The Prime Radiant: A Simple Argument for the Resurrection

Contrary to popular misconception, Christianity is eminently and easily provable by simple logic and straightforward reference to a few basic, minimal and uncontroversial facts of history and reality.

I call this argument the “Prime Radiant,” after the central equation of psychohistory from Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, because it’s the centermost tenet from which all else in the system of study radiates, and everything else is a consequence and corollary to this primary truth. If the Prime Radiant is valid, the larger body of thought is thereby generally true, even if all of the extremities don’t hold up equally well. If the Prime Radiant can be falsified, then all else falls with it, regardless of how useful or seemingly true the extremities appear.

And, it also has in common with Asimov’s concept that it is the central organizing principle by which all of human history can be understood.

The Prime Radiant is as follows:

  1. Everything that exists and has a beginning has a cause, because something cannot come from nothing.

This is an axiomatic law of the universe.

  1. Christianity exists and had a definite, sudden beginning in history.
  1. Christianity exists because the disciples publicly proclaimed, “Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.”

And they didn’t claim, “We hope he rose from the dead,” “We feel he rose from the dead,” or “We heard he rose from the dead.” Theirs was a claim to empirical experience (CEE), which is falsifiable, as opposed to a claim to subjective experience, which is not.

And apart from that CEE, there would be no Christianity today of which to speak, because every shred of information we have about Christianity’s origin tells us it came into existence as a consequence of the disciples of Jesus traveling throughout the Roman Empire, building communities around their CEE of having encountered Jesus alive again after his public execution and burial. That thesis and the circumstances resulting from it are corroborated by Roman and Jewish sources, along with the historical evidence within the New Testament itself for an early, formalized creedal statement about the resurrection as a CEE by the apostles. Further…

                        3a. There is not a single ancient source even dimly suggesting any alternative explanation for Christianity’s origin.

This information, as an historical fact, is as well attested and certain as any fact of history. As such, it is barely even controversial.

In and of itself, it’s not controversial at all among historians and scholars. Controversy only sets in when its inevitable implications come into the discussion.

  1. What I call “the Rule of Three” – it absolutely and necessarily logically follows that one of these three scenarios must be true of any CEE:        

                    i) The claimant is lying.

                    ii) The claimant honestly believes it happened, but is mistaken somehow.

                    iii) The claimant is telling the truth about something that actually happened.

 

Only one of these scenarios can be true, and one of them absolutely must be true. So if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true.

These implications apply universally, any time anyone anywhere makes any CEE, no matter how extraordinary or unlikely or seemingly impossible that claim is – be it an experience of miracles, aliens, ghosts, garden gnomes, encounters with Bigfoot or what – one of these implications must unavoidably logically follow.

  1. Regarding the resurrection, there is every possible evidence one could ask for that the original Christians sincerely believed what they claimed. They were not lying.

The more acquainted a person is with the evidence – that is, the more familiar one is with the writings of the apostles and their immediate disciples collected in the New Testament and in the works of the Apostolic Fathers, and the more familiar one is with what Roman writers said about the original and early Christians – the more impossible it is to genuinely think they had anything but the most sincere confidence in the truth of what they proclaimed.

Also, if they were lying, they would have had to have conspired beforehand and come to unanimous agreement, not just about the story they would tell, but about what they wanted to get out of it – about their collective motivations and expectations in carrying out their hoax. When they had every reason to expect that the same fate that befell Jesus would come upon them as well, it’s inconceivable that they all agreed on a plan to publicly lie about having encountered him risen from the dead, because there is simply nothing they could have gained by this that couldn’t be much more easily obtained by other, less costly, risky, difficult and painful means.

  1. In the past 2,000 years, no plausible scenario has ever been proposed to explain how the original Christians thought they experienced the risen Jesus, but didn’t.

That’s not to say no scenarios have been proposed, but the more you consider them, the less tenable they become: the Mass Hallucination Hypothesis, the Swoon Theory, the Twin Theory, etc.

For someone well enough acquainted with the evidence to eliminate Scenario i., but still inclined to reject the resurrection, any of these might seem plausible at first glance, but they collapse under scrutiny because they defy everything we know from medical science and from straightforward logic: there’s no such thing as “mass hallucination,” there are too many reasons to list for why the Swoon Theory fails, and the Twin Theory is outright laughable, and of all the different scenarios proposed over the millennia, these three are the best skeptics have been able to come up with.

  1. By process of elimination, Scenario iii emerges as the best explanation, and there is no reason to reject it, other than a philosophical predisposition against the existence of God and the supernatural.

….

