In this initial episode we hear a chaotic discussion between the hosts, Michael Patton, Clint Roberts and Carrie Hunter, about the nature and direction of what exactly the podcast will be. This is the planning phase so be patient! We are testing the waters but we will get our sea legs eventually!
In late 2013 Dr. Craig Blomberg taught a thirty-session class for Credo Courses on the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. This blog is a transcript (with some organizational elements and graphics added) of the first session of that course.
Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources
This class is about the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. This first session is “Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources.”
In just about every period of time in our modern world there are popular events, claims, rumors, legends that become well know throughout the country and the world but are not based on the best historical evidence.
Perspectives Unrelated to Any Real Historical Evidence
And this is especially true when it comes studying Jesus, when it comes to studying Christian origins, when it comes to studying the Gospels of the New Testament. We can categories these in several ways.
One is to begin with perspectives that are unrelated to any real historical evidence. In just about every era of history one finds a handful of scholars and a lot of lay people who come up with the notion that there is not support even to believe that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.
And in one of the later segments of this course we will look at the support outside of Christian circles, from non-christian authors in the ancient world, that demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus really existed.
Legendary, Mythical, and Hypothetical Perspectives
More commonly what we find are legendary, mythical, hypothetical suggestive stories. Some of these have been around from the ancient world on.
The New Testament Apocrypha
Shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first-century there were Apocryphal gospels. Apocrypha is simply a word that means hidden. And different kinds of legends, stories, myths were created, often attributed to some famous early Christian figure. And because they were supposedly revealed to just a handful of people or maybe just one person they could try to pawn themselves off as truth that had been hidden from the majority of the Christian world. Even though, in fact, there was no historical reliability to them.
These books in the ancient New Testament Apocrypha and books that were added to them in the middle ages covered such topics as:
- Jesus the boy wonder who turned clay pigeons into living birds and they flew away.
- Who got made at a playmate who kept taunting him and stretched out his hand and withered him up until his father was so upset that he begged Jesus’ dad Joseph to convince Jesus to undo the miracle.
- These legends covered the so called hidden years of Jesus as a teenager and as a young adult.
The Gospels and the New Testament have one story of Jesus at age twelve teaching in the temple and otherwise we know nothing about him from his earliest years until he is about thirty and begins his public ministry.
So perhaps as was often believed in the middle ages, Jesus went off to India to study with eastern sages and gurus. Or maybe he became an Essene that monastic group of Jews that lived in the wilderness or lived in special neighborhoods almost ghettos in major cities.
Islam’s Misunderstandings of Jesus
All kinds of issues come up in Islamic circles. And Islam was birthed in the seventh-century with Mohammed in Arabia. In Islamic circles there is something called the Gospel of Barnabas, that we have:
- A sixteenth-century manuscript in Italian
- A fourteenth-century manuscript in Spanish
…nothing older than that. And Jesus in this document is portrayed as merely a prophet and not the Messiah even though the Quran, the holy book of Islam, does at least grant that Jesus was Messiah, but not son of God. That’s considered blasphemous in Islam.
So there are contradictions between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Quran that many muslims are not aware of. But the biggest issue is that this is a document of medieval fiction. There is no evidence to show that it is any older than the fourteenth-century. Probably based on various misunderstanding of the nature of Judaism and Christianity that circulated in Muslim circles beginning from the time of Muhammed onward.
Historians tell us that he [Muhammed] meet various Jews and Christians, that he was first sympathetic to because they were monotheists like he. But they were not entirely orthodox Jews or Christians. And it’s interesting the only miracle of Jesus that’s recorded in the Quran is that same story from one of the New Testament Apocrypha about Jesus breathing life into clay birds and them flying away.
The Modern Fiction of Dan Brown
When we move to the modern period there are all kinds of fictitious novels. None in recent years coming close to having the impact as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code published in 2003 and translated into countless languages of the world and for a year or two period of time one of the world’s best selling books. A movie was made out of it and, ironically, it was the fact that the movie didn’t do all that well that doomed books sales to finally begin to tail off.
