Thursday, July 15, 2010

How does the resurrection of Jesus prove that he is the messiah?

I watched a short clip on youtube of a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens asked Craig if Craig believed the story in Matthew about all the saints coming to life and walking around Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. His point was that even if Jesus was raised from the dead, that doesn't prove anything about Jesus being the messiah or the son of God since lots of other people were raised from the dead, too. If the resurrection of these saints doesn't mean that they are divine or messianic or anything like that, then the resurrection of Jesus doesn't either.

Pinchas Lapide made the same point in his book on the resurrection of Jesus. He believed Jesus was raised from the dead, but he said that didn't mean Jesus was the messiah since lots of other people had been raised from the dead. Elijah raised people from the dead, for example.

I've heard this same argument made from other people, too, so I thought I'd blog on it and tell you how I think the resurrection of Jesus proves that Jesus was the messiah.

There are two differences between Jesus' resurrection and all these other resurrections. First, Jesus made lofty claims about himself, but none of these other people did. Second, no human so much as claimed to have raised Jesus from the dead. (There's a third difference--Jesus was raised to immortality, but the others were still mortal. But that's not a relevant difference for the sake of my argument.)

If Elijah claims to be a prophet, and then he raises somebody from the dead, it seems to me that says more about Elijah than it says about the person Elijah raised. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that says more about Jesus than it says about Lazarus. Well, there was no human agency in the resurrection of Jesus. I'm pretty sure that if there had been, that person would've been thought of as special enough to have mentioned somewhere in the literature that has come down to us. But it looks like not only was there no human agent involved, but nobody so much as claimed to have been involved. So who raised Jesus from the dead? Well, by process of elimination, it must've been some kind of supernatural entity.

If some ordinary guy who just blended in with everybody else, never seemed special, never claimed to be special, etc., died and then came back to life three days later, we might all think there was something special about him, but what? Without some context, it's hard to pour any specific significance into the situation. Maybe it's just some weird anomaly. After all, quantum physicists tell us it's at least possible that every subatomic particle in your body could simultaneously move in the same direction by the same distance at the same time, and then you would appear to magically relocate. Chances are against it, but it's at least possible. Maybe that's what happened here.

But Jesus made unusual claims about himself. That's not to say other people didn't make similar claims, but when you look at all the people who have lived in died, most people don't make those kinds of claims about themselves. Jesus at least claimed to be the messiah. However unlikely it is that Jesus would make such a claim, and however unlikely it is that somebody would rise from the dead, it seems next to impossible that these two unlikely events would both happen with the same person. So I think it's far more reasonable to believe that there is a connection between Jesus' claim to be the messiah and his resurrection from the dead than it is to believe it's just a big coincidence that both of these things are true about the same person.

But Jesus didn't just make claims about himself. He also made claims about his Father, God. Jesus was deeply committed to glorifying his father, to advancing his kingdom, and to keeping his law. Granted, it's possible some trickster of a supernatural being raised Jesus from the dead to make everybody believe in the God of Jesus, and to believe in Jesus himself, it seems far more reasonable to believe that the same God that Jesus preached is the very God who raised Jesus from the dead. And, if so, that vindicates Jesus' claims about himself.

Monday, July 12, 2010

White and Ehrman on textual criticism

I have a PDF copy of a transcript of a debate between James White and Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the New Testament text.

This was a really interesting debate. But in the end, I thought the whole debate came down to one question which was never adequately answered (or even asked) by either side. The question is this: How likely is it that more than one copy was made from the autographs?

You see, if it turns out that only one copy was made from the autographs, and then the autographs were lost, then no amount of textual criticism can reconstruct what the autographs said. The best we can do is reconstruct what the earliest copy said from which multiple copies were made. If the first copy made from the original Matthew had any mistakes in it, and if that’s the only copy that was ever made (or the only copy whose progeny survived), then it would be impossible to ever reconstruct exactly what the original said.

According to James White, since we have multiple lineages of copies, and all these copies go back to an original source, then not only are all the mistakes carried forward, but whatever was in the original was carried forward as well. Whenever you have a multitude of textual variants for one passage, the original version will be among them. So White believes that the entirety of the autographs have been preserved somewhere among all of our manuscript evidence. But that is only true if multiple copies were made from the original. It’s not true if only one copy was made from the original and the one copy had mistakes.

I don’t think Erhman was arguing, necessarily, that there was only one copy made from each document. He was just arguing that since it’s possible, and since we can only reconstruct the earliest copy from which multiple copies were made and lineages survived, that we cannot be sure that our reconstruction perfectly reflects what the originals said. He made it sound worse than that, though. In his scenario, there was one copy from the autograph, and then one copy of that copy, and then one copy of that copy. And the final copy was copied multiple times. So we can only reconstruct a copy of a copy of a copy, but never the autograph.

So it all comes down to that one question. How likely is it that more than one copy was made of the original autographs? What do you think?