To summarize the Prime Radiant:

  1. Everything that exists and has a beginning has a cause, because something cannot come from nothing.
  1. Christianity exists and had a beginning.
  1. Christianity exists because the disciples publicly taught, as a claim to objective personal experience (CEE), “Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.”
  1. The Rule of Three: it necessarily logically follows from any CEE that i.) the claimant is lying, ii) the claimant is honestly mistaken, or iii) the claimant is telling the truth. One of these must be true, but only one of them can be, so if options can be eliminated, the truth is in whatever remains.
  1. The weight of evidence is that the original Christians believed what they claimed, eliminating the first option.
  1. No plausible scenario has ever been proposed to explain how they could have been mistaken, eliminating the second option.
  1. Other than a philosophical predisposition against the existence of God and the supernatural, there is no evidence by which to eliminate the third option.

 

Therefore, the resurrection happened and Christianity is true.

 

Common Objections

Obviously, there are nuances to this far beyond what I’ve addressed here, though.

If you know the evidence, this is a compelling argument, but most people don’t know the evidence (which is why it’s imperative that learning the evidence become standard operating procedure in discipleship and evangelism).

The first four premises should be unassailable, but some will try to argue Premise 3 on the supposition that the apostles didn’t intend for their claim about the resurrection to be taken literally.

Again, learning the evidence is the best vaccination against that idea, but for efficiency’s sake, it’s worth noting that the very same people who reject Christianity because of the supposed ignorance and primitive thinking of its founders will turn around and attribute “progressive” 20th/21st-century Postmodernist religious thinking to the original Christians when it suits their argument – which is essentially what the “non-literal resurrection” notion would have been. And there’s a lot you have to ignore to try to claim that the apostles weren’t being literal when they taught about the resurrection. The deaths they risked and suffered were pretty literal, because they expected literal resurrections. Also, “resurrection” as a concept was well established within 1st-century Jewish thought, and that concept was a literal, bodily resurrection.

…..

More often, though – particularly since the rise of the New Atheism movement – Premises 1-4 are accepted easily enough, but the difficulty of impressing 5 and 6 comes from there just not being a lot of knowledge of history or of what’s written in the New Testament, much less in the works of the Apostolic Fathers.

Someone always naively argues that they lied “so they’d have something to believe in,” or because “they needed to validate Jesus’ message.”

As Jews, they didn’t have any religious vacuum that needed filling, and they already had a pretty well-established tradition of martyred prophets within Judaism, so they didn’t need Jesus to be resurrected or to be the Messiah for his message to be validated.

It might have taken some massaging to work a crucified prophet into that tradition, given the shame and stigma attached to crucifixion at the time, but it would have taken far less massaging than their message of a crucified and risen Messiah.

…..

The far-and-away most common objection I’ve encountered is simply, “I don’t find that convincing,” or “That’s not very strong evidence.”

Which is, essentially, a shrug and a “nuh-uh.” It’s not a refutation; it’s a lazy dismissal.

This is typical of the New Atheist “Flying Spaghetti Monster”-paradigm, which insists that the entire burden of evidence is on theists, since we’re making a positive claim.

While I agree that theists – and Christians especially – bear a certain burden of evidence for our claims, the atheist still has his or her own burden to meet. “Atheism” isn’t simply “a lack of belief about God or gods.” In the absence of a theistic belief, atheists are still holding out a positive belief about Ultimate Reality – about How the Universe/Reality Really Is. They’re claiming that the universe is a closed-system and that absolutely nothing transcends nature and the material universe, which is in no way known with any certainty or presupposed with any rational justification. It’s a philosophical presumption no different than any other philosophical presumption. Insisting that theirs is the default position is just as faith-based and circularly-reasoned as they accuse Christians of being.

As it pertains to the Prime Radiant, a shrug and a blithe dismissal as “not enough evidence” exposes their bluff: when they say things like, “There’s no evidence for God or Christianity,” and then refuse to engage the points raised through the Prime Radiant, it just shows that they’ve never looked for evidence and don’t actually want any evidence. Their position is essentially, “Don’t bother me with the evidence, my mind is made up that there’s no evidence… I like being an atheist, and I don’t want to lose my justification.”

If they reject the resurrection, I turn it around with, “Well, what do you believe?”

Because if they reject the conclusion of the Prime Radiant – unless they’re being willfully ignorant and intellectually dishonest – they must hold some other belief about where its seven premises lead.

Generally, they won’t try to argue that Christianity doesn’t exist (Premises 1 and 2).

To that, I let them know that the burden is on them to provide an alternative, evidence-supported explanation for all those churches dotting the land, if they don’t accept Premise 3.

Whatever attempts are made at overturning Premise 3 are usually short-lived, unless they veer off into the upside-down land of conspiracy theories like the Jesus Myth Hypothesis (which is easy enough to refute, but that’s a different discussion, and one that’s already been capably explored elsewhere), and Premise 4 is pretty tough to argue, too, so I move on to ask how they meet the burden of overturning Premises 5 and 6.

