection in general and the details included in the gospel accounts are among the subjects the earliest Christians and their enemies interpreted in a historical sense.
Green: Even if I acknowledge the general historical-biographical genre of the gospels, that doesn't mean that all the details of the gospels are historically inerrant down to every dotted 'i' and crossed 't'. It doesn't mean that gospels cannot contain fictional elements. I am also not "arbitrarily" exempting some passages I want to dismiss as unhistorical. I question or dismiss some passages as unhistorical when I believe that there are discrepancies, legendary embellishments, statements of error in a passage. It's not because I want to dismiss whatever may conflict with my pet skeptical theories because I want to avoid accountability to Jason's precious god. In this rebuttal, I will illustrate exactly what kind of contradictions I have in mind. Hell, if Jason would like to, I will me more than willing to debate Jason or any other Christian on this point if time permits. In fact, I just won't stop at the level of contradictions and errors, I will be glad to explain what my chief reasons for rejecting the resurrection. As for the resurrection in general and the details included in the gospel accounts as being among the subjects that Christians and their enemies interpreting in a historical sense- I ask, did the enemies of the Christians believe that such accounts were historically inerrant and reliable? Even if the earliest Christians and their enemies interpreted such accounts as being historical- that doesn't establish the historical reliability of such accounts.
Engwer: Regarding the empty tomb in particular, we have no good reason to think that an author like Mark would fabricate an account of the empty tomb, especially with elements such as the tomb's discovery by women while the male disciples are in unbelief and are hiding. When other sources, including the early enemies of Christianity, go on to treat the empty tomb as a historical fact as well, Matthew's speculation that the empty tomb account may have been unhistorical becomes even more implausible. Mark was writing in a highly historical genre, so were the other gospel writers, and the earliest Christian and non-Christian interpreters viewed their accounts in a highly historical manner.
Green: Oh dear, here we go again! Jason is using the same old tired argument that Mark would not fabricate an account because he mentioned women and that would be seen as historically reliable since it would be embarrassing to include women in the narratives given that they are considered unreliable as witnesses. First of all, where the hell did I say that Mark or any other gospel writer fabricated their account? I suggested the possibility of pious fiction but that is NOT the same thing as a fabrication. Do I have to yell this in Jason's ear, here?
Secondly, I don't believe that the presence of women is embarrassing- the gospels are not legal documents and so I don't see it as representing any stigma for readers or for audiences, whom the preaching of the gospel mentioned details like an empty tomb discovered by women. In fact, I think it may well be a literary motif to have women discover the tomb. I'd be happy to elaborate on that in more detail but even this is quite speculative in nature and depends on genre theories other than biography such as didadic or some form of sacred fiction.
At this point, Jason has addresses the objections of other participants at 'Debunking Christianity' so I'll let these other folks respond to Jason if they're so inclined but there was something worth responding to that Jason has written.
Engwer: We know that Paul believed in the resurrection of the body that died. See Christopher Price's documentation here, for example. See also J.P. Holding's article here. An empty tomb would be implied in any discussion of a physical resurrection. And while Paul never directly discusses the empty tomb, he does seem to have considered Luke's gospel scripture (1 Timothy 5:18), and Luke refers to an empty tomb. It's highly unlikely that associates of Paul like Mark and Luke would believe in an empty tomb, yet Paul wouldn't. Paul had a lot of influence over the churches in Ephesus, Rome, Corinth, and other cities, and those churches are known to have accepted the gospels early on. Are we to believe that Paul's associates and the churches he influenced collectively rejected Paul's view of the resurrection and collectively replaced it with the view found in the gospels, and that this major shift occurred just after Paul's death and without leaving any trace in the historical record? What's far more likely is that Paul doesn't directly mention the empty tomb because there was no place in his extant writings in which there was a need for mentioning it.
Green: Oh wow! Look boys and girls, Jason has linked to Robert Turkel again. So Jason, let me ask you something- do you believe that the Greek word for "anistemi" was used twice for emphasis in John 20:9? Do you believe that we have only ourselves to blame if we find the message of the Bible to be unclear? If the answers to these are "no" perhaps you might want to stop linking to a silly apologetic boob like Robert Turkel and stop endorsing him. But, hey, if you like looking like an idiot, buddy, then I will say no more.
Engwer: Matthew Green goes on to argue:
"Suppose I believed that Jesus was temporarily interred in the tomb by Joseph of Arimithea and was subsequently reburied elsewhere and that the reburial not only left the tomb empty but triggered visions among Jesus' followers. If I constructed such a theory, this theory would have sufficient enough explanatory scope to explain how the tomb got empty as well as what caused the followers of Jesus to have visionary experiences. In fact, I believe that a theory of reburial would probably be the best explanation if I accepted the empty tomb as a core historical fact. This may not be sufficient in itself to fully answer the objection, but I do believe that it is a step in the right direction. Suppose reburial is historical implausible. I could simply opt for agnosticism regarding the cause of the empty tomb."
Matthew repeatedly suggests that an empty tomb may have "triggered" some "visions" of Jesus. As I've told Matthew before, he needs to be more specific. The term "visions" is too broad. Which psychological disorders does Matthew have in mind with each individual involved (Paul, James, Peter, etc.)? Why doesn't he demonstrate that the purported resurrection witnesses meet the standards for experiencing such a psychological disorder? Replacing the term "vision" with the term "altered state of consciousness", as Matthew sometimes does, doesn't give us enough detail either. These terms are vague enough to cover a large variety of experiences, and whether a person experienced a psychological disorder has to be evaluated according to the details.
Green: Oh good lord! Jason complains here that I am not being specific enough because the term "visions" is too broad. What I had in mind as far as "visions" go can be found in my first essay on the subject. I clearly referred to the collective, group visions involving altered-states-of-consciousness as discussed by Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh in their books, both their Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels and their Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. These discuss "visions" as understood by cultural and psychological anthropologists whose research Malina and Rohrbaugh USED. What is so difficult to understand about this is beyond me. Jason asks "Which psychological disorders does Matthew have in mind with each individual involved"? Jason, where the hell did I say I BELIEVE psychological disorders are involved? Quote me, Jason! I would appreciate it if you didn't put words in my mouth like that, Jason! In other words, put up or shut up! He next asks me to demonstrate that the witnesses meet the standards for experiencing such "a psychological disorder". Again, where did I say that I believe that psychological disorders are involved? Where Jason? I am starting to think that someone ought to bitch-slap Jason. His next statement is actually funny. He says that replacing the term "vision" with the term "altered-states-of-consciousness" doesn't give enough detail either. Replacing? Replacing? I didn't say anything about "altered-states-of-consciousness" replacing the term "visions". What I said was that "visions" INVOLVED "altered states of consciousness". Does Jason see the difference here? If he doesn't, he needs more help than I can give him. In other words, the reason why you saw what you did when having a visionary experience is because your mind was in an altered stated of consciousness.
Next, Jason will have to explain what he means by saying that these terms are vague enough to cover a large variety of experiences. That he would make this and the previous statements regarding psychological disorders, and replacing "visions" with altered-states-of-consciousness, confirms to me that Jason is in fact guilty of what he arrogantly accuses me of: not reading my works closely enough and that he doesn't know much about the Context Group scholars. All of this and linking to Robert "No Links" Turkel on top of that!
Engwer: How would an empty tomb "trigger" what Matthew calls "visions" of the resurrected Jesus? Why should we think that an empty tomb account alone would produce widespread visions? The earliest sources we have repeatedly tell us just the opposite of what Matthew is arguing. They tell us that empty tomb accounts weren't sufficient to bring about belief in Jesus' resurrection (Luke 24:11, 24:21-24, John 20:2, 20:15, 20:25).
Green: Well, Jason could always pick up Malina and Rohrbaugh's social-science commentaries and read them to find out the answer here. But in case he is too lazy or has some bad reading comprehension problems, let me spell it out for him (as a way of bonking the poor schmoe over the head with a hammer). Jesus was an Israelite holy man. Malina and Rohrbaugh explain, culturally, the function of such a holy man:
"A holy man is a person who has direct contact or communication with the realm of God by means of altered states of consciousness. The activity of holy men usually is directed to the benefit of people in their society. Such persons heal the sick, exorcize the possessed, and know what is going on in the unseen realm of spirits, demons, and angels. In their encounter with spirits, holy men can interact with them without fear of being possessed. They can travel through the spirit/demon world, and they can readily make contact with the realm of God (Mark 9:7//Matt 17:15//Luke 9:35; see also John 12:28-30). The call to be a holy man often comes through an altered-states-of-consciousness experience in which the holy man makes contact with the realm of God. He is then possessed by the spirit of God or adopted by God. The events surrounding Jesus' baptism describe such a call (Mark 1:9-11/Matt 3:13-17//Luke 3:21-22). After such a call, such persons are tutored either by a spirit or by a real-life teacher, such as John the Baptist. They learn the necessary ritual skills of their roles, and how to pass the loyalty tests ("temptations") that they might face ( Mark 1: 12-13, Matt 4:11/Luke 4:1-13). The frequent reports in Synoptic summaries and anecdotes underscore Jesus' role of holy man of God throughout his career. In Hellenism, such holy men were called divine men. The title "Son of God" is such a Hellenistic designation for holy man of God." ( Malina, Bruce and Richard Rohrbaugh, pg. 369).
Jesus was considered an Israelite holy man and therefore when Jesus was arrested, the process of his trial was basically an exercise in status-degradation, a casting of shame on him. Jesus' honor, especially the honor he enjoyed as a holy man, was insulted by the powers that existed, namely the Jewish leadership in the gospels. To die as Jesus dead, would've been considered by his disciples as an insult to his honor especially considering that crucifixion was a shameful punishment. Jesus' burial in the gospels is also a shameful burial because it lacks two key elements which would make it an honorable Jewish burial- burial in a family grave and ritual morning (see Byron McCane's excellent book Roll Back the Stone for more details). If Jesus was crucified and did not deserve it, then the shameful punishment would be seen by those who knew Jesus was innocent, as an insult to his honor, especially given that Jesus was a holy man who had ascribed honor in the course of his role as such.