And yet, amazing things have resulted. Amazingly horrifying if you’re an educator. Prior to 2003 in would have been unheard of in lay circles to say nothing of the academy, university circles, for a reputable person to talk about the council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 that had something to do with the establishment of the canon, the books of the New Testament.
For people who have grown up in a liturgical church context they’re probably familiar with what is called the Nicene Creed. It’s an ancient and very respected statement of faith that is organized around the persons of the Trinity. It affirms that we believe in God the Father, that we believe in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, that we believe in the Holy Spirit. The council of Nicaea was all about understanding and discussing trinitarian theology.
It’s true the new Christian Emperor Constantine did commission fifty new copies of the Bible to be penned and to be circulated to representative portions of the Roman Empire. But there is no evidence that there was any discussion about what books should be in a New Testament. We will come to that topic as well in a later lecture.
But because Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code fictitiously made up the claim that part of the council of Nicea was about discussing the canon, and that Constantine in a politically heavy-handed way imposed his will on the bishops gathered there so that in essence the winning side of a massive debate is what created the New Testament. Now here’s the scary piece. University professors quote that, teach students that that is how the New Testament canon was formed and there’s not a shred of historical truth to it.
Distortions of Recently Discovered Evidence
A second category is a bit more subtle. Here we speak of the distortion of “recently” discovered evidence. And I put recently in quotation marks because I’m thinking of the last sixty or seventy years, recent in comparison to the length of the history of the Christian church.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Probably the most famous of all of this recently discovered evidence involves the Dead Sea Scrolls. Shortly after World War II in the late 1940’s in very out of the way caves tucked into the side of cliffs in the Judean wilderness in Israel were discovered ancient pottery jars containing literally thousands of fragments and fortunately a handful of well preserved texts written almost all in Hebrew that included, on the one hand, more than two-hundred copies of parts or all of the various Old Testament books (the Hebrew scriptures) every book represented except for Esther.
But equally and perhaps for some people more fascinating were the scrolls that represented the literature of what appears to have been a community of Essenes (the monastic Jews to which we referred earlier) living near the Dead Sea (hence the name Dead Sea Scrolls) at a site in Israel known as Qumran.
The Dead Sea Scrolls containing these two kinds of documents on the one hand affirmed how well the Old Testament had been copied because some of these texts were nearly a thousand years older than any previously known existing Hebrew Bible. And in many cases the amount of changes that had occurred over the centuries was quite minuscule.
But for our purposes more interesting were the sectarian documents, the literature presumably composed by the members of this monastic community. And here is where we get distortion of true evidence. All kinds of information emerged from these texts about the nature of this one branch of Judaism largely in the decades and even a couple of centuries leading up to the time of Christ and the formation of the New Testament.
But you can find books, you can find blogs, you can find claims that say the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Christian documents. They do not. You can find claims that what information emerges from these documents completely undermines the foundation of Christianity. It doesn’t. All of the texts are now available, have been translated, into many modern languages including English. Get a copy. Read it for yourself. Check my claims out.
What we learn about is prolific detail about one sect of Judaism that:
- Bore some interesting similarities to some of the teachings of John the Baptist.
- Saw themselves as preparing the way for the coming of not one but two Messiahs, a royal and a priestly one since the assumption was they would come from different tribes and different lines of the house of Israel.
- We find messianic hopes attached to some of the same texts that Christian New Testament writers appeal to.
- We find information about titles like the “Son of God.” It doesn’t always mean a divine being but can, in some contexts in Judaism, just be a synonym for messiah.
We finds all kinds of interesting information about the diversity of first-century A.D. and B.C. Judaism but nothing that is Christian and nothing that contradicts Christianity.
Then there is the famous gnostic literature. And we will be saying more about this topic in coming talks as well. Gnosticism was a second-century A.D. mutation, if you like, or synthesis of various Greek philosophical ideas with bits and pieces of Christianity.
Gnostics were radically dualist. That is to say they believed the world of matter, the material world, and the immaterial world should be kept sharply differentiated. In their mythology about the creation of the universe matter was inherently evil, an emanation from an original godhead rebelled against the fulness of deity, in gnostic thought, by creating a material world.