They’ll usually pick one of them, or keep their options for both, so I challenge them to make a case for either – not based on their assumptions, imagination or ignorance, but on the actual evidence.

If you can get them to commit to doing that, then you’ve won – nothing you can say, and no amount of knowledge you produce on your own will compare with what they’ll see on their own as they investigate for themselves what happened 2,000 years ago to give rise to Christianity. The more acquainted they become with the evidence, the more obvious and inescapable it is that Jesus, literally and truly, rose from the dead.

There simply is no other conclusion logically possible from the evidence.

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6 Responses to The Prime Radiant: A Simple Argument for the Resurrection

  1. irrevenant says:

    Interesting argument, and thank you for setting it out so clearly. Makes it much easier to discuss.

    Point 1 (“Everything that exists and has a beginning has a cause, because something cannot come from nothing.”) actually contains a couple of assumptions but we’ll take it as true for purposes of this discussion.

    Point 2 (“Christianity exists and had a beginning.”) is largely uncontested, though note that, as a large body of related beliefs and claims, Christianity as we know it didn’t spring into existence whole cloth at its point of origin – individual aspects of it began at different points over time.

    Point 3 (“Christianity exists because the disciples publically taught, as a claim to objective personal experience (CEE), ‘Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.’ “).

    Actually, the Bible itself indicates this isn’t true. It makes it quite clear that Christianity originated before Jesus died. First in that it’s an extension of the long established religion of Judaism. But more importantly, the Bible tells us Jesus preached to large crowds of people long before his death. ie. The seeds of what would become Christianity were already planted amongst the populace before Jesus died.

    That the existence of Christianity hinges specifically on the resurrection is a huge, huge assumption.

    Point 4 (“The Rule of Three: it necessarily logically follows from any CEE that i.) the claimant is lying, ii) the claimant is honestly mistaken, or iii) the claimant is telling the truth. One of these must be true, but only one of them can be, so if options can be eliminated, the truth is in whatever remains.”).

    Actually it’s a lot more complicated than that.

    The earliest Gospel, Mark, was written some 40 years after Jesus died. In the 2nd Century AD, its authorship started to be attributed to Mark the Evangelist but this is highly questionable and generally this gospel is considered to be the work of multiple unknown authors over time.

    Notably this, the first of the Gospels by a good 10 years or so, does not mention the resurrection – which further emphasises that Christianity’s origins rest primarily on Jesus’s life and teachings rather than the resurrection.

    The Gospel of Matthew and Luke were written sometime in the next 20 years after that (their authorship is unknown). These gospels expand on the gospel of Mark, adding information from other unknown sources (including the resurrection. This was some 50-60 years after Jesus died – more than enough time for elements of urban legend to have crept into the narrative before our authors wrote it all down for posterity. Some of it was then tweaked over the following few centuries by other authors.

    Point 4 seems to assume that the claimants are the apostles who were direct witnesses when actually the claimants are individuals (often multiple individuals per work over time) collating information from various sources, not the testimony of direct witnesses.

    Which renders points 5-7 moot. I’ll be generous and assume our authors were mostly well-intentioned, though each did have their own particular barrow to push which flavoured their focus (Luke was making a case for Jesus’s fulfilment of prophecy, for example, while Matthew was making a case for his divinity). But they weren’t in a position to serve as a reliable primary source.

  2. Point 1 (“Everything that exists and has a beginning has a cause, because something cannot come from nothing.”) actually contains a couple of assumptions but we’ll take it as true for purposes of this discussion.

    These aren’t assumptions. They’re axioms. They’re self-evident truths.

    Point 2 (“Christianity exists and had a beginning.”) is largely uncontested, though note that, as a large body of related beliefs and claims, Christianity as we know it didn’t spring into existence whole cloth at its point of origin – individual aspects of it began at different points over time.

    Yes, but its central tenets – that Jesus is the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew scriptures who was crucified for the sins of the world, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven and will return in glory to establish God’s kingdom on Earth – these were foundational to Christianity, starting on the Day of Pentecost in about the year 30 AD. Christianity is irreducible beyond these claims. Take any of them away and you don’t have “Christianity” anymore.

    Tacitus tells us when Christianity started and corroborates the Book of Acts’ general timeline of its spread throughout the Empire:

    “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.”

    Suetonius tells us that Christianity reached as far as Rome as early as the reign of Emperor Claudius about 11-15 years after Christ’s crucifixion, writing that Claudius had the Jews expelled from Rome, who “constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Christus.”

    By “the Jews,” he could have been referring to Christians themselves – Jews and Gentiles – since the Romans hadn’t yet come to see them as distinct religions, or he could have been talking about conflicts that arose in the synagogue as the Christian message and movement reached them. In either case, it’s clear that Christianity had reached Rome by the reign of Claudius in 41-54 AD.

