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Motivated Belief: John Polkinghorne on the Resurrection, Part 4

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May 9, 2013 Tags: Christ & New Creation
Motivated Belief: John Polkinghorne on the Resurrection, Part 4
Piero della Francesca, The Resurrection (1467-68), Museo Civico, Sansepolcro, Italy

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: This is the final excerpt from the chapter, “Motivated Belief,” from Theology in the Context of Science, by John Polkinghorne. The topic is the plausibility of the Resurrection narratives in the Bible: do we have sufficient reasons to believe that God raised the crucified, dead Jesus bodily from the grave? He also explores the significance of the Resurrection for theodicy and Christology. The chapter concludes with a short section about religious pluralism that takes us far afield from the main topic and is left for readers to explore on their own. Thus, our presentation of this chapter may seem to end abruptly.

My editorial policy for these excerpts is explained at the bottom of this post.

Motivated Belief (part 4)

So what evidence [for the bodily resurrection] could there be? I have already argued that something must have happened to continue the story of Jesus, and it seems to me that after that devastating arrest and execution, it must have been something much more than simply a return of nerve on the part of the disciples, coupled with a resolve to try to continue to recall the life and words of their Master. The New Testament sets out two lines of evidence in support of its much stronger claim. One of these is the sequence of stories relating to encounters with the risen Christ taking place after his death. The earliest such account available to us is the list of witnesses, most of them then still living, given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11. The letter itself was probably written some twenty to twenty-five years after the crucifixion, but its reference to what Paul himself “had received” (v. 3) seems naturally to imply that he is repeating what he had been taught following his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, which would take the quoted testimony back to within two or three years of the events themselves.

To get some feel of what these encounters with the risen Christ might have been like, one has to turn to the gospels. The appearance stories there related vary in their detail and location, but there is a common theme, differently expressed in the different stories but persistently present, namely that initially it was difficult to recognize who it was who had been encountered. Mary Magdalene at first supposes the risen Jesus to be the gardener (John 20:15); the couple on the road to Emmaus are unaware who their companion is until the final moment of parting (Luke 24:16); Matthew (28:17) even frankly admits that on a Galilean hillside some of the crowd doubted it was him; and so on. Most of the stories focus on a disclosure moment when it suddenly becomes apparent, against all expectation, that it is Jesus who is there. This seems a most unlikely feature to recur if the stories were just a bunch of tales, variously made up by various people in various places and for various purposes.

I believe that this difficulty of recognition is a genuine historical reminiscence of what those encounters were actually like, and I take their evidence correspondingly seriously. Because the context of science lays emphasis on human embodiment, I believe that the true humanity of the risen Christ implies that these appearances would not have been some form of shared visionary experience, but they involved a corporeal presence, though necessarily of a transformed kind, as Christ’s power of sudden appearance and disappearance makes clear.

Giambattista Cima da Conegliano, The Incredulity of St Thomas (c. 1505),
detail, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

The second line of evidence presented relates to the discovery of the empty tomb. Here there is a good deal of similarity between the accounts in all the four gospels, even if there are minor discrepancies about such details as the exact time of early morning when the discovery was made and what were the exact names of the women involved. Such variations are not surprising in an account which had an oral history before attaining its various written forms. It is striking that the first reaction reported of the women is fear. The empty tomb is not treated as being self-explanatory, an instant knockdown proof of resurrection. It needs interpretation. Here, as in the appearance stories, there is a notable absence of any facile triumphalism. Rather, there is a sense of awe and mystery at an unanticipated great act of God.

But was there actually a tomb? We know that the bodies of executed felons were frequently cast by the Romans into a common and anonymous grave, or even left to be eaten by wild animals. Yet it is also known from archaeological evidence that this was not an invariable practice, and the first-century Jewish historian Josephus tells us that his religion’s burial customs required proper interment on the day of death even for executed malefactors. The association of Jesus’s burial with the action of the otherwise unknown Joseph of Arimathea strengthens the case for belief in an identifiable tomb, since there seems to be no obvious reason to assign Joseph this honorable role unless he actually performed it. In subsequent controversies between Jews and Christians, which can be traced back into the first century, there is a common acceptance that there was a tomb, with the disagreement being whether it was empty because Jesus had risen or because the disciples had stolen the body in an act of deceit. Even more strongly one can say that there would have seemed to be no reason at all to associate the story of this astonishing discovery with women, considered unreliable witnesses in the ancient world, unless in fact they were the ones who were actually involved in making it.

These matters demand much more detailed discussion than it has been appropriate to lay out here. [Polkinghorne says more himself elsewhere, but perhaps the best treatment of the details is found in N. T. Wright’s book, cited below.] The New Testament testimony is certainly complex in its character. As is often the case with important historical issues, the available evidence is not such as must inevitably lead to a single conclusion with which all can be expected to concur without any question of dissent. In the particular case of the resurrection, all I have tried to do is briefly to indicate that there is important evidence to which the Christian believer can point in giving a positive answer to the question “What makes you think that the resurrection of Jesus is, in fact, the case?” I believe that all truth-seeking people should be willing to consider this evidence seriously.

I do not pretend that in the end all will turn out to weigh that evidence in the same way that I do. There are many less focused considerations that will influence judgment about so significant and counterintuitive a matter. Those with an unrevisable commitment to the sufficiency of a reductionist naturalism [i.e., the view that nothing ever happens apart from “natural” causes] will follow David Hume and simply refuse to countenance the possibility of the miraculous, whatever the alleged evidence. Those of us who are Christians will be influenced in our conclusions by what we affirm to be our contemporary experience of the hidden but real presence of the risen Christ, encountered in sacramental worship.

​Biblical scholar and theologian N. T. Wright (Source)

What I do claim is that Christian theology can be open and willing to accept the challenge to offer motivations for its beliefs, in the spirit that is so natural when that theology is being done in the context of science. In that context, detailed historical analysis of the kind that N. T. Wright gives in The Resurrection of the Son of God is much to be welcomed. [This is indeed a superb scholarly treatment for which no single chapter or blog post can possibly substitute. Readers with limited time to devote to this lengthy book might wish to begin with the chapter on “Easter and History,” pp. 685-718, but by all means delve into other parts of the book as time permits. Wright summarized some of his ideas here. He and Polkinghorne have very similar views on both resurrection and eschatology.] Some theologians seem more concerned with the conceptual motifs that they detect in the stories than with questions of historicity. In fact, both types of consideration are surely necessary. There has to be a metanarrative, a myth expressing theological significance, but if the doctrine of the incarnation truly fuses the power of a symbolic story with the power of a historically true story, then both these dimensions of significance have to be treated with integrity and respect. The Christian myth is claimed to be an enacted myth, and there is evidence to motivate that claim.

I believe that when the truth of Christianity is under consideration in the context of science, it is with these issues relating to the resurrection that the discussion needs to begin. Only when a case has been made for the belief that God was present in Jesus of Nazareth in a unique way does it then become possible adequately to attempt to enquire into the significance of his crucifixion. The doctrine of the incarnation implies that in the spectacle of that deserted figure hanging on the cross, God is seen to be more than just a compassionate spectator of the travail of creation, looking down upon it in pity from the invulnerability of heaven. If the incarnation is true, then God in Christ has truly been a fellow-participant in the suffering of the world, knowing it from the inside. The Christian God is the crucified God. [For more on this, see here and here.] In this profound insight, Christian faith meets the challenge of theodicy at the deep level that it demands.

Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning (ca. 1460), Philadelphia Museum of Art

A second Christian insight into the significance of Christ’s crucifixion has focused [on] the conviction that “he died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1Corinthans 15:3). The reconciliation of estranged humanity to God across the bridge of the incarnation joining the created to the divine, which brought about that experience of new life to which the New Testament writers testify, was a costly transaction involving the death of the Son of God. This has been the Church’s conviction from the earliest times, but no single and universally agreed upon theological theory, accounting for the full significance of what was going on in that great act of atonement, has come to be accepted in the Christian community. In a situation not without its parallels in science (for example in parts of nuclear physics and condensed matter physics), there have been many models of atonement (as various as the propitiation of an affronted God, a mythic victory over the Powers of darkness, and the exemplary force of sacrificial love, to mention only a few), but no comprehensive theory. Neither in science nor theology is failure to attain a fully articulated explanatory understanding a reason for denying the truth of the experience itself.

The approach that we have been following in seeking an evidence-motivated understanding of the significance of Jesus Christ is what the theologians call “Christology from below.” Not only is it the natural route to follow in the context of science, but it is also one that can be seen a posteriori to be theologically appropriate in the light of the doctrine of the incarnation. If God indeed acted to make known the divine nature most clearly and accessibly through the human life of the incarnate Son of God, then the historical study of that life must be a matter of the greatest importance. Of course, there has been endless argument concerning how accessible the historical Jesus can actually be to modern study. Some think that the New Testament records are so shaped and influenced by the ideas and experiences of the earliest Christians that one can hardly penetrate beyond them to gain access to the one of whom they claim to speak. According to this view, it is only the “Christ of faith,” preached in the initial Christian communities, who can be known to us today. I resist so sharp a separation between the life of Jesus and the preached faith that life inspired.

Of course there has been continual and developing reflection upon Jesus from the first generation of his followers until today, and knowledge of the resurrection must have shed new and clearer light on matters that had been obscure before. The believer can see this process as having been guided by the Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost. Yet nothing comes of nothing, and the origin of the astonishing character of the writings of the New Testament and the testimonies of the early Church must surely lie, where the witnesses allege it to lie, in the unique character of Jesus of Nazareth himself. The idea that he was but a shadowy figure and that all the vibrant quality of the New Testament writings originates in his followers seems to me frankly unbelievable. I think that careful and scrupulous study of the New Testament enables one to discern the shape of a striking and original character, in whose words and deeds lie the origin of the Christian phenomenon, and who eludes classification in simply conventional religious categories, such as prophet, teacher, or healer. There has undoubtedly been development of Christological doctrine, but I do not think that there has been free invention of doctrine. This is not the place to attempt to go into a detailed defense of that judgment, but I believe that it can be done. [Polkinghorne cites this, this, and this.]

In addition to a Christology from below, theologians can pursue also a Christology from above. Its method is not abduction from the deposits of history, but conceptual exploration of what it might mean to believe that “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). Recourse to this kind of thinking grew over the centuries as the Church struggled to find the most philosophically satisfactory understanding and exposition of its core beliefs. In the process, the technical vocabulary of Greek thought was called upon, and partly transformed to make it as fit as possible for the purpose in hand. Terms such as hypostasis (individual reality) and ousia (generic substance) were pressed into theological service. In fact the distinction in meaning between these two Greek words was a fruit of these theological struggles, for they had previously been treated as synonyms. Some of this sometimes precarious discourse may have been overbold in its estimate of the extent to which finite human thought can articulate infinite mystery, but it seemed that the attempt had to be made. If theological argument from above is to find a cousinly parallel in the context of science, it lies in those creative leaps of intellectual imagination of the kind that enabled Newton to conceive of universal gravity or Einstein to write down the equations of general relativity. Even the most bold of theological speculations scarcely exceed in daring the conjectures of the string theorists.

Looking Ahead

When I return in a couple of weeks, we will launch into excerpts from the title chapter in Polkinghorne’s book, Belief in God in an Age of Science. In the meantime we have plenty to discuss. Those acquainted with N. T. Wright’s book are especially encouraged to bring his ideas more fully into this conversation about motivated belief.

References and Credits

Excerpts from John Polkinghorne, Theology in the Context of Science (2009), copyright Yale University Press, are reproduced by permission of Yale University Press. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

Editorial Policy

Most of the editing for these excerpts involves breaking longer paragraphs into multiple parts, altering the spelling and punctuation from British to American, removing the odd sentence or two—which I indicate by putting [SNIP] at the appropriate point(s)—and sometimes inserting annotations where warranted [also enclosed in square brackets] to provide background information. Polkinghorne uses footnotes a bit sparingly, and I usually find another way to include that information if it’s important for our readers.


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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beaglelady - #79762

May 9th 2013

The second line of evidence presented relates to the discovery of the empty tomb. Here there is a good deal of similarity between the accounts in all the four gospels, even if there are minor discrepancies about such details as the exact time of early morning when the discovery was made and what were the exact names of the women involved. Such variations are not surprising in an account which had an oral history before attaining its various written forms.

Precisely.   Even in our own times accounts of events can vary wildly. For example,  just after the Newtown shootings,  the media reported the wrong name of the gunman, and they reported that the mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook school. (She wasn’t.) But nobody denied that there was a  shooting.   

Ted Davis - #79766

May 9th 2013

A nice example you offer here, beaglelady. Very nice. Wright rightly (if I can put it that way) emphasizes the greater plausibility (to an historian) of sources that don’t match perfectly in every detail, vs those that do match perfectly in every detail. The latter usually turn out to be derived from a single source rather than multiple witnesses.

Jon Garvey - #79769

May 9th 2013

Ted - I was told once by an orthodox Jew that in the Mishna it was said that testimony that agreed in every detail was inadmissable in court, for the reason you state.

Lou Jost - #79822

May 10th 2013

I agree with you that the contradictions don’t eliminate the evidential value of the Gospels.The contradictions show the Gospels were not edited or altered much (if at all) by the compilers of the canon, and that increases their evidentary value. At the same time, the contradictions show that we can’t analyze the Gospels too literally.

beaglelady - #79763

May 9th 2013

My favorite article on the Resurrection is From Jesus to Christ , written by historian Jon Meacham. (He’s a winner of the Pullitzer prize.)

Lou Jost - #79793

May 9th 2013

Thanks for that, Beaglelady. Food for thought for all sides.

Ted Davis - #79811

May 10th 2013

Yes indeed, beaglelady. Meacham’s column is outstanding. I see he’s also read Wright with appreciation.

beaglelady - #79835

May 11th 2013

Glad you liked it. He also had an article on the birth of Jesus in Newsweek.  Jon used to go to my church but  now lives in Tennessee.  I’d like to read more of his books.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #79802

May 10th 2013

I really appreciate the articles of Rev. Polkinghorne and Jon Meacham.  They are excellently and beautifully written.

However I would like to point something out that is not really considered in this discussion, and that is that the argument in the NT is not between truth and falshood, but between two truths, the Christian faith and Judaism.  Paul and others including Jesus never says that Judaism is false, although Jesus criticized some of the understandings of the Pharisees, which I understand have now changed.  They criticized the Jews for not accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

Paul and Jesus claimed that Judaism was incomplete and did not provide the full salvation that the faith in the Messiah provided.  The criticism I have of most Christian theology is that it fails to begin from a Biblical understanding Who the Messiah is. 

Jesus undoubtedly saw Himself as the Messiah, in particularly the Messianic Suffering Servant.  Until we start from understanding this we cannot really know Who Jesus was and is.  Neither of these two authors did this.  Thus they do not fully understand the difference between the Biblical understanding of Who Jesus is and the Greek philosophical understanding of Who Jesus is as God.   

Christianity is firmly based on OT.  It does not deny the true of Judaism, but transforms Judaism.  Many Muslims what Christians to unite with them in a war with Judaism.  That is impossible for Christians to do without denying their basic heritage.

Paul criticized Judaism as inferior to Christianity, particularly in providing for the salvation of all humankind.  The people of the ancient Roman Empire agreed in that they accepted the Christian way of salvation over and against the Jewish and pagan ways of salvation.

The reason for this is because Christianity emphasizes God as the God of grace and salvationary change, while Judaism emphazies God as the God of law and order.  Now God is the God of both, but the Resurrection highlights the salvation aspect of God bringing a new order into the human world, as opposed to the old world of traditional law and order.

What I am saying here is that the conflict in the NT is quite similar to the conflict we have today Science and Faith.  It is Order and Law vs Change and Salvation. 

Sadly there are subplots that complicate our discussion such as the human proclivity to absolutize our own ideas and demonize our opponents.  Also some people on both sides have problems with authority.         