Now, Jesus was not guilty to deserve crucifixion. Therefore, if Jesus was not guilty to deserve crucifixion, then people who knew this would see Jesus' honor as being insulted by the powers that be. Therefore, the people who know that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve crucifixion or could be convinced that Jesus did not deserve it and thus his honor being insulted by crucifixion, would expect that God would restore the honor of Jesus by reversing the death process. Malina and Rohrbaugh go onto explain in some detail:
"Archaeological evidence and later scribal Pharisaic documents disclose to us the meaning of Israelite burial customs at the time of Jesus. Israelites regarded death as a lengthy process, not a moment in time. In elite circles of Judea, between the last breath and sundown, the body would be laid out on a shelf in a tomb and carved into limestone bedrock outside of Jerusalem. Mourning rites would commence, continuing throughout the year as the body underwent decomposition. The rotting of flesh was regarded as painful, but also expiatory for the dead person. One's evil deeds were thought to be embedded in the flesh and to dissolve along with it. After a year, the mourning ritual concluded. In the first century, people thought that the bones retained the personality, and that God would use them to support new flesh for the resurrection. After this year of purification and putrefaction, the bones of the dead were often collected and placed in an ossuary or "bone box", which was in fact a second burial casket. This process was called the ossilegium, "the collection of bones". The ossuary was designed like a box for scrolls, just long enough for the thigh bones to be laid in like scroll spindles awaiting a new hide and new inscription by the divine hand. In an alternate image, the bones could also be regarded as loom posts made ready for God to weave a new body. In keeping with these views on the character of resurrection, inkwells and spindle whorls have been found in excavated tombs.
"This day of second burial marked the end of the family's mourning and its turn toward the hope of reunion and resurrection. Obviously, then, the disappearance or loss of a body after death would be experienced as a greater calamity than the death itself because the family would be unable to prepare the bones for resurrection. Legally, even the bones of an executed criminal were supposed to be returned to the family after being held in custody of the Sanhedrin during the yearlong period of atoning putrefaction. In effect, capital punishment included the loss of life, the suppression of mourning, and the imposition of supposedly painful but purifying disintegration of the flesh overseen by the court in a special tomb maintained for that purpose. When the flesh was gone, the sentence was completed, the debt was paid, and the bones became eligible for resurrection. These cultural beliefs and practices provide the context for understanding the claims of the first generation of Jesus' followers about the resurrected Jesus. In John's account, Jesus dies condemned by the Judean populace, leaders and crowds alike (although at the hands of the Romans). Then a ranking Judean, Joseph of Arimathea, takes his body into custody. It is laid in a separate tomb, to begin to serve the sentence of decay in order to atone for its sins."
Here is where the element of expectation comes in....
"It is precisely this penal/atonement process that is interrupted if the tomb is suddenly discovered to be empty. To say that Jesus was raised is to say that God overturned the judgment of Israel's chief priests and the Judean populace, the judgment that Jesus needed to rot to prepare for resurrection. Instead, God supposedly took Jesus directly from last breath to resurrection because there had been no guilt in his flesh. God intervened before the rotting started, hence God overturned the death sentence. The claim that God raised Jesus is a claim of divine vindication for the deeds and words of Jesus. His life has been that of the Word made flesh in Israel, and God preserves its flesh record intact. Taken in its cultural context, the claim of the resurrection for Jesus asserts that his death was wrong and has been overturned by a higher judge. This cultural interpretation of the death of Jesus contrasts sharply with the theological one: that Jesus' death was right and necessary and required by God "to take away the sin of the world." The Synoptics juxtapose the two interpretations in a smooth narrative sequence, with Jesus even predicting three times that he will die and be raised." (Malina, Bruce and Richard Rohrbaugh, pgs. 347-8).
Since a holy man communicated with God by means of altered-states-of-consciousness, if Jesus came back from the grave, the disciples would expect to be able to communicate with him in an altered-state-of-consciousness as well. It's because of this social expectation of shame reversal that would trigger the expectation that the disciples would see Jesus again, in a visionary experience of some sort, as a way of asking forgiveness for having abandoned Jesus and having shamed him in the garden when in-group loyalty mattered most. They would seek to ask God forgiveness, which was basically to restore their honor in the eyes of God and restore their in-group and kinship loyalty to Jesus and restore the honor of their friendship with him. That, Jason, is how I believe that an empty tomb would trigger visions. But of course if Jason had read these commentaries or read them more closely than he might have so far, I wouldn't have to spell it out for him, now, would I?
As for the earliest "sources" Jason cites, Jason is assuming that I even accept these verses as authentic and historically reliable. I don't necessarily but if Jason wants to look at them in greater detail, I am willing to in order to further critique his case.
Engwer: If the visions Matthew has in mind are hallucinations or something else requiring particular mental or physical conditions, why doesn't Matthew demonstrate that the resurrection witnesses met such conditions? Why would an empty tomb report produce visions among skeptics like James and Paul? Why would the people undergoing these visions think that they had seen a resurrected Jesus? Why didn't they think they saw a resuscitated Jesus or something else more consistent with traditional Jewish thought?
Green: I am not an expert on "visions" or what triggers them. I have been trying to construct a plausible historical hypothesis involving visionary experiences based on what sources I have been studying so far. I am not sure what conditions have to exist in order for people to have visions. I do believe that such visions did happen and occurred frequently. As for an empty tomb producing visions among skeptics like James and Paul- I don't think it would have needed to. We're not told when James converted. We are told of an appearance of Jesus to James in 1st Corinthians 15 but we are not told that it was that which converted James. James might've converted earlier or even later, after Jesus supposedly ascended into heaven. As for Paul, no, I don't believe that an empty tomb triggered any visions in him. I am talking about Peter, John, and the rest of the "Twelve" is what I have in mind. I'm also not sure that I believe that the disciples would've held that they had seen a risen Jesus from the very start. I believe that it might have been precisely a resuscitated Jesus that they thought that they had seen to begin with. This is even assuming that the argument by William Lane Craig and Robert Turkel is even right and no one would believed in an individual resurrection before the final judgment. However, I am not at all certain that the all Jews everywhere would never have believed in any individual being resurrected prior to the general resurrection. I explained in one of my posts, responding to the arguments of Robert Turkel why I believe this to be the case.
Engwer: As I discussed in an earlier article, the information we have concerning the resurrection appearances is highly inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations and other psychological disorders that critics sometimes suggest. For reasons like the ones I discuss in the article linked above, it's implausible to dismiss all of these details in the resurrection accounts as unhistorical.
Green: Hmmm, do I sense a liking of Jason to strike down straw men arguments here? I have not suggested that these were "hallucinations" or "psychological disorders". Let me state something here to help clarify my position. Perhaps a light will flicker in Jason's head. I believe that the ancient Mediterranean was what anthropologists call an "honor-shame" society. We, living here in the United States, live in what may be called an "pride-guilt" society. Much of the Mediterranean and Arabian world were honor-shame societies and many, if not most or all, are honor-shame societies to this day. Japan is also an honor-shame society. In such agonistic societies, the social system tends to be highly collectivized, highly agrarian, and high-context. In such honor-shame societies, especially in religion, visions are known to occur involving altered-states-of-consciousness. Likewise, we in the United States, England, and other pride-guilt societies tend to be highly individualistic, highly urbanized, and low-context. I suspect that "hallucinations" and the like happen in pride-guilt societies and tend to be highly individualistic.
In fact, I would like to commend Christian scholars such as Gary Habermas, Gary Collins, and Mike Licona for rebutting theories of "hallucinations". They're right about hallucinations; hallucinations tend to be highly individualistic and one person cannot cause a hallucination in another person (except, perhaps by hypnosis?). I believe that "visions" happen in honor-shame societies whereas "hallucinations" happen in pride-guilt societies. Visions can be collective and occur in groups of people at a time and are considered normal whereas hallucinations are individualistic and are considered abnormal and are usually accompanied or caused by psychological disorders. This is the chief reason why I think that Jason is confused in his rebuttal and why he is trying to assign to me positions I really do not hold.
Engwer: Critics like Matthew Green can't just arbitrarily assert that all resurrection details inconsistent with his theory are unhistorical. He has to have some objective means of leading us to the conclusion that the details inconsistent with his theory are unhistorical details. So far, he hasn't produced any such objective means. On the other hand, I've given reasons for believing that such details are historical. See the article linked above.
Green: And guess what, readers? I am not doing any such things. First of all, I am not at all arbitrarily asserting that the resurrection details that are inconsistent with my hypothesis of visions are unhistorical details. I believe that the chief reason why the resurrection details are unhistorical is because of the discrepancies and embellishments underlying them. If I was to accept the empty tomb as being historical, I would probably believe that reburial is the best explanation and that visionary experiences are the best explanation of any postmortem appearances of Jesus. As for not producing objective means- I want to know what Jason would accept as "objective means" As for leading "us" to the conclusion that details inconsistent with my hypothesis are unhistorical- who is "us"? Is it Christians like Jason Engwer? If so, why? Why the hell would I be seeking to convince Jason Engwer? Why would I be seeking to convince Evangelical Christians of my hypotheses and conclusions? Sorry if this hurts Mr. Engwer's ego here but I really do not give a damn what Jason or Christians like him believe. I really couldn't care less what Jason believes, wants to believe, thinks, or what-have-you.
Engwer: Matthew goes on:
"If the postmortem appearances and the empty tomb were both supernaturally caused, Christianity would not have naturalism to contend with but rival supernaturalist theologies to counter....A Zoroastrian could argue that Ahura-Mazda had sent a angel or ghost, disguised as Jesus, to trick his followers into thinking that he rose from the dead. A Muslim could argue that Allah allowed an evil spirit, a demon if you will, to appear as Jesus in order to deceive Jesus' followers, because Allah wanted a rival religion to flourish so by the time that Islam originated, Allah could test the faith of Muslims with a heresy like the Christian gospel."
Matthew isn't a supernaturalist. But when Christians are responding to supernaturalists, they do provide answers to arguments such as the ones Matthew mentions above. If a Zoroastrian or Muslim wants to acknowledge Jesus' resurrection, but attribute it to some source other than the God of the Bible, then the issue under discussion would no longer be whether Jesus was resurrected. Rather, the issue would be something like who raised Jesus or why He was raised, not whether He was raised. We would then take the relevant philosophical considerations and other relevant data into account. The suggestion that the resurrection appearances were demonic would be considered in light of issues such as whether it's likely that God would allow a demon to fulfill detailed prophecy and claim to be God, for example, then appear to rise from the dead. We would also consider the source of the claim of demonic deception. Do we have any reason to trust such an assertion by a Zoroastrian or Muslim? If nothing in Zoroastrianism or Islam compels me to acknowledge the truthfulness of those religions, then why should I trust those religions to interpret Jesus' resurrection for me? More could be said, but Matthew Green isn't a supernaturalist, so such supernatural theories aren't the issue of primary concern here.