And so redemption in gnosticism is not forgiveness of sin, as for Christians, it is liberation from the material world. Gnostics don’t look for a bodily resurrection they look for the immortality of the soul, freed from the fetters of the body and the material world and encouraged people to anticipate that experience in this life through oftentimes very ascetic world denying practices, extreme fasting, the promotion of celibacy and the like. Although somewhat paradoxically a minority of gnostics swung the pendulum to the opposite direction and said in essence, if matter doesn’t matter let’s indulge it as much as we can in this life since it won’t be around for eternity.
The Nag Hammadi Literature
At about the same time the Dead Sea Scrolls were being discovered and therefore very much overshadowed by that discovery, gnostic literature in Egypt at a site known as Nag Hammadi was emerging also in the late 40’s. And like the Dead Sea Scrolls it took several decades for the most fragmentary of all of its works to finally be translated and be available in modern languages including English. We will talk, as I mentioned, about some of the most significant documents later but here let’s talk about some of the most sensationalized ones.
The Gospel of Judas
The Gospel of Judas emerged as recently as the mid 2000’s. We knew about this text from the ancient second-century Christian writer Irenaeus, but we had never found a copy of any portion of it. It’s not an entire gospel. It doesn’t tell the entire story of the life of Christ but only of his last week. And it turns Judas into the hero. After all, it argues, somebody had to betray Jesus if he was to be executed as the atonement for the sins of the world. So Judas agree to do it, looking like the horrible person that he is portrayed as but secretly promised by Jesus that he would still get to go to heaven to make up for his treachery.
We have known since the early church that there was a sect of gnosticism, the Cainites, we don’t know for sure that they produced the Gospel of Judas but it certainly fit there milieu, that took most of the heros of the New Testament and turned them into villains and vise-versa. This teaches us nothing about the Jesus of the first-century but a lot about one gnostic sect perhaps in the late second-century.
The Gospel of Jesus Wife
Even more recently, in the fall of 2012, the Internet was abuzz with what was entitled, hence the quotation marks, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Did you know, Jesus had a wife? He didn’t. But a professor, Karen King, at Harvard University revealed to the world that she had been given a document on ancient parchment, apparently dateable to the fourth-century, in the Coptic language (one of the languages of ancient Egypt where many of these gnostic finds occurred) and it was very fragmentary, it had snippets of text with lots of things missing. But one line that included, possibly translated this way, the words, “And Jesus said, my wife…” nothing more in the context to determine what that was all about.
Well, scholars immediately pointed out that the same word for wife can mean woman and there is no guarantee that this was even talking about someone Jesus had married. Karen King herself made it clear that if this should turn out to be a genuine find all that it would prove was some belief in one branch of fourth-century gnosticism that Jesus had a wife. But of course that’s not what the media focused on in their reporting. They focused on the probability that Jesus had a wife.
It wasn’t more than two weeks after that find however that Francis Watson of the University of Durham in England proved convincingly to almost all scholars that this was a complete modern forgery comprised of snippets of a genuinely ancient gnostic gospel called the Gospel of Thomas literally cut and pasted together to make it say things and then seamlessly produced on fourth-century parchment to say something that was never intended and was never written in any ancient context.
Jesus’ Family Tomb
Yet one further example of distortion of recently discovered evidence also from the mid–2000’s. As a result of a famous book by an archeologist popularized on a Discovery channel television show of quote-unquote Jesus family tomb.
If Jesus was buried and then reburied in an ossuary (a small bone box that Jews used after a corpse had rotted or decayed 9–12 months after burial partly to conserve space in a small country in underground or cave like tombs) well then he obviously couldn’t have been resurrected from the dead the third day afterwards now could he?
And a tomb was discovered in the Talpiot neighborhood of south Jerusalem (as bulldozers were clearing the way for more modern buildings) that included these ossuaries, ornate bone boxes, of people with names like Jesus and Mary and Joseph and James and some others that corresponded to some of the disciples. Never mind that there would have been no reason for disciples to be buried with Jesus as family but okay maybe they created such tightly knit relationships.
