We frequently find that skeptics and atheists visit our website, read something that sets them off, and post a diatribe to the Comments area. Most of the time these remarks are never published, since they represent emotional outbursts rather than an honest wrestling with facts. But once in a while, even if we do not make the comments public, we nevertheless send a personal reply to the writer...
ABR's website has a wealth of good material on it, characterized by careful scholarship and a desire to pursue Truth. Nevertheless, we frequently find that skeptics and atheists visit, read something that sets them off, and post a diatribe to the Comments area. Most of the time these remarks are never published, since they represent emotional outbursts rather than an honest wrestling with facts. But once in a while, even if we do not make the comments public, we nevertheless send a personal reply to the writer. We are interested in the spiritual life of these individuals, and consider seriously the possibility that God directed them to our website for the very purpose of having their false worldview shaken up. We sometimes feel burdened to respond in some manner.
We recently received a comment from someone who took offense at one of our website articles, 'Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh.' Reacting to it by basically saying, in a quite verbose manner, that the Bible was a ton of rubbish, the poster stated, among other things (the comments made by the skeptic are indented and in a different font):
Josephus did not report the resurrection; there is only one reference in Josephus and it was an interpolation into the text and no serious scholar accepts it as anything but. Check out the website, jesusneverexisted.com - Josephus, for a full explanation of this deceitful passage.
I replied back as follows:
One should always assume in advance that someone with a different opinion on a subject, such as the Resurrection, will be a fair-minded person who is willing to weigh the evidence. In real life, though, this often does not happen, due in part to firmly entrenched presuppositions and/or negative experiences with certain individuals holding the contrary opinion. So the odds against changing someone's opinion on a controversial matter are very high. Nevertheless, the effort should be made, particularly when the issue can be framed in life or death terms. What one thinks of Christ is one of these, because He Himself said, 'Unless you believe that I am He (i.e., the Messiah), you will die in your sins.'
I am not going to get into a long drawn-out back-and-forth with you about the historical evidences. Skeptics with a loaded gun against anything that would restrict their actions in this life have been attacking the historicity of Jesus and the Resurrection since Roman times. The very name of the jesusneverexisted.com website tells you they have such an axe to grind. Rather than getting your information from skeptic, infidel and atheist websites that stack the deck in advance, if you really seek truth rather than merely affirmation of a position you already hold, you do well to read information presented by those who hold the historic position of orthodox Christianity. Since I don't know you, I don't know which you are - a real truth-seeker, or an affirmation-seeker. Only you know which you are, but I would hope you sincerely want to believe truth.
On the allegation that the mention of Jesus and His resurrection in Josephus are spurious interpolations, http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/josephus.html presents a very scholarly, balanced treatment of the subject. Specifically regarding the resurrection reports, it notes:
If this is an authentic reference, how is it that Josephus says nothing about the most important Christian belief about Jesus - his resurrection?
In fact, we may assert that Josephus does refer to this belief, albeit obliquely, when he indicates that those who loved Jesus at the first 'did not forsake him' - indicating that they were in some way still devoted to Jesus himself, even after his death. Even so, this sort of objection presumes to know that there must have been a reason for Josephus to make a more direct mention, and no reason why he should not have, which is easy to assert but rather difficult to prove.
On the broader subject of the reliability of the Resurrection reports, Josh McDowell commented:
Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the 'Toledoth Jeshu.' Dr. Paul Maier calls this 'positive evidence from a hostile source, which is the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favor, then that fact is genuine.'
Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement was God's doing; he could not have done that if the tomb were still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of Christ's body.
Paul Maier observes that '...if all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove this statement.'
This website surveys the various alternative explanations for the Resurrection:
The skeptic continued:
Paul makes an offhanded statement that 500 eyewitnesses saw Jesus after the resurrection and that is as far as it goes, he does not identify them or tell us what it is they witnessed!
'Offhanded statement'!? There is absolutely no reason to claim this about Paul's report about the 500 eyewitnesses to post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. Writing was not common in those days - in many cases it involved the use of specially-trained scribes. It was not like Paul was penning a casual e-mail! His message was assuredly considered carefully before committing it to writing, especially in view of Paul's awareness of the gravity of what he wrote as an apostle. The existence of verifiable eyewitnesses was part of Paul's carefully formulated 'things of first importance' which lay at the heart of the gospel he preached (1 Cor. 15:1-3). There was nothing casual about these statements.