Green: Of course I am not a supernaturalist. As for "they" providing "answers to arguments such as the one" that I mention above, I have to say that I don't think Jason has read my article closely. My argument was not what if a Zoroastrian or Muslim acknowledges that Jesus has been raised. My argument was what if they came to conclude that God (be it the Zoroastrian deity or the Muslim deity) tricked Zoroastrians or Muslims into thinking that Jesus raised from the dead. Jason says that the issue under discussion would no longer be whether Jesus was resurrected. Jason, not surprising in the least, has missed my point. My point was that if these rival supernaturalists accepted the empty tomb and that Jesus appeared to his followers, then these rival supernaturalist faith groups, would simply devise theological theories of supernatural trickery, instead of having to accept that Jesus had risen. That was my point! The rest of his discussion on this point is moot until Jason reads what I have written again and proves to me that he understands my points.
Engwer: Matthew writes:
"It is true that simpler theories always have greater explanatory scope. But there is a point where a theory can have too much explanatory power in which it explains everything, and actually doesn't really explain anything because there is no observation or fact which it cannot explain. Such a theory, having too much explanatory power ceases to be a simple theory and becomes simplistic."
But the resurrection of Jesus doesn't "explain everything" in the sense Matthew is suggesting. It does explain the data we have, but there could conceivably be data it wouldn't explain. We have no such data, but it would be absurd to reject a theory because it's consistent with all of the data we do have. "Explaining everything" is a problem only if the "everything" includes all conceivable possibilities. But the "everything" that Jesus' resurrection explains isn't every conceivable possibility, but rather the data we do have in the historical record. That sort of "explaining everything" isn't a disadvantage. It's an advantage.
Green: I didn't say that the resurrection theory does "explain everything". It does explain some data that we have and there are data that it doesn't explain such as the discrepancies, errors, and legendary embellishments that I will gladly elaborate on. My point was simply that greater explanatory scope isn't always a good thing but usually is. Nor do I say that "explaining everything" includes "all conceivable possibilities" even assuming I understand what Jason means by "all conceivable possibilities"- I am not sure I do; I just don't remember taking such a position and therefore I think that Jason might be attacking a straw man argument of his own making. Like Jason, I am only appealing to the data that we have and I believe that Jason will have to face up to some of it that he doesn't think exists but I am going to show does exist.
One more thing here. I have talked here and elsewhere about explanatory scope of a given hypothesis or theory. But explanatory scope is just one criterion. There are several criteria involved here. I refer readers to criteria outlined by C. Behan McCullah. The criteria he lists are the following: 1.) implication of other observations and statements, 2.) explanatory scope, 3.) explanatory power, 4.) plausibility, 5.) parsimony (or Ad Hocness), 6.) Disconfirmation, and 7.) relative superiority. Explanatory scope is just one criterion out of several and in some cases, limited explanatory scope is better. Let's move on, shall we?
Engwer: Matthew goes on to cite some examples to illustrate his argument, examples involving Santa Claus and aliens building the pyramids, for example. He writes:
"As to why some kids believe that they both 1.) see a man looking like Santa Claus at a local mall and 2.) they will open gifts placed under the tree with, we can put forth two hypotheses. The first is the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis. This hypothesis states that there really is a jolly old man from the North Pole who does visit shopping malls before Christmas and really does visit houses, placing wrapped gifts under the tree for kids to discover and open the next morning. The second hypothesis is called the 'Cultural Trickery' hypothesis. This hypothesis states that it is parents and other grown adults working in collusion with each other to fool kids into thinking that Santa Claus is real....Notice that the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis is a much simpler explanation for the two observations 1 and 2 and that the 'Cultural Trickery' hypothesis is a more complex theory of causation regarding observations 1 and 2. Should we not, then, accept the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis as the more rational hypothesis because of its simplicity and greater explanatory scope?"
Matthew is using an example of something we know to be false for reasons other than the reasons he mentions. We know people who dress up as Santa. We know that different Santas have different physical features. We know that parents buy gifts for their children in the name of Santa. Etc. Nobody reading Matthew's example is going to evaluate his example without taking such factors into account. Matthew acts as if he's appealing only to people's knowledge of "observations 1 and 2", but every reader is going to take other factors into account as well. We don't have evidence against Jesus' resurrection comparable to the evidence we have against the Santa theory. And we don't have evidence for the Santa theory comparable to the evidence we have for Jesus' resurrection.
Green: Yes, I am using an example of something that we know to be false for other reasons and some of these other reasons is that the "Santa Claus" hypothesis fails other criteria! We know people who dress up as Santa, that each Santa has different physical features, and we learn with age that parents buy gifts for their children and lie their asses off by saying that it came from Jolly Old St. Nick. These other factors are incorporated when we use other criteria and that's why the "Santa Claus" hypothesis fails. As for me acting as if I am appealing to only to people's knowledge of "observations 1 and 2", I am talking about what children observe who are convinced that Santa Claus exists. In fact, I explicitly said that these were what children observe. As for not having evidence against Jesus' resurrection comparable to the evidence we have against the Santa hypothesis- I would ask Jason what it would take to convince him that Jesus' resurrection did not happen? And please, no bullshit like "Where is the body of Jesus today if he didn't rise?" Besides, what evidence does Jason think exists against the Santa hypothesis? I believe that there isn't any evidence for the resurrection but there is evidence against it, which I will elaborate on, if requested.
Engwer: If you take all of the data related to Santa into account, including photographs of different men putting on Santa clothing, parents explaining that they bought gifts in the name of Santa, etc., then the Santa theory doesn't explain the evidence well. We have explicit and widespread evidence for what Matthew calls the "Cultural Trickery" theory. That theory explains the evidence well. Matthew's speculations about Jesus' resurrection, on the other hand, don't explain the evidence. He has no equivalent of malls giving men paychecks to dress up as Santa or parents acknowledging that they bought gifts in Santa's name.
Green: If we take into account all of the data that we possess related to Santa, then the Santa hypothesis fails the "relative superiority" criterion. The Santa hypothesis fails the parsimony criterion, it is way too ad hoc to be a better explanation than the cultural "trickery" hypothesis (i.e. how do the reindeer fly, why have we not detected any home or elf-workshop at the North Pole, how can Santa reach millions of houses in a single night in the United States, Canada, and even Europe, how did Santa manage to live all these years without being immortal or having divine attributes, etc), and it fails the disconfirmation criterion because know from photographs, observations, paychecks, accounting, parents confessing that they lie to their kids, etc. which goes against any of these gifts or mall appearances of Santa being caused by the real Santa. But in regards to observations one and two, the Santa hypothesis has greater explanatory scope then the cultural trickery hypothesis. Jason is right to point out that the Santa hypothesis doesn't explain all the data well, but this is not the case of the hypothesis failing the criterion of explanatory scope as compared to the cultural "trickery" hypothesis, but rather it fails the criteria I just mentioned. In the case of the "Santa" hypothesis, it's not a more rational theory because it fails other criteria and isn't a better explanation of all the data. But it is a simpler explanation of the observations I made in my essay. Thus, Jason's attempt to rebut me on this point fails.
Engwer: It's advantageous, not disadvantageous, for a theory to have features like "simplicity and greater explanatory scope". Other factors have to be taken into account as well, but Matthew hasn't shown us that there are other factors that lead us away from the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Saying that other factors have to be taken into account does nothing to show that those other factors make Matthew's theory more plausible.
Green: I didn't say that it was disadvantageous for a theory to have features like "simplicity and greater explanatory scope". What I did say was that these do not always work. Irrational hypotheses certainly do meet the "explanatory scope" criterion sometimes but fail on other grounds as I have just pointed out. I never said that "simpler/greater explanatory scope" is always disadvantageous. Rather, what I said was that it's not always a good thing. I qualified this statement in my essay and I can quote it if Jason wants me to. Hell, I can print it out and wave it in his face if he needs me to. I can even draw a stick picture with crayons if that will help him to understand my point better.
Engwer: He goes on to use the example of aliens building the pyramids:
"Let me recall an example I mentioned above, the theory that alien visitors with superhuman technology, are responsible for the origin of the pyramids of Egypt. Suppose that actual archeological or written evidence of the actual origins of the pyramids was nonexistent, forever lost to history. Would that make the alternative alien theories somehow more credible, more likely? Not really. In the lack of historical evidence for the actual origins of the Egyptian pyramids, I would simply choose to be agnostic."
If we had a "lack of historical evidence", then why would anybody think that an alien theory is the best theory? We have a lot of historical evidence relevant to early Christianity. Christians don't just argue that Jesus must have risen because the raising of Jesus would be simpler than a series of naturalistic events. Simplicity is one factor among others. As I said above regarding the Santa Claus example, saying that other factors have to be taken into account does nothing to show that those other factors make Matthew's theory more plausible. Instead of discussing Santa Claus and aliens, Matthew needs to do more to explain how his vision theory supposedly better explains the evidence related to the resurrection of Christ.
Green: There are some people who think that the alien theory is better because it's incredulous to them that cultures like the Egyptians could built such massive structures such as the pyramids. I believe that there is a lack of evidence for any contact and intervention by aliens and my point was that even if we don't know exactly how the Egyptians constructed their pyramids and the insights behind their architectural feats were lost to history, that doesn't make the alien theory any more credible than nonalien theories of pyramid origins. I don't say that Christians argue that Jesus rose just because the resurrection is a simpler theory; I fully acknowledge that Christians like William Lane Craig, do try to show how the resurrection theory meets all the criteria outlined above. Jason says "instead of discussion Santa Claus and aliens, Matthew needs to do more to explain how his vision theory supposedly better explains the evidence related to the resurrection of Christ". Believe it or not, my original post was to answer objections to hypothesis like the ones I advocate.
Sad as it may seem, I do not write with the intention of trying to persuade Jason or impress him nor do I give convincing him a high priority at all in my writings on the subject. I am not out to convince Jason; I honestly don't give a shit whether Jason is convinced or not.
Engwer: Matthew writes:
"Agnosticism would be prima facie more likely, more rational than any alternative theory of alien origins of the Egyptian pyramids, for a reason as simple as that alien theories are extraordinary theories requiring extraordinary evidence. Reasoning by means of analogy, then, even if I had no clue whatsoever as to what caused the empty tomb, I believe that because extraordinary or even supernatural evidence for the resurrection is lacking and the New Testament is historically errant, I would simply declare agnosticism as to the cause of the empty tomb."