The trouble is that all of the signs suggest that this was a Maccabean date tomb from the second-century B.C. and that the ornateness suggested a very wealthy family. None of which corresponds to Jesus’ circumstances. Why then the coincidence of names? Ancient Judaism did not have the range of names that many modern culture have. For women, Mary (after Miriam Moses’ sister) was by far the most common women’s name. Simon (as in Simon Peter), Joshua (which gets anglicized to Jesus by way of Greek), James, Joseph, and several other men’s names disproportionately accounted for a large percentage of the male population. If you actually do the statistics, look at the number of people in Israel over one century and the likelihood of having multiple burial sites with this cluster of names suddenly the coincidence doesn’t seem to be that significant.
Exercise Patience When Coming to Conclusions
We need to come to some conclusions for this first lecture. There are all kinds of claims and as time goes by there will be new claims that we can’t even anticipate. Be skeptical of every new claim. Maybe there will be some discoveries that are genuine. They do occur. But they are comparatively rare compared with exaggerated claims. And even genuine evidence that is discovered is often spun, is often skewed as it is reported by people in the first flush of enthusiasm for discovering something new. In an age in which we don’t like delayed gratification try to wait a few months or maybe even years for the scholarly community to settle out what some new discovery really means.
There are a lot of myths about historical evidence for the Gospels and for the events that they contain. But nothing has emerged in recent days that in any ways undermines the classic Christian claim for the credibility for the gospels from these various documents.
Check out the latest blog at Credo Courses: The Ultimate List of Christian Apologetics Podcasts
Eventually the Credo Courses blog (done by Ted Paul) will have additional information for each podcasts available (maybe even sortable). This will include things like start date, # of episodes, host(s), a short description, etc.
Check out the blog at Credo Courses and comment to let us know if we missed any of your favorites.
Definition of Sola Scriptura
Sola Scriptura: the reformed Protestant belief that the Scriptures alone are the final and only infallible authority for the Christian. This does not mean that Scriptures are the only authority (nuda or solo Scriptura), as Protestants believe in the authority of tradition, reason, experience, and emotions to varying degrees (after all, “sola scriptura” itself is an authoritative tradition in Protestantism). It does mean that Scripture trumps all other authorities (it is the norma normans sed non normata Lat. “norm that norms which is not normed”).
Controversy of Sola Scriptura
Sometimes people get the idea that sola Scriptura was a 16th-century invention. While it was definitely articulated a great deal through the controversies during the Reformation, its basic principles can be found deep in church history. Take a look at some of these early church fathers who seemed to believe in the primacy of Scripture:
On this episode of Theology Unplugged we talk about the canon. In this context canon refers to the collection of books that make up the Bible. Did you know that Bibles used by protestants and catholics have slightly different collections of books? Jump to the end of this post to play the podcast or subscribe via iTunes.
The First 5-Min Transcript
Tim Kimberley (TK): Fellas, it’s good to be back in the studio with you guys. It’s great having you join us here on Saturdays on BOTT Radio. And we are talking about not really a problem passage in the Bible but we are zooming way out but I will start it with II Timothy…
(Christopher) Michael Patton (CMP): It is a problem passage.
TK: Well it’s more of just a problem.
CMP: It’s a problem passage that’s not in the Bible.
TK: That’s right. Okay. But let me read II Timothy 3:16 because it says, all scripture is breathed out by God. Okay, all scripture is breathed out by God. But here’s the problem. How do we know what scripture is breathed out by God? How do we know for sure that the 66 books that I have in the Bible that’s in my hands right now was breathed out by God.
CMP: Table of contents. Go to the table of contents.
TK: How do I also know that what if on the nightly news tonight some archeologist in Jerusalem just was digging in the palace of David and just found a whole new collection of writings, should we add that and maybe now there’s 67 books…
CMP: Table of contents.
TK: And then II Timothy 3:16 will apply to those things that were just discovered.
JJ Seid (JJ): Well yea, Paul’s always talking about all these other letters we don’t have. You know what if we find one of them, you know. What about the letter to the Laodiceans he mentions that right? Where’s that? What if someone finds it next week?
CMP: Table of contents. What’s the matter with that?
