Monday, September 20, 2010
Can Anybody find SomeBODY?
How do you disprove Christianity? It's easy, really. St. Paul even tells us how: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God..." (1 Corinthians 15:12-15). That's it. Produce the body and Christianity is done; at that point it's no different than any other world religion. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Christianity without the resurrection is not really Christianity at all (Gerald O'Collins). Christianity, however, is unique. St. Paul (not to mention St. Peter and the early apostles in the book of Acts) open themselves up to historical investigation. They do not consider the events of Christianity closed to serious investigative inquiry. Christianity is falsifiable. It does not depend on some burning in the bosom, mysterious golden plates, some secret knowledge or some magic moon tricks to verify it's truthfulness. The eyewitness accounts speak for themselves. Or, as St. Paul testifies, these things did not occur in a corner (Acts 26:26). Now I have assumed for the sake of this argument that the homework has already been done on the reliability of the New Testament; that's another post for another day. Suffice it to say, the case is iron-clad, passing the scrutiny of any court of law.
But back to the main topic for the day...the body of Jesus. St. Paul's formula can be used this way: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what would that mean? And if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the skeptic has to answer this question: what happened to His body?
So there I was on the Huntington Beach pier (yes, I know hardly suffering for the Gospel, but you should see the cost of housing!) hanging out with Pastor Mark Jasa (www.ulcbruins.org) and a member of our church talking with a gentlemen who had come to our bench to talk with us. After many twists and turns in probabilities and possibilities, we finally came to the question posed above...what would it mean if Jesus did not rise from the dead? It's false. But, I asked, "what if Jesus did rise from the dead; what would that mean?" Well, it would be true. Or as this man answered, "That would be an interesting phenomenon." There's no doubt about that! Dead people usually stay dead when they are placed in tombs.
However, the eyewitness accounts make it very clear. Friday, Jesus is dead and buried. Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus is no longer in the tomb in which He was laid on Friday. And then, He is seen, not only by the women (which is significant in and of itself. A woman's testimony was inadmissible in a court of law in 1st century Judaism, making the fact that the Gospel writers agree on their finding the empty tomb a highly convincing argument for its veracity). But we continue; He is also seen by the 12 and at least 500 others.
But, as the man - let's call him Mr. Huntington - said, "That's highly unusual...It's more likely that the disciples stole the body and made the whole thing up." "Why," I asked? The usual answer ensued...power, prestige, control, etc.
Before continuing, here are some basic facts of the resurrection that both secular and religious scholars agree upon (thank you William Lane Craig for the work on this):
1. There was an empty tomb thought to be Jesus'.
2. Believers and unbelievers alike had access to it.
3. the earliest report is too early to be considered legend/legendary.
4. The account itself is simple, showing earliness and accuracy.
5. The women were the 1st to declare that the tomb was empty.
6. The unbelieving Jews knew they had to come up with a counterclaim.
7. Many Jews in power/leadership positions converted to Christianity, weakening their story.
8. The disciples went from depressed, scared and disorganized to confident, assertive and willing to risk everything, including their own lives, for the sake of this message.
9. The disciple were certain they saw the risen Christ.
With that in mind we proceed to considering what happened to Jesus' body if He did not rise from the dead. In the first place, many people, friends and foes of Jesus, knew where the tomb was, including Joseph of Arimathea, the women the guards and not the least of which were the Jewish authorities who had Jesus killed. Remember, the tomb was marked with a Roman guard, per request of the Jews (Matthew 27:62-66) precisely because they feared that someone would steal the body and say, "Look, Jesus rose from the dead, just like He said He would!"
There are several possibilities, but which is most probable? What explanation best accounts for all the evidence? What about the Roman soldiers? Well, Jewish religious practices were hardly popular with the Romans. Moreover, Pilate was quick to calm any riot that may have ensued as a result of Jesus, the King of the Jews. This was purely superstitious religious babble in the eyes of the Romans. What motivation would they have to steal the body? What could they possibly hope to gain from stealing Jesus' body in order to further the teaching of some wayward sect and some backwater Galilean rabbi? This would have been contrary to their own interest, since the Romans wanted nothing more than to quell this little upstart rebellion. They had every motivation to produce the body and dispel all rumors of a resurrection, but they did not.