A term like "extraordinary evidence" is vague and allows critics to keep claiming that whatever amount of evidence they're given isn't enough. Humans will receive and communicate any evidence they have for a historical event through ordinary means (eyesight, speaking, writing, etc.). If you see a man who has risen from the dead, you see that man with ordinary eyesight. You write about your experience with ordinary writing. Etc. If you're going to ask for "supernatural evidence" for the resurrection, then do you also need supernatural evidence for that supernatural evidence? You have to rely on the ordinary rather than the extraordinary at some point. A resurrected Jesus would be seen with ordinary eyesight and heard with ordinary hearing, and we would evaluate the testimony of the eyewitnesses by ordinary standards. The resurrection is the miracle. Seeing the resurrected person isn't.
Green: For many people "extraordinary evidence" is indeed vague and often allows for critics to move the goal posts in terms of what the bar when it comes to evidence that will be enough to convince them. I, however, will tell people what it is that it takes to convince me that such "extraordinary events" have occurred. Take the pyramid theory for instance. I regard it as an "extraordinary" hypothesis and I realize that "extraordinary" may, indeed, be too vague a term. Since aliens possessing superior technology are supposed to be superhuman agents, let me state that "superhuman" theories require "superhuman" forms of evidence. Now let me give examples of what kind of evidence it would take to convince me so that I cannot be accused, as a critic, of claiming that whatever amount of evidence I am given isn't ever enough. If aliens really did contact, reveal themselves to, and intervene in ancient societies like ancient Egypt, I would expect there to be evidence they left behind. Maybe a time capsule containing video or digital footage of how the pyramids were built, perhaps digital information such as digital star charts showing where the aliens came from, how they got here, and how to contact them if they still exist, or how to discover the remains of their civilization if it no longer exists. Such a time capsule could include information that only an advanced civilization would know such as detailed knowledge of mathematical theorems and proofs, knowledge of molecular genetics or perhaps unified theories of physics and quantum gravity and equations of such that they might be willing to share with more advanced civilizations as such would evolve over time. This is an example of "superhuman" evidence that could exist to persuade an individual like me that alien theories of origins are indeed a more credible, more rational theory behind why the Egyptian pyramids and other ancient engineering feats of architecture exist.
I am not saying that this would be enough in itself to convince me but it would be a step in the right direction. I would probably contact the Council for Secular Humanism and the Scientific Committee for the Investigation of the Paranormal to get their take on the finding if such a capsule were to be found. I will gladly tell Jason what it would take to convince me that Jesus really had risen from the dead.
Engwer: It's reasonable to want to be careful with something like a resurrection claim, since such an event isn't part of the normal course of life and since it would have significant implications. The Christian claim involves hundreds of witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), including people who had been enemies of Christianity, and we have many examples of those witnesses' willingness to suffer and die for what they had seen, for example. Nobody is being asked to believe in the resurrection because of what one anonymous source thought he saw one time out of the corner of his eye. There's a lot of depth and many layers to the Christian case for Jesus' resurrection. That's why critics of religion in general tend to spend far more time on Jesus' resurrection than they do on something like the miracles associated with Buddha or Muhammad. Critics wouldn't be appealing to widespread memory losses among the early Christians, widespread psychological disorders, widespread apathy among Christianity's early enemies, etc. if the evidence for Jesus' resurrection was easy to dismiss. The demand for extraordinary evidence probably results from the fact that the evidence is indeed extraordinary by normal standards for ancient history. But the term "extraordinary" is vague enough to allow the critic to keep changing his standards however he needs to in order to avoid an unwanted conclusion.
Green: I agree that for people who are attracted to Christianity's truth claims that they want to be careful with such a claim and investigate it very carefully because of it's significant moral and personal implications. As for the Christian claim involving hundreds of witnesses, Jason appeals to the Corinthians 15 creed. There is a problem here. Paul doesn't say whom he received the creed from, or that he personally interviewed Peter, James, the 500 or anyone else. Next, we don't have independent attestation from these sources affirming what is stated in the famous creed. When Jason says that no one is being asked to believe in the resurrection because of one anonymous source thought he saw one time out of the corner of his eye- no, but Christians are asking the world to believe what four anonymous gospels say, whose authors do not identify their sources, methods, how they went about assessing the reliability of sources, eyewitness claims, etc. We have a creed that might have come from Paul (there are even some scholars who believe that the 1st Corinthians 15 creed is a post-Pauline interpolation; now watch as Jason includes a link from Robert Turkel trying to rebut this) who doesn't identify the source of the creed, doesn't say that he interviewed the people mentioned in the creed, especially not the 500. There is simply not a lot of depth and many layers to the Christian's case for the resurrection- and if Jason wants to argue differently, I will be more than glad to take him on providing he is a lot friendlier and less arrogant-sounding in his tone.
I personally have to say that despite people such as Michael Goulder or Gerd Ludemann (who don't seem informed on New Testament social-scientific criticism) who appeal to theories of hallucination, widespread memory loses, psychological disorders, apathy among Christianity's earliest adversaries, the problem is that these critics are not only divorced from the social context but many of them are simply granting too much ground to Christian apologists in terms of the reliability of the gospels, especially their details. Robert M Price (who Jason will probably arrogantly scoff at if I know him like I know the back of my hand) has the following to say about critics like Jason:
“The research done by Talbert and others makes the set of alternatives proposed by the apologists (i.e., "hoax or history") a false one. It is considerations like this which make works like Andersons' The Evidence for the Resurrection hopelessly out of date. In this book, and a large number of others like it, the apologists manage to effect a resurrection of their own-- they bring back the deists and rationalists of the eighteenth century as their opponents in debate. The apologists assume that their opponents, the imagined advocates of the "wrong tomb" and "swoon" theories, etc., agree that the gospel resurrection accounts are substantially accurate even down to the details. Otherwise, for instance, Edwin Yamauchi could hardly dismiss the possibility that grave robbers removed Jesus' body, merely by an appeal to the Johannine notation that Jesus' shroud was left behind. Yamauchi assumes that his opponents will accept the Johannine narrative at face value as he himself does. Unfortunately, such easy targets have long since vanished. Rationalists and deists like Paulus and Venturini used to argue this way since, oddly, they held to the near-inerrancy of the texts' reportage of events, yet claimed that apparent miracles were to be explained naturalistically! That Anderson has only such people in mind is obvious from a quote like this: "The only rationalistic interpretations of any merit admit the sincerity of the records, but try to explain them without recourse to the miraculous." New Testament scholarship has long since left both Anderson and Venturini behind, since it has shown at least that the facticity of the resurrection narratives cannot be simply taken for granted. Granted they are not lies, they may yet be legendary.” (“Guarding an Empty Tomb” in Beyond Born Again)
Price points out well what is the problem with critics like Jason. He points out parallels between gospels like Mark and legendary accounts of immortals and suggests that Talbert’s research points to the gospel resurrection narratives as being legendary in nature. It is Christians like Jason who think in terms of false dichotomies such as “hoax or history” or think that if the resurrection narratives aren’t historically inerrant down to their secondary details like crossed ‘t’s and dotted ‘i’s then it must all be fabrication, through and through. It is Jason who is resurrecting opponents of the past, opponents who did, indeed, counter with ridiculous and easily rebutted theories such as the “swoon” or “wrong tomb”. Jason is assuming that critics like me accept the resurrection accounts are accurate down to the details. And Price is right; these old critics such as Paulus and Venturini, are critics whom Jason finds easy to rebut and the only way he can easily attack me is by assuming that I am just like them. I don’t hold to the near-inerrancy of the gospel narrations, seeking to explain any apparent miracles naturalistically, yet that is precisely what Jason has in mind here. He just assumes that folks like me or just like the critics of old. Sorry buddy, the shoes do not fit and no amount of shoe-horning on your part is going to change that, Jason. Price is right; New Testament scholarship has left the likes of Anderon and Venturini behind and I agree with Price that scholarship has shown that the facticity of the narratives cannot be taken for granted. Jason is simply wearing the old, warn out shoes of Anderson and McDowell in this case. It is sadly, Jason, and not me, who is stabbing at a foe long since dead.
Engwer: Matthew writes:"First of all, I believe that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are highly discrepant and are impossibly inconsistent, especially in terms of secondary details despite whatever core historical facts underlie the accounts."The issue under discussion is the resurrection, not Biblical inerrancy. But while Matthew refers to the resurrection accounts as "impossibly inconsistent", he gives no examples of an impossible inconsistency.
Green: I am so glad that Jason brought this point up! First of all, I believe that Jason has missed my point here. My point, in the original article, is that the diversity of appearances presupposes that the narrative accounts are completely complementary and harmonious. In other words, the harmony of the accounts presupposes biblical inerrancy and the diversity of appearances presupposes the harmony of these accounts. The issue is not directly biblical inerrancy but it is indirectly because the best information Christians believe that we have comes from the gospel narratives and the 1st Corinthians 15 creed, all of which must be harmonious. If we are to believe that God inspired the resurrection accounts to be the best narration of the resurrection as an historical event, then we very damned well better believe that God meant for them to be inerrant accounts. If they err in any secondary details, why assume that God inspired the authors to get any core historical facts right? If the secondary details are wrong, inconsistent, inaccurate, why believe any of it happened, assuming that this was God’s chosen way to communicate to humanity that crown event of history? The key operating assumption here is that God chose to inspire these accounts to accurately narrate the most important part of his plan for human history, the confirmation of salvation for believers!
Secondly, I do plan to show in detail how the resurrection accounts impossibly disagree with each other. In fact, since Jason complains about my lack of detail so much, why not get it over with and go over the discrepancies? Even though I am planning on writing an essay series on biblical inerrancy and its flaws for Loftus’ “Debunking Christianity” blog, I might as well list them here so Jason will stop complaining about my lack of details. But before I begin, I want to make a note about the resurrection accounts and that I do think that some critics overstate the case for the errancy of the resurrection accounts and the discrepancies. I also believe that discrepancies should be divided into two categories: explicit and implicit contradictions. The former are quite explicit in detail and contradict other explicit details of other gospel narratives while the latter or discrepancies, while not as strong and as explicit as the former, are discrepancies because it can be argued, very reasonably, that a given author meant for the reader to understand something at complete odds with what another writer intended for his audience to understand. With these considerations in mind, I now turn to the inconsistencies.