The good side is that God is both the God of Order and Change, of Law and Salvation.  We need to start the ministry of reconcilation, as God calls us to do, and bring people together instead of encouraging separation.    

Lou Jost - #79823

May 10th 2013

The problem the Resurrection story, for me, is that the earliest account, and the only one whose author is definitely known to have interviewed eyewitnesses, is Paul, and Paul is at times maddeningly ambiguous about whether the resurrected Jesus was a vision or something physically real. This makes a great deal of difference, of course; visions don’t require miracles, and if there was no miracle in the resurrection, then Jesus was just a teacher, not a god.

P mentions the list of “witnesses” to the Resurrection in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:3-11. He takes this as evidence of a resurrection. Yet he shows his bias by forgetting to mention that Paul put himself on that list, and and there Paul used the same Greek word for ‘“appeared” as he used with the other “witnesses”. We know for an absolute fact that Paul only had a vision of Jesus. Thus that list of witnesses mentioned by P  supports the “vision” theory of the resurrection, not the version held by P and most Christians.

Curiously, that same ambiguity is present in the Gospels. P thinks this is because witnesses were confronting something so strange that they could not categorize it simply. But an alternative explanation (remembering that Paul, not the Gospels, is closest to the primary sources) is that the original resurrection story was figurative, and that the Gospels represent later legends that attempted to make Jesus’ story more tangible. Paul’s letters sometimes seem ignorant of things mentioned prominently in the Gospels, as if these things were made up later.

P says that mythmaking could not happen so quickly after Jesus’s death. But as beaglelady pointed out above, that is not necessarily true. Also, we have to remember that there were alternative versions of Christianity floating around in the early 2nd century, and some of these took the position that Jesus was nonphysical.


Merv - #79827

May 11th 2013

I know what you mean, Lou, in thinking the accounts “maddeningly ambiguous” on some points, even from Paul, and of course then, from the later gospel accounts.  For all our insistence (and Paul’s) on a bodily resurrection the gospels only shore that aspect up by recording that Jesus ate fish in their presence and let some of them touch him to convince them he wasn’t only a ghost or spirit.  But at other times Jesus does things we don’t normally associate with physical bodies as we know them.  I think Meacham did a good job pointing out that there is a “transformed” character to this resurrected body that, while every bit as real as any physical body is also different in ways we Christians can’t yet understand.  That is part of the hope and trust we have in an omnipotent God. 

You raise a good point about the nature of Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ, and Paul is bold then to list himself as a witness, though you might note he did separate out his own encounter as a different sort:  “he appeared to me last of all, as to one untimely born”.   For Paul we could be excused for thinking it “only” a vision, albeit a powerfully effective one that blinds him and even more significantly causes him to abandon his respected official persecuting position to join the fledgling cult where he knows he will become the recipient rather than the giver of beatings and imprisonments.   Paul’s transformation is, for me, one of the most persuasive evidences for the Christian hope.

Nevertheless, Polkinghorne did have the humility to note that not all will evaluate the same evidence he did to reach the same conclusion.  Nor does he suggest that such opponents have deficient or irrational judgment for not reaching the same conclusions. 

Lou Jost - #79838

May 11th 2013

Jon, I also recognize that no one can prove that the resurrrection did not happen, any more than we can disprove with absolute certainty the miracle claims of any other religion. Believers in any faith are always able to “get out of jail free” by invoking special powers to resolve problems in their narratives. However, we should argue to the best explanation of the narratives. Your example of Jesus suddenly appearing in a closed room argues for the notion that the resurrected Jesus was a vision (if indeed this really happened, which is questionable).

No one else saw Jesus when Paul had his encounter. There are two slightly conflicting stories of the encounter, but both versions strongly suggest that there was no physical body there. It is not farfetched to imagine that Paul was deeply troubled by persecuting  and even killing virtuous Christians, and under those conditions such a person could have a  powerful transformative vision/experience on purely naturalistic grounds.

I don’t expect to convince believers, any more than they expect to convince me. I just want to show that the evidence for a physical resurrection has some internal textual problems, even apart from its physical impossibility.

beaglelady - #79840

May 11th 2013

I don’t think Paul was troubled by persecuting Christians; he thought he was doing it in the service of God.  And if he were troubled,  why not simply become tolerant of the new sect instead of embracing it enthusiastically?   

Lou Jost - #79847

May 11th 2013

He was torturing and killing good, virtuous people. Most humans would have trouble doing that, even in god’s name.

Why didn’t he simply decide to tolerate the sect instead of embracing it? If he had such a powerful vision (generated, on the skeptical view, by his own severe internal conflicts about torturing and killing good people), most people of his age would accept the vision at face value.

beaglelady - #79848

May 11th 2013

Why not generate a vision to simply tolerate the new sect?

Lou Jost - #79852

May 11th 2013

That’s a question for Paul. Altered states of consciousness and dramatic visions are not unusual, even today, and they often have powerful effects on the lives of the people involved.

Jon Garvey - #80032

May 14th 2013

That’s a question for Paul

And it’s one he answers plainly by giving every indication that his fanatical murderous intent was turned round miraculously on the Damascus road, and none that it was any gradual crisis of conscience. He acted in ignorance and unbelief (1 Tim 1) (and was shown mercy), rather than acting against conscience and regretting it.

The skeptical view comes from dismissing what Paul says when he answers your question frankly. The whole thing is, actually, psychologically implausible. Remember Paul was not a conscripted interrogator in Guantanimo Bay - he was a freelance zealot, inspired (it seems by Stephen’s stubborness even to death) to get himself authorised by the powers to make arrests.

Lou Jost - #80050

May 14th 2013

Jon, as so often happens when you respond to me, you put words in my mouth that I didn’t say. I took Paul at his word. I agreed there was a sudden life-changing vision.

This could be the product of a troubled mind. He was torturing and killing good people from his own society. It is not implausible that this would cause inner tension that would suddenly reach a critical point.

Lou Jost - #79846

May 11th 2013

Oops, yes, I meant to say Mervin rather than Jon. Sorry!

beaglelady - #79836

May 11th 2013

Yes, some later traditions held that Jesus only appeared to be physical.  In regular Christianity the physical world is important, and not something that one brushes off at the time of death.   

Lou Jost - #79839

May 11th 2013

I think those traditions were not very much later…don’t really know a date though.

Ted Davis - #79964

May 13th 2013


Thank you for hanging in there with us, waiting patiently for the opportunity to discuss the evidence itself in response to P’s discussion of it. I’ve appreciate not only your patience in waiting it out, but also your patience in dealing with some off-target comments in reply to comments you’ve offered in earlier parts of this series.  I’m glad we’re finally getting directly to your concerns. I’ll do my best to respond to them on behalf of P, but I’ll keep Wright very much in the conversation, partly b/c P directly references Wright’s exhaustive treatment of the Resurrection his own short treatment of it here, but also b/c Wright has simply written so much about this and his work is so similar to P’s in its overall attitude toward both the evidence for the Resurrection and its theological significance. Indeed, if you were more familiar with Wright’s claims about its significance (for a shorter, more popular version see http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Surprised-Hope-N-T-Wright/?isbn=9780061551826), I think you might even appreciate some of his conclusions, which (I suspect) would resonate with what I know (admittedly not very much) about your own views on the great value of the creatures who share this planet with us and the dangers of materialism. However I will leave that aside for the time being to focus on this of yours:

“The problem the Resurrection story, for me, is that the earliest account, and the only one whose author is definitely known to have interviewed eyewitnesses, is Paul, and Paul is at times maddeningly ambiguous about whether the resurrected Jesus was a vision or something physically real. This makes a great deal of difference, of course; visions don’t require miracles, and if there was no miracle in the resurrection, then Jesus was just a teacher, not a god.

“P mentions the list of ‘witnesses’ to the Resurrection in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:3-11. He takes this as evidence of a resurrection. Yet he shows his bias by forgetting to mention that Paul put himself on that list, and and there Paul used the same Greek word for ‘appeared’ as he used with the other ‘witnesses’. We know for an absolute fact that Paul only had a vision of Jesus. Thus that list of witnesses mentioned by P  supports the ’vision’ theory of the resurrection, not the version held by P and most Christians.”

This is a very fair point that warrants a detailed discussion. I hope to reply a bit later on with some passages from other books by P, to make his own views on this more explicit. Unfortunately the appearance of this column coincides with final exams and with commitments to teach workshops at two other colleges in the next ten days, factors which will greatly limit my ability to engage in the kind of lengthy conversation you and our other readers deserve. I’ll do my best.

Ted Davis - #79967

May 13th 2013

This morning, since I don’t have any of P’s books with me, I’ll simply reply to your point by giving you Wright’s response, with which P fully agrees. The entire book by Wright that P cites in this column (http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796) is largely directed at refuting the standard “liberal” Christian view, voiced by Rudolf Bultmann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Bultmann) and many others, that there was no bodily Resurrection at all, and that Paul and those he mentions in 1 Corinthians simply had post-crucifixion “visions” of Jesus, from which the legend of the bodily resurrection was constructed. Through painstaking analysis of ghost stories, visions, beliefs about life after death and other such things prevalent at that time in that part of the world, Wright shows convincingly (IMO, shared by many other scholars who’ve read it) that what second-Temple Jews meant by “resurrection” was only bodily resurrection in the last days, not anything else. So, when Paul and other biblical writers (all of them second-Temple Jews) speak about “resurrection,” that is precisely what they mean: that Christ was in fact raised bodily, as the first instance of the general resurrection still to come, at some point in the indefinite future. Indeed, as physicist and theologian Bob Russell (http://www.ctns.org/about_founder.html) so eloquently pointed out in a lecture at Messiah College a few years ago, the key verse in this whole passage is 1 Cor. 15:13: If there is no [bodily] resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” So, whatever one might think about the nature of Paul’s own personal encounter with Jesus, this very passage explicitly connects his encounter with the empty tomb and a re-embodied person.  In other words, for Paul the resurrection doesn’t reduce to a “ghost” or a disembodied vision, and that isn’t even the sum total of the evidence he is implicitly citing here in this passage—a point I will soon return to.

Let me quote some parts from Wright’s commentary on Bultmann, relative to this point, from pp. 317-21.

“Bultmann, famously, criticized Paul for citing witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, as though he considered it an actual event, instead of being merely a graphic, ‘mythological’ way of referring to the conviction of the early Christians that Jesus’ death had been a good thing, not a bad thing. The inauthenticity of an entire stream of twentieth-century New Testament scholarship is thus laid bare; if Paul really allowed himself, in so serious and sober an introduction to a carefully crafted chapter expressing the central point that underlay an entire letter, to say something as drastically misleading as Bultmann imagined, [then] he is hardly a thinker worth wresting with in the first place. But in fact Bultmann was simply wrong: the [bodily] resurrection of Jesus was a real event as far as Paul was concerned, and it underlay the future real event of the resurrection of all God’s people.”

<very long SNIP, during which Wright argues that verses 3b-8 are formulaic in character and were “probably formulated within the first two or three years after Easter itself, since it was already in formulaic form when Paul ‘received’ it. We are here in touch with the earliest Christian tradition, with something that was being said two decades or more before Paul wrote this letter.” P refers to this conclusion at the end of the first paragraph in this particular selection.>

Wright goes on to emphasize the opening part of the formula: “that the Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” He points out that “the mention of Jesus’ burial can only have attained such a significant place in a brief and summary traditional narrative if it was regarded as important in itself. Much debate has circled around this point, but the most likely reason for its mention is twofold: first, to certify that Jesus was really and truly dead …; second, to indicate that when Paul speaks of resurrection in the next phrase it is to be assumed, as anyone telling or hearing a story of someone being raised from the dead would assume in either the pagan or the Jewish world, that this referred to the body being raise to new life, leaving an empty tomb behind it. The fact that the empty tomb itself, so prominent in the gospel accounts, does not appear to be specifically mentioned in this passage, is not significant; the mention here of ‘buried, then raised’ no more needs to be amplified in that way than one would need to amplify the statement ‘I walked down the street’ with the qualification ‘on my feet.’ The discovery of the empty tomb in the gospel accounts is of course significant because it was (in all the stories) the first thing that alerted Jesus’ followers to the fact that something extraordinary had happened; but when the story was telescoped into a compact formula it was not the principal point. The best hypothesis for why ‘that he was buried’ came to be part of this brief tradition is simply that the phrase summarized very succinctly that entire moment in the Easter narratives.”

Now my comments, Lou, not Wright’s. (1) Thus, Paul does indeed link the “witnesses” of the risen Christ whom he mentions (including himself as the last one, in order to establish his bona fides as an apostolic voice, as someone who has indeed seen Jesus) with those others who witnessed the empty tomb—he’s already brought them implicitly into the passage at the start of the chapter. In other words, he emphasizes the fact that he has seen Jesus himself (for reasons just explained), but he already knows about the empty tomb; it wasn’t an idea invented later on, after Paul’s “vision”, as a way of adding legendary elements to a non-miraculous event. The miraculous event had already happened, and Paul had been told about it. His account is not the oldest, although it is the oldest one written down in the form in which we have it today. (2) As Wright shows throughout, no Jew at that time would write about the resurrection without meaning anything other than a bodily resurrection with an empty tomb, and Paul absolutely does speak about resurrection that way, in this passage. He in no way Platonizes the concept into some vague “spiritual” event. The main thrust of Wright’s book is to show that one can adequately explain the existence of both types of stories—both an empty tomb and “appearances”—if, and only if, Jesus actually was raised bodily from the grave. The Jews would never believe claims of a “resurrection” if there were a body still somewhere, and the empty tomb stories by themselves are just that: stories, reliable (why else would it be claimed that women discovered it first) but insignificant, nothing more than tales of a missing body.

I hope to add more later, but I have to go now. My best to you, Lou.

Lou Jost - #79974

May 13th 2013

Ted, thanks a lot fpr the extensive comments. While you work on those final exams, I’ll think about this and write some additional comments.

One quick thought about the assertion that women found the empty tomb. I read that Mark’s gospel has as a theme the glorification of the underdog. What if he puts women into this crucial moment, just for his theological purposes? As this was also the earliest gospel, it may then have been the source of the other gospels’ stories about women finding the empty tomb.

I understand that some experts accept that some stories in other gospels (especially John’s) were probably added by their writers to further their particular theological viewpoints.

beaglelady - #79975

May 13th 2013

If I may speak to this…if you’re trying to make something up (the resurrection) you don’t pin it on the  testimony of a woman. Women were considered unreliable witnesses in those days.  Even the church itself made up a tradition that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute. 

Lou Jost - #79976

May 13th 2013

Yes, that is why many people put so much emphasis on this when describing their reasons for believing the story. I am just saying there might be theological reasons for Mark’s putting women in that scene.

Ted Davis - #79985

May 13th 2013

I hadn’t heard that view, Lou, but that just says that I haven’t read everything ever written about the gospels. I’d bet hardly anyone ever has. 

The claim that the women suit Mark’s agenda could be partly right—assuming that Mark has that specific agenda—but, if so, that’s as far as it goes. In fact, the women are the first to find the empty tomb in all 4 gospels, so on that hypothesis they must all have shared that agenda. I don’t find that very convincing. Indeed, if we take the common view (perhaps correct, perhaps not) that John represents a voice independent of the other 3 gospels (said to have a common written source, now lost), then even here we have 2 separate attestations of this loud claim about the women. Whatever else we want to say about the Resurrection narratives, I think we have to say that the tomb stories began with the women and went on from there. Blame them, if you want, but don’t credit this to later interpolation to suit someone’s agenda.