Sam Storms (SS): Well, I don’t know. I’m just thinking about all the things that I’ve written. I’d like to slide one of my books in after Revelation.
TK: I object. Sam, they were good books but they’re not that good.
JJ: Classics, but I don’t know if they’re timeless classics.
SS: But we can laugh about it but the question is, why or why not. What criteria, to what are we appealing when we exclude Michael’s new book, Now That I’m a Christian. Free advertising there buddy.
JJ: Let’s make this even worse. I walked over to my Roman Catholic friend’s house last week and we were looking up some verses together and he has a different table of contents than I have. Now what do I do with that? We got two different tables of contents?
TK: Well, and let me add this. What do you say, what do you mean when you say “table of contents?” Are you talking about Athanasius’ easter letter from the 365 A.D. where he says here are the books of the Bible and he doesn’t include Esther and he does include Baruch which is in the Roman Catholic table of contents but not in the Bible I have in my hands.
CMP: Melito’s table of contents, the table of contents from the council of Hippo.
JJ: We apologize to our listeners. This is a nerd alert.
CMP: The table of contents from the council of Carthage in 389, 393, 402. All of these ones that came together and established a table of contents.
SS: So wait a minute Michael. So are you saying that men in the early church decided what was going to be in the canon? Did the church create the canon that I have sitting on my knee right now called the English Standard Version?
CMP: English Standard Version, where does that table of contents come from? Where does the NIV table of contents come from? Where does the NAS, where does the King James table of contents come from?
JJ: Okay this is starting to sound like a comedy sketch show.
CMP: People may not know this but they are not common… I mean… the table of contents are not inspired.
JJ: Well, and you keep asking questions, we want answers. But now you’re making me even more nervous because you’re throwing out dates that are hundreds of years after Jesus ascended into heaven. What took… what took the church so long?
TK: Yea, well, and I think, I mean, one answer that I would give you of what took the church so long is the church was suffering incredible persecution. And so they were in survival mode. They were reading scripture. We know that books of the Bible were being translated. We’ve found, we own manuscript of scripture that are way before… from the 100’s A.D. And so, I can make a case to say well it took until the 300’s until Christians weren’t being murdered at such rates that they could actually reflect a little bit and say, hey it’s been a while here are the books of the Bible.
JJ: Yea. Here’s my list let me see your list. Let’s see if our lists match up, or overlap, or contradict in any way. Sam do this, because you’re going to say it better than me, but talk about that dynamic of how there were sort of differing lists of what should belong in the canon in various parts of the geographical early church and those lists didn’t necessarily contradict one another but…
MP: No, no I have a better question for Sam first.
SS: Why are you asking me? Both of you.. I think Tim should be put on the spot.
CMP: No, no, no, no, no… this is a question. We’ll get to your question, but Sam, it says in Revelation (22:18–19a)(NIV):
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life…
Isn’t that the end of the canon? Aren’t we done? I mean, revelation has been complete. You’ve written a book on prophecy, you should know this. Is this the end?
Click “Play” below or subscribe via iTunes to get the entire episode.
Related Resources: Canon
- Blog: In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Seven – What About the Canon?
- Blog: Why I Believe the Canon is Fallible
- Video: How do I Know Which Books Belong in the Bible
- Blog: Why Do I Reject the Apocrypha?
- Product: Textual Criticism by Dr. Daniel Wallace
- Wace, Henry, and Athanasius of Alexandria. “St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters.” Ed. Philip Schaff. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Trans. Henry Burgess and Jessie S. Payne. New York: Christian Literature, 1892. 552. Print. Second Ser. ↩
What is the Contention?
Contention: The story of Christ’s resurrection was actually borrowed from ancient mythology that predated it by many years. While these myths eventually died out, for some reason the Christ story was able to survive. Why should anyone give special pleading to Christianity? As Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy put it:
“Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?” (The Jesus Mysteries).
For me, this myth about the Resurrection of Christ is the most disturbing. My negative feelings toward it do not come from its viability, but from two things: 1) it provides an incredibly effective sound bite that can quickly bring about severe doubt in believers who have never examined the claim, even though 2) it is about the most easily dismissible fable concerning the Resurrection of Christ.