1.) Was the tomb rolled away before the women arrived as in Mark, Luke, or John, or after the women arrived as in Matthew. In Matthew 28:2, it says that there was an earthquake and that an angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone, apparently after all the women arrived. In Mark 16: 2-5, Mary Magdalene and her traveling companions wonder who will roll away the stone, on their way there and find the stone removed when they finally get there (verse 4). In Luke 24:2, the women arrive at the tomb and find the stone rolled away. In John 20:1-2, Mary Magdalene (and whoever else might've been with her) take one good look at the empty tomb and instantly run to get Peter (it doesn't even seem that they entered the tomb at all!) The usual inerrantist explanation for this is that in Matthew 28:2, the Greek word for "was" ("ginomai") in describing the earthquake is translated in the pluperfect sense. Inerrantists like Robert Turkel, the late Gleason Archer, and their cohorts regard the word "was" for the earthquake as being in the pluperfect sense so the verse is best understood as referring to an earthquake and descending angel rolling away the tomb before the women arrived-but there are serious problems with this "resolution". They will argue that Matthew 28:2 should be read as the New American Standard Version or the New International Version translates it, such as the following:
"And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it." (New American Standard Version). Thus Turkel, the late Archer, Geisler, and others will argue the earthquake had occurred while the women were on their way to the tomb, and would've been rolled away brfore they arrived. I have two major problems with this "resolution".
First of all, not all translations render the Greek word for "was" ("ginomai") as in "And behold, there was an earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended..." (Matthew 28:2) in the pluperfect sense. Some translations of the Bible, render the Greek word in simple past tense. I list some of the translations below:
"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.(English Standard Version)
"And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it." (American Standard Version)
"And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of [the] Lord, descending out of heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it." (Darby Translation)
In all of these versions, the Greek word for "was" ("ginomai") is not translated in the pluperfect sense. But more importantly, is the Greek word phrase kai idou, which is translated in many versions of the Bible as "And behold!" In Matthew 28:2, this word phrase modifies the statement that an earthquake occurred because of the descending angel who rolled away the tomb. Whenever the word phrase "And behold" is used, it almost always states the occurrence of an event in the statement it is grammatically connected to, as having occurred after the events in the proceeding verse. Let's look at some examples of this here. I am going to go through a number of verses, each verse coming from three translations: the New American Standard Version, the English Standard Version, and the American Standard Version (from all three when applicable)
Matthew 3: 16
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him-New American Standard Version
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him-English Standard Version
I ask readers here- who would believe that the author was trying to narrate that the heavens were opened up and the "Spirit of God" descended upon Jesus before Jesus was baptized? No, the phrase "and behold ( "kai Idou" in Greek) modifies the second sentence to show the event occurring after the baptism and coming up and out from the water.
Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him-New American Standard Version
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him-English Standard Version
Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him-American Standard Version
I ask readers again- who would believe that the author was narrating the story here as to suggest that the angels came to Jesus and started ministering to him before the devil left him? No, again, the phrase "and behold" suggests that "angels came" and "ministered to him" occurred after the devil left him.
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep-New American Standard Version
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep-English Standard Version
And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the boat was covered with the waves: but he was asleep-American Standard Version
Here, "and behold" suggests that the great storm arose after Jesus and his followers had gotten into the boat and after Jesus had fallen asleep. I don't know of anyone who would seriously understand the author to be telling readers that the storm arose before Jesus and his followers got into the boat and Jesus dozed off.
And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region-New American Standard Version
And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region-English Standard Version
And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart from their border-American Standard Version
So, did "all the city" come out to meet Jesus and urge him to leave their region before Jesus performed the miracle? Nope. "And behold" modifies verse 34 as to suggest that the people in the city came out to meet Jesus and urge him to leave after Jesus performed the miracle spoken of in verse 33.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him-New American Standard Version
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him-English Standard Version.
And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him-American Standard Version.
Did Moses and Elijah appear before Jesus and his three disciples went up to the mountain and watched as Jesus was transfigured? Or did it occur after Jesus took his followers up the mountain and was transfigured before them.
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear-New American Standard Version
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear-English Standard Version
And behold, one of them that were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear-American Standard Version
Did Peter draw his sword before Jesus was arrested? I don't think so! I believe that it was after Jesus was seized for the arrest that Peter drew up the sword and struck the slave of the high priest.
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split-New American Standard Version
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split-English Standard Version
And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent-American Standard Version
Did the curtain of the temple tear in half, from top to bottom, before Jesus spoke his last words and die? Or was it after Jesus died, that the curtain tore into two from the top, downward?
Thus, we see a pattern here. "And behold" modifies the sentence that it attaches to and the sentence which is modified, describes something as occurring, after the event in the previous verse. We can see this in verse 51 of chapter 27, which suggests that the curtain-tearing occurred after 26 which speaks of Jesus' death. We can see that verse 51 of chapter 26 describes Peter as cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant, after Jesus was arrested in verse 50. We can see verse three of chapter 17, in which those present with Jesus at his transfiguration saw Moses and Elijah, after Jesus was transfigured on the mountain in verse two. In verse 16 of chapter three, "and behold" attaches the rest of the verse "the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending..." to "After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water" in a single verse. But since "the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending.." comes after the phrase "and behold" what are readers to conclude but that Matthew meant to say that the heavens opened up after Jesus was baptized and come out immediately from the water? I don't know of anyone who would conclude that Matthew's author meant that the heavens opened up and the Spirit descended on Jesus before he stepped into the water to be baptized.
Readers can then understand why I believe that Matthew 28:2 describes the earthquake and angelic descent as being after the women have arrived at the tomb. It's precisely because "and behold" modifies verse 2 as describing something after verse 1 as it does in the verse cases I have just cited above from different translations. I, therefore, conclude that a contradiction here exists!
2.) Did the women enter the tomb, encounter angels, remember the angels’ words and then run back and convey them to the disciples as all of the synoptic gospels say or did Mary Magdalene and whoever was with her, run to tell the disciples that someone had stolen the body and she had no clue as to where it was as in John 20:1-2.
In Luke, chapter 24, we read the following:
1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing;
5and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead?
6"He is not here, but He has risen Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee,
7saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again."
8And they remembered His words,
9and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
10Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.
11But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.
12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.
In this passage, the women went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, encountered angels, they remembered what Jesus said, then departed to tell the disciples what happened. Verse 9 and 10 are of particular importance. The women "returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. In the next verse it says that "they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James.."
Further in the chapter, when Jesus is believed to be walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus, they said this to Jesus:
22"But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning,
23and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive."
So, in other words, Mary Magdalene and whoever went with her, successfully told them what they had seen. When the women told the eleven "all these things", that logically, then, includes "saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive", and verse 9 includes Mary Magdalene as one of them out of grammatical necessity here. The problem arises when we try and reconcile this with John 20: 1-2:
1Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
2So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."
In these verses, Mary Magdalene runs (along with whoever may have been with her) to Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him"
Mary Magdalene, then, hasn't seen any angels, hasn't gotten the message, and hasn't relayed the message in clear contradiction to verses 22-23. In fact, we can conclude that Mary Magdalene had not even entered into the tomb but instead arrived at it, took one good look at it, and then left in panic without even having entered into it. If she did enter into it as in the synoptics, particularly Luke, she would've encountered angels, came back with the message, and have told the disciples that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. We can conclude therefore, that Mary Magdalene didn't even enter the tomb and sure as hell didn't encounter any angels. I'd like to see Jason resolve this.
3.) Were there Eleven disciples in the room on the first Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, to which Jesus appeared to (which would’ve included all the original disciples save doubting Thomas) or were there only ten as in John 20?
Recall, verse 9 from Luke 24 above. It says that the women told the Eleven what they had seen and heard. Yet in John we read a different story. We read this, in John 20: 19-24:
19So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you."
22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
23"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
In verse 19, it says that on the first day of the week, when it was evening, Jesus came and stood among them, and verse 24 says that Thomas was not with them originally. Then why the hell does it say in Luke 24:9 that there were Eleven present?
Oh, I think I get it! Judas Iscariot rose from the dead as well! You see, Judas hung himself in Matthew's account, and God raised him from the dead after Jesus rose and Judas hung out with the disciples that very night (one of Luke's "eleven"), and then was present later when Thomas showed up (making Twelve as in the 1st Corinthians 15 creed) and then he fell later in the field and his guts spilled out all over the place! Poor Judas, he died, rose just for some cameo appearances of Jesus, only to pull a Humpty Dumpty and fall, to die again! I get it now! Thanks for helping me to see the light here, Jason! I can imagine Jason saying that the "eleven" was only a figure of speech and that Luke knew all along that only ten were present! Yeah...sure. And what textual indicators would exist in the passage to indicate that this, indeed, was the case?
These are all explicit contradictions in the text that are impossible to resolve adequately without far-fetched plausibility scenarios, none of which are logical or remotely likely. Now, however lets shift gears and look at discrepancies which are implicit but nevertheless discrepancies.
4.) How many angels were there? Matthew and Mark record only one angel while Luke and John record two. Now the usual apologist quibble here is that Mark and Matthew only mentioned one but that doesn’t rule out that another angel was simply present. But there is a problem here. When the angel in Matthew speaks, he speaks in a first person singular. He says “For I know what you are looking for”. The problem? Many apologists are fond of pointing out that, for instance, Mary Magdalene wasn’t alone in her trip to the empty tomb in John 20. They will point to the first person plural of what Mary Magdalene says in John 20:2, “For they have taken the body of the Lord and we don’t know where they have put them” Thus, apologists are fond of saying, the text implies that more than one women was present! If this is the case, then, does that mean that the angel’s use of first person singular in Matthew 28: 3 implies then, that only one angel was present? If not, why not?
5.) Did Jesus appear to the disciples first in Galilee or Jerusalem? Matthew and Mark imply that Jesus appeared to them in Galilee first while Luke and John. Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. Now apologists will quibble and say that the appearance in Galilee was not immediate but eventual. This is absurd! First of all, notice the verb tenses in Matthew and Mark. In Matthew 28:7 we read the angel saying:
7"Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you."
Notice we see "is going" not "will go. Let's look at Mark, shall we? In Mark 16: 7, the angel says:
7"But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"
Again, notice the "is going" rather than will go.