My instincts on the women are entirely with P, Wright, and many, many others. Given that women were widely regarded as unreliable witnesses, I can’t fathom why they’d be invented later (say, after Paul’s “vision”) and just pasted into the story. That makes no sense at all to me: it adds no credibility whatsoever to add women as the crucial figures in one of the two main lines of evidence for the Resurrection—unless it’s simply the truth, akin to the fact that Joseph of Arimathea gets the honor of providing the tomb, when he has no role in the story of Jesus to that point. The women and Joseph are odd details to drop into the climax of the books unless they are there b/c they really were there in those events.

And of course in 3 of the 4 gospels (Matthew is the exception, for he simply passes over this) we’re told that the men didn’t believe Mary Magdalene and the other women. No surprise there; it just supports the larger point.

Lou Jost - #79987

May 13th 2013

“... the women are the first to find the empty tomb in all 4 gospels, so on that hypothesis they must all have shared that agenda.” Yes, I agree that if Mark had not been the earliest of the gospels, this hypothesis wouldn’t even be worth mentioning, for the reason you give. However, as the earliest, it is possible that the others borrowed this element from him or from people who got it from him.

beaglelady - #80055

May 14th 2013

John never borrowed from Mark. Matthew and Luke probably did.

Lou Jost - #80064

May 14th 2013

Beaglelady, I see that most scholars claim John did not know the synoptic gospels, but a minority think he did. Wouldn’t John, writing later than the authors of the synoptic gospels, have known of some of them, or at least of oral traditions spawned by them, even if he didn’t use them directly as sources?

Lou Jost - #80073

May 14th 2013

“... the key verse in this whole passage is 1 Cor. 15:13: If there is no [bodily] resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” “

The word in brackets is the key word here, but it is not in the original text. How is this an argument for a bodily resurrection if the arguer gets to insert the word “bodily” whenever he thinks it should be there?

I don’t know enough to judge Wright’s claim that no Jew of that time would have spoken of a resurrection unless it was bodily. But Paul seems to falsify Wright’s claim, because Paul definitely did not see a physical Jesus, yet he includes himself in the list of people who saw the resurrected Jesus. Hence Wright seems wrong again.

Ted Davis - #80304

May 19th 2013


The audience Paul was addressing—whose views on this he shares—understands the “resurrection of the dead” to be a re-embodiment in the last day. This is indeed what Mary and Martha had in mind when their brother Lazarus died, and Jesus tried to comfort them. My insertion of “[bodily]” was for your benefit, to help put you into the context in which this passage of Paul’s would have been read. If you were already in that context, I wouldn’t need to add it; you would intuitively read it as “bodily resurrection” without any help from me. That’s how Paul’s audience read it. They didn’t need my interpolation, but you do. That’s one of the reasons why Wright wrote his book.

I was doing that as an historian, so that you would (perhaps) better understand the point I was making; in the same way, as an historian, I sometimes add a bracketed first name into a letter in which only the family name is given—to help my readers understand what would have been understood intuitively by the original reader of the letter: that (say) “Gray” was “[Asa] Gray,” for the benefit of someone reading my article.

Lou Jost - #80074

May 14th 2013

Ted, please see my comment 80073 below for a response to this. Thanks, Lou

Lou Jost - #80075

May 14th 2013

Oops, this didn’t go where I thought it would…ignore it.

Ted Davis - #80059

May 14th 2013


I said I would try to bring you some more of P, not just Wright, by way of reply to your point here. I’d like to do more, but for the moment let me just quote a bit from another one of his books: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploring_Reality, pp. 85-86:

“There are two difficulties about the empty tomb stories, however, that have to be addressed. The first is why the emptiness of the tomb is not mentioned by Paul, if it really happened and it was so important. However, what we have from Paul is a collection of occasional letters, rather than a considered exposition of all that he knew, and this makes an argument from silence unpersuasive in this case. Many of us also think it is significant that Paul, in that very spare account in 1 Corinthians 15, took space to note that Jesus ‘was buried.’ A first-century Jew like Paul, taking a psychosomatic view of human nature, would have been very likely indeed to have believed that Jesus lives (as he undoubtedly did believe), while his body still moldered in a tomb.”

Lou Jost - #80065

May 14th 2013

Ted, thanks for this. When P says “this makes an argument from silence unpersuasive in this case”, he is missing an important point. Skeptics are not merely arguing from silence, they are arguing that Paul doesn’t even mention it when it would have been very useful to do so for his own narratives and arguments (for example, when discussing the nature of the resurrected body).

I am not sure what to make of this: “A first-century Jew like Paul, taking a psychosomatic view of human nature, would have been very likely indeed to have believed that Jesus lives (as he undoubtedly did believe), while his body still moldered in a tomb.” Is P agreeing with the skeptical position here? Is he saying that Paul believed in a non-physical resurrection, as I have been arguing???

Ted Davis - #80072

May 14th 2013

CORRECTION: Obviously, I should have typed, “would have been very UNLIKELY indeed to have believed that Jesus lives…”

Lou Jost - #80076

May 14th 2013


Roger A. Sawtelle - #79831

May 11th 2013

Lou wrote:

We know for an absolute fact that Paul only had a vision of Jesus.

Who is the we that knows this as an absolute fact? If Paul did not see Jesus or could not have seen Jesus, then you are right there is no reason to think that Jesus is the Risen Lord.  However Paul says that he did see Jesus and it was because of this experience that his life was turned around.  How can you or anyone else claim any differently?

The experience of the Resurrection and Pentecost turned the disciples from a group of dispirited, lost people into the Church.  Please do not forget the crucial role of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit in these events. They are not as dramatic and attractive as the Resurrection, but certainly as important.  Pentecost is important evidence of the Resurrection.

We must remember that the letters of Paul and the Gospel accounts were written for two very different purposes. Paul was writing to churches who had already knew the Jesus Story. His purpose was to help them to understand and live the message particularly in a hostile pagan environment.

Paul was familiar with the Jesus story. He lived in Jerusalem for a while after his conversion and spoke with the apostles and those who knew Jesus. He was good friends with Barabus who was very familiar with the story of Jesus and knew Peter. Paul knew the facts about Jesus, but focused his writings to Gentiles on the teaching of Jesus of love, and the meaning of the crucifixion, and the resurrection, the historicity of which was beyond question.

The Gospels were written for a different purpose. Their purpose was to put down on paper the stories of and about Jesus before the first and second hand witnesses had dying out. Fortunately the teachings of Jesus are in a very memberable form. We know that there were written documents in existence before the gospels were composed because both Matthew and Luke make use of a collection of teachings which we call Q, short for Quelle, or Source.

The Jewish rebellion that resulted in the seige of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 looms large in these events. It forms the backdrop of the writing of the gospels and the irrevocable split between the Jews and the Christians who did not support the rebellion. You cannot separate fact and truth from history.

If John Mark wrote the book that carries his name, which he could have if it were written about 70, he certainly was in the position to know the facts about Jesus. If Dr. Luke wrote the book that bears his name, he claims to have researched thoroughly and I know of no reason why it would not be accurate as possible.

The Gospel of John acts as a check for the three synoptic Gospels as do the writings of Paul and the other NT letters.

Myth refers to meaning. Sometimes people embellish the facts to drive home the meaning that they believe to be there. A possible aspect of this might be the Virgin Birth. As many people know the prophesy in the OT that the Virgin Birth is based on does not use the word virgin, but a Hebrew word meaning young girl.

However the translation into the Greek by a word meaning virgin was not made by Christians, but by Jews who translated the OT into the Greek Septuaguint Bible in Egypt long before the birth of Jesus. Thus this Messianic prophesy was not a Christian invention, but was accepted as part of the OT by Greek speaking Jews.

Now the question arises concerning this prophecy. Did some Christians believe that Jesus must have been born of a virgin because He is the Messiah, or did God have Jesus be born of a virgin to identify Him as the Messiah, even though this was not originally as messianic prophecy?

Fortunately the truth that Jesus is the Messiah does not lie with the virgin birth. Paul does not mention it, nor does Mark and John or any other NT writers.

The question is not whether the Risen Jesus is physical or not. Christians agree with Paul that He has a transformed risen body. The question is whether the risen Jesus is real or not. Most people like you believe that the spiritual is not real, is imaginary, and a subjective projection of human ideas.

Christians maintain that Jesus is real in even more than a physical way, because Jesus is the Way, the Life, and the Truth that is stronger than death and evil. That was true when He walked this earth and true now, so we can know Who God is and the Meaning of Life through Jesus.

The Gnostics that you referred to believed that Jesus was Spiritual because they believed that the Physical was corrupt and evil. Therefore they claimed that Jesus had nothing to do with it. Christians do not believe that the physical is evil and corrupt and neither do you, so why do you hold the Gnostics up as a models for truth.


Jon Garvey - #79841

May 11th 2013

Lou was, I think, replying to Merv rather than me!

I agree with Roger that your use of the Gnostics and Docetists of the 2nd century is a bit odd, Lou. They both believed that Jesus was spiritual because, in one way or another, matter was too corruptible for God to pollute himself, and Jesus was divine - such a position oozes Greek philosophical concepts, so is completely anachronistic and foreign for 1st century Judaea. There the whole concept of resurrection only meant physical resurrection - unless you were a Sadducee, and nobody’s ever suggested that about Jesus or his disciples.

Remember that the disciples had several centuries of biblical and extra-biblical teaching to form their views of resurrection - what happened to Jesus was what they already hoped would happen to them at the end of history. And they didn’t hope to be disembodied spirits.

If you were right in accepting the Gnostics as reliable historical witnesses a century later, then it wouldn’t just be the resurrection that was a vision, but the whole earthly life of Jesus. Quite a difficult hallucination to maintain for 30+ years, I fancy - and a miracle in itself, just like the Gnostics maintained.

Possibly no more miraculous than a zealous persecutor, on his way to make arrests, having a crisis of conscience over hurting people in a lay-by and experiencing a vision of an executed heretic that persuades him to live and die for him from then on… yeah, right. Happened in Abu Ghraib all the time. Funny he always puts it down to grace, not conscience, though.

Lou Jost - #79849

May 11th 2013

Yes, Jon, I meant “Merv”. Sorry.

My point in mentioning alternative sects is that they suggest there was a diversity of views early on.

Paul’s conversion experience doesn’t seem at all unreasonable from a psychological perspective. The vision would have seemed real to him. Of course he would follow it if he thought it was real. The fact that such events are rare is no argument against the existence of this single instance; we do know that such experiences happen sometimes.  And this makes a lot more sense than the supernatural alternative.

Lou Jost - #79851

May 11th 2013

Also, it is important to note that Paul himself does not give details of this conversion in his epistles, as far as I know.

Jon Garvey - #79853

May 11th 2013

Ah - so that means he wasn’t converted? He was actually a fifth columnist for the Pharisees for the duration! I don’t remember ever giving details of my own conversion in a letter, though I’ve told people the details plenty of times.

The Galatians knew Paul, so wouldn’t need to tell the whole tale again. But even so his letter to them (c48 AD, making his conversion in or before 34AD) does remind them that:

(a) He was set against the Church.

(b) God called him and made him realise he’d been set apart since birth as an apostle, and “revealed Jesus in him”.

(c) It happened in Damascus (where he had no reason to be, apart from making arrests).

(d) It was something of a private affair, because he immediately went off on his own rather than spending time as a catechumen.

(e) As you’ve acknowledged already he spoke of an appearance in 1 Corinthians 15 (55AD), after the other apostles, and implying by his words that it was undeserved as he was a persecutor, but that afterwards it had the effect of making him work harder than them all.

That’s two primary sources, and one direct secondary source in Luke, a travelling companion of Paul, who gives three versions of the account including ch 22 and 26, of which recountings Luke suggests he is an eyewitness… and the double repetition at Paul’s two hearings shows that he considered his testimony of the risen Christ a vital part of his apologetic to his own people. In fact, another hearing in ch23 suggests obliquely that Paul said much the same thing, because the Pharisaic party are fairly OK with his having been spoken to by a spirit ... the literary implication being that they haven’t really understood his testimony, which is about resurrections, not prophetic messages.

“We do know that such experiences happen sometimes.” When? Can you name one other person in the history of the world who was busily engaged in going from door to door suppressing a cult who suddenly believes he’s met the dead founder and becomes a leader from then on?

It only makes more sense than the supernatural alternative if you’ve never experienced a comparable event in your own life, and many millions have, minus the appearance of the risen Christ, of course (the uniqueness of which accounts for Paul’s mentioning it at all to other Christians). If you have experienced such an event, the uniquely weird psychology approach is the senseless one - I spent a career treating plenty of strange psychological states, but never anything like that. A few conversions, though.

Lou Jost - #79856

May 11th 2013

Again Jon you are not fairly reading my comments. You ask “Ah - so that means he wasn’t converted?” I never said anything like that. We were talking about details of his visionary experience.

About sudden conversion experiences, of course there isn’t an example exactly like Paul’s, but people have often had life-changing visions. I have known several. I will try to find some historical examples.

GJDS - #79864

May 11th 2013


I would add to your correct response this - Paul was brutally frank (and honest) with his actions and did not add anything that would put him in a favourable light with anyone - Chrsitian, Jew of Greek. If his conversion was due to something along the lines of a breakdown, I for one am certain he would have stated that (and his enemies, especially his previous allies the Jews, would have gone to any lengths to use such material against him) - instead this honest and detailed report of his action and his conversion is twisted around by anti-thesits for their own dishonest purposes. I have as yet not found anything by these anti-theists that has examined Paul’s account and then based on knowledge of the history and practices of this period, shown any inconstistancies, let alone contradictions. Anti-theists simply make up stuff and think that by parroting these things over and over again, they will ‘prove’ something. What they prove is that they just cannot ‘let it go’, so to speak.

Lou Jost - #79874

May 12th 2013

No inconsistencies??? One account of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9: 3) states that his companions did not see a blinding light, while another (Acts 22:6) by the same author (!) states that they did see this light. Acts 9:3 says the companions heard something, while Acts 22:6 says they did not. 

That’s just the contradictions in the conversion story. The rest of Paul’s story contains more contradictions.

Ken Hood Jr - #80013

May 13th 2013

Lou, I wanted to take a moment to congratulate you for coming here and engaging in dialogue. I think that your contributions to this discussion have been invaluable. Too often Christians are content to deal with just selective summaries of alternative viewpoints (sometimes missing key objections) or worse setting up straw-man opponents. One has to think much more carefully about their propositions and assumptions when their intellectual opponent can talk back

Not very long ago I would have been one of those questioning the foundations of your reasoning and (at least in my heart) also questioning your motives. After all, how could any reasonable person doubt the Bible? You must have some sort of unacknowledge grudge against God or Christians. The Bible is the *inspired Word of God* so what chance does any sort of historical criticism or hunting for “contradictions” have against that? Well, this was my viewpoint. When I began to more earnestly examine the objections to Christianity (the historical validity of the Resurrection being a core objection that ties into a lot of issues) I came to realize that my foundation was in fact, rather wobbly. No matter what contradictions I could be shown, no matter what alternative explanations for an event or text could be given, I always had my “ace in the whole”: an appeal to faith. I came to see that this appeal to faith was no longer practical or honest for myself; it simply didn’t make sense to justify my position as “true” or valid on those grounds alone (“I have a holy book to follow” + “I have faith in the Christian God and that his higher knowledge must contain resolutions to any apparent problems in the book”). I examined the evidence and the evidence was simply not good enough to retain belief in Christian doctrines.

I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to come here and explain your position so well. I was only able to break free from my own assumptions because of skeptics like you (including professional scholars like Bart Ehrman) who were willing to step into Christian forums and insist on the importance of evidence and critical thinking. You’ve spent a good deal of your own time to do this and faced ridicule simply for stating your mind.

Lou Jost - #80051

May 14th 2013

Ken, thank you so much for that comment! It made my day.

I’ll add that some of the people commenting here (and especially the writers of the posts, like Ted) are quite thoughtful and are willing to examine the evidence carefully, perhaps even willing to modify their positions in light of argument, and are also willing to help me think more clearly about some issues I was not aware of or that I was mistaken about. This is an interesting forum for real exchange of ideas, in spite of the occasional ridicule (which is, in any event, no worse than what a theist would face on an atheist site). I have been impressed with the character of most of the people posting here.