    That the existence of Christianity hinges specifically on the resurrection is a huge, huge assumption.

    It’s not an assumption – not even a small one. It’s pretty well-established from all the documents we have, as we’ll see in what follows.

    Point 4 (“The Rule of Three: it necessarily logically follows from any CEE that i.) the claimant is lying, ii) the claimant is honestly mistaken, or iii) the claimant is telling the truth. One of these must be true, but only one of them can be, so if options can be eliminated, the truth is in whatever remains.”).

    Actually it’s a lot more complicated than that.

    Is it? What would be a fourth option?

    —–

    Regarding your comments about the Synoptic Gospels – Not only are they an inaccurate representation of outdated scholarship, but they’re irrelevant.

    First, though, here’s why you’re wrong about the Gospels.

    Everything you’ve said presupposes that the assertions of form criticism are settled facts, but they’re not only not settled and highly dubious, but they run contrary to the clear evidence.

    In case you’re unfamiliar (or for anyone reading along) the notions you’ve asserted about the Synoptic Gospels come from a method of biblical criticism known as “form criticism,” which assumes that the Gospel writers drew from multiple iterations of anonymous oral tradition that had developed over time. This assumption is based on another underlying assumption: that the figure depicted therein – Jesus the Christ – could not have been a genuine historical figure, which is itself based on a still earlier assumption: the God who empowered him does not exist. For Jesus Christ, as he is depicted in the Gospels, to exist, the God of Israel would also have to exist, which is rejected a priori by the form critics (led by Rudolf Bultmann, building upon the ideas of the Tubingen school and David Strauss and other skeptics). Yet, they could not deny that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person of history, so they sought to reconcile their atheism with the unavoidable fact of Jesus’ existence by “demythologizing” the “Christ of faith” to discover the “Jesus of history” buried within the original literary/oral forms on which the Gospel traditions were based.

    Of course – and again – none of this was ever really argued or established by the form critics. It was presupposed, on an assumption of atheism, and the evidence was evaluated accordingly.

    And for all of this to be true, there had to have been a relatively late date of composition, since legends take time and multiple generations to develop, and they could only take hold in the absence of actual living memories of Jesus. So, they reason, the Gospel writers could not have relied upon eyewitnesses as their sources, since eyewitnesses wouldn’t report legends.

    In other words, when Luke explicitly tells us he relied on eyewitnesses to write his Gospel, the form critics don’t reject that on the basis of any actual evidence. They reject it because it conflicts with their presuppositions.

    They say the earliest Mark could have been written was after 70 AD, and the others still later, but even that is too soon for legends to have developed and taken hold about Jesus. And, that date is based on scant evidence interpreted according to the aforementioned dubious presuppositions: because Mark depicts Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple, and because the temple was destroyed in the year 70, and because we already know God doesn’t exist and therefore supernatural predictive prophecy can’t happen, Mark had to have been written after the fact.

    Except, there are some serious problems with that.

    First, the Book of Daniel also predicts the destruction of the second temple, as well as the rejection and execution of the Messiah, no less (Daniel 9:26), and no one would say Daniel wasn’t written long before the year 70. It’s just conveniently ignored by the skeptics.

    Also, according to the Two-Source hypothesis, Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke/Acts. Acts ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in the year 60-62 AD. Between that time and the time Mark was supposedly written, several events of inestimable importance to a Christian audience of readers occurred: the Great Fire of Rome and the ensuing Neronian Persecution, the deaths of Peter and Paul and other apostles, the Jewish Revolt and, of course, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Yet, none of these are mentioned in Acts, nor anywhere else in the New Testament. Considering how important the themes of persecution, martyrdom, Jewish relations and prophecy-fulfillment were to the Gospel writers, there is no rational, conceivable reason these events would have been so completely ignored if they’d occurred prior to the composition of the constituent documents of the New Testament.

    Lastly, we have Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction being made alongside predictions of his return and of the end of the age. In other words, as it’s framed in the Olivet Discourse in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, the destruction of the temple was supposed to signal the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Why would it be written that way when the writers knew full well that the temple had been destroyed, yet Jesus hadn’t returned? Unless, of course, they wrote it before the temple’s destruction…?

    All of this suggests the Book of Acts was complete by the year 60-62 AD, which means Luke had to have been written even earlier, and Mark written still earlier than that, which is far too early for any significant legendary accretions to have developed.

    New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has made a pretty compelling series of arguments that the Synoptic Gospels are the products of eyewitness testimony after all. Rather than “oral tradition” – i.e., anonymous “urban legends” developed over multiple generations, he characterizes them as “oral testimony.” As in, these were the recollections of Jesus presented orally by the original disciples among the Christian communities they’d founded throughout the Roman Empire. They weren’t committed to writing until decades later because 1) they were expecting Jesus to return at any moment, and 2) the apostles and other disciples were themselves easily accessible by the early Christians, so there was no need to write them down. It was only when the first generation of Christians started aging and dying out that they saw the need to commit their recollections to writing for posterity.