Now compare this with the prediction of the resurrection, in which Jesus says that he “will go”.
Matthew 26:32 "But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee."
Mark 14:28 "But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee."
Notice the difference between “will go” and “is going”? If Jesus was going to eventually go to Galilee and not immediately why are the verb tenses not uniform? Why doesn’t the angel say that Jesus “will go” to Galilee and instead of “is going”? For a prediction of Jesus eventually going to Galilee, this seems a bit misleading as to the timing. Secondly, if Jesus only intended to make an eventual trip to Galilee, why have the angels tell the women to relay this message to his disciples? What could Jesus have the angels tell the women, or even he, himself, have the women tell his disciples that he couldn’t have told them himself, since he was going to meet with them, anyways, that very same day? What could the women have relayed to the disciples that he couldn’t have told them himself?
This discussion of discrepancies should prove to any rational person that the Bible is indeed errant and highly discrepant. Biblical errancy is the one of the two chief reasons that I disbelieve that the Bible is the word of any god and that I disbelieve that the resurrection happened at all. If Jason wishes to defend his utterly nonsensical belief that the Bible is inerrant, I will be more than willing to oppose him in a debate!
In fact, while I am on the subject, why don’t I spell out the other chief reason I do not believe the resurrection happened. Jason, therefore, can answer both arguments if he is so inclined to do so.
Engwer: Matthew continues:
"As Robert M Price notes, the very admission of a need to harmonize the accounts is an admission that the accounts cannot be taken at face value and that the burden of proof is on the resurrection narratives themselves, not on the critics who would call these narratives into question."
What does Matthew mean by "cannot be taken at face value"? If one account tells us that people A, B, and C witnessed an event, while another account tells us that people B, C, and D witnessed it, then the two accounts differ. They can be taken at face value in the sense of accepting them as possibly consistent with each other. They can't be taken at face value in the sense of accepting each account as giving us every detail of what occurred. But why would anybody assume that either account was attempting to give every detail? Sources often differ from one another without contradicting each other in historical research, courts of law, etc. See the examples cited by J.P. Holding here. Harmonization is commonly practiced in historical research and in other fields.
Green: Well, it’s easy Jason. When I say that an account cannot be taken at face value, I have in mind the historicity of an account or multiple accounts claiming to narrate a given event. An account can be taken at face value where there are no discrepancies, no errors, no inaccuracies, no embellishments or distortions, and the author has a critical intent to narrate history as factually as his sources will allow. But however, when two or more accounts conflict with each other, then the accounts cannot be taken at face value in terms of giving the accounts the benefit of the doubt. In Jason’s hypothetical above, the accounts do indeed differ, if A,B,C, witnessed an event while another account says that it was people B, C, and D witnessed it, and I am glad that Jason agrees that they can be taken at face value in terms of consistency. But where Jason assigns a straw man argument to me that he wants to knock down is assuming that I am suggesting that all the accounts that we have are attempting to give every detail. I haven’t argued this.
Two or more accounts need not give every detail but they should be consistent on any details that they do offer. If the synoptic gospels say that the women encountered angels, believed their message, left the tomb, and told the disciples that they had seen angels who said that Jesus was risen from the dead, and John 20:1-2 says that Mary Magdalene and whoever was with her took one look at the tomb, saw the stone had been rolled away, and jetted off for the disciples without having even entered the tomb, and told them that Jesus body had been taken and they didn’t know where the body was, that is not a matter of differing yet complementary details that give a bigger picture than what either account by itself gives us. Rather, it is a case where two accounts claiming to narrative the event give us details that are inconsistent with each other. Sources do often differ from one other without contradicting each other but not the way I have described above. The accounts are inconsistent and no amount of hand waving on the part of apologists like Jason is going to change that! I also notice that Jason has once again linked to Robert Turkel. But Turkel’s attempt at reconciling the accounts has proven to be nonsensical as I have shown above!
One last thing, I fully agree that harmonization is commonly practiced in historical research and in other fields (well, duh, Jason! I am only getting my B.A. degree in history as I write this! You don’t think I know that? ). But the question is one of legitimacy here. Harmonization should be attempted whenever it’s legitimate to try and attempt it. Otherwise, how would you know when a harmonization of two apparently conflicting accounts was legitimate and when the attempt is nothing but a far-fetched plausibility scenario that is hare-brained, indeed, because some biblical apologists seem more interested in defending a pet theory such as biblical inerrancy to their dying breath.
Engwer: Matthew tells us that those who want to harmonize have a "burden of proof", but he doesn't tell us what it is. The sort of burden of proof that historians would try to meet would be to demonstrate that two differing accounts can be harmonized and that we have reason for trusting the two sources who give the differing accounts. And Christians have harmonized their sources and have given reasons for trusting those sources.
Green: I didn’t think I would have to explain what the “burden of proof” was. I thought that most people reading my blogpost would be sufficiently educated to know what I was talking about. My point, which I fear Jason may have missed again, is...well..let me rephrase it so Jason should even be able to understand it crystal clear. Jason wants us to believe that the gospel accounts of the resurrection are reliable. I argue that they are discrepant. Jason has to argue that the are reliable despite appearances to the contrary. That Jason would acknowledge that harmonization is needed goes to show that the gospel accounts of the resurrection cannot be taken at face value as being reliable and that gospel narratives’ reliability has to be argued for despite appearances to the contrary. It is Jason and his cohorts who argue that the gospels are reliable and so the burden of proof is on him and his fellow apologists to explain how the gospel narratives can still be reliable despite the fact that they appear to conflict with each other calling into doubt the reliability of the secondary details and calling into question of any core historical facts underlying the accounts. The “burden of proof” should be clear now. It is up to Jason to defend the reliability of the resurrection narratives and the historicity of the events that they purport to narrate, despite the appearance of discrepancies, which would call the historical reliability of the gospel accounts into question. If this still isn’t clear to Jason, then let me go get the crayon box.
Jason should state that Christians have attempted to harmonize their sources and have tried to give reasons for trusting those sources but he won’t because he’s too over-confident about his apologetics for the resurrection. I, on the other hand, freely leave it to my readers to determine whether I have made my case or not.
Engwer: In his latest articles, Matthew makes much of alleged inconsistencies in the gospels, but some of the most significant problems for his vision theory are in elements of the gospels (and other documents) that are only mentioned by one source or are reported in a similar manner by more than one source. All of the sources who comment on Jesus' tomb agree that it was empty. All of the sources agree that Paul had been an enemy of Christianity prior to seeing the risen Christ. Etc. When an event is reported in only one place, such as the appearance to James in 1 Corinthians 15 or the appearance on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we can't claim to know that the event must not have occurred because of supposed errors in the gospels. If John's gospel is wrong on some issues, it doesn't therefore follow that it's wrong on all issues, much less that the other three gospels, Acts, Paul, Peter, etc. are unreliable as well. Arguing that two gospels contradict each other can only prove the unreliability of one gospel, not both of them. Why would questioning a detail in Mark's gospel, for example, give us reason to doubt what Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15? Matthew hasn't given us any reason to reject Biblical inerrancy, but even if he did, his vision theory would still be untenable. A passage like 1 Corinthians 15 or John 20-21 would be highly problematic for Matthew's theory even if documents like 1 Corinthians and John weren't Divinely inspired scripture.
Green: Yes, I do make much over the inconsistencies of the gospels but this something Jason just cannot skate around. The discrepancies are real enough and the harmonization of boobs like Robert Turkel, the late Gleason Archer, and the America’s own “Dean of Apologetics” the loathsome Norman Geisler just won’t cut it. I have attempted to show why rational people should reject the inerrancy of the gospels. Jason argues that some of the most significant problems for my vision hypothesis are in the elements of the gospels. If he is assigning me the role of his long-ousted critics, like the early deists and rationalists who accepted the historical inerrancy of the gospel accounts by over-rationalizing them to death by clutching at absurdity on top of absurdity, he is wasting his breath. I don’t accept the secondary details as being historical accurate or even likely and thus I don’t agree that any elements of the gospels pose a significant threat to my hypothesis. Jason says that all of the sources who comment on the tomb of Jesus agree that it was empty. Well, these sources are the gospels and most New Testament scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark and Q so that isn’t really saying much to say that they agree on the empty tomb. So what? That is not the same as having multiple, independent, attesting sources attest to an empty tomb so Jason is trying to make the ice look thicker than it really is.
Jason says that all the sources agree that Paul had been an enemy of Christianity prior to his Damascus vision. Actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John don’t mention it. Only Acts (which gives differing accounts of the event), Galatians (which ironically seems to conflict with the accounts given in Acts), and only another Pauline epistle or two. That is not all of the sources. Another point: I never said that just because an event is recorded only in one place that we can’t claim to know that the event must not have occurred because of errors in the gospels. But if the gospels do err in what they report, then that calls into question all of the other sources of events in our canonical New Testament. It calls into question of how can anyone be at all certain that any “Holy Spirit” divinely selected the gospels as well as other books as being divinely inspired when the Church set out to determine what the canonical New Testament collection would be. If the gospels do, indeed, have errors, then why are we at all confident that other sources that the “Holy Spirit” sought to include are, likewise, not without error?
Another point: Jason says that if John’s gospel is wrong on some issues, it doesn’t therefore follow that it’s wrong on all issues, much less that other New Testament documents are unreliable as well. Oh wow! When I read this, my jaw just about slapped the floor. If Jason really believes this, then why does he defend biblical inerrancy and infallibility on his website? If he really believes this, then inerrancy and infallibility should not really matter to him though. Thus, I never said that if two gospels contradict each other that it proves that both are unreliable. I never stated this. Jason can quote me if he feels gutsy enough to call my bluff. What I do believe and have stated (if I recall correctly) is that if two gospels contradict each other, that calls into question one or more of the gospel’s reliability. If two gospels contradict each other, it may be the case that one or the other is in error or perhaps one of them. So it is not accurate for Jason to state that if the gospels contradict each other, then that only proves that one gospel is unreliable. What if both are in error on a given point? As for asking why questioning a detail in Mark’s gospel would give us reason to doubt what Paul reports in 1st Corinthians 15, it can give us reason but not necessarily and I am not arguing that it does necessarily.