Thanks again for your message,


Ted Davis - #80056

May 14th 2013

Welcome to BioLogos, Ken.

I’ve faced ridicule on some atheist sites simply for stating my mind, so I understand your concerns. I can’t promise that you will have a positive experience here, but I very much hope so.

One of the interesting things about BioLogos is that it was started by someone (Francis Collins) whose religious journey took precisely the opposite direction of your own; and, a few of those who post here are in the same category, including Sy Garte (http://biologos.org/blog/author/garte-sy), who has already said something on this thread.

We need to find ways to talk to one another respectfully—that is, religious believers and non-believers. Partly, this involves granting the possibility that one’s own perception of both rationality and morality is not universally shared by people who might otherwise be regarded as both rational and moral. Neither Ken Ham nor Jerry Coyne seems to get this message, unfortunately. They both try very hard to trash those who do; it’s no accident that they each use the word “accommodation” as a pejorative in this context.

Ken Hood Jr - #80063

May 14th 2013

Thanks for the welcome, Ted! I’ve been a lurker on this site for quite awhile and have always appreciated the high-quality of content put out by BioLogos and the general tone of conversation here.

Merv - #79843

May 11th 2013

Roger wrote,

Fortunately the truth that Jesus is the Messiah does not lie with the virgin birth. Paul does not mention it, nor does Mark and John or any other NT writers.

Matthew 1:18:  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this; for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit.”

Roger, the whole scenario of Joseph feeling a need to divorce Mary quietly doesn’t make much sense unless the gospel writer of Matthew was also interpreting prophecy in the virgin birth way.  I’m not saying that you don’t raise good points, but it would seem that your umbrella of ascribing ‘embellishment’ for the purpose of imparting truth would catch at least one gospel writer in its net, would it not?

Lou Jost - #79845

May 11th 2013

Roger, you wrote “We must remember that the letters of Paul and the Gospel accounts were written for two very different purposes…. Paul was writing to churches who had already knew the Jesus Story...” This argument makes sense. However, skeptical scholars have turned it around.  Paul was trying to guide and unify a church consisting of many different factions. He offers his own opinions and revelations and Hebrew scriptural interpretations, to try to bring errant factions in line. Yet there are times when a disputed issue could have easily and authoritatively been resolved if Paul had used some example from Jesus’ life as told by the gospels. Curiously, in several instances where he could have made a much more effective argument by giving such an example, he instead wrote as if he did not know that detail of Jesus’ life. (I don’t recall the examples now, will have to look up my sources) As you said, he did spend time with the apostles and probably knew Jesus’ life in detail. Therefore his silence, when it would have served his purpose to mention these details, suggests that he did not know these details, and this in turn suggests that they are later elaborations which did not come directly from the apostles.

Yes, I agree with you that facts are often embellished, and we clearly see this in the gospels, especially when we look at how they differ. This does not necessarily mean there is no grain of truth to the stories, and in fact I think there is something real underlying them (unlike the mythicists, who think the whole Jesus story is an allegory). But it does mean we must interpret with caution, and not too literally.

You write “Most people like you believe that the spiritual is not real, is imaginary, and a subjective projection of human ideas.” Yes, that is right. If people have visions, it is something private, not existing outside their own heads.

GJDS - #79844

May 11th 2013

On reading the Gospel and the letters of Paul, I cannot find anything that gives the impression the writers were trying to convince anyone with ‘evidence’ to prove to sceptics and non-believers, on any matter regarding Jesus, and the resurrection. It is inappropriate to decide to ‘extract’ such an intention from the Bible – indeed one easily forms the opinion that the disciples needed to be convinced, and Christ understood this.

Thus I cannot see how we can seriously discuss, or seek, records created to give judicial evidence proving anything to non-believers, or for scrutiny by anyone. The Church during the apostolic era did not act in that manner. 

As the number of Christians increased and the apostles died, the leaders of the Church realised that the popularity of Christianity made it a tempting target for pagans who desired power and influence, and consequently many controversies arose; generally these were attempts to redefine the Christian faith within the various pagan philosophies that were prevalent. The labours of the Church eventuated in what we now term Orthodoxy.

The arguments about providing evidence of the resurrection has more to do with modern thinking that assumes Christianity, (and a more general demand for all religions), must ‘give an account’ of itself, to show atheists and others, that the resurrection must conform to their requirements ..... but requirements for what? Such an outlook is obviously absurd. Christianity has taught that faith is an act of grace (not an argument of evidence that is stipulated by atheists). It is patently obvious that we cannot go back 2000 years to assess and examine the resurrection, and determine if it is physical, spiritual, neither, both, or any ‘god-forsaken’ notion that excites critics of religion. Atheists would see this (an act of grace) as inadequate; this is by definition – they would not be atheist otherwise. 

The authentic approach is to examine the Gospels and the Epistles, and in reading them, seek for a good understanding of their content and purpose. Such an exercise would show that the intention is to show us a way of life, and the attributes that human beings may grow into – which are for the benefit of the individual and the community. Those of us who do not live a life in accordance with the teachings of the Christian faith are ‘in trouble’ so to speak; this is understood by our conscience – non-believers, by definition, would live in a way that is not, presumably, based on the Gospel – thus the absurdity of seeking a self-referential ‘evidence’ for the resurrection and other matters discussed in the Bible.  

beaglelady - #79850

May 11th 2013

They weren’t trying to prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt, but they certainly were trying to make a case for the resurrection, etc.   

GJDS - #79918

May 12th 2013

The apostles and disciples were authorised by Christ to preach the Gospel to the world, to give hope, and teach a way of life to those who believed. I think it is more appropriate to view their activities in this way, and not ‘trying to make a case…’

Lou Jost - #79988

May 13th 2013

No one thinks they were writing a proof. But for those of us who were not present, their writing is the main bit of evidence we have to work with. So whether they intended it or not, the writing has an evidentiary function today.

GJDS - #80007

May 13th 2013

What you should think is that Christ gave the apostles authority to preach the Gospel, and some made writen records of this (and where does your comment of writing a proof come from?) - it is not all that difficult to find out who (and when) wrote the NT, and how Christians afterwards chose the books and letters that make up the NT. The function of these writings is also well documented as is the thinking on sources and background material. It is absurd for every self-opinionated person to then change words and meanings, while falsely claiming they are providing evidence for their odd views of the Gospel. It is scholarly and meaningfull to scrutinise the documents that show why these books were chosen and then give some considered opinion based on sound information and at least show you have made an effort at understanding the Gospel. It is not a case of wanting to believe or not-believe - it is a case of showing some sobriety and diligence, as it is obvious that as an atheist you have taken it upon yourself to speak against the Gospel. Flipant remarks indicate odditiy, not understanding.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #79854

May 11th 2013


You seem to be arguing from the absence of something, rather than the pressence of something.  I might agree if the writings of Paul disagreed with the theology of Jesus.  I and others do not find this to be the case, which is very remarkable since the theologies of both men are very subtle and sophisticated, even though expressed in very different ways.

Jesus was speaking to Jews, who valued theology.  Paul was communicating to Greeks who valued philosophy.  They both spoke to the needs and the language of their audience.

You say Paul could have used the life of Jesus to resolve questions and bring factions together.  However the people who he was talking were new Christians who might have not understood the Jewish foundation of the life and teachings of Jesus.  Paul believed that it was not necessary to make Gentiles into Jews in order for them to be Christians.

Also I wish you had given a specific example.  Paul answered very appropriately all of the examples of the problems of these new churches.  It seems to me to be reaching for straws to say from our vantage that he should have used examples from the Jesus story which he admittedly knew only second hand.     

Lou Jost - #79855

May 11th 2013

I can’t say I know much about the nature of the divisions in the early Church, between Christian sects. But whatever the nature of those divisions, I would think the best way to resolve them among Christians would be to point to some relevant example from Jesus’ own life, if Paul knew those kinds of details. These would be authoritative.

Yes, as you say, Paul did not know those details first-hand. Doesn’t it seem odd, though, that he would not have absorbed those details from the apostles? Unless, of course, some of those details were later elaborations.

You are right that I should give specific examples. I will try to re-find them in the coming days as time permits. Please check back here….

GJDS - #79858

May 11th 2013

I sometimes wonder if people are reading the same Bible as I am, when I hear of discussions that suggest the resurrection has been ‘embellished’ of that somehow the accounts are ‘made up’ to convince anyone through argumentation. Providing detailed accounts based on the testimony of eye witnesses is simple that - not ‘trying to make a case’ - the latter notion would at least be stated in the account (i.e. to refute this and that, we provide a rebuttle, or argue against the following points).

It is obvious to me that the notion of evidence and proof given in the Gospel is vastly different from that of non-believers, and it is extremely inappropriate to twist the accounts in the Gospel and Epistles into a grotesque version of ‘trying to convince the heathen’. The following passages are worth examining, as a guide to what is given regarding the resurrection:

 John 20 to 21:14 – the women found the empty tomb, and were alarmed thinking someone had stolen the body; and Christ appeared to his disciples.

Matt. 28:5–7; Matt. 28:11–15; John 20:20, 27; Acts 1:3; Apostolic preaching     Acts 1:22; Acts 4:33.

2 Tim 2:18 shows that people were already “swerving away from the truth by denying the resurrection” This was an internal matter that concerned Paul, not another sect seeking Paul’s attention.

In Acts 17:31, the heathens mocked at the resurrection  ... and some would think on it and discuss it further - hardly an account of sophisticated arguments designed to convince anyone with some non-sense that would be considered as ‘proofs’.

In 1 Cor 15:20, Paul is speaking of the resurrection as a fact, not something that we would dispute, or as lacking evidence and in need of argumentation of some sort.

Lou Jost - #79860

May 11th 2013

GJDS, no one said the Bible authors were specifically trying to prove the case. However, since we don’t know what really happened, we have to look at the evidence available to us, and that includes the bible, whether the authors thought of their writing as evidential or not.

GJDS - #79862

May 11th 2013

Once again I am astonished at your mis-use of language Lou; we know what happened because we have these accounts which record the response(s) from eye witnesses. That is the evidence and how we know about the resurrection. Your obvious (and I will say pathetic) attempts to twist everything to suit your anti-thesitic view does not have any weight with me. I have stated before to you that I do not find discussions with you productive and would GREATLY appreciate it if you do not responde to my posts - you are free to post anything (obviously BioLogos accepts any weird statement from you), just do not do it as a reply to me, otherwise the discussion will take the obvious course.

Lou Jost - #79875

May 12th 2013

If you respond to me, I should answer.

How do you know these were accounts from eyewitnesses? Paul is the only one who definitely had contact with the original apostles. And as I have said before, Paul’s accounts are quite ambiguous about the nature of the resurrection.

sy - #79867

May 12th 2013

What strikes about this conversation (which I must say has been fascinating and informative) is that it follows quite directly the tone and direction of the original article, and of Polkinghorne’s line of thought. This is that the story of the resurrection of Christ, as recounted by Paul, is one of great historical power, especially (as nicely shown by Beaglelady) when compared to the vast majority of historical narratives. As Lou points out, nobody can provide proof of the events recounted in either the Gospels or in Paul’s writing. What Polkinghorne and Wright have done is show the enormous degree of unexpected feasibility of the resurrection from a historicity point of view. I say unexpected because we are, in fact, speaking of a miracle.

The fact that Lou and so many others cast doubts on the possible veracity of the accounts, tells us more about Lou and his beliefs than on the actual accounts or events. We do have a large number of folks who do not believe in the veracity of many current, widely documented events, such as the reality of the attacks on 9/11/2001, and other so called “conspiracy” theories. As in science, historical analysis demands a weight of the evidence approach rather than any sort of “proof” which is almost always impossible and irrelevant. As so carefully and elegantly demonstrated in the article and the comments, the weight of the evidence is clear. Christ is risen. For real.  

Lou Jost - #79878

May 12th 2013

Sy, people generally criticize conspiracy theories because of their improbability relative to the straightforward explanation. Consider where the improbabilities fall here. On the one hand we have a story of a god coming to earth to die for a couple days in atonement because, thousands of years earlier, a talking snake convinced the two original people to fall into a trap that this same god had set up. This dead god comes back to life but not quite physically, since he can appear in closed rooms, etc. Then he flies up to heaven after promising to come back while some of those present were still alive. He never came back.

The alternative involves some visions and perhaps a wise teacher living in a highly superstitious society, whose life gets elaborated and exaggerated after his death as we have seen  happen many times in other religious and non-religious movements.

Where do the probabilities fall here? Do we buy a wildly improbable story full of miracles, based mostly on third-hand evidence, or do we assign the story to ordinary mythmaking processes that we have seen in action many other times in the history of the world (eg Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc), and which do not require miracles?

sy - #79887

May 12th 2013

To Lou

Your account of the relative merits of the resurrection story and the possibility that all of it is false suffers from a fairly common error. That is you are employing the use of logic and reasonableness, rather that evidence. The entire structure of modern science, as well as historical research is based on exactly the opposite point of view. There are a good many scientific and historical truths that are totally illogical, and since the time of Bacon, we have come to understand that many “wildly improbable” ideas (quantum theory, introns, warped space, and so on) are in fact true, as attested by evidence. As for history, it is a truism that a good deal of historical fact would never be believed by any audience if presented as fiction. I cite the War of the Spanish Succession (my favorite) and the holocaust as illustrative examples.

In fact your argument has been used precisely by the conspiracy theorists to claim that is totally illogical to imagine that a small group of Arabs with box cutters could have dont the damage they did. Despite the evidence.

So in the story of the resurrection, your use of the probability argument is not convincing at all, in the face of the incredibly potent evidentiary material that we possess. Considering that this written testimony of events from 2000 years ago, is among the strongest of historical documentation for any event in the distant past (Consider that everything we know about the early history of Great Britain is from a handful of documents, mostly the writings of one monk), I think its safe to say that despite logic and probability the evidence is very strong indeed.  

Lou Jost - #79894

May 12th 2013

Sy, I agree that we should let evidence decide things. But we have to judge the quality of the evidence. Consider the Bible. We now know many of its stories are false if taken literally. There was no six-day creation. The animals were not created all at once. The earth is not just a few thousand years old. There was no pair of first real persons, Adam and Eve. The animals were not vegetarians before the fall. There was no fall. There was no universal flood. All the animals did not ride on an ark. Etc.

The story of the resurrection is not in the same category as these other legends, I agree (though the rationale for the crucifiction/resurrection is tied up with these false stories). But the resurrection story is not well attested, and the most direct contact we have with witnesses is via Paul and the gospels which sometimes give the impression that the resurrection was not in fact a bodily one. The evidence we have from all the rest of our experience is that bodies don’t rise from the dead after several days of decay, and we do have massive amounts of evidence for mythmaking and people’s willingness to believe in things that did not happen, or to take visions as if they were real.

I therefore think that we are really respecting the totality of the evidence when we deny the reality of a bodily resurrection.

sy - #80037

May 14th 2013


Ted Davis, has I beleve, refuted all of your arguments about the strength of the evidence (as of course has Polkinghorne) so I wont go into that. But even the tenor of your last comment suggests that the most you can really say is that the evidence does not force one to believe in the resurrection, certainly not to absolutely deny it. Of course one can dismiss even live witnesses to an event, and your rational argument (dead bodies dont rise) is based on a denial that Christ was the Son of God. So, yes, belief in the resurrection, much like belief in God, is not based on factual certainty, but on faith. But then so is belief in anything, including the utility of the scientific method to accurately explain the workings of nature. (A faith which I also share). While there is a lot evidence for that belief, it has also not been proven.

Lou Jost - #80053

May 14th 2013

Sy, there is no leap of faith taken when accepting the utility of the scientific method. Just look around you.

