Recently Gary Habermas, a professor of philosophy at the faith based Liberty University, had an article published in The Washington Post’s On Faith section entitled: “Five reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead” In this article Dr. Habermas states:
I will assume nothing special about the New Testament writings whatsoever. I will use only the historical information that is accepted as historical by virtually all scholars who have studied this material today-no matter how skeptical or liberal they are… Using only these “minimal facts,” I will still maintain that Jesus’ resurrection is the most likely explanation for what we know.
Unfortunately, he makes 2 mistakes that most conservative Christians make without much thought since they are really faith issues. The first is the assumption that the New Testament records actual history and not religious propaganda mixed with a smatering of history (I won’t be dealing with this in this post.) The second is more important and related to the first. It is the assumption that there indeed was a death and a resurrection.
The 5 points Dr. Habermas makes revolve around 3 basic assumptions:
- Jesus died.
- He was resurrected
- There were eyewitnesses
While the majority opinion is that Jesus was a historic person, what we know of him is, in reality, nothing outside of some very biased New Testament documents and even these documents don’t agree. 1 Consider this: Here is a supposedly god-man who came to earth to save us from our sins and present the good news of this salvation to all men; yet, the only record of him comes from religious writings! Here is a man that, according to the gospels, healed multitudes of people, fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, turned wine into water, walked on water, preached extensively for 3 years, supposedly turned the whole world upside down and yet there is no secular, contemporary historian that mentions any of it – not one. This would be bad enough if Jesus was a simple human philosopher or religious leader, but he was supposedly god. These events were directed by god with the aim of having everyone believe in him; yet, he couldn’t get one unbiased observer to record these events? Why is there no record outside of a few gospels and epistles whose goal was not to record history but spread a particular brand of religion? Is god that incompetent? What’s worst is that there was apparently a large body of literature, mostly lost to history, that presented a very different view of Jesus than the one in the gospels. (see for example: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years)
In spite of these concerns, let’s assume that there was a religious leader called Jesus who was crucified. What makes someone believe that, outside of faith, a resurrection really occurred? To Dr. Habermas the witnesses to this event and the evidence their eyewitness acounts provide are strong evidence that a resurrection did occur. Are they reliable?
First and foremost we have medical, scientific and personal evidence streching back thousands of years that no one comes back from the dead. When you die, you die. You don’t come back. We have no evidence that anyone in a grave for 3 days has come back to life. Therefore, any report of someone coming back from the grave has to be supported with extraordinary evidence, since all the evidence we have says this just doesn’t happen — ever.
Do we have this kind of evidence with Jesus? Well frankly, we do not. What we have in the gospels are conflicting, irreconsible accounts of the events that get progressively more detailed as the time frame from the “resurrection” increases (see my last post – The Resurrection – Really). These accounts also describe supernatural events that supposedly occurred: The curtain in the temple tearing, darkness covering the land, an earthquake, and people rising from their graves and walking around in Jerusalem. None of these events, as amazing and stunning as they are, are recorded by any contemporary secular historian. Outside of the gospels there is no evidence for these events — zero.
But what of the eyewitnesses? I ask, what eyewitnesses? Yes, the gospels do record people who supposedly saw the event, but the gospels themselves are anonymous. The authors never say who they are and are reporting events handed down to them. They were not eyewitnesses. We have no actual recorded words from the people who supposedly saw what happened — none. We only have reports of people who didn’t see the events stating what other people said happened. Hearsay is all we have. Even when Paul said 500 people saw Jesus post-resurrenction, we don’t have one name (outside of the apostles) or one written account by an eyewitness. We don’t even have the actual written words from an apostle stating what he had seen! I’m sorry but stating what a friend of a friend of a friend (who knows how many levels there are) saw is not evidence. All kinds of excuses can be made for this sorry state of affairs, but remember — this process was supposedly directed by god to get us to believe! Yet god himself was unable to provide sufficent evidence to the one event in history that supposely provides salvation for all mankind! Incompetent would be a kind word.
But what of the apostles? Dr Habermas says:
We have first century sources that the three apostles mentioned above were all martyred: Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus. Of course, people die for all sorts of ideas, but only for what they are convinced is true. But unlike others, the apostles were in a position to know whether or not they had seen Jesus Christ alive after his death. By being willing to die, scholars agree that they were convinced that Jesus had indeed appeared to them. At the very least, this addresses their honesty and conviction.
Maybe or maybe not. All types of religious people die and are martyred for their beliefs. How many Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, etc have died for their beliefs? Does Dr. Habermas believe in the Mormon account of Jesus and his “new” word?2 In 1997, 39 people in the Heaven’s Gate cult died for their belief that a flying saucer was coming for them. Does that make it true? If we believe Paul’s account, he never saw a resurrected Christ, just a vision. He was just convinced of his religious beliefs. This doesn’t make them true even if he died for them.
I’m sorry, but there is no evidence for a resurrection, outside of faith. If you want to believe in the resurrection of Christ, by faith, go ahead, but let’s be honest and realize that outside of faith, there is no historic evidence. Indeed there can never be. Unless there is some extra-ordinary evidence, miracles are outside the realm of history. Christians almost universally reject the miracles and “holy” writings of other religions, but the same level of skepticism is rarely applied to their own religion. Just because a something is reported in a “holy” book or millions of people believe it, doesn’t make it true.
- If there are errors in a document in areas we can check, historical accounts for example, how can we be assured that there are no errors in the areas that we can’t check, such as miracles and spiritual teachings? ↩
- Joseph Smith supposedly translated god’s revelation from golden plates using a seer stone (Golden Plates ) Futhermore, according to the Mormon accounts, Smith was also matryed for his belief ( Martyr for God ). Surely he wouldn’t die for a lie would he? There are some 6 to 13 million Mormons, whose passion would shame many Christians. Surely they wouldn’t believe such a ridiculous claim if it weren’t true? ↩