I ran into a distraught Christian the other day who told me her faith was in a tailspin due to this tale. She simply did not know how to respond, and felt like her faith was losing is grounding. Many “Internet atheists” love this argument. I don’t know whether they have ever looked into it themselves (I have to believe they have not), but it is blindly and irresponsibly replicated in blogs, videos, and atheistic evangelism (yes, there is such a thing!) slogans. Continue Reading →
Was the Resurrection a Result of Mass Hallucinations?
There are two facts one must address to disprove Christianity:
- The historical evidence in favor of the resurrection
- The rapid growth of Christianity in a hostile environment
In part one of our series we looked at the idea the Jesus’ body was stolen. In part two we considered the possibility that Jesus didn’t really die at all. Today we’ll consider the idea that the post crucifixion sightings of Jesus were mass hallucinations.
This theory was first popularized by David Strauss. It’s the belief that the Apostles experienced mass hallucinations which explain their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. In their grief, guilt, and shock that Christ was killed, they had psychological experiences (collective or subjective) where they believed they saw something that wasn’t there.
According to this theory, we find parallels of this sort of thing all over the world:
- Many people claim to have seen statues of Mary crying
- Ghosts sightings
- Alien abductions
Chris Hallquist, comparing Christ’s resurrection to stories of those who claim to have been abducted by aliens, says this:
The short of it is that there are many people in the US today who, as far as anyone can tell, sincerely believe they have been abducted by space aliens. They aren’t all lone psychiatric patients; there are organizations for these people.
Is this a parallel to the accounts of sighting of Jesus recorded in history? Is it possible that resurrection stories come from followers of Christ who, in their grief, so wanted to believe that Christ rose from the dead, they hallucinated it? Yes, it’s possible. But remember this: possibilities do not amount to probabilities. While the swoon theory is possible, it is certainly not probable.
Related Product: The Resurrection of Jesus by Dr. Gary Habermas
The problems for the mass hallucination theory don’t end there. Let’s look at four flaws in this theory:
1. Hallucinations Don’t Happen in Mass
There are very few psychologists or psychiatrists who believe that such a thing as mass hallucinations exist. If a hallucination is a subjectively experienced phenomenon explicable in terms of brain chemistry, then mass hallucinations aren’t possible.
A mass hallucination would be like people coming to “Coffee and Theology” at Credo House and realizing that we’d all had the same dream the night before. Not just similar dreams, but exactly the same dream. I would consider this a prophetic miracle (if it’s message coincided with previously revealed revelation from God).
The improbability of a mass hallucination (for the naturalist) is so high it would have to be a miracle. They might as well believe something easier: Christ really did rise from the grave and ascend into heaven. They may still hold to their naturalism, but this would just be a science-of-the-gaps excuse. In other words, there is a scientific explanation; we just don’t know it yet. Think of like this:
- Resurrection = Miracle
- Mass Hallucination = Miracle
The mass hallucination theory would be evidence for the supernatural just like Christ’s resurrection. So the mass hallucination argument is not really a naturalistic explanation at all. It’s just swapping one miraculous event for another.
2. Hallucinations Do Not Explain the Empty Tomb
The hallucination theory doesn’t explain the empty tomb of Christ. More specifically, it doesn’t explain why the Apostles didn’t check Jesus’ tomb to see if his body was still there. Forget the Apostles, why didn’t the Romans or the Jewish leaders check the tomb? The fact that they could have checked (thereby nipping Christianity in the bud) and didn’t is telling. Friend and foe alike had an interest in proving what happened to Jesus’ body.
Those who followed Christ would have wanted to verify their hallucinations. To assume they wouldn’t have checked or that they did check but lied about it, is to assume too much about their moral psychological state.
Would Christianity have flourished in such a hostile environment if it could be so easily falsified? Imagine yourself in such a situation. You know that if you become a Christian you’ll face harsh persecution, maybe death. Before you take that step you’d check to make sure the central claim of the movement is true. If Jesus body was still in the tomb the case for Christianity doesn’t even get off the ground.
