Friday, January 05, 2018

A short short resurrection debate

Lately I've been reading Ed Feser's book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God. I've been thinking about writing a review of each argument, but I'm not entirely sure I'm understanding them fully. I'm on the fourth argument, and so far I don't find the arguments persuasive, but where they appear to go wrong is precisely where I'm unsure whether I'm understanding them correctly. So we'll see.

What does that have to do with the resurrection? Nothing. I was just giving you an update on possible future posts.

So let's talk about the resurrection of Jesus. I had a debate back in 2013 with a really short word limit. It was a challenge to make the best argument I could with as few words as possible. I've been thinking lately about how maddening verbal conversations can be, especially when they involve arguments, because arguments almost always require the use of more than one sentence, but it's hardly ever the case that anybody will let you use more than one. It seems rare for me to even be able to complete one sentence before being interrupted and responded to as if half a sentence was all I had to say in defense of my position.

While thinking about that this morning, it occurred to me that even though my defense of Jesus' resurrection might not be robust, it might still be useful to somebody just because it's so short. I'm sure anybody who has attempted to defend the resurrection in a verbal conversation has struggled with how to be succinct without sacrificing too much meat in their argument. My opening statement is about as succinct as I know how to be, so here ye go. . .

The full debate: It can be proven that Jesus rose from the dead

My opening statement:

Def. Prove: To demonstrate the truth of something by the use of evidence and argument.

The argument

My argument is that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for why Jesus' movement survived his death. I'm going to explain why the survival of his movement requires an explanation and press Con to come up with a better one than mine.

Why we need an explanation

We should expect Jesus' death to have ended his movement.

According to the Old Testament, God made a promise to always have a man on the throne of David.[2] David's dynasty ended near the beginning of the Babylonian exile. The prophets explained that God would fulfill his promise by re-establishing David's throne.[3] The messiah is a king who will sit on the throne of David and rule forever.

According to all the unambiguous messianic prophecies, the coming of the messiah was to be marked by the reunion of Judah and Israel, a full return from exile, national sovereignty, expulsion of oppressors, and everlasting peace and security for Israel.[4]

Instead of fulfilling these expectations, Jesus was killed by the very people he should have prevailed against--the Roman occupiers. To any Jew living in the first century, that would've proved that Jesus was not the messiah after all. N.T. Wright writes, "Messiahs were supposed to defeat the pagans, not die at their hands. Worse, dying thus actually demonstrated that one was not after all the Messiah; follwers of a Messiah who was then crucified knew beyond question that they had backed the wrong horse."[5] Marcus Borg agrees, saying that a "crucified messiah" was "perhaps an impossible combination of terms."[6]

Consistent with this observation, Paul tells us that "Christ crucified" is a "stumbling block to Jews" (1 Corinthians 1:23). Luke tells us that some of Jesus' disciples were initially disillusioned (Luke 24:20-21). There were several messianic movements in the first and second centuries, and every one of them ended when the supposed messiah was killed. Wright says, "Nobody in 71 C.E. said that Simon bar Giora was the messiah, or even a great prophet; nobody in 136 C.E. continued to believe that Simeon ben Kosiba really was Bar-Kochba, 'the son of the star.'"[7]

The explanation

The best explanation for why Jesus' movement survived his death is the one given by Jesus' followers themselves--that they saw him alive. Unless he was alive, he couldn't have been the messiah. This is such a powerful explanation that it has lead most scholars to conclude that the disciples saw something, though they differ on what they saw. E.P. Sanders writes, "That Jesus' followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know."[8]

Imagine a dead relative standing before you. There are five possibilities:

You're dreaming
You're hallucinating
You're seeing a ghost
They didn't really die
They have risen from the dead
With these options, the last thing you'd conclude is that they had risen from the dead. According to Luke, the disciples initially thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37), but then Jesus ate in front of them. Thomas wanted to actually touch Jesus (John 20:25). 1 John begins with "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands..." The emphasis on touching makes sense because otherwise they wouldn't have concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead. So the best explanation for the survival of Jesus' movement is that he really did rise from the dead.


1. The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.

2. 2 Samuel 7:16, 1 Kings 2:4, 2:45, 8:25, and 9:5.

3. Jeremiah 33:14-17, Isaiah 9:7, and Ezekiel 37:25.

4. Jeremiah 23:1-8, Ezekiel 37:15-28, Isaiah 9:2-7, 16:4-5.

5. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 609.

6. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, p. 116.

7. N.T. Wright, Jesus: Two Visions, p. 102.

8. E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 280.


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