What it does challenge, however, is whether the canonical New Testament as we have it right now is the result of any “Holy Spirit’s” providence over the set of documents that comprise it. If an error is found in Mark, we have to ask why would any such being such as the “Holy Spirit” would include a book containing an error, which he would have to have known about, and include it with other documents that are inspired? If the “Holy Spirit” erred in one judgment as far as what books to include in the present New Testament canon, why trust the judgment of any such “Holy Spirit” when it comes to other books? As for not giving any reason to reject biblical inerrancy, I have now, buddy, I have now. If you want to debate the issue with me, Jason, you know where to find me, dude.
Engwer: Let's consider a detail found often in the resurrection accounts. All of the sources agree that the resurrection witnesses weren't expecting to see Jesus resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 9:10, 16:1-3, Luke 24:11, John 20:25, Acts 9:1, etc.). Yet, we know that expectations play a major role in hallucinations and other psychological disorders. Are we to believe that all of the sources commenting on this subject were mistaken? With somebody like Paul, who refers to himself as a former enemy of Christianity, how would it be plausible to argue that he was expecting to see the risen Christ? Were his travel companions expecting to experience something? All three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts mention the fact that Paul's companions shared in the experience (9:7, 22:9, 26:14). The three accounts can be reconciled, but even if we were to grant the claim that they're contradictory, why should we think that a first century author (apparently somebody who knew Paul) would three times refer to an element of Paul's experience that didn't actually occur? The author of Acts apparently was with Paul when he spoke about his conversion (Acts 26:12-27:2). It's not just that one or two sources refer to this concept that people weren't expecting to see Jesus. Rather, the concept is referred to often, by a variety of sources and in a variety of contexts. These weren't people gathered together, expecting to see something. Often, they saw something they didn't expect.
Green: For the last goddamned time, I am not arguing that the disciples were victims of hallucinations or any other psychological disorders. Besides, it’s interesting to know that Turkel has argued the same thing here. Is he cribbing Turkel but not identifying his source? I hope not but, then, again, I cringe every time Jason links to Turkel. Jason argues that the disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to have risen but I have tackled this subject in another post which was written after Jason composed this reply, so I cannot in all fairness, expect Jason to attempt another silly rebuttal on this point, since this rebuttal was written prior to my post. He can do so in a later rebuttal if he’s feeling that cocky to want to put me in my place. I have argued that the if the disciples were believed to have been raising people from the dead and so even if they weren’t expecting a resurrection, Christians would have to at least believe that the disciples would be expecting Jesus to have been resuscitated. Assuming the earliest Christians believed that Jesus came back with a body of flesh, who is to say that the earliest Christians did not believe that Jesus had been resuscitated and that later this belief evolved into a belief that Jesus had been resurrected? But here is another problem I would ask Jason and his buddies: if no Jew was expecting any individual resurrections prior to the general one at the day of judgment, how is it that some people became convinced that one of the prophets of old had risen from the dead as Luke records? If Jason believes that these people merely believed one of the prophets of old had merely been resuscitated, fine, let him back it up with textual evidence. He can start by answering my blogpost in detail beyond what he has made so far in terms of comments.
Engwer: What about other details in the accounts that aren't mentioned as often, but are credible? Luke and John refer to how the risen Jesus sometimes ate with His disciples, for example. That would produce physical evidence that something like a hallucination wouldn't produce. Since eating food is something that would be expected to commonly occur among any group of people who are together a lot, and since nothing said elsewhere in the New Testament contradicts such accounts, why are we supposed to believe that these events didn't occur?
Green: How does Jason know that these details are credible? Luke and John refer to the risen Jesus as sometimes eating with his disciples and now Jason appeals to the distinction sometimes made by William Lane Craig between visions and appearances. The appearances involved extra-mental phenomena such as eating that cannot be explained by any "hallucination" or vision. I have attempted an answer at this in another post which Jason has posted an answer to. Jason also says that nothing elsewhere in the New Testament contradicts such accounts, why believe this did not take place? Well for one thing, I believe that Matthew and Mark contradict these accounts by placing the first appearance of Jesus in Galilee, not Jerusalem. I have elaborated on and explained why I believe a contradiction really does exist. Besides, even given the lack of any contrary accounts, what evidence does Jason have that Jesus really did eat with his disciples after his death? I regard the stories as pious fiction (not necessarily fabrications, mind you, just pious fiction designed to illustrate the physicality of Jesus' resurrection).
Engwer: We could broaden the issue by asking about the desire for physical evidence in general. All four gospel authors refer to physical evidence produced by the resurrection (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:4-6, Luke 24:42-43, John 21:9-13, etc.). Similarly, the early Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged the empty tomb, and Ignatius of Antioch reports a possible extra-Biblical tradition involving the disciples' touching Jesus' resurrected body (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 3). Since the desire for physical evidence makes sense from the standpoint of common human experience and in the context of first century Jewish beliefs about resurrection, why should we think that the sort of desire for physical evidence reflected in these sources is unhistorical?
Green: My chief reason for regarding the credibility of these reports as wanting are the discrepancies, embellishments, and signs of redaction. Again, it seems as though Jason is assigning me the role of earlier critics who accepted the historical inerrancy of the gospels and then sought to hyper-rationalize away the details. I don't accept the secondary details as being historically reliable. I ask Jason: why should I? Jason argues that Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged the empty tomb- where? Where outside of the gospels? I want independent, early, attesting sources here. That Ignatius of Antioch reports a possible extra-Biblical tradition involving the disciples' touching Jesus' resurrected body- so what? One possibility Jason introduces and doesn't explain how Ignatius came to know of this, where it might have come from, etc. Did Ignatius test this for authenticity? Jason doesn't tell us.
Engwer: This is a context in which the number of resurrection appearances is significant. 1 Corinthians 15 reports six appearances, and Luke refers to Jesus as appearing to people over a period of 40 days, for example. Jesus didn't just appear once or twice. How likely is it that people living in a context like first century Israel, with its beliefs about the physicality of resurrection, would repeatedly think they saw the risen Jesus without seeking any physical evidence?
Green: Jason, again, is even assuming that all of these "sources" are complementary, I do not believe that they are. I believe that the gospels contradict each other. Furthermore, there is another problem that I didn't mention above. In 1st Corinthians 15, it says that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. What Twelve? Jesus only appeared to Eleven people (yes Jason, go back through Matthew and Luke and count them, it says that there were Eleven disciples present; here the verses are Matthew 28: 16; Luke 24: 9). Then there is that pesky problem of John, with Doubting Thomas not being present on the night Jesus rose from the dead. I ask Jason: why the Twelve reference in 1st Corinthians 15. Oh, I get it! You see: Judas Iscariot originally hung himself from a tree and died and so the risen Jesus rose him back from the dead so he could join the other Eleven in witnessing the risen Jesus. After he witnessed the risen Jesus (and this occurrence was written in 1st Corinthians 15), Humpty Dumpty then had a bad fall in a field and his guts were splattered, killing Dumpty..erm..Judas a second time. Good lord, I feel sorry for Judas here. Killed and raised again only to die a second time.
As for Luke referring to Jesus as appearing to people over 40 days, well, 40 need not be taken literally. 40 was a number that was often used in the Middle East
Engwer: Much more could be said, but we don't have to accept inerrancy before asking questions like these. Matthew hasn't given us any reason to reject inerrancy, but even if he did, the presence of error in some details wouldn't justify the sort of radical non-historicity that Matthew would have to advocate in order to dismiss all of the evidence inconsistent with his theory.
Green: No one doesn't have to accept inerrancy before asking questions like these but one has to presuppose biblical inerrancy in order to assume that the gospel accounts and 1st Corinthians 15 are complementary. It's only then can apologists like Bill Craig and Gary Habermas argue that a "diversity" of appearances exist. To assume, for instance, that the appearance in Galilee (as recorded by Matthew) and the appearance in Jerusalem ( as recorded in Luke and John) all happened, one has to assume that the appearance accounts in Matthew and Mark are complementary with the accounts of Luke and John. One has to assume that these accounts are inerrant and that they can be harmonized, reflecting their inerrancy. This is what I mean by presupposing biblical inerrancy. As for not giving any reason to reject inerrancy, I have given my reasons above. If I did present error in some details, that would strongly call into question not only the accounts bearing those details, but all the other accounts allegedly recording the same event. Besides, I am not advocating any radical nonhistoricity (there's no hyphen there Jason). I only brought up what possibility that Carrier has argued for. I don't believe that there is any evidence inconsistent with my hypothesis.
Even if my hypothesis proved invalid and there are good reasons, further, to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and the Christian gospel is true, then I would admit to such a thing, and then proceed to overdose on medication so I can take my own life and get judgment over with. Seriously. If Jason has a problem with this, then screw Jason!!
Engwer: If you go through the relevant documents and take note of all of the details Matthew would have to dismiss, it becomes apparent that he isn't just suggesting common human fallibility. He's suggesting radical, widespread delusions, memory lapses, misunderstandings, dishonesty, and apathy, and not just among the early Christians, but in some cases among their early enemies as well. I'm not aware of any other place in human history, any place other than those early decades of Christianity, where critics have to make such radical speculations in an attempt to dismiss a reported miracle.
Green: Hold the phone here! I introduced one possibility, that the empty tomb was a fiction- one that I am not necessarily committed to. I seriously have no problem in accepting an empty tomb here. I reject the historicity of the secondary details because I believe that they contradict each other and seriously believe that my visionary hypothesis is more likely, prima facie. I am not suggesting "radical, widespread delusions". I am suggesting commonplace visions involving altered-states-of-consciousness, that Richard Rohrbaugh and Bruce Malina are suggesting is common and normal in honor-shame societies that they introduce in their Social-Science Commentaries on the gospels. These are not "radical, widespread delusions". As for "memory lapses, misunderstandings, dishonesty, and apathy" where have I suggested all of these? Jason will have to elaborate if he condescends to do so. As for among their early enemies, Jason will have to give independent, early, attesting evidence. He has to remember: I don't accept the gospels as historically inerrant down to every last dotted 'i' or crossed 't' even though I'm sure that he would love nothing more to do that so he can ram the resurrection down my throat and force me to convert! Fat chance, Jason!
Engwer: Matthew writes:
"Matthew records an appearance of Jesus to his followers in Galilee while Luke places the first appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers in Jerusalem on the night he rose from the dead. Christian defenders of biblical inerrancy and the resurrection will argue that the two accounts are complementary. What if they really do contradict each other?"
Why would anybody think that there's a contradiction? What's supposed to be contradictory?
Green: Well, shit, Jason, the answer is not difficult, you know. I posted the answer above. Scroll up!