    If you’re not familiar with his arguments, I highly recommend the following: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inebriateme/2014/09/book-review-richard-bauckham-jesus-and-the-eyewitnesses/

    ———————-

    But, even if everything you’ve said about the Gospels is correct (and it’s not), it’s still completely irrelevant, because we don’t draw our understanding of what the original generation of Christians believed solely from the Gospel accounts. We have Paul’s letters, which were written much earlier, are not contested by any serious, credible scholar, and they explicitly spell out what Christians believed, why they believed it, and establish that these beliefs were highly institutionalized early on.

    1 Corinthians was written around the year 55 AD. In chapter 15, Paul wrote:

    “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

    “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

    “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”

    Christ’s death and resurrection was taught as a formal, received tradition – a creedal formula, when Paul wrote this in 55 AD, and it was attested to by the twelve apostles, James, more than 500 other people, and by Paul himself.

    Not only is Paul referring the Corinthians back to their own knowledge of the Twelve as eyewitnesses – as the source of their tradition, but he’s also claiming to be an eyewitness himself.

    So, yes – we DO have an eyewitness account of the risen Jesus. And, it’s not even offered as the most compelling proof available to Paul’s audience.

    Scholars believe that if this was a formal, institutionalized tradition by the time Paul wrote his letter, then the message must have originated much earlier. This, in fact, was the “mischievous superstition” of which Tacitus wrote, which broke out in Judea during the time of Pontius Pilate, and reached Rome, according to Suetonius, by the time of Emperor Claudius.

    And here you have irrefutable historical proof that the original disciples of Jesus were traveling the Roman Empire, claiming – as an empirical experience – to have encountered Jesus risen from the dead.

    What’s more, if you read the first two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he speaks again about his own eyewitness experience of the risen Jesus, as well as Jesus’ brother James and Peter and the other apostles’ status as the living attestors to Jesus’ resurrection and the sources of the aforementioned gospel tradition.

    So, whatever it is we think about the four Gospels, we still can’t get around the fact that Christianity began as the apostles claiming to have encountered Jesus risen from the dead.

    • thethirdhelix says:
    • irrevenant says:

      Wow, long reply! O_O

      I’ll try to just hit the key points in response else we’ll be here forever. 🙂

      When I say that it’s an assumption that Christianity hinges specifically on the resurrection, remember that we were talking about the origination of the Christian faith. I’m not saying the resurrection isn’t a core belief of Christianity as it exists today. But your argument was specifically that Christianity couldn’t exist unless the resurrection actually happened – and that’s what I consider an assumption.

      Christianity existed from the moment Jesus started teaching. It does not “exist because the disciples publically taught, as a claim to objective personal experience (CEE), ‘Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.'”. It exists because Jesus preached to the multitudes and developed a sizeable following during and after his lifetime. That’s how Christianity was born. Christianity didn’t start at the pentecost, it started approximately three years earlier when Jesus began his ministry.

      Belief in the resurrection certainly helped with the popularisation of Christianity but Christianity existed before that belief and we have no reason to think that the religion wouldn’t have lasted just fine without it. Mohammed and Buddha weren’t resurrected and their religions are continuing along just swimmingly.

      Your characterisation of form criticism is a little unfair. In context, “Demythologising” doesn’t mean they’re attempting to prove the text untrue.  It just means they’re trying to separate author’s intent and commentary from raw fact – which is a fairly standard and reasonable approach used for historical documents in general, not just the Bible.

      And form criticism is hardly the only school of historical analysis to come to those conclusions – historians in general tend to agree with its interpretations regarding the chronology and authorship of the Gospels.

      I think you’re grossly underestimating how quickly urban legends can form and spread and just how quickly facts and rumours can form and distort over word of mouth.  It took what, a week, for intricate conspiracy theories to start circulating – complete with “evidence” – after 911?  (It would probably be slower than that pre-internet, but in a small geographical location within a specific cultural-religious group? Not much slower).

      If it wasn’t true, how plausible is it that within a few years of Jesus’s death his devout followers (who considered him the Messiah and would have been horrified at his execution) might be circulating stories that he had returned from the dead? I’d say fairly darn plausible. And yes, they probably would attribute those claims to the apostles.

      You make a good point about Paul predating the Gospels but he also wasn’t a direct witness. He was a later convert who had a revelatory experience.
      Note: Paul claims to have had a vision of the risen Jesus while travelling and you seem to be taking this as an eyewitness account. I wouldn’t – if you start counting religious visions as factual eyewitness accounts then most religions are indisputably true which is obviously a nonsense. He did apparently have a profound personal revelation, though.