Regarding evidence, of course when we discuss whether the resurrection was real, we should not start out assuming that Jesus is the Son of God and can do anything he wants. That would be assuming the very issue under debate. It would be intellectually dishonest to argue like that. It would go against what you said in your earlier post, about following the evidence where it might lead.

Below I mention the hypothesis that the original resurrected Jesus was only experienced as a vision.  I think this may make better sense of the texts than the usual Christian explanation. Remember there are no definite eyewitness accounts preserved in the Bible. The closest we have to that is Paul, but he has very few details  to say about the resurrected Jesus, and what he does say is sometimes quite ambiguous.

Even if there were eyewitness testimony, evaluating it would be hard. It requires a complex interplay of judgements of credibility and possibility of honest mistakes, weighed against the prior improbability of the witnesses’ claim. Perhaps you have read some of the accounts of Victorian seances in England. These included musical instruments flying through the air while they played, etc. On one occasion a medium, D.D. Home, flew and levitated in view of famous scientists. More recently, people like Uri Geller bent spoons with his mind in the 1970s and convinced millions of his powers. These things were all witnessed, sometimes under semi-controlled conditions. Yet a scientist hearing about this would rightly say “hey, that goes against everything we know. so we need stronger evidence to convince us”.

And he or she would be right. Geller was proven to be a fraud, and Home was also almost certainly a fraud. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously fallible. Yet when I read some of those old accounts, I can’t figure out how it was done, if the accounts were completely accurate. But accounts are rarely completely accurate. Weighing accounts is a complex thing.

What clinches an explanation for scientists is its ability to predict new phenomena. If a miraculous resurrection was the best explanation for the biblical testimony, then certain other things should be true. There really should be life after death, and the major biblical themes should be true:  the earth and its animals were really made for us, and we ourselves were really created by god. However, on close examination, none of those things seems to be true, according to our current understanding of the universe. So it is sensible to try to find non-miraculous explanations of the resurrection story. And there are such explanations, which are in many senses better explanations than the miraculous ones.

Ted Davis - #80052

May 14th 2013


If “the totality of the evidence” refers to the conjunction of (1) the fact that an enormous number of events we know about (“events” meaning occurrences in nature as well as history) have “natural” explanations, and (2) the fact that “the rest of our experience is that bodies don’t rise from the dead after several days,” then prima facie your argument for doubting the Resurrection seems very strong. The problem comes in when we realize that “one-off” events cannot be ruled out, and so we have to be willing to engage in “a willing suspension of disbelief” (to borrow a phrase coined by Coleridge in a different context) in order to consider the evidence for any such event in a genuinely objective manner. It might not be possible to do this, for an event such as this, which is so closely tied to other claims about God and humanity that can hit pretty close to home.

Wright puts it this way in his conclusion: “Many will challenge this conclusion, for many different reasons. I do not claim that it constitutes a ‘proof’ of the resurrection in terms of some neutral standpoint. It is, rather, a historical challenge to other explanations, other worldviews. Precisely because at this point we are faced with worldview-level issues, there is no neutral ground, no island in the middle of the epistemological ocean, as yet uncolonized by any of the warring continents. We cannot simply arrive at a topic and make grand declarations, as in Francis Drake’s celebrated annexation of California, and suppose that all the local inhabitants will take them as binding. Saying that ‘Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead’ is not only a self-involving statement; it is a self-committing statement, going beyond a reordering of one’s private world into various levels of commitment to work out the implications. We cannot simply leave a flag stuck on a hill somewhere and sail back home to safety.”

I do think Wright gets this right. To bring the conversation back down to science, however, let’s just leave the Resurrection out of this and talk briefly about meteorites. As you may know, for some time in the 18th century—the great age of skepticism—French scientists simply did not believe reports about rocks falling out of the sky, something they regarded as impossible. [On this, see Ron Westrum, “Science and Social Intelligence about Anomalies: The Case of Meteorites,” Social Studies of Science 8 (Nov 1978), 461-493.] Unlike reports of cold fusion, however, they couldn’t simply try to repeat the phenomenon to verify (or deny) its authenticity. They had to wait for more instances of the phenomenon to appear for study. Suppose, however, that meteorites were extraordinarily rare events, even rarer (say) than supernovae in our own galaxy. Unlike supernovae, which are visible all over the world, meteorites are localized and small ones may go entirely unnoticed. So, if all of this is take hypothetically, we might still be in a state today in which reports of meteorites were not taken seriously by any serious scientist. Any such reports would actually be authentic, but they would be seen as on the same level as reports about the Loch Ness monster or (perhaps) alien abduction. The skeptical attitude would be warranted, and alternative explanations regarded as more plausible would be forthcoming—but they would be wrong; and, those who actually saw the rocks hit the ground would be right about what they saw, and right to draw different conclusions about the best explanation.

I don’t want to push this parallel too far, since (among other reasons) I don’t think the Resurrection is a rare, but not unique, event. I simply wish to point out that one can always propose another “explanation” for the biblical stories, if one requires for them the same level of confidence that one has in (say) the second law of thermodynamics, before one accepts the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Indeed, the biblical stories themselves report much skepticism toward the reports of the empty tomb—and this is hardly surprising, is it? You and I both would have been deeply skeptical, I suspect, until we ourselves saw the empty tomb and the risen Jesus. If we had experienced both of those things ourselves, however, then would we still have been entirely crazy to conclude that Jesus had been raised? Or, would that have actually been an inference to the best explanation?

Lou Jost - #80067

May 14th 2013

Ted, I have used the meteorite example myself when arguing for an unpopular opinion…..but there is an important difference between the meteorite example and the Resurrection+Ascension. (I am linking the Ascension because it rules out alternative explanations like ordinary accidental survival). The existence of a meteorite is a purely contingent matter and does not break any basic fundamental law of physics. The same would be true for the Loch Ness Monster and perhaps alien abductions. The Resurrection+Ascension, however,  violates fundamental laws of physics.

As we discussed, those fundamental laws could be (and in fact almost certainly are) wrong at some level, but accepting their violation or suspension cannot be taken lightly, especially if there are alternative explanations.

And as I mentioned in my response to Sy on this thread, we can also use indirect methods to inform our evaluation of the evidence. If the resurrection + ascension was real, then we would expect the back-story to be real. But as far as we know, it is not. God did not create people directly, we know that. There was no first human. The earth is not recently created. There was no global flood. The earth is not the center of the universe. Evolution seems to be purposeless and unguided, as far as we know. So we have to do quite a bit of hand-waving to explain why the creator of the universe cares about us, and why the whole convoluted redemption story makes sense. We would also have to explain Jesus’ failed prophecies. So even though we admit we can never be sure whether this one-of-a-kind event happened or did not happen, we have plenty of evidence against it being true, much more evidence than those 18th century scientists had against the existence of meteorites.

Ted Davis - #80054

May 14th 2013

In addition, Lou, for me (and many others) the “totality of the evidence” also includes two facts that are not directly related to the Resurrection, although down deep I see a connection. First, the universe itself is highly contingent—nature does not have to exist, and it does not have to have the specific properties it has. Judging from something you said recently (when we were talking about the dream of a great theory of everything that would leave no contingencies in nature), I think you may agree at least with the latter part of the previous sentence. I believe the whole statement after the dash. Second, our science of nature takes the form of searching for contingent order, and both parts of that term link very closely with elements of Christian theology. (I mentioned this briefly some time ago in another thread but did not go into it.) So, I would say (and P would surely agree) that both nature (as we actually find it) and a science of nature (as we actually do it) make more sense in light of theism than otherwise. I evaluate the evidence for the Resurrection as part of this larger picture. In short, my worldview is different from yours, and (obviously) we can both articulate reasons for this difference of opinion—a difference of opinion that reason alone is not likely to settle. I say more about this larger picture, including the Resurrection, at http://www.testoffaith.com/resources/resource.aspx?id=623.

Lou Jost - #80068

May 14th 2013

Ted, wouldn’t you agree that even if that view were true, there is nothing inherently Christian in it? Christianity may be compatible with it, but so would many other religions, such as Islam. Right?

Ted Davis - #80077

May 14th 2013

Yes, we agree. Leave out the Resurrection, and the rest I spoke about just now is perfectly compatible with other types of theism, not just Christianity. P will indeed say just about the same thing at the start of my next column.

sy - #80128

May 15th 2013


Frst of all, let me congratulate you on your ability to engage so many people on so many topics all seemingly at once. And as Im sure my friends and colleagues here will agree, you do it with intelligence, erudition and a sense of openness. Although I know you will not agree, I believe the Holy Spirit is active within your soul.

I think Ted is doing a fantastic job of countering your historical and philosophical arguments here (and others are doing similarly in other subthreads). But I would like to address your interesting arguments about the science of what you call the back story.

I know that you have contributed comments to articles on Biologos for some time. You should therefore have come to see that most of the elements you describe as being essential components of the Christian back story are not shared by the Biologos community. As an example, you will not find the Christians here (or in many other places) defending a young earth, or the literal creation of the first human being with no ties to any previous primate, nor the belief in a global flood. None of these OT accounts are necessary as part of the real back story for the belief in Christ as the son of God. Some Christians believe they are. None of those you meet here, (including Polkinghorne and Wright) do.

You also mention the idea of evolution being without purpose. That could be the subject for an entire article, but its quite clear to me that that is hypothesis that is far from proven, and that some recent evidence suggests it might be untrue. Directed mutagenesis by bacteria is well established, and opend the door for a re examination of the conclusions reached by Luria and Delbruck in the 1940s.      

GJDS - #79879

May 12th 2013

It is important to note that the anti-theist’s ascertains regarding the accounts of Paul’s conversion (presumably to show ‘inconsistencies and contradictions’) is spurious. I have reproduced two passages that anti-theists claim as support for their spurious claims:

Acts 9:3-8. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. 4 And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; 6 but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 

Acts 22:6-9. As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

It is obvious that Acts 9 speaks about Paul, while Acts 22 is Paul speaking. Acts 9 states the men with Paul did not see anyone, while Acts 22 states the men also saw the light - this is plainly obvious and yet this is restated as

 ”  states that his companions did not see a blinding light, while another (Acts 22:6) by the same author (!) states that they did see this light.”

The accounts are not by the same person, and yet the spurious claim is, “by the same author”, again showing the slight of hand in this treatment of acts. The two accounts differ in other ways, including the main point, in that Paul heard the voice talking to him only - the others did not and could not have - this does not mean they did not hear vocies, as Paul was obviously replying to the vision.

I do not want a lengthy and acrimonious discussion as I think the point is clear - if anyone is determined to make claims against the Gospel, they will do so - however their claims are, as I have said, spurious.  


Lou Jost - #79884

May 12th 2013

So Acts has multiple authors?

I do stand corrected, it is possible to read these two statements as non-contradictory. A bit odd, but possible.

Jon Garvey - #79885

May 12th 2013

Multiple sources, rather than mulitiple authors. The really odd thing would be an author who is so out of touch with what he’s writing in quite a short book that he doesn’t notice he’s contradicted himself, and neither do his first readers, but keep the contradictions every time they copy the book.

Of course, if his first readers thought it was inspired Scripture, that would be a reason for not correcting the second edition - but they’d only be likely to think that if, as traditionally ascribed and historically likely, Paul’s travelling companion Luke wrote it.

Lou Jost - #79883

May 12th 2013

A nice bit of cultural context for the resurrection story can be found in Richard Carrier’s  “Kooks and quacks of the Roman Empire” , which describes how easily the people of that age were fooled into believing in gods.


Here are a few excerpts:

“We all have read the tales told of Jesus in the Gospels, but few people really have a good idea of their context. Yet it is quite enlightening to examine them against the background of the time and place in which they were written, and my goal here is to help you do just that. There is abundant evidence that these were times replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, even innocent men mistaken for divine…Although the gullible, the credulous, and those ready to believe or exaggerate stories of the supernatural are still abundant today, they were much more common in antiquity, and taken far more seriously.”

“Even in Acts, we get an idea of just how gullible people could be. Surviving a snake bite was evidently enough for the inhabitants of Malta to believe that Paul himself was a god (28:6). And Paul and his comrade Barnabas had to go to some lengths to convince the Lycaonians of Lystra that they were not deities. For the locals immediately sought to sacrifice to them as manifestations of Hermes and Zeus, simply because a man with bad feet stood up (14:8-18). These stories show how ready people were to believe that gods can take on human form and walk among them, and that a simple show was sufficient to convince them that mere men were such divine beings. And this evidence is in the bible itself.”

“Miracles were also a dime a dozen in this era. The biographer Plutarch, a contemporary of Josephus, engages in a lengthy digression to prove that a statue of Tyche did not really speak in the early Republic (Life of Coriolanus 37.3). He claims it must have been a hallucination inspired by the deep religious faith of the onlookers, since there were, he says, too many reliable witnesses to dismiss the story as an invention (38.1-3). He even digresses further to explain why other miracles such as weeping or bleeding—even moaning—statues could be explained as natural phenomena, showing a modest but refreshing degree of skeptical reasoning that would make the Amazing Randi proud. What is notable is not that Plutarch proves himself to have some good sense, but that he felt it was necessary to make such an argument at all. Clearly, such miracles were still reported and believed in his own time. I find this to be a particularly interesting passage, since we have thousands of believers flocking to weeping and bleeding statues even today. Certainly the pagan gods must also exist if they could make their statues weep and bleed as well!”

“...the “pagans” had Asclepius, their own healing savior, centuries before, and after, the ministry of Christ. Surviving testimonies to his influence and healing power throughout the classical age are common enough to fill a two-volume book (Edelstein and Edelstein, Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, in two volumes, 1945—entries 423-450 contain the most vivid testimonials). Of greatest interest are the inscriptions set up for those healed at his temples. These give us almost first hand testimony, more reliable evidence than anything we have for the miracles of Jesus, of the blind, the lame, the mute, even the victims of kidney stones, paralytics, and one fellow with a spearhead stuck in his jaw (see the work cited above, p. 232), all being cured by this pagan “savior.” And this testimony goes on for centuries. Inscriptions span from the 4th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. and later, all over the Roman Empire. Clearly, the people of this time were quite ready to believe such tales. They were not remarkable tales at all.”

Jon Garvey - #79886

May 12th 2013

Oh please Lou! Spare us Richard Carrier! Even atheists compare his mythicism to Creationism. Mainstream he is not, even amonhgst secular scholars (like the atheist Bart Ehrman).

Lou Jost - #79888

May 12th 2013

I knew that was coming! I don’t agree with his switch to mythicism (when he wrote the above he was not a mythicist). But his position on Jesus has no bearing on the accuracy of the things he wrote about the mind-set of the first century Roman Empire. If he is wrong about the facts, say so. The evidence for the credulity of the people of that age (and of this age, I might add) is abundant.

beaglelady - #79893

May 12th 2013

Are we pretending there was a single gullible mindset in the ancient world?

Jon Garvey - #79895

May 12th 2013

Are we pretending there was a single gullible mindset in the ancient world?

Beaglelady, I think we are!

I would rate Richard Bauckham as a significantly less ideological (and I think more widely respected) scholar than Carrier (and he lent me his typewriter once). His book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” discusses in great depth the importance of reliable eyewitness testimony for history writers of the 1st century classical world, the nature and reliability of oral tradition then, and the strong case for the gospel accounts being such testimony.

500 pages of thorough scholarship - cheap at the price! He cites 7 pages of 2 columns of modern authors, but seems accidentally to have missed Carrier out. But then his target is mainly the form critics rather than the mythicists, as they have some academic credibility.