Engwer quoting me: Matthew writes:
"The problem, then, is that Christian apologists like Bill Craig and Gary Habermas may be milking the New Testament for data that simply may not exist, trying to squeeze as much juice out when the accounts may be completely dry. The 'diversity' they have in mind, I would contend, is simply imaginary. This is not to say that there wasn't a diversity of appearances, only, that it seems to me that Bill Craig and Gary Habermas and their apologist cohorts are basing their argument for a diversity of appearances on illegitimate grounds. They are treating the New Testament accounts as if they are reliable narratives, to be completely accepted at face value....The bottom line seems to me to be that any such 'diversity' presupposes harmonization and inerrancy and that has to be argued for despite appearances to the contrary, not simply assumed at face value."
It doesn't seem that Matthew is as familiar with the work of Craig and Habermas as he suggests he is, or he isn't being careful in representing their views. Here's a representative example of what Craig has argued on this subject:
Green: Bullshit! I am quite conversant with their works! Apologists like Jason want more than anything to prove that their critics are uninformed, careless, stupid, ignorant- or else we would be Christians like him and just adore him! It's time for me to gag, again! Jason quotes both Craig and Habermas...
"On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead....there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the postmortem appearances of Jesus. It is only by compiling unrelated cases that anything analogous might be constructed." (in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, editors, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], pp. 33, 190)And Habermas:
"The wide variety of times and places that Jesus appeared, along with the differing mindsets of the witnesses, is another formidable obstacle. The accounts of men and women, hard-headed and soft-hearted alike, all believing that they saw Jesus, both indoors and outdoors, provide an insurmountable barrier for hallucinations. The odds that each person would be in precisely the proper and same frame of mind to experience a hallucination, even individually, decrease exponentially." (see page 5 here)
Do these comments by Craig and Habermas require "harmonization and inerrancy"? No. All that's required is an acceptance of the historicity of some portions of the relevant documents. That's why Craig and Habermas regularly explain that their argument for the resurrection doesn't require belief in Biblical inerrancy. They frequently appeal to what's commonly accepted in modern scholarship, including among non-Christian scholars.
Green: Oh yes they do, Jason! Craig and Habermas don't seem to realize that their attempts to present these accounts as historical presuppose inerrancy. Inerrancy is axiomatic in order for the accounts to be complementary so apologists like Craig and Habermas can milk the accounts for their "diversity" of appearances. You have to do more than accept just "some" portions of the relevant documents. You have to accept that Jesus appeared both in Galilee and Jerusalem and that the accounts of these occurrences, do not contradict each other. You have to accept that the Eleven disciples were present (in Luke) on the night of Jesus' resurrection doesn't conflict with John's account in which Doubting Thomas was absent. You have to accept that there is a harmonization of the synoptic accounts which say that the women left the empty tomb, convinced that they saw angels and their message with John, in which the women did not encounter angels on their first visit to the tomb. You have to square all of this with 1st Corinthians 15, which says that Jesus appeared to the "Twelve" despite the fact that Judas Iscariot was dead and Doubting Thomas was out on the eve of the resurrection in John's account. So which is it, Jason? Did Jesus appear to Twelve (1st Corinthians 15), Eleven (Luke 24:9), or ten (John 20:24). It looks as though Jason really has his work cut out for him!
Engwer: If you accept the historicity of the resurrection appearances of 1 Corinthians 15, for example, which doesn't require inerrancy, then you have a wide diversity of resurrection appearances from that passage alone. 1 Corinthians 15 alone mentions appearances to individuals and appearances to groups, appearances to believers and appearances to unbelievers. In groups as large as the eleven disciples or the more than 500 men mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6, we would expect a wide variety of personalities. And 1 Corinthians 15 alone, even if we considered nothing else, mentions six different appearances, which suggests the sort of diversity William Craig and Gary Habermas refer to. You don't have to believe in the inerrancy of the gospels and Acts in order to conclude that the women who went to Jesus' tomb had a different mindset than Saul of Tarsus had on the road to Damascus. You don't have to accept Biblical inerrancy in order to conclude that an unbeliever like James would have had a different mindset than a disciple like Peter. Etc.
Green: This list of appearances, though, isn't really all that strong. Assuming that Paul really did get the list as is stated, Paul doesn't mention who he got it from, that he interviewed any of these people listed in the creed. Worst of all, is that there is no independent, multiple attestation from these people that confirm what is written in the creed! Do we have a letter from Peter or James affirming that Jesus really did appear to them as mentioned in the creed and that they were able to confirm that it was really him and that they weren't deluded somehow? Do we have any attestation from the 500 that the event really did happen? Who were the 500? Were they skeptics? Were they believers? Did they all see the exact same thing? We don’t' know.
Matthew Green has said a lot about alleged errors in the Biblical accounts, but he hasn't given us a single example of an error, and the most significant problems with his theory would remain even if we were to reject Biblical inerrancy. He mentions a lot of possibilities, but doesn't commit to much and doesn't go into much detail. But detail is what's needed. Making vague references to "visions" or telling us that something naturalistic may have triggered both the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances, but not telling us what it was that did the triggering and how it brought about "visions", isn't enough. It's also not enough to ignore large amounts of evidence about the genre of the New Testament documents while acting as if we can't know whether the New Testament authors intended to write historical accounts. Matthew can't remain silent or speak only in vague generalities in the places where his vision theory is weakest. The problem isn't that Matthew's opponents are assuming Biblical inerrancy. The problem is that Matthew's theory is absurdly implausible before we even get to a consideration of inerrancy. That's why theories like Matthew's are so unpopular, even among scholars who reject the inerrancy of scripture.
Green: Well, I have given examples of contradictions here. I await to see how Jason plans to resolve them or maybe he will mostly evade the problem as Robert Turkel has done. As for the rest of his complaints here, I say that my original posts were not meant to be a detailed defense of visions. As for the most significant problems remaining if inerrancy were rejected, what problems are these? The nonproblems of psychological disorders and other details that he supposedly thinks destroy my hypothesis? I only mention one possibility as far as the tomb goes and that is Carrier's possibility. I am committed to naturalism, philosophically, but this need not exclude an empty tomb by any means. I am committed to a naturalistic paradigm of Christian origins, something Jason cannot brook. I seriously doubt anything will be "enough" for Jason; he writes as though I seek to convince him that the resurrection hasn't happened, even though I don't give a rat's ass whether he's not convinced or not. I do not "ignore" large amounts of what Jason considers "evidence" because I am not persuaded that any of what he has presented, is evidence, and if I concluded that it was evidence for Jesus' resurrection, I would write a letter apologizing to Jason, admitting that he's right.
One more thing: I don't intend to "remain silent" or speak in "vague generalities" in places where he perceives my hypothesis as being the weakest. The problem, contra Jason, is that "my" opponents are presupposing inerrancy, whether they realize so or not, whether they state so or not. In fact, we can debate the plausibility of my hypothesis in greater detail. If Jason would like me to be polite, civil, and respectful, I will be happy to oblige- on the condition that he is the same way. As long as he's arrogant, confrontational, and combative, I'll respond likewise. I also haven't been "ignoring" any evidence about the genre of the New Testament documents, particularly the gospels. For me, I am still studying the subject and I don't really expect to come to an informed conclusion until graduate school. If the genre of the gospels demands that they be biographical ( that Burridge is right and that they are biographical in genre), that doesn't necessarily mean that all passages are necessarily historical down to the smallest details. As for my hypothesis being unpopular- for whom? Scholars of what theological stripe? Even scholars who are nonbelievers? Or are we talking about Christian scholars?
Engwer: The evidence suggests that the early Christians were attempting to convey historical accounts when they wrote documents like 1 Corinthians and the gospels. The evidence suggests that many details of the resurrection accounts are inconsistent with what we know of hallucinations and other psychological disorders.
Engwer: Matthew Green isn't attempting to give the best explanation of the evidence. He's attempting to give the best naturalistic explanation. But this is a case in which we have a supernatural explanation that's significantly better than any naturalistic theory. And that supernatural explanation is better in a context in which we have a lot of information. We know a lot about first century Israel, common Jewish beliefs of the time, how people viewed Jesus prior to thinking they had seen Him risen from the dead, the details of the settings in which some of the appearances occurred, what the witnesses were willing to suffer as a result of making the claims they made, etc. It isn't a lack of information, but rather the presence of much information, that results in attempts to dismiss dozens of details given to us by first century documents.
Green: As to whether the evidence really does suggest that the earliest Christians were trying to convey historical accounts- that's debatable and I am more than willing to debate as time permits it. Jason, once again, repeatedly critiques a position, I do not hold to, namely "hallucinations" or "psychological disorders". Contrary to Jason, I am attempting to give a best explanation of the evidence; we just have conflicting views as to what "evidence" exists. I heartily, disagree that this is a case in which a supernatural explanation is significantly better than any naturalistic theory. We do indeed know a lot about 1st century Palestine, but I dispute what Jason claims that we know for sure. As for his statement "It isn't a lack of information, but rather the presence of much information, that results in attempts to dismiss dozens of details given to us by first century documents." This statement alone speaks volumes about Christian apologists and their thinking about skeptics. To apologists like Jason, it isn't a lack of information; we have plenty of it, and it's only denials because people don’t' want to be held accountable to their Creator.
Let me state that if the Christian gospel was true and I concluded such, I would not avoid the inevitability of Hell. I would take my rightful place there. I promise Jason this and if he doesn't like the fact that I don't want to be his "brother in the Lord", that I don't want to hug him and thank him for saving me, be his buddy, go to Church, adore those arrogant bastards in the Church, too damned bad! Jason can drop dead!
My personal loathing of Jason aside, I have to say that although I have attempted a response here, I freely leave it to readers to judge for themselves. Jason will, no doubtedly, pin a response. I am willing to debate the details here, the very details that Jason whines constantly about me not going into. If he wants to debate, fine and good. I am willing to as long as we treat it as a respectful, civil, and friendly debate. The moment Jason sinks to acing like a condescending, arrogant, self-righteous prick, I will respond in kind. I am more than willing to debate the plausibility of my thesis. I recall a debate between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. Boy, how I wish I could've been an Flew's shoes. I'd love to have that kind of debate, given the social-science arguments I believe I have at hand. Well, anyways, whether Engwer and I will debate this in greater detail remains to be seen. I have posted a detailed, point-by-point response to his rebuttal and I simply leave it to readers to determine whether I have succeeded or not.