The Historical Argument (III)

In my last post, I explored some of the specific evidence for the facts that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, that he was buried, and that on the first day of the week following his crucifixion, his tomb was found empty.

What happened after that is where it gets really interesting.

The Resurrection Appearances

We have a number of sources indicating that after Jesus died, his disciples claimed to have seen him alive again, risen from the dead. And not only did they make this claim, but they truly appear to have believed it. They were transformed from men who fearfully denied and abandoned their master at his arrest, to men who fearlessly preached his resurrection in the face of opposition and even the threat of death. This evidence indicates that the disciples really had experiences that they took to be appearances of Jesus resurrected.

Writing a letter to the Corinthian church about 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the apostle Paul lists a number of individuals and groups who experienced resurrection appearances (this list can be found in 1 Corinthians 15). It is almost universally accepted as historical by scholars that Paul knew at least some of the original disciples personally, as this is attested by Paul himself, by the book of Acts, and by other Christian writers in the first and early second centuries. So Paul is certainly in a position to accurately report what the disciples claimed.

What he reports is that he received the following teaching in the form of a creed:

“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 Cephas, and to the Twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Historians generally date this creed to within five years following the Jesus’ death, understanding Paul as saying that he received this teaching from the apostles (including Peter, also called by his Aramaic name, Cephas) when he visited them three years following his conversion, a meeting which he recounts in his letter to the Galatians. Paul affirms that this is what the apostles were saying: that Jesus had appeared to them after being raised from the dead.

Paul adds several other resurrection appearances that he knew of to this creed: an appearance to over 500 of Jesus’ disciples at one time (speculated by some to be the appearance recorded in Matthew 28:16-17, though only the twelve are mentioned there); an appearance to James, the brother of Jesus; an appearance to all of the apostles (which apparently included more than just the twelve closest disciples, see for example Acts 1:21-22); and last of all an appearance to Paul himself. Paul explicitly notes that many of those who had seen Jesus after his resurrection were still alive at the time when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians, and the intent of this comment is obvious: the witnesses were still available to be questioned.

The Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances provide multiple independent attestation to the fact that the disciples had such experiences. There are independent accounts in Matthew, Luke and Acts, and John; and a resurrection appearance is hinted at in the empty tomb account in Mark (and some scholars believe that the original ending of Mark has been lost, so it may have recounted the foreshadowed appearance). Moreover, the apostolic sermons in Acts reference the resurrection, and they are held by most historians to be summaries of what was preached by the apostles themselves, or at least by the early Christians generally.

Finally, we have the writings of the early church fathers who succeeded the apostles in leading the church. Clement and Polycarp, who are reported to have personally known and learned from the apostles Peter and John, respectively, also affirm that the original disciples reported resurrection appearances.

So we have a wealth of evidence from the earliest oral and written tradition of the Christian church that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus raised from the dead. But we also have historical evidence that they genuinely believed these claims: their lives were transformed by these experiences. The Gospels report that the disciples abandoned Jesus at his arrest. Peter denied ever having known him. It is unlikely that the Gospel writers invented these shameful, embarrassing accounts of the disciples’ weakness, so we have reason to believe did in fact respond to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion in this fearful manner.

Yet in only a short while, these same men willingly exposed themselves to the risk of persecution, and even martyrdom, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ – and they were willing to suffer these things not for some vague religious hope, but for maintaining their testimonies of having personally seen their risen Lord. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, list seven ancient sources attesting to the disciples’ willingness to suffer for what they proclaimed: the book of Acts, Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen. (All these sources are from approximately the first 200 years following the crucifixion.)

So, that the disciples of Jesus were willing to suffer for their testimony is a very well-attested historical fact, and this is only reasonably explained by their genuine belief in