Lou Jost - #79901

May 12th 2013

As beaglelady discussed earlier, the contradictions between the gospel accounts, while not by themselves reason enough to dismiss the accounts, show that they are not based on reliable eyewitness testimony. For example, Matthew’s very dramatic zombie march on Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus (the zombies actually came back to life when Jesus died, but apparently hung out near their tombs until his resurrection) is not mentioned by historians, nor by the other gospels. If he or his sources are capable of making up stuff of this magnitude, where does it end?

beaglelady - #79904

May 12th 2013

For example, Matthew’s very dramatic zombie march on Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus (the zombies actually came back to life when Jesus died, but apparently hung out near their tombs until his resurrection) is not mentioned by historians, nor by the other gospels.

This could be a bit of theology.   

Lou Jost - #79906

May 12th 2013

So could Jesus’ resurrection.

beaglelady - #79910

May 12th 2013


Lou Jost - #79915

May 12th 2013

Can you elaborate?

beaglelady - #79965

May 13th 2013

Taking it literally would contradict some important stuff in the faith.  Jesus is the first one to be resurrected and everyone else will rise on the last day.  I think somebody else on this board explained that it is a vision of the new Jerusalem.  

Lou Jost - #79981

May 13th 2013

But aren’t there a handful of other resurrection accounts in the OT+NT?

beaglelady - #79982

May 13th 2013

No, not at all.  The raising of Lazarus was just the temporary resuscitation of a corpse. Lazarus would experience a natural death again.  

Eddie - #79984

May 13th 2013


You’re right about Lazarus; but the raising of the “saints” in the passage Lou was talking about was surely just a temporary resuscitation as well.  All of them would have gone back to death to await the final judgment and resurrection.  Unless you have grounds for saying that those “saints” experienced their resurrection to eternal life long before the final judgment was pronounced upon the human race.  I know of no Christian theologian who has taken the passage in that way, but I’m open to references.

beaglelady - #79986

May 13th 2013

I don’t take this incident literally.  Nobody else in that  day mentioned it.  And according to Lou, you don’t take it literally either.   

Eddie - #79990

May 13th 2013

I sympathize with anyone who has difficulty taking the story as a historical report.  It’s very, very odd, not in the sense that it reports something miraculous (which is common enough in the Bible), but in the sort of miraculous event that it reports, and the apparent lack of motivation for the event.  (No one who witnesses the risen saints appears to have learned anything from encountering them; no moral or teaching is drawn from their rising; and the timing—with their rising earlier than Jesus, rather than along with him—seems to violate the natural flow of the storyline.)  So I can easily see how someone could conclude that this was a later embellishment.  

Yet I’m troubled by the methodological question.  There appears to be no break in narrative style before or after the reported episode.  So Lou’s question arises:  if we are confident that this event is not historical—presumably either because “things like that don’t happen” or because we have no contemporary witnesses to the event (no Jewish or Roman text of the period reports the rising of dead people from their graves)—then, since we have in the Resurrection another “thing that doesn’t happen” and another event not confirmed outside of the New Testament—on what grounds do we accept the Resurrection of Jesus but not the resurrection of “holy ones” and their subsequent wandering into the city?  What clue is there in the text itself that we are meant to treat the two stories differently?  I’m not saying there is no difference; I’m saying it’s not clear to me what the difference is.

So I sympathize with Lou’s question, even though my attitude to the Bible is overall much more positive than his.

I would guess that Jon Garvey could shed more light on this than I have been able to bring to bear.  Maybe Ted or Merv would have some ideas as well.

Lou Jost - #80000

May 13th 2013

Eddie, thanks very much for understanding and perhaps partly sharing my question.

Lou Jost - #79989

May 13th 2013

There were eight or so resurrections/resuscitations in the OT and in the NT:


The distinction between a resurrected person that dies again, versus one that bodily disappears into the sky, is an odd one to me, though I understand it has great theological importance to some.

Eddie - #79947

May 13th 2013

I echo Lou’s request to beaglelady for elaboration.  I’m interested in learning the criteria by which one might discriminate between actual historical events in the Bible and things which are only “a bit of theology.”

Lou Jost - #79950

May 13th 2013

Eddie, just for the record, in an earlier comment you also agreed that the zombie march was so odd that you (like many other Bible scholars) thought it was a flourish added by Matthew, and probably not real. Right?

Eddie - #79956

May 13th 2013


I’m trying to support your question to beaglelady here.  It seems to me that your interpretive principles are somewhat consistent, whereas hers are very unclear to me, so I’m asking her for clarification.

Regarding the passage in question, I do find it very odd and hard to interpret.  I don’t know why it’s in the Gospel.  It does not seem to fit.  If it were not in the Gospel I would not  miss it; and in fact, I know of no major Christian theologian who has made anything of doctrinal importance out of the passage.  But beaglelady’s cryptic one-liner “this could be a bit of theology” is so vague as to be of no help at all, either for understanding the Gospel or for understanding beaglelady’s position.  Hence, I support your inquiry.  But I would warn you not to be disappointed if you get another cryptic answer, or no answer at all.  Her first statement was seven words, and her follow-up clarification to you was one word.  Projecting the trend, you can see how many words she is likely to give you.  But maybe she will surprise me.  We’ll see.

Lou Jost - #79907

May 12th 2013

A question for Ted: NT Wright claims that the bodily resurrection of Jesus must have been true because it was so completely unexpected according to the beliefs of the time; he thinks no one would have made it up. Yet here we have what sure looks like a made-up mass bodily resurrection. Doesn’t this show that in fact that the idea of a bodily resurrection was not so foreign to the people of the time?

There may have been some distinction between someone who resurrects temporarily and someone who resurrects and goes bodily to heaven, with the former being not unexpected. But in that case, it would not be the resurrection itself that is “too improbable to be false”, but rather the later ascension into heaven. However, this ascension is very poorly attested to in the gospels (not even mentioned in some of them). So perhaps Wright is wrong? (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.)

Ted Davis - #79963

May 13th 2013

That particular story (zombies in Matthew), Lou, is one that P tends to doubt. Wright is more evasive about it.

Lou Jost - #79971

May 13th 2013

I’m glad to hear that P doubts the story. But what about its relevance to Wright’s claim that first-century Jews would never have invented a bodily resurrection? Here we apparantly have a first-century Jew inventing just such a story, and rather flamboyantly at that.

Eddie - #79993

May 13th 2013

Hi, Ted.  Good series here.

Quick question:  was your term “evasive” for Wright chosen advisedly, or casually?  That is, did you mean merely that Wright was not very clear, or that he was trying to avoid being clear?  To me the term “evasive” implies the latter.

Eddie - #80083

May 14th 2013


Did you miss my question in 79993?

Ted Davis - #80113

May 15th 2013

Yes, Eddie, I missed it. I’m (unfortunately) missing most of this conversation right now, owing to final exams (which just ended) and two workshops I will be directing at other colleges a significant distance away (starting tomorrow morning). I have to catch a plane in a few hours, and this is the only time I’ll probably be able to grab for a few more days. It’s true that I respond to comments more than most blog authors here (and many other places, too), but in this case I simply can’t. I have to pick just a couple of things to say today, when I’d like to say much more. Indeed, if you and Jon Garvey and anyone else with real expertise in biblical studies (which I do not have, despite the fact that I might be more well read than you or Jon in a few selected topics) wants to step in on behalf of P and Wright, I’d welcome that. Indeed, you ought to own your own copy of Wright anyway, since he’s a voice to be reckoned with in your field.  I just can’t stick around for most of this great exchange.

I stand by the word “evasive,” to describe Wright’s conclusions about this passage, which he calls “the extraordinary tale of an earthquake and what seems to be a localized but quite large-scale rising from the dead.” (p. 632) He goes on to give 4 possible interpretations, none of which he seems to like. At the end, he says, “It is impossible, and for our purposes unnecessary, to adjuicate on the question of historicity.” He then doubts the idea that “stories such as this would have been invented simply to ‘fulfil’ prophecies that nobody had understood in this way before,” adding that “This is hardly a satisfactory conclusion, but it is better to remain puzzled than to settle for either a difficult argument for probable historicity or a cheap and cheerful rationalistic dismissal of the possibility.” (p. 636)

How’s that for evasive?

Eddie - #80123

May 15th 2013

Hi, Ted.

Don’t worry; I understand you are busy, and I wasn’t complaining about not hearing from you; I just wanted to make sure you saw the question, since it was in a very brief post that your eye might have passed over.

I don’t know whether Wright’s answer counts as “evasive” or not. I don’t object to his last sentence in isolation, but I’d have to read the whole passage—and probably a lot more of him—to decide.  I feel more comfortable deciding that someone is being evasive when I have had a large number of encounters with him or her.  A single case of honest uncertainty might seem evasive yet not be evasive; but a repeated pattern of failure to offer an opinion on important questions that one simply must have thought a lot about starts to look more clearly like evasiveness.

So if a TE who regularly publishes books and articles on the compatibility of Christianity and evolution, and speaks at churches, Christian conferences, etc. on that topic, tells me he has no opinion, not even a tentative one, on the question whether God tinkered with/steered the evolutionary process or just let nature run its course (exercising its “created capacities” or “gifts”), yet elsewhere in his writing and speaking makes frequent remarks such as “tinkering would be unworthy of a wise God” and/or “we have no reason to think that known natural causes aren’t adequate to explain evolution,” then I think it’s quite reasonable to suspect evasiveness.  

In any case, you have answered my question:  you were choosing your word carefully when you said that Wright was being “evasive.”  So that is a conclusion you think is sometimes warranted, and not necessarily uncharitable.  That’s all I really wanted to know for the moment.

Lou Jost - #79897

May 12th 2013

There were skeptics then as well. I imagine there is not much difference between people today and people back then, except that today there is a publicly accessible body of knowledge that helps screen out the more egregious counter-factual claims. In ancient times, it would have been harder for people to separate fact from fiction. Until the late middle ages many people believed in spontaneous generation of mice from plant matter, for example.

beaglelady - #79903

May 12th 2013

In a way today is worse—misinformation can be spread faster!

Jon Garvey - #79919

May 12th 2013

Small point - spontaneous generation as a theory persisted well into the modern period, and primarily amongst academics. Its first serious challenge was at Royal Society 1671, but it was given a new leaseof life by John Needham’s experiments in 1745, and it had distinguished supporters including Cuvier into the nineteenth century.

Wikipedia cites Pasteur as putting the last nail in the coffin only in the same year that Origin of Species was published. That either means Victorian scientists were as unable to tell fact from fiction as peasants in the first century, or more likely that we tend to take for granted the simplicity of what isn’t obvious at all - raising the question of our own cultural blind spots as to what is fact and what is fiction.

As beaglelady says below disinformation can spread faster nowadays. I see that the publication of DSM5 has raised (on both sides of the Atlantic) a fierce debate about whether mental illness exists or whether a mental distress model is prefereable - a debate that was raging when I was studying social psychology at Cambridge 40 years ago and seems not to have moved on despite billions spent on research.

Whichever way that debate eventually goes, I’ve no doubt that people will then be saying the alternative was a foolsih superstition believed by the ignorant until the middle ages!

Merv - #79896

May 12th 2013

I think Carrier’s point about their willingness to believe in gods is probably accurate, Lou, but not especially interesting.  It was the culture of the day to believe in lots of deities.  In fact Christianity, Judaism before it, and a tiny handful of others stood out for being monotheistic.

What becomes remarkable in that context, then, is how much skepticism early disciples and believers did show.  To hear Carrier tell it above one imagines that the early disciples should have no trouble ascribing deity to Jesus or accepting testimony of his resurrection.  Instead we get accounts of disciples needing proof and being chastised for that even.  What is more likely is that there were many gullible people back then, as now, and many stubborn skeptics back then, as now.  Paul met his share of skeptics on his travels that would not accept any claims of resurrections.  So it would seem Carrier’s thesis suffers trouble even from the Bible alone.

Lou Jost - #79898

May 12th 2013

Yes, I agree that there were skeptics then too. In fact I just wrote that above, before getting to this post of yours. But Carrier also acknowledges that. His point was just that people (on the average) seemed primed to believe in signs and wonders then.  I think that he is right, on the average, and that this characterizes our world today as well, on the average.

I have been the recipient of this attitude several times during my years in the Amazon. The indigenous people in my community were  afraid of geckos which entered their houses at night. They considered them the most dangerous reptile, and they left their house when one was inside. I tried to explain that geckos were not venomous but they wouldn’t believe me. So I caught one and forced it to bite me repeatedly. When nothing happened to me, they decided that I had magical powers over geckos….I won’t bore you with my magical powers over electric eels (courtesy of aluminum foil). But in cultures without access to the cumulative knowledge humans have acquired, magic and miracles are easy to come by.

I mentioned elsewhere that their grandfathers turned into jaguars and hunted at night. Legends of this kind are common and widely believed in many cultures even today.

Lou Jost - #79899

May 12th 2013

For an example of modern credulity even in a culture that does have access to accumulated human knowledge, just look at the Mormon church. A ridiculous story, many falsified fact claims, founded by a huckster, but in spite of that, it has millions of followers, and is growing fast (especially in the third world).

beaglelady - #79900

May 12th 2013

But the Mormon church is run like a cult.  The members are discouraged from reading anything that is not faith-promoting.   

Lou Jost - #79905

May 12th 2013

They make many converts though. They have a large missionary presence here in Ecuador, and their numbers are growing fast not just due to high birth rates but due to conversions in the third world. Fundamentalist Christian sects are also making lots of converts here, even though their claims are also obviously false. I have to conclude that otherwise-intelligent people have a soft spot in their brains when it comes to religion, and this spot seems to be exempt from the skeptical thinking they routinely employ in every other aspect of their lives.

beaglelady - #79909

May 12th 2013

Yes they do make lots of converts, but many leave, or try to.  It’s really difficult to remove your name from their membership list. 

Lou Jost - #79912

May 12th 2013

Here in Ecuador people take it really seriously. They don’t even know it is a mega-business with opulent buildings and lavish perks for the higher-ups. These poor Ecuadorians give tithes to help pay for that!!!

beaglelady - #79913

May 12th 2013

You are right—church members are expected to pay tithes and are not permitted to enter their Mormon temples unless they do.  Their missionary programs are pretty aggressive—all young mormon men are expected to spend 2 years doing missionary work, and the church doesn’t help with the expenses!  

Lou Jost - #79914

May 12th 2013

It is so sad to see these very poor people sacrificing to send money to those fancy US megatemples…

Jon Garvey - #79920

May 13th 2013

Tying that into the previous question of ancient gullibility, though, I note that there was a  serious possibility recently of the world’s most advanced nation appointing a Mormon President.

Leaving aside any political bandstanding about one party being stupid (fortunately I have no dog in that fight), one can note that nutty cults, superstitious conspiracy theories, alternative science, daft therapies, alien abductions, New Age woo etc all have their home base in an educated country whose ruling paradigm is secular liberalism (whence they are exported to developing countries!).

It would clearly be foolish to generalise that to a statement that Americans are all ignorant and gullible, so I suggest that the explanation is diversity, equally true of ancient civilisations. All they lacked then was the gloss of hyperskeptical bias against the supernatural retained by many of those those academically-conditioned in the West.

As for the Ecuadorians and their geckos, are they inordinately superstitious, or just superstitious in different ways? Over here many people believe that you will die of disease unless every surface in the house in disinfected, a belief due to a tradition largely inculcated by a century of commercial advertising.

GJDS - #79942

May 13th 2013

I remember looking up a source that dealt with the sects (all Christian would you believe) ONLY in California - I simply gave up trying to understand the data; there seems a huge number of odd-balls who claim to follow Christ, are the Church of God, Church of Christ, and so on - yet any information on these would show they were about as weird (and this does not include the occult and spiritualists) as it gets. This is the most powerful and richest nation the world has ever seen - and from this lot, we now have anti-theists and what have you, who ALSO considering their opinion as the authoritative source of religion/faith (and oh yes, what is sound science). This is perhaps the strongest case that can be made on what happens when every person is self-referential, and their opinion must be given weight. Unfortunately this outlook seems to have permiated academia in the US and various religious traditions. How does one rationalise the arrogance of an American shedding tears about the superstions of other cultures and races, while forgetting the state of his own culture!