      Paul’s writings report a combination of the word on the street and his personal opinions and interpretations. They tell us that at least some Christians, including Paul himself, believed in the resurrection by the time he was writing about it.

      Ultimately we’re left with second hand accounts that at least some Christians believe that the apostles saw Jesus after death.

      Which is the fourth option I described for point 4. Your point 4 talks about the principles for addressing the validity and motive of specific claims made by specific claimants. The fourth option is to realise that we’re not actually evaluating claims made by a specific claimant – we’re evaluating hearsay about specific claims, which is an entirely different thing. We’re not evaluating claims – we’re evaluating what people claim that other people claim. In a court of law that generally wouldnt even be considered admissible evidence.

      Personally I think it’s underselling the awesomeness of Jesus to insist that the strength of Christianity rests specifically on the resurrection.

      You’re effectively saying that one miracle is more important to Christianity than the entirety of Jesus birth, life, role as the Messiah, ministry, miracles and martyrdom all put together wouldn’t have mattered without the resurrection. I can’t agree. IMO, Christianity would have been strong and vibrant even without claims of the resurrection.

      • When I say that it’s an assumption that Christianity hinges specifically on the resurrection… your argument was specifically that Christianity couldn’t exist unless the resurrection actually happened – and that’s what I consider an assumption.

        Except, it’s not an “assumption” at all. It’s clearly established by the evidence of what I just posted in my previous comment: the earliest documentation we have – that being Paul’s letters – paints a clear picture of the apostles and other disciples proclaiming their experience of encountering Jesus risen from the dead. That the received tradition outlined in 1 Corinthians 15 was already institutionalized by 55 AD means it had to have been established even earlier, from the very beginning.

        And, to reiterate, Paul is referring the Corinthians back to what they received as firsthand, eyewitness accounts from people they knew, who were still alive. Paul wasn’t making a special point – as if to inform them for the first time – that there were more than 500 people out there claiming to have seen Jesus alive again after the crucifixion, or that Peter, James and the Twelve had made these claims. He was referring them back to what they already knew – what they’d heard from the Twelve (and other corroborating witnesses) themselves: “…whether then it was I or they, this is what we preached, and this is what you believed.”

        So, first – there’s no way of getting around the fact that the apostles, the original disciples of Jesus, CLAIMED to have had these experiences.

        Second, there is no evidence of any earlier form of Christianity that didn’t include the resurrection – and the resurrection as a direct claim to empirical experience by the apostles, no less; and what evidence we have tells us it was there from the beginning. In fact, if you go back to the earliest documented form of Christianity and strip away the resurrection, there’s nothing left to call “Christianity.” The resurrection was NOT a later add-on to Christianity. It WAS Christianity.

        That’s why Paul told them that if the resurrection wasn’t true, their “preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

        Christianity existed from the moment Jesus started teaching. It does not “exist because the disciples publically taught, as a claim to objective personal experience (CEE), ‘Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.’”. It exists because Jesus preached to the multitudes and developed a sizeable following during and after his lifetime. That’s how Christianity was born. Christianity didn’t start at the pentecost, it started approximately three years earlier when Jesus began his ministry.

        No it didn’t. At least, historians don’t think so. Historians generally regard “Christianity” as beginning with the collective ministry of the apostles, but regard Jesus’ ministry as a movement within Judaism.

        Obviously, Christianity includes Jesus’ teachings, but the validity and authority of those teachings is premised on the claim that he is the Messiah, the Christ. That’s what makes Christianity “Christianity.”

        Their claim that he was the Messiah was premised on their claim that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them.

        Prior to that, as far as the general public was concerned, Jesus was a Jewish rabbi teaching Judaism. Yes, he was an extraordinarily brilliant and inspired rabbi, but still a rabbi, still one rabbi teaching Judaism among countless other rabbis teaching Judaism. He certainly stood out from those other rabbis, and the public suspected he was the Christ, or a prophet, maybe, but nothing about his public teachings said “Christianity” until the very last week, on Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as a public declaration of his messiah-hood. And then — as far as the general public was concerned — it all came to an abrupt and ignominious end on Friday.

        Whether or not that declaration was true depended entirely upon the resurrection. By declaring himself to be the Messiah, the validity of his teachings hinged upon him actually being the Messiah, and his status as the Messiah depended on God answering the apparent invalidation of crucifixion by raising him from the dead. Otherwise, he would have been just another messianic pretender in a long line of messianic pretenders, whom history remembers only as footnotes, not as the central figures in a world-spanning religion.

