Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Part Three

The Minimal Facts, Part Two
In our previous post in this series on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we discussed the first two of five “minimal facts” concerning the resurrection. The first of these two was that Jesus was actually put to death via the standard Roman execution method for non-Roman citizens, crucifixion. The second was that the disciples actually believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reader can access that post if she wishes further details as to why it is held that these are “minimal facts” of the resurrection.

In this post, we will be addressing two more of the “minimal facts” that have nearly unanimous acceptance, the conversions of Paul (a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus) and James (the skeptical brother of Jesus). We will also address the fifth “minimal fact”; the empty tomb of Jesus.

The Conversion of Saul (Paul)

The conversion of Saul/Paul is the third in our list of four plus one “minimal facts”. His conversion is an established fact in the New Testament. According to the book of Acts, Saul was a persecutor of the early followers of Christ. Luke records Saul’s approval of the stoning of the early church deacon, Stephen, and his subsequent conversion while journeying to Damascus in order to arrest and extradite followers of Jesus in that city back to Jerusalem for trial by the Sanhedrin. It was on this journey that Saul experienced the risen Jesus of Nazareth (see Acts 9, 22 & 26). Paul wrote about his conversion a number of times (1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 1:13-16; Philippians 3:6-7). This event was also a part of early Christian oral tradition circulating in Judea (Galatians 1:22-23).

Further the fact that the convert Paul suffered and was later martyred for his belief in Jesus has been attested to by Luke (Acts 14:19; 16:19-24; 17:5, 13-15; 18:12-13; 21:27-36; 23:12-35). The early church fathers such as Clement of Rome (1 Clem. 5:2-7), Polycarp (Pol. Phil. 9:2), Tertullian (Scorpiace 15; also cited by Eusebius in EH 2:25:8), Dionysius of Corinth (cited by Eusebius in EH 2:25:8), and Origen (Commentary on Genesis cited by Eusebius in EH 3:1). As well as by Paul himself (2 Cor. 11:23-28; Phil. 1:21-23).

The Conversion of James

The gospels report that Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers prior to Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; John 7:5). The early creed, found in 1 Corinthians mentions James (1 Cor. 15:7). Lastly, both Paul and Luke (in Acts) identify James as a leader in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 1:19; Acts 15:12-21).

Secondly, James’ suffering and persecution is attested to by Josephus (Ant. 20:200), Hegesippus (quoted at length by Eusebius in EH 2:23), and Clement of Alexandria (quoted by Eusebius in EH 2:1 and mentioned in EH 2:23).

The Empty Tomb

This final fact does not boast the near unanimous acceptance by scholars as the previous four do. According to Habermas’ research this fact is accepted by about 75% of the scholars that he studied. As with all the facts we mention, just because scholars hold to something as a fact does not “prove” anything. That being said there are three reasons why the empty tomb is treated as a fact by the vast majority of scholars.

First, if the body of Jesus was still in the tomb it would have been impossible for Christianity to even survive in Jerusalem let alone in the world. All the enemies of Jesus would have needed to have done is produce the corpse and Christianity would have died before it even began.

Secondly, there is enemy attestation to the fact that the tomb Jesus’ was buried in was empty. In claiming that Jesus’ disciples stole the body, Jesus’ enemies indirectly affirmed the empty tomb (Matthew 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30). If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, then why make this claim?

Lastly, there is the testimony of the women to the empty tomb of Jesus. In the gospels, women were listed as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. It is unlikely that the Jewish disciples of Jesus would have invented this story as women were held in low regard in the Jewish cultural context. In fact, the story that women were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection would have actually damaged the claims of the disciples (Luke 24:11; Josephus, Ant. 4:8:15; Talmud: J Sotah 19a; Rosh Hashannah 1:8; Kiddushin 82b; Origen, Contra Celsum 2:59; 3:55; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 44).

Further, the testimony of the women demonstrates that the resurrection was not some myth later added to the story of Jesus the “great moral teacher.” If the resurrection is merely a mythical insertion by later second or third century writers of the New Testament (as liberals, skeptics and anti-theists assert), then it makes no sense to include this embarrassing fact of women and not the male disciples being the first witnesses of the empty tomb.

These three and the previous two are five facts that must be dealt with by any opposing theory that can be used to discredit the resurrection of Jesus. In our next post we will begin looking at these opposing theories in depth and why they fail to account for one or more of these “minimal facts.”

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