3. Parallel Hallucinations Are Not So Parallel
What about the weeping Mary statues that have been reported all over the world? Don’t many people witness them? Are we to believe that they are true or mass hallucinations? Again, they cannot be mass hallucinations. A mass hallucination would be a miracle greater than a mere crying statue. So what are they? There are a few options:
- Point-of-sight references
- Psychologically expected occurrences
Most of the crying statues, when investigated at any level, turn out to be hoaxes. For example, in 1995, there was a Madonna statue that appeared to be weeping blood in Civitavecchia, Italy. 60 people witnessed this. The blood was tested and shown to be male blood. The statue owner refused to undergo a DNA test to see if it was his blood. The Roman Catholic Church has only approved one of these stories as legitimate. And the RCC has more reason than most for wanting these stories to be true.
If they aren’t hoaxes, than illusions and point-of-sight perspectives are not so hard to accept, especially if you’re expecting to see something. People often go to these statues hoping and expecting that they’ll see something. A tear in the eye of a statue is pretty obscure. It may be that people are simply seeing what they want to see. They see something that looks like a tear, declare that is is a tear, and go home happy.
As for alien abductions, once again, unless there are many people seeing the exact same thing, at the same time, in the same place (and I know of none that claim to be, but am open to correction), this isn’t really a parallel too much of the Gospel narrative on the resurrection. These would be more like those who have died and said they saw heaven. They all give somewhat similar accounts based on, what seems to be, cultural conditioning on what they believe heaven is supposed to be like.
And further unlike the crying statues and near-death visions of heaven (and here is where we can throw in seeing ghosts) the Apostles had no cultural or psychological expectations to hallucinate Christ’s resurrection. They did not expect him to raise. And with Paul and James it goes even further. They did not expect him to raise and did not want him to. In these cases, hallucinations may come on an individual level when one desires to see, say, a dead loved one so bad due to grief. Some postulate that the guilt of what they did to Christ caused them to see visions of him. But, again, at least with Paul and James, we have no reason to believe they felt guilt for what happened. They seemed perfectly content in their antagonism toward Christ.
Now, of course, while I am very skeptical of alien abductions and crying statues, I don’t dismiss them out of hand. Things that don’t fit my worldview are not completely dictated by my worldview. Reason and evidence should create our worldview, not the other way around.
4. This Argument Could Be Made for Any Historic Event
If the mass hallucination theory is adopted, what’s to stop us from applying this to any and every historical event that we don’t agree with or like? Nothing. In fact, we could apply it to reality itself vis-a-vie the Matrix and throw it all out the window. Who is to say that 9/11 was not a mass hallucination? Who is to say that the Holocaust was not a mass hallucination? Who is to say that the landing on the moon was not a mass hallucination? This wouldn’t be scholarly of us. It’s turning a possibility into a probability.
In my opinion, the resurrection of Christ is not best explained by mass (or individual) hallucination. It is trading one miracle with substantial evidence to support it for a lesser miracle with no evidence to support it.
- A New Life of Jesus, no trans., second edition, two vols. [Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879], vol. I, 412-440 ↩
- Hallquist, Chris. “Jesus’ Resurrection: Was Paul Hallucinating?” The Uncredible Hallq. July 27, 2012. Accessed April 01, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2012/07/jesus-resurrectionwas-paul-hallucinating/. ↩
- Bohlen, Celestine. “Civitavecchia Journal; Crying Madonna, Blood And Many, Many Tests.” The New York Times. April 07, 1995. Accessed April 02, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/08/world/civitavecchia-journal-crying-madonna-blood-and-many-many-tests.html. ↩
Jesus Didn’t Die from Crucifixion
It’s difficult to deal with alternate theories on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. There are plenty of them out there. That’s not the hard part. It’s just hard to choose the ones that pose the most legitimate challenge.
Further Reading: Was Jesus’ Body Stolen (Alternate Resurrection Theory #1)
Before developing an alternative view of Christ’s death and resurrection the standard view must be rejected. After all, why go searching for an alternative to a perfectly good explanation? One must reject the possibility of God raising a person from the dead before proposing a different theory. Why? Because none of the alternatives have better historical or rational support. So if your alternative theory isn’t going to win on its own merits you must do away with the original story out-of-hand so there’s nothing to be compared to.