If not the Romans, perhaps the Jewish authorities. But what motivation would they have? Even far less than the Romans. It was in their particular interest that Jesus was dead. That's what they wanted. That's what they got (or so they thought). Again, why not produce the body if they had it and silence the Christian/newly created "Jewish sect" immediately? Furthermore, think about the kind of men that followed Jesus, all Jews. Even St. Paul who was welcomed into fellowship later was a Hebrew of Hebrews according to his own words. Why would good, God-fearing Jews put their faith and trust in a man who claimed to be God? They believed that Jesus claimed nothing less than being the Lord Almighty come in human flesh to save the world by His death on the cross.
Now wonder C.S. Lewis mentions: "One attempt consist in saying that the man did not really say these things; but that his followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that he had said to them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews, that is, they belonged to the nation of which among all others was most convinced that there was only one God - that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth lest likely to make such a mistake."
Which brings us to our next point. What about those disciples? Did they steal the body? Well, first they would have had to have made it past Roman guards (No small feat. Seriously. Have you see Gladiator?). Then they would be responsible for moving the stone. For more on this, see Frank Morrison's seminal work, Who Moved the Stone?
But the larger issue with the disciples' alleged knavery is this: they would not only have stolen Jesus body, but also lied about His teaching concerning the resurrection - two things which Jesus specifically taught against. Moreover, they would have had a hell (pun intended) of time trying to keep their lies straight between each other for decades. Not even politicians (who have every motivation to be kept in the best light) can't do that! But we digress...Not only is it terribly difficult to keep a lie going that long among that many people. It is also illogical. Why did the early apostles (11 of 12) go to their death for this lie? No of course, many have died for a lie. But why would they not have confessed even in the face of death? And while many people would be willing to die for a cause they believe to be true, but in reality is false, why would they willingly go to their deaths for something they know to be false. This is would be a psychological disorder of the first order (John Warwick Montgomery). And we have no reason to think that they are mentally unhinged in any way. In fact, their eyewitness testimony suggests all evidence to the contrary.
And quickly, we can dispel the myth that Jesus was not really dead but awoke after a "swoon" or a faint in the tomb. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded Jesus was dead as a doornail; He had ceased to be, kicked the bucket and so on. (http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/255/11/1455). But if somehow Jesus did survive the cross only to awake in the tomb not quite dead yet, we must believe the following: that Jesus suffered severe blood loss, was too weak to carry his own cross, his hands and feet were pierced, his shoulders were dislocated, his Achilles' heal was likely torn/severed, he would be utterly dehydrated and then he would have to remove ~75 lbs. of bandages, push away the stone by himself, overpower the Roman guards, convince everyone that he was the Lord of Life even though all evidence would be contrary to the facts, and then spread lies that he had risen from the dead.
Now, it's possible that all of that happened. But does that theory make the most logical explanation and account for all the evidence at hand? No. It doesn't. There is only one explanation that fits the evidence in question: Jesus actually physically rose from the dead.
Now, Mr. Huntington Beach didn't get all of that argumentation, but he got enough and still thought it was a power trip conspiracy theory made up by the disciples. Which really suggests one big problem...you can't argue someone into the faith. You can give someone all the evidence to the intellect, but the will is the problem. And apologetics can't touch the will. That's the realm and work of the Holy Spirit. And thank God for that. Mr. Huntington Beach heard the Gospel before and after our little trip down apologetic lane. The Word is sufficient and will do what which God promises it to do (Isaiah 55:10-11). So, let's flip the question around: what if Jesus di rise from the dead, what would that mean? It's true. And He's in the best possible situation to raise you from the dead as well. Which is exactly what His Word promises.
Thanks be to God for His performative Word. That Word which proclaims to us: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born...But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep...For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15).
And that's all I've got to say about that...for now.