        Belief in the resurrection certainly helped with the popularisation of Christianity but Christianity existed before that belief and we have no reason to think that the religion wouldn’t have lasted just fine without it. Mohammed and Buddha weren’t resurrected and their religions are continuing along just swimmingly.

        Actually, we have absolutely no reason to think that it would have lasted, and every reason to think it wouldn’t.

        First, there’s simply no comparison between Christianity and Islam and Buddhism. Islam spread rapidly because of conquest and forced conversion, and Buddhism spread only very gradually over the course of many centuries, and neither had any resistance in the form of persecution. Christianity encompassed the entire Roman Empire within a couple of decades and it had to work against powerful resistance in the form of severe persecution and centuries’ worth of competing cultural and religious tradition, from Jews and Greeks and Romans alike.

        Most significantly, though, Judaism is not and was not a proselytizing religion. It was all about cultural isolation and staying separate from non-Jews:

        “‘Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.
        “‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”
        (Leviticus 20:22-26)

        And, Jesus reaffirmed this with regard to his own ministry when he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and he told his apostles, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

        So, there was no mandate within Judaism and no mandate within Jesus’ public ministry to go out into the world to bear witness to the nations. The mandate was to keep separate from the nations and minister only to their fellow Jews.

        The teachings of Christianity were that, with Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Law and the Prophets were “fulfilled” and God’s purposes for the Covenant of Moses and the Levitical sacrificial system were complete, which removed the need to keep Judaism and the Jews isolated. As the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus was the embodiment and completion of Judaism, which made it “ready for export,” so to speak.

        Again – you don’t find any of this in Jesus’ public ministry. He hinted at it in his private remarks to his disciples (which, if the resurrection didn’t happen, were either false prophecies on his part or inventions on the part of the Gospel writers).

        So, apart from the resurrection (as an invention or as an actual empirical experience), what would have motivated the disciples to then leave Judea to bear witness to the nations?

        And what would they have borne witness to?

        “Our rabbi had some really nice things to say…” “Jesus was a great guy. Too bad he’s dead. But he said such great things…”

        No, without the resurrection, there would have been no “gospel” to proclaim, nothing to bear witness about. Jesus’ teachings about Judaism only had meaning and authority BECAUSE OF THE RESURRECTION.

        Really – go back and read through his teachings, and ask yourself what they even mean if they weren’t spoken by the Messiah who would be raised from the dead. He talks about the End of the Age and the Kingdom of God on earth – which, understood in their proper Jewish context, presuppose his own resurrection and his own authority to speak as the Messiah.

        Your characterisation of form criticism is a little unfair. In context, “Demythologising” doesn’t mean they’re attempting to prove the text untrue.

        I don’t think it’s unfair at all. It’s just plainly stated, instead of wrapping it all up in obscure academic jargon.

        But, you’re right – they’re not “attempting to prove the text untrue.” They’re assuming from the outset that it’s largely untrue, and working from there. As in, they’re not trying to conclude that it’s untrue. They presuppose that it’s untrue.

        To accept their presuppositions, though, we have to accept their theological assumptions.
        Tell me – IS there any reason to accept the assumptions of the form critics without also assuming their atheism is true?

        It just means they’re trying to separate author’s intent and commentary from raw fact – which is a fairly standard and reasonable approach used for historical documents in general, not just the Bible.

        Really? Are there other ancient writings you can name to which this method is applied?

        “And form criticism is hardly the only school of historical analysis to come to those conclusions – historians in general tend to agree with its interpretations regarding the chronology and authorship of the Gospels.”

        Historians who accept the assumptions of the form critics come to these conclusions.

        Did you read the article I linked in my previous comment about Richard Bauckham’s work?

        If not: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inebriateme/2014/09/book-review-richard-bauckham-jesus-and-the-eyewitnesses/

        I think you’re grossly underestimating how quickly urban legends can form and spread and just how quickly facts and rumours can form and distort over word of mouth. It took what, a week, for intricate conspiracy theories to start circulating – complete with “evidence” – after 911? (It would probably be slower than that pre-internet, but in a small geographical location within a specific cultural-religious group? Not much slower).

        There’s really no comparison there.

        9/11 conspiracy theories spread because 1) they presented facts that may or may not have been true, which the layperson could not verify for themselves and, 2) even if the facts were true, they were still widely open to interpretation. And, of course 3) the Internet. So, there’s an ease of transmission there, and it’s information that can’t be easily falsified, with interpretations that can’t be easily refuted. And, spreading those theories came at no cost to their attestors – given the anonymity of the Internet, nobody put their lives, property, social status or reputations at risk by those claims.

        And that’s how all rumors spread. I’m a journalist by profession, and I can tell you – it’s easy to get people to repeat rumors they’ve heard when they have no skin in the game. It’s a lot harder to get people to go on record and put their name behind those claims.