The second alternative theory I want to talk about is the “Swoon Theory.” “Swoon” means to faint. This theory says that Christ never really died at all. The swoon theory was promoted by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in their 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown famously used this book in connection with his best-seller The Da Vinci Code. This theory is popular among Muslims who traditionally reject Christ’s death on the cross. The swoon theory was first proposed by H. E. G. Paulus in The Life of Jesus (1828).
Explanation of the Swoon Theory
Here’s the swoon theory in a nutshell:
- Jesus never really died on the cross. Either they thought he was dead and took him down, or they intentionally took him down before he died.
- He was placed in the tomb where he remained for a couple days regaining his strength.
- He presented himself alive to many people including the Apostles.
- Those who saw him post-crucifixion thought he’d risen from the dead and spread this story, which formed the basis for Christianity.
There are at least four good reason to reject the swoon theory.
PRODUCT: Dr. Gary Habermas covers the swoon theory in session twelve of his 30-session courses on The Resurrection of Jesus.
1. The Nature of Crucifixion
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate ordered Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus’ executioners weren’t an inexperienced lynch mob. They were highly trained and experienced soldiers who regularly crucified people. employed what was probably the most common form of capital punishment of the day. Crucified men generally died from asphyxiation due to collapsed lungs. But even if they didn’t the executioners had a fail-safe to guarantee death. They would break their legs. With broken legs there was no way for the victims to push themselves up to breathe.
Though one could live days on a cross without dying, once the legs were broken, death came very quickly. Additionally, if there was any uncertainty as to whether the man had died, there was another way to ensure his death. They would spear the victim in the chest (which was done to Christ). To claim that Christ was still alive after all this is to say that:
- The Roman executioners were incompetent in their job. This idea has no extra biblical historical support. The Romans were widely believed to have perfected the “art” of crucifixion)
- Mary and Josephus (along with all those involved in the burial) were wrong in their belief that Christ was dead.
These two hurdles make it difficult to believe the swoon theory with intellectual integrity.
2. The Glory of the Resurrection
Let us assume that Christ did somehow survive the crucifixion. Although it’s highly implausible it’s not impossible. This is just the first of at least four challenges to the swoon theory.
Christ, a man whom the Romans just attempted to crucify, would have been clinging to life,. He would have been wrapped in burial cloths (complete with one hundred pounds of burial spices) and placed in a tomb. A heavy rock was rolled over the opening sealing off the tomb. If that wasn’t enough the Roman’s placed guards outside to keep watch.
Not only do we have to believe that Christ survived crucifixion but he somehow:
- Didn’t die from blood loss and infection
- Recovered his strength without medical attention, food, water, etc.
- Was strong enough to move a stone meant to seal his tomb
- Evaded the Roman guards outside
- Been healthy enough to pass off as having resurrected in a glorified body
Doesn’t it seem more likely that he would have been rushed to the hospital immediately, shrieking in pain the whole way? Surely, he would have died a few days later of infection and blood loss. It’s easier to believe the God raised Jesus from the dead than this string of events.
Even David Strauss, who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, rejected the swoon theory in his A New Life of Jesus (1879):
It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to his disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, and impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry […] Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship. (1.412)
3. The Ascension Into Heaven
Let us suppose that Jesus didn’t die and that somehow his wounds were not fatal. Let us further suppose that he convinced the Apostles that he was the Messiah and the first fruits of the resurrection. Even if we grant both of these, we still have to reckon with the ascension of Jesus. The Apostles’ complete claimed that Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). The swoon theory (as a simpler alternative) isn’t doing so well. Even if it allows us to skirt the resurrection we still have to develop an explanation for the ascension.
4. The Lack of Evidence
This is may be the most important point we can make: there is no evidence to support the swoon theory. Nothing in Scripture or other contemporary writings support the swoon theory. It would take more faith to believe the swoon theory than to believe in the resurrection. It seems like those who want to avoid the resurrection will buy into just about anything.