Lou Jost - #79952

May 13th 2013

If you have read my other comments you would know that I shed far more tears for my own country of birth than for Ecuador. I do not blame my friends who have little access to accumulated knowledge. In fact, it makes sense for them to err on the side of caution, since there are indeed many deadly things in this jungle. I place far more blame on the people in the US and elsewhere who do have easy access to cumulative knowledge, and choose to ignore it for no good reason.

You know this, because you have responded to my comments on those other threads.

GJDS - #79954

May 13th 2013

The question you may need to ask yourself is this, “Does accumulated knowledge within a materialistic framework help people to turn away from superstition and the occult? If you think people turn to superstitions when they lack western/scientific knowledge, how is it that we see people turning to superstition when they have this same knowledge?” 

You seem to make the common mistake of other materialists; it is the fault of religion - when in fact you do not know what that is.

Lou Jost - #79951

May 13th 2013

I think people are credulous, period.

beaglelady - #79968

May 13th 2013

That’s what advertisers and politicians are depending on.

Lou Jost - #79908

May 12th 2013

“Tell people that there is an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you… Tell them that the paint is wet and they have to touch it to be sure.” George Carlin

Roger A. Sawtelle - #79902

May 12th 2013


Your description of Judaism of the day of Jesus is woefully absurd.  You need to do some study and research to understand the rational basis of Judaism now and then to understand the context from which Christianity arose.     

The alternative involves some visions and perhaps a wise teacher living in a highly superstitious society, whose life gets elaborated and exaggerated after his death as we have seen happen many times in other religious and non-religious movements.

You say that Jesus lived in a highly superstitious society.  I wonder if you understand what superstitious means, because I fear that you confuse suerstitious with religious.  The pagan Gentile was superstitious, but the Jewish society was not. 

Superstition is irrational, while Judaism is not.  You keep saying that religion is superstitious because it says that the gods cause lightning and thunder, but Judaism makes no such claim. 

Judaism and Christianity make no such scientific claims, because they are concerned about the morality and salvation.  This separation between theology and science makes possible modern science as opposed to Islam and other faiths where there is no such separation.  

Now let us start from the beginning.  What serems to be most evident is that the body of Jesus disappeared.  Now I hope that we can agree that things just don’t disappear. 

Here is where the disagreement comes it.  Christians have come to the conclusion that Jesus left the tomb under His own supernatural power, while you and many others claim that some people must have overcome the guards and stolen His body, or something to that effect.

Now the best evidence of what happened would be either to find the body of Jesus or at least good evidence of who and how His body was stolen, or someone or ones who have testified that they saw and spoke to Jesus after His death to indicate that He is alive.  We have no evidence of the former, but significant evidence of the latter. 

You really do not have any evidence that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  All you have is an effort to raise doubt about the evidence that He did, which does not work.

Of course your best argument is that it is wildly improbable that Jesus is alive.  Here also we can agree, however the question then arises as how strong is probability against actual evidence.  The Big Bang is most improbable, so does that mean our universe does not exist?  Evolution is most improbable, so does that mean that humans do not exist?

How does one determine the probability that the fact of 2 + 2 = 4 is true? 

Since the Resurrection is highly improbable, then how can it be explained?  You have no reasonable, provable explanation of how Jesus’ body disappeared.  Christians do have a reasonable if not fully provable explanation of how He rose from the death and rules with God the Father over heaven and earth. 

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s Seal of Approval on His life, and evidence to all that God is Love.  The Resurrection is an extraordinary event to mark an extraordinary Life as extraordinary.  This should raise the question that you and others do not want to face, Does the Life of Jesus justify the Resurrection, Yes or No?

I said before that Life and Reality has three aspects or dimensions, the Physical, the Rational, and the Spiritual.  Christians recognize all three.  Many of the old atheists whose views were based on philosophy recognize only the Rational and the Physical.  The New Atheists recognize only the Physical. 

This monistic view makes it easier to deny the reality of God, but it makes Life irrational and devoid of wisdom, structure and purpose.  It makes it easier to deny the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, but makes Life devoid of love and joy that make it meaningful. 

The role of God in relation to the universe is to give it harmony, which is essential to its rationality and purpose.  Do you really think that Reality is without harmony as many new atheists believe?  That we live in a chaos, rather than a cosmos?  That the intellectual foundation of all of science is wrong?         



GJDS - #79911

May 12th 2013

The ranting and ravings of an anti-theist - instead of admitting that he is using slight of hand and has again mis-represented Acts, he again goes on the offensvie with his endless - “these accounts should be written the way he wants, or they are contradictions and falsehoods”.

Not the attitude of an open-minded, evidence based, will seek the truth no matter where it takes me scientists! But then again he will come back with some more drivel and it all goes around his self-deluded world, for the nth time.

Lou Jost - #79916

May 12th 2013

GJDS, in 79884 above I actually agreed with your correction…Why not just continue to discuss the facts instead of spending 3/4 of your comments insulting me?

GJDS - #79917

May 12th 2013

Lou, I welcome discussions that rely on scholarly and well researched material, from people with any background or belief - your comments have failed to meet that criteria, and I guess you may say that I do not suffer fools gladly. Once I am convinced that your comments meet this criteria, I will be happy to enter into a discussion. You again confuse my comments on the content of your remarks, with some sort of personal outlook that you assume I have of you. You appear to spend a great deal of time posting comments - why not spend some of this time looking through good and accessible resources and provide your particular point of view with an analysis of such material?

Lou Jost - #79953

May 13th 2013

I could ask you the same question regarding your comments on evolution.

GJDS - #79957

May 13th 2013

Why respond on a question on religion with another question on another topic, evolution - or is it that your religion is evolution?

Lou Jost - #79958

May 13th 2013

I have said before that I am not an expert on the NT. I have my opinions based on my readings, but I am willing to be corrected, as you can see above.

GJDS - #79960

May 13th 2013

This comment is weird even by your USA standards - you have not shown anything but contempt for the Bible.

beaglelady - #79994

May 13th 2013

Why is it weird? He says he’s not an expert on the NT, has opinions, and is willing to be corrected.

GJDS - #80002

May 13th 2013

Beaglelady - Lou was a Christian, studied it diligently, found all sorts of things against it so he became an atheist, and now does not know or understand the NT but has opinions that always degrade the Gospel and everything else in the Bible - if this is not weird, than you are not an American (Protestant denomination I assume) arguing for an atheist’s non-expert views which you insist must be taken seriously. Perhaps you are part of some (?) march of zombies?

Merv - #80009

May 13th 2013

I think the question of other raisings from Lazarus all the way to numbers of unnamed saints is a good one even if motivated by someone who does not share in faith motivations or just wants to poke holes.  If we can’t take a little poking, then that doesn’t speak well for our own convictions.  

Since I’m not an N.T. scholar either, Lou, I don’t carry any more authority than the next person, but in blog world that doesn’t stop us all from (hopefully somewhat informed) speculation, right?

My own tentative answer is that we have different expectations of some types of literature today than they had then.  We tend to want journalistic detail (just the ‘facts’ please) with minimal editorializing added to it.  In an age when the mostly illiterate masses depended on scribes or oral tradition, priestly or scribal authority carried more weight.  So they depended on these authorities for both facts and interpretations, probably not caring to or able to distinguish for themselves.  I guess this is a long way of saying I’m not above believing that gospel writers made use of hyperbole to drive home central points so profoundly deep to them that no words could be adequate to capture it.   Jesus dies.  The sun is blotted out. The earth shakes; tombs burst open; our formerly known world is torn asunder.  You get the picture.  But for our modern day such hyperbole backfires (as with you, Lou) since you hear us claiming that the resurrection really physically happened, so then you conclude that there can be no such thing as hyperbole or literary convention of the time.  Since you refuse to acknowledge basic distinctions of literary device or varied tools of rhetoric you are only left with the other alternative:  rejection of it all!  And to be fair, there are plenty of fundamentalist Christians who join you in that approach if not your conclusion.  

Given that Luke who ‘carefully investigated these matters’, (or for that matter John who could not be accused of going light on the editorializing!)—since they don’t mention something so important as many dead saints coming to life, I certainly wouldn’t want to base my theology on Matthew’s lone mention of it.  While we may be free to be skeptical today about many healings ascribed to relics, even though the Bible even gives a positive mention to the same phenomenon  (Acts 19:12 or 5:15) that isn’t to say God has never worked in such ways and probably still does on occasion.  But we aren’t building any big theologies on it.  Nobody (other than Lou and others stuck in the fundamentalist approach) is going to feel theological tremors if somebody touched by Peter’s shadow suffered eventual relapse or maybe wasn’t even healed at all.   Or if in the writer’s enthusiasm to impress us with Paul’s success, he exaggerates a fair bit about the healing powers of articles touched by Paul.  Again, I’m not saying that couldn’t have happened or didn’t happen; just that skepticism about the extent or scope of such phenomena may be excused even in Christian circles—we aren’t even given any details, after all!  I claim that we don’t build our theologies on such things.  We build them on Christ—on his life, teachings, death, resurrection, and hope for the culminating Kingdom of God.  Mess with that and it won’t just be tremors we Christians feel.  It would overturn everything for us.  


Lou Jost - #80010

May 13th 2013

Merv, thanks for the comment. I am not a fundamentalist and I do not demand that every word be taken seriously. Look at my 79822 at the top of this thread. I am not insensitive to literary devices either. I am pointing out that there is myth-making going on here  in the gospels, and that it is not easy to see where it ends.

If we put the resurrection accounts in chronological order, we start with Paul who was the only one who definitely had first-hand contact with the apostles. His resurrection account is the most sparse. He does not mention the empty tomb. Of course he might have simply expected his readers to know this, and so it might just never have been necesary for his purposes. But when he goes on and on about explaining the resurrected “body”, why didn’t he mention something about how Jesus’ resurrected body appeared to the apostles? Why is his account so ambiguous—- why does it often seem like he is talking about a spirit body rather than a physical one? Might it be that Paul (and hence the apostles) thought the resurrected Jesus was a spirit body?

When we get to the gospels, again in chronological order, again the oldest one (Mark) is quite sparse. Originally it did not even have a resurrection account. Later gospels have successively more elaborate and fantastic accounts. If this were a series of Greek stories about a god/man, all of us would recognize a mythification process going on.

Even in these gospels there is a palpable tension about the nature of the resurrected Jesus. He suddenly appears in a closed room. He is encountered out in the fields but not recognized, and then suddenly vanishes. What kind of physical body does that? At the same time, somewhere it says he ate a fish. Could that have been an editorial addition by the writer? After all, if these writers can add something as bold as a zombie march, eating a fish is a small edit.

Anyway this temporal progression of the resurrection accounts from simple to very elaborate and fanciful (in the sense of contradicting what we currently know about the world) is evidence of mythmaking. We should be skeptical about it. Especially since so many elements of the back-story are false (no first people, Adam and Eve, no fall, no universal flood, etc).

Again, if this were a series of Greek accounts of a hero of Troy, and the earliest accounts were sparse but later ones were elaborate and full of signs and wonders and impossible things, we would logically conclude that even though the hero might have really lived, the later stories were mythology.

beaglelady - #80017

May 13th 2013

 He suddenly appears in a closed room. He is encountered out in the fields but not recognized, and then suddenly vanishes. What kind of physical body does that?

The resurrected physical body is not quite the same one we have; for one thing, it is no longer mortal. 

Lou Jost - #80039

May 14th 2013

Here is another ambiguous line suggesting spiritual, not bodily, resurrection, from 1 Peter; there are several translations that differ in important ways:


Christ himself suffered for sins ·once [or once for all; C only his suffering has the power to redeem others]. ·He was not guilty, but he suffered for those who are guilty [L …the righteous for the unrighteous] to bring you to God. ·His body was killed [L He was put to death in the flesh/body], but he was made alive in the ·spirit [or Spirit; C at his resurrection in a glorified body].


18 For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually,


For Christ also suffered for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that He might bring you to God,
after being put to death in the fleshly realm
but made alive in the spiritual realm.

Lou Jost - #80044

May 14th 2013

KJ and some others have “by the spirit” instead of “in the spirit” or “in the spiritual realm”.

GJDS - #80011

May 13th 2013

Examining the writings in the Gospels and understanding the language that each writer uses is a sound approach and one everyone should adopt. However, there is a great difference when anyone decides to change terms and meaning, as in regarding ‘zombies’ marching through Jerusalem. We all associate the term zombies with the occult; thus the intention is clear and mischievous - hardly the opinion of someone who wishes for an honest discussion.

Imagine the outcry of these people if someone decided to use the term ‘vitalism’ instead of DNA and then go on to claim a critique of evolution on these terms.

Yet discussion of the Gospel in this way almost appears to be encouraged by some on this blog site.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #79955

May 13th 2013

In looking at the variety of beliefs I do not think gullibillity, the fact that people can easily be fooled is the problem, except for those who have been duped into the belief that God is not real.  

People need meaning in their lives, but God has not made faith, knowing and living the Truth easy and without difficulty.  Humans do have a tendency to believe what we want to believe in, whether it is religion or atheism. 

With global warming most of us find it difficult to do the things which would reduce pollution, particularly to become less dependent on oil and gas.  Thus we either deny or belittle the problem, or accept it intellectually without emotional commitment.   

I see all sorts of contradictions like this in many intelligent people.  Their actions do not agree with their expressed values.  For me it is important to have my understanding of Life, of Reality, and God in line with my professed beliefs and actions, even if that alignment will never be perfect. That is the main way that I learn and grow.

Otherwise we will sow the wind and reap the tornado.

GJDS - #79959

May 13th 2013

I find the discussion on the resurrection has taken a distasteful turn and challenge any reasonable person to find any basis for talk of zombies and the like. This is not only offensive language, but also blatent dishonesty. I provide the passages that talk of resurrecting others besides Christ:

Math 9:23-25; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:43-44, and Math 27:52.

Each of these, except for Math 27, illustrate the compassion shown by Christ; all of these passages show that Christ is the way and the life (life comes from God) - Math 27 states saints were resurrected to glorify God. If this is not clear to some who claim to be Christian, than you should think long and hard about the Gospel.

If people are unable to believe the Gospel, why not say so, instead of sinking into the gutter with talk of zombies?

GJDS - #79983

May 13th 2013

It is perhaps apt to be reminded, when discussing the resurrection, that the history of the spread of Christianity, which is the history of people embracing the teaching of the Saviour, has led to favourable social and economic changes evolving in such communities. Christianity has facilitated the abolishment of slavery, elevated the position of women, strengthened family unity, formed charitable organizations, and brought to mankind the highest moral and humanitarian principles. God knows all the inadequacies and weaknesses of the human race damaged by sin, and He provides the hope, and help mankind needs to overcome his bad inclinations and resolve personal, family and community problems. The resurrection is central to these hopes and one must seek in the teaching of the Saviour a directive for aspiration and deeds. His teaching places faith in God and love of neighbour as fundamentals of life.

Christ through his life taught non-covetousness, compassion, humility and meekness, and demonstrated how we may do good, and in this way develop all the abilities given by God. Christ’s teaching brings peace and happiness to the soul. It teaches that man was created for eternal bliss in the Heavenly Kingdom and assists him in attaining it. That is why a Christian must, with concentration and a prayerful attitude, constantly read the Gospels, drawing from them heavenly Wisdom – this is the primary reason the Gospels were written and preserved for us.

Lou Jost - #79991

May 13th 2013

“Christianity has facilitated the abolishment of slavery, elevated the position of women…”

If that is so, why did the abolishing of slavery and the elevation of women in Christian societies take almost 2000 years? Might extra-religious (secular) forces have played a role in changing the way Christians interpreted their own religion?

beaglelady - #79995

May 13th 2013

For individuals and societies, old habits die hard. In many ways Paul sounds surprisingly modern: 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

 I believe that people of faith can work with people of no faith for the common good.  The Darwin and Wedgewood families were passionately abolitionist. 