        The resurrection was entirely different in every respect. First, the original disciples put their names on it. And, they put the names of high-profile, powerful public figures on it, who were certainly in a position to offer an opposing viewpoint. And, the disciples paid a high price for their claims. We’ve already established that Christianity had spread as far as Rome by the reign of Emperor Claudius about 15 years later. A controversial, socially-costly institutionalized religion does not spread from Judea to Rome that quickly on the strength of anonymous rumors.

        Also, the concept of “resurrection” was well-established and defined within Judaism, so there wasn’t anything up for interpretation when the apostles said, “Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to us – we saw him and heard him and he instructed us to bear witness to you about it.” People knew exactly what they were talking about, and whether it happened or didn’t wasn’t subject to interpretation. You could believe them or disbelieve them, but their claims weren’t like the 9/11 conspiracy claims, which depend on a wide range of un-falsifiable factors that were open to interpretation.

        If it wasn’t true, how plausible is it that within a few years of Jesus’s death his devout followers (who considered him the Messiah and would have been horrified at his execution) might be circulating stories that he had returned from the dead? I’d say fairly darn plausible. And yes, they probably would attribute those claims to the apostles.

        Why in the world would this be plausible? Has this ever happened in the case of any other disgraced religious leader? Are there followers of David Koresh or Jim Jones out there right now, claiming they’d returned from the grave? And what other Jew who claimed to be the Messiah had followers who did this? Sabbati Zevi’s followers didn’t. Simon Bar Kochba’s didn’t. Why would you think it would just happen in the normal course of events for Jesus’ followers to do this – especially when they had every reasonable expectation of getting nailed to crosses themselves for their efforts?

        And are you saying that Jesus’ followers went around impersonating the apostles in order to sell these stories they’d made up, and to build communities around them?

        You make a good point about Paul predating the Gospels but he also wasn’t a direct witness. He was a later convert who had a revelatory experience. Note: Paul claims to have had a vision of the risen Jesus while travelling and you seem to be taking this as an eyewitness account. I wouldn’t – if you start counting religious visions as factual eyewitness accounts then most religions are indisputably true which is obviously a nonsense. He did apparently have a profound personal revelation, though.

        How would you distinguish Paul’s claim to having experienced the risen Jesus from that of the apostles, as described in 1 Corinthians 15 and Galatians 1 and 2? Because Paul didn’t distinguish, and the other apostles didn’t, either…

        Paul’s writings report a combination of the word on the street and his personal opinions and interpretations. They tell us that at least some Christians, including Paul himself, believed in the resurrection by the time he was writing about it.

        First, “by the time he was writing about it” was pretty early – the original disciples of Jesus were still around and were well known to the communities to whom Paul wrote. He doesn’t refer to “word on the street.” He refers to specific, named individuals with whom the communities to whom he wrote were well acquainted. What about that tells you the oral accounts of the resurrection were mere “word on the street”? That sounds like your “personal opinion and interpretation,” and it flies directly in the face of the evidence.

        “Ultimately we’re left with second hand accounts that at least some Christians believe that the apostles saw Jesus after death.”

        No, we still have a first hand account of an appearance of the post-resurrection Jesus, and a first hand account that the apostles themselves made formal presentations of their accounts of the risen Jesus.

        Paul knew Peter and James the Lord’s brother and the other leaders and apostles within the Christian movement. He knew them, and the Christian communities in Corinth and Galatia and Rome and elsewhere knew them, and Paul frequently referenced that common knowledge when he wrote to these communities, most explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15.

        Dismissing that as “word on the street” is a pretty facile, specious treatment of the evidence.

        Personally I think it’s underselling the awesomeness of Jesus to insist that the strength of Christianity rests specifically on the resurrection. You’re effectively saying that one miracle is more important to Christianity than the entirety of Jesus birth, life, role as the Messiah, ministry, miracles and martyrdom all put together wouldn’t have mattered without the resurrection. I can’t agree. IMO, Christianity would have been strong and vibrant even without claims of the resurrection.

        The vast majority of historians would disagree with you. They’re all agreed that the “Easter experience” is the origin point of Christianity. The difference between Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, in this regard, is that the believers see the “Easter experience” as something objective, within time and space, that happened to Jesus himself, while the non-believers see it as something subjective that happened within the disciples.

        They’re agreed, though, that this “Easter experience” – whatever it was – is what made the difference between the Jesus Movement being a purely local phenomenon within Judaism that would have died out eventually after he did, or a new religion that transformed the world.

      • Before you respond to my last, I recommend taking the time to go to this link and watch the two videos there.

        Not that you’re denying the actual existence of Jesus as a person of history, but Ehrman’s comments about the historical sources provides some useful and relevant background.

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/brandondsmith/2015/04/bart-ehrman-on-denying-that-jesus-existed-you-look-foolish/

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