Moreover, Paul repeatedly emphasized he was a careful reporter of truth: 1 Tim. 2:7, 'And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth,' and similarly Romans 9:1. Those who copied and shared with others Paul's original letter to Corinth also saw no reason to question its veracity. Being much closer to the actual events, and able to judge the trustworthiness of Paul's statements by their personal knowledge of the man, we should err on the side of accepting what he said, rather than doing worldview-driven backseat driving some 2000 years later!
Note, too, the focus of Paul's report about the 500 is simply on the bald fact that they SAW Jesus - not on what exactly He was doing at the time they saw Him, nor precisely who the eyewitnesses were. Such details were beside the point - and your bringing this up sure looks like a red herring to get off the main issue. The thing was, a man EVERYONE in town knew was dead, was seen alive again! Doctor Luke, who wrote the book that bears his name and also penned the book of Acts, observed in Acts 1:3, 'To these (the apostles) He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.' This is perfectly consistent with what Paul reported about the 500 eyewitnesses - many of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:6), even if they are not named.
Are you saying that all these 500 people gave up their lives in support of this belief; what evidence can you give to support this statement, I don't believe it is in the Bible.
Fair enough. I did not mean to imply that all 500 wound up as martyrs. It is just very reasonable to assume that many of those 500 were later victims of the Jerusalem persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:2). I am not an apostle, I am just writing offhanded e-mails! Don't let my lack of perfection sidetrack you. The main point still stands - people were willing to die for the truth that the Resurrection occurred, and that its truth was vindicated by the presence among the people of Jerusalem of those who saw Christ again after his death.
While we are on the subject of 500, whatever happened to the 500 who rose from the grave, in various stages of decomposition, and went into the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53) before the resurrection of Jesus, an event more miraculous than the supposed resurrection of Jesus himself. We hear not one more word in reference to this event! Why did no one ask, 'what was death like, did you see god, did you see so-and-so there, did you talk to the angels?' There would have been hundreds of questions asked of them. What was the eventual fate of these people, did they re-marry and have more children, and did they return to heaven after their second death? Would the living not have been terrified to see people long dead suddenly appearing from the grave and then continuing to live among them? Why did the Roman authorities make no report of this never before seen spectacle, people certifiably dead and now alive and wandering around a city? Why did no other contemporary writer or historian make any reference to it; surely the resurrection of Jesus would have paled in comparison. The reason no one mentioned it, not even the other gospel writers, is that, like the resurrection of Jesus, it never happened, it is a myth. Can you answer it?
Yes. First, though, note that Matthew 27:52-53 passage again - there were not 500 raised from the tombs, it just says 'many bodies...were raised.' Don't confuse this event with the 500 eyewitnesses to the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. Also, these bodies did not come out of the tombs BEFORE the resurrection of Jesus, but AFTER: '...and coming out of the tombs AFTER His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.' It was something that happened not because an earthquake let zombies loose, but as a sign, a confirmation of the significance of the resurrection of Christ.
Now, neither you nor I were there, so everything we could say on this, pro or con, is conjecture. That said, my own suspicion is that, since the Bible says that Jesus is the 'first fruits' of those raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20), and He is only reported to have stayed around for 40 days before going back to heaven, those who came out of the tombs (again, AFTER Jesus rose) likewise had resurrection bodies like that of Jesus, which could not die again. I think it makes sense that they likewise only stayed around for a limited time, to fulfill whatever purpose God had for them as witnesses to His power to raise the dead, and then, like Jesus, were taken up into heaven to await their participation in the Second Coming. They were not like Lazarus, who did not experience a resurrection that included a new, could-not-die body made up of 'resurrection stuff.' Lazarus would not have had that kind of body, since Jesus was the FIRST-fruits of this phenomenon - none before Him experienced it. Those who came out of the cracked-open tombs were probably people of whom nothing was left but their bones, the flesh having long since decayed. So, it is not surprising we do not find historical mention of these people; they did not stick around to have families again, and only appeared to a limited number of people, for reasons God has not revealed to us. We need to remain content in our ignorance! If you would like to read a more full treatment of this idea, ABR archaeologist Gordon Franz has an article on our website, The Resurrection of the Jerusalem Saints at the Feast of the Firstfruits.