Lou Jost - #79998

May 13th 2013

The Bible is so big and complex that one can find almost anything one wants in there. Name a position and there is usually something somewhere in the Bible that can be used to support it. The Bible is actually quite a mixed bag on slavery and on the role of women.

The Catholic Church still today forbids women in leadership positions. Popes themselves held slaves at times. Until a couple of centuries ago the Church still held slaves in Latin America. Catholic bishops in the American south, as a group, supported slavery until after the US civil war.

Lou Jost - #79999

May 13th 2013

In the spirit of beaglelady’s comment, though, I recognize that many Christians led the fight against slavery.  I am not saying here that Christianity is uniformly bad, but rather that the bible is complex and people often get what they want out of it.

beaglelady - #80001

May 13th 2013

I would agree that the Bible is complex and people often get what they want out of it.

GJDS - #80003

May 13th 2013

Is this another non-expert view that you put forward as fact? I have yet to find any other religion or culture that would elevate women in a way the Christian faith has. As usual, you conflate things, than distort them, and wow, we have another version of an atheist’s hang-up regarding religion. Even you should understand that it is one thing to say you believe and another to actually live according to the Faith.

Your comments should instead be directed towards the ability of Chrisitans (if some were in a position to do so) to bring change to poilitical institutions and power centres that determined the conditions of communities down through the centuries.

Lou Jost - #80005

May 13th 2013

If you mean my 79998 and 79999, yes it is my opinion, which I can back up with lots of evidence. I also made it clear that some Christians did fight slavery and deserve credit. Unfortunately, the ones with the most power did not, until very late. Do you question either of those comments I posted?

beaglelady - #80006

May 13th 2013

You are correct in that Christians were divided on this issue.  Slavery divided the Baptist Church in the United States, with the Southern Baptist convention going pro-slavery. They have since repented.  

btw, slavery in one form or another is alive and well in the world. 

GJDS - #80008

May 13th 2013

Back up your opinion the Bible does not elevate women above any culture of the day (or since) - show the Bible does not begin with praising Mary, and goes to mention virtuous women who were commended by apostles and the congregations. Yes I question your comments.

Lou Jost - #80018

May 13th 2013

This is a distraction from the real theme of the post, so I will answer your challenge here but will not respond further.

I will show you what a mixed bag the Bible is for women. I am sure you have the positive stuff covered, so I will just cover the negative, recognizing that there is indeed plenty of positive.

God orders his people to take sex slaves:

“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” Numbers 31: 16-18.

God again orders more sex slaves:

“When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall by thy wife. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.” Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

Women have to marry their rapist:

“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.” Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

Kill the rape victim if she does’t put up enough resistance:

“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”  Deuteronomy 22:24.

This touches on both women and slavery:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female servant, she is not to go free as the male servants do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.” Exodus 21:7-8.

Then there are Paul’s famous lines about women needing to shut up in church and not ask questions and be subservient to their husbands.

I know Paul and especially Jesus generally treated women well, especially for their time. My thesis, remember, is only that the bible has something for everyone, including misogynists.


GJDS - #80034

May 14th 2013

Promises, promises (you won’t respond) - again Lou I feel dissapointed with your ‘considered’ response - you missed out the behaviour of Abraham and his wife when they were in Egypt, Lot, wife and daughters (and oops I nearly said sodom -tsk,tsk), and then there is David and his lecherous and disgusting behaviour - I guess I can go on and do your job for you, but will stop here.

My point however, is to show if women were elevated by the teachings of the Bible, not show the many faults and failings of people (esp males); but then again, your debates inevitably end like this.

How about living up to your pretensions and giving us a critical (and brute if you wish) assesment of the Othodox outlook regarding the Gospels - I provided so much material in the lengthy posts below, you should find it very easy work.

Lou Jost - #80090

May 14th 2013

Yes, it is easy pickings, since your material is copy-pasted from a religious site that seems to uncritically accept tradition as fact. Most Bible scholars disagree with the assertion that John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John, for example, but there is no hint of that in the stuff you copied.

GJDS - #80095

May 14th 2013

Yes it has been copy pasted and it represents my outlook and that of almost (perhaps all) Orthodox believers that I know. Surprisingly most of us are familiar with the many details of how these writings were circulated and other details of the early church (I have added a few details below) - again I ask, demolish these simpler pronouncements - show us how gullible we are, and where we should look for a person in the sky? Or perhaps you can point to the occult or superstitions that have been included in these writings?

I am confident that you will not come up with anything that would cause us to  re-examine these writings. And yes, you would easily be able to object to this and that - perhaps these writings do not meet with your approval, but that is hardly a basis for making the sort of remarks you have made.

Lou Jost - #80105

May 15th 2013

Like I said, the majority of Bible scholars disagree with the conclusions about John that you posted. Fight it out with them.

Jon Garvey - #80031

May 14th 2013


Slavery, a near universal institution historically, had all but disappeared in Europe by mediaeval times, considered increasingly as unchristian since St Gregory. It was finally banned in England by William the Conqueror on those grounds, and a court case of Queen Elizabeth’s time established that nobody could legally be a slave here, even if enslaved abroad.

Slavery only re-emerged as a serious issue in early modern times, by the Portugese cashing in on the Arab trade. One early Pope justified it on the dubious grounds that they weren’t enslaving Christians, but within a decade or so his successor - and others - condemned it. This was a new kind of slavery from the ancient/early mediaeval type, soon becoming justified on anthropological grounds - whether slavers based their arguments on distortions of Scripture or modern theories of races, the bottom line was that it’s OK because they’re not “really” human.

But this was the time of the rise of the nation state, commercial adventuring, the loss of authority of religion ... and the slave trade was a long way away: one could compare how we buy cheap clothes with rather little awareness of the realities of the Asian sweat-shops that make them. Those in the know had a lot to lose by the truth - those far away in Europe could blind themselves to the reality: you see that in, say, George Whitefield’s early justification of slavery, which is clearly dependent on taking the rosy accounts of those involved at face value. “Where’s the real problem? They’re happy and benefitting from our advanced civilisation.”

After that there was a very complex mix of misinformation, vested financial interest, self-justification and (on the other side) righteous indignation. Someone like Rev James Ramsay on St Kitts predated Wilberforce by a generation, but kick-started the Abolitionist conscience, essentially by giving a believeable testimony to the unpalatable truth (oh - that seems to relate back to the resurrection accounts!).

I don’t see any continuous tradition of theological justification of slavery, but a lot of post hoc justification (a) by sophisticated establishment figures compromised by their awareness of the economic situation and (b) far more grossly by slave owners themselves, particularly in America where some remarkable biblical somersaults were turned (like interpreting the snake in Genesis as a pre-adamic black - you don’t need recourse to that kind of crap of you can appeal to traditional Christian arguments for slavery).

And of course, modern science could do the trick for those skeptical of the Bible - and remember this was an Enlightenment society, not Christendom. Early scientific anthropology was riddled with pre-adamic racism, and the empirical “observation” of non-white inferiority was near universal - witness the Voyage of the Beagle and Tierra del Fuego.

Darwinism however seems, initially, to have favoured the abolitionist cause, though post-slavery it too could be turned by Darwin’s nephew Galton, Haeckel and so on to justify the suppression and even eradication of inferior races, culminating in both World Wars (the first maybe 50% due to the Kaiser’s social Darwinist imperialism, and the second, as we know, with a larger mix of evolutionary darkness (see Hitler’s near-quotation of Haeckel’s words at Nuremberg).

As Beaglelady says, slavery is still alive and well today not only worldwide but in the west - in the UK it seems strongly linked to the sex-trade, which is very much the result of the liberal secular agenda - I recall a lifetime of being told that it’s Christianity’s obsession with sexual purity that needs to be overturned to bring guilt-free “sexual health”... well, we have it now, and it’s the principal cause of slavery today, financially supported by millions of “sexually healthy” internet users!

Eddie - #80033

May 14th 2013


You took the words out of my mouth.  I was going to reply to Lou on slavery, but you have said most of what I was going to say.  Slavery was indeed almost absent from Western and Northern Europe for most of the Middle Ages, and had dropped to a trickle in the rest of Europe—a few ports in Sicily and elsewhere on the Mediterranean, and some parts of Eastern Europe (which were often under Muslim control)—whereas it continued to be prevalent in the Islamic world.  It seems impossible to believe that Christianity had nothing to do with this marked difference.

Slavery had a resurgence in modern times, after the discovery of America and the employment of African slaves to work on sugar, cotton and other plantations in the New World Colonies.  British privateers were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but not the British government, which eventually outlawed the practice—though by that time America already had a large slave population.  So the dark blot on American history was not a product of the continuation of Medieval Christian attitudes, but of a revival in a Christian land of an ancient, pre-Christian practice to serve the perceived needs of modern colonial economies.  It was then justified by various means—ludicrous readings of the Bible (the “Negro” was supposedly under the curse of Ham, for example, and therefore rightfully enslaved by the descendants of Japheth)—and also by secular, scientific racism that had nothing to do with Christianity. 

Your final point is also valuable—sexual liberation, which humanists tout as one of their great contributions to human freedom, has its dark side—ironically, in many respects, women have become sexual objects more than they ever were in the “bad old” Victorian days, and this has happened in order to gratify the culturally-induced hunger for ever greater and more varied sexual experiences.  That hunger was moderated by Christian teaching; when Christian teaching was thrown out, sex increasingly became nothing but an appetite to be satisfied like other appetites; and just as modern people overeat, so they are overly obsessed with sexual pleasure.  (Gluttony and Lechery were two of the Seven Deadly sins, but of course we enlightened moderns have thrown all that superstitious nonsense away.)

Lou Jost - #80041

May 14th 2013

Eddie, I also don’t disagree with you about slavery. I think the core Christian values are clearly against slavery; But the bible was used to support slavery as well, and popes who could have stopped it were instead often ambiguous about it until quite late. But this is getting far afield of the resurrection claims; I hope we can get back to that topic, and especially the tension between a spiritual vs physical resurrection.

Lou Jost - #80040

May 14th 2013

Jon, a minor addition- slavery was an integral part of the Crusades, with each side making slaves of the other because they belonged to different religions.

I am not arguing about slavery itself, and don’t disagreee with you here. I am just saying that the Bible, and even just Jesus’ quotes, are diverse and subject to widely differing interpretations.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #79992

May 13th 2013


I agree with you.  A prime evidence for the reality of the Resurrection is the Church, which is what I meant when I said that Christian Love works, is that it makes a positive difference in our world, and of course I was criticized for this practical appoach to truth.  Of course the Church is not the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Churches or even the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the Body of Christ, which is not perfect, but is loving.

The fact is that what Lou considers to be the truth and what most people consider to be the truth are two different things.  Lou considers the truth to be limited to scientifically discernaible facts, such as peole are born and people die.  Everything else is opinion. 

Therefore anything else particularly that which might indicate that Reality includes the rational and the spiritual is rejected as not true.  Therefore it really is impossible to discuss what is true on this basis because we do not agree concerning what is real and what is true. 

The only difference I have with you theologically is my Pauline understanding that we receive grace through faith by which our sins are forgiven and we are justified through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.   

GJDS - #80012

May 13th 2013

Since this discussion has gone into the way and order the Gospels were writen, this somewhat lengthy extract provides a reasonable summary of the Orthodox understanding.

The Orthodox teaching has always maintained that while the Holy Scriptures were a result of Divine inspiration given to the writers, imparting to them thoughts and words, the Holy Spirit did not restrain their individual intellects or suppressed their personal attributes. The descent of the Holy Spirit did not stifle the human spirit, but rather cleansed and elevated it above its ordinary limits.

Therefore, while representing in themselves a single unity in interpretation of God’s truth, the gospels differ from each other in the personal characteristics of each evangelist, distinguishing themselves in structure, style and form of expression. They also differ as a result of the circumstances and conditions under which they were written, as well as in the objectives which each evangelist set for himself.

That is why, for a better explanation and understanding of the gospels, it is essential for us to more closely familiarize ourselves with the personality, character and life of each of the four evangelists and the circumstances during which each gospel was written.

According to Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis, as well as that of St. Justin the Philosopher and St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Mark wrote his Gospel based on discussions with St. Peter. St. Justin refers to it directly as the “written recollections of Peter.” Clement of Alexandria claims that the Gospel of St. Mark essentially represents a written version of St. Peter’s sermons, which St. Mark documented at the request of Christians living in Rome.

The very context of St. Mark’s Gospel testifies to the fact that it was designated for gentiles who converted to Christianity. It minimally references the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Old Testament and even fewer quotations are cited from the Old Testament Scriptures. Additionally, we find Latin words, such as speculator and others. Even the Sermon on the Mount, which serves as an explanation of the superiority of New Testament Law over the Old Testament, is omitted.

Instead, St. Mark’s main objective is to present in his Gospel a strong and clear narration of Christ’s miracles, emphasizing through them God’s heavenly greatness and omnipotence. In his Gospel, Jesus is not “a descendant of David” as in that of Matthew, but the Son of God, Lord and Master, Universal King.

The ancient historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, states that St. Luke came from Antioch, and this gives rise to the assumption that St. Luke was a gentile or proselyte - a gentile converted to Judaism. By vocation he was a physician, as seen in the Epistles of St. Paul to the Colossians. Ancient tradition adds to this that St. Luke was also an artist… continued

GJDS - #80014

May 13th 2013

continued….   Also from the Acts of the Apostles, it is evident that with the second journey of the Apostle Paul, St. Luke became his constant collaborator and an almost inseparable fellow traveler. He was with Apostle Paul at the time of Paul’s first imprisonment during which the Epistles to the Colossians and Philippians were written.

He was also with him during the second imprisonment when the second Epistle to Timothy was written, and which ended with a martyr’s death. It is known that after the death of St. Paul, St. Luke preached and died a martyr’s death in Achaia (Greece). During the mid-4th century his holy relics and those of St. Andrew the Apostle were transferred to Constantinople.

As is evident from the preface of the third Gospel, St. Luke wrote it at the request of a prominent man, the most excellent Theophilus, who lived in Antioch and for whom he then wrote the Acts of the Apostles, a seeming continuation of the Gospel narratives (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1-2). Incidentally, he not only made use of eye witnesses’ accounts of the ministry of Christ, but also of already existent writings relating to the Lord’s life and teachings. In his own words, he thoroughly scrutinized and compared those writings. Therefore, his Gospel distinguishes itself by its exceptional accuracy in designating times and places of events and strict chronological succession.

Certain passages, such as the mission of Elijah to the widow in the region of Sydon, the curing of Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:26-27) from leprosy by the prophet Elisha, the parable of the prodigal son, and that of the publican and the Pharisee are found in tight, inner cohesion with particular development of the teaching of Apostle Paul regarding the salvation not only of the Jews, but also of the gentiles, and of man’s acquittal before God not by means of the law, but by God’s grace, given exclusively through boundless mercy and God’s love of mankind. 

No one had so clearly portrayed God’s love for repentant sinners as did St. Luke, placing in his Gospel a collection of parables and events on this subject. In addition to the parables just mentioned, one also remembers the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the good Samaritan, the repentance of the chief of the publicans, Zacchaeus, and other sections, as well as the profound words that “happiness exists for God’s angels in the repentance of one sinner” (Luke 15:7).

The time and place of the writing of St. Luke’s Gospel can be derived through deduction, that it was written prior to the Acts of the Apostles, which seemingly provided a means for the Gospel’s continuation (Acts 1:1). The book of Acts ends with a narrative of St. Paul’s two year ministry in Rome (Acts 28:30). This took place approximately 63 years after the birth of Christ. Consequently, the Gospel of St. Luke could not have been written later than this, and presumably was written in Rome…. continued

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