Just because people are willing to die for a belief does not make the belief true; numerous Muslim suicide bombers are willing to die for the belief that they will get 72 virgins in their heaven for martyring themselves. Does this mean we must accept this belief as true? Do you?
I would not compare young Muslims, brainwashed from birth to believe a lie, to intelligent ancient Jews steeped in a religion that looked for a Messiah to arise as a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They were not at all prepared to embrace Jesus as the Messiah (remember the crowds screaming, 'Crucify him!). The relative few only did so, like the apostle Paul, due to the weight of overpowering evidence.
Joseph of Arimathea was invented for the purpose of having a means of handily disposing of the body of Jesus; how convenient that he was a member of the Sanhedrin who just happened to believe in Jesus and his message and just happened to have a tomb within a few steps of the crucifixion! He then disappears from history, never to be heard of or seen again. This is bogus.
Actually, what is bogus is the preposterous idea that 'Joseph of Arimathea' (and his tomb) would have been invented out of whole cloth during the earliest years of Christianity. This would have been SUCH a simple thing for the Jewish leadership to have shot down as part of their damage control! Instead of saying 'the disciples stole the body,' they could simply have said, 'there is no such person as Joseph of Arimathea on the Sanhedrin, let alone his tomb.' But they did not take this tack. Why not? Because Joseph was walking in their midst, and his open tomb was there, just outside the city wall. Believable tradition says that after the persecution of Christians was in full swing after the death of James the Lord's brother, Joseph became a missionary to Britain. Just because some modern-day skeptics say there was no Joseph of Arimathea doesn't make it so!
What Christian uprising are you referring to, the Christian religion never even got off the ground until quite some time after the supposed crucifixion; there was no uprising that would have alarmed the Jews or the Romans, even Jesus' disciples fled. It certainly never grew by leaps and bounds until after Constantine for political reasons made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.
By 'uprising' I did not mean a military sort of thing, but a rebellion against the religious status quo represented by the Jewish leadership. And 'leaps and bounds' is relative. You start with 12 disciples and a small group of others. The Resurrection happens. Peter preaches in Acts 2, and it is precisely because he is able to explain everything that has the city in a spiritual uproar, 'there were added that day [to the fledgling Church] about three thousand souls' (Acts 2:41). Three thousand converts in a single day! That certainly meets the definition of growing by leaps and bounds. 'And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved' (Acts 2:47).
THE BODY WAS NOT THERE IS CORRECT, but only because there was no body, and there was no body because there was no crucifixion, and there was no crucifixion because there was no godman by the name of Jesus. I have read numerous accounts as to all the shenanigans that supposedly occurred at the tomb, and none of them offer any evidence for the historicity of the event, they are all based on accepting things on faith. Everything in the Bible is believed in by faith, very little has any reality in history.
Archaeology gives us solid reasons to believe in the historicity of the things reported in the pages of both the Old Testament and New Testament. We also have strong, if not irrefutable, corroboration from such things as the cave in the lowermost level of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Titulus remains (John 19:19) kept at the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, the Shroud of Turin, and the Sudarium of Oveida. Extrabiblical evidence of the Resurrection is also supplied by the Nazareth Inscription:
Taken individually they may be open to attack by skeptics, but taken as a group they constitute powerful testimony to the historical reality of the Resurrection.
In conclusion, if you want to pursue TRUTH, you need to get out of the rut of just reading what skeptics, infidels, 'free thinkers' and atheists write, and wrestle with the evidence. They are all dishing out to you a bowl of self-serving slop. There is so much better food out there, if you will only sample it! And if you will accept and believe in its message, it leads to eternal life.
Rick Lanser, ABR
Such was a bit of this particular interaction. I wanted to share it with you so that you can get a sense that what you see on our website, read in Bible and Spade magazine and our Newsletter, and hear in our conferences, are not the whole picture of what ABR is about. We are intensely interested in the spiritual welfare of people, and everything else we do springs from that! We invite you to be partners with us in this holy venture of proving to be disciples of Christ before the eyes of a watching world, praying that we will have grace to answer skeptics wisely, and that God will provide the resources through His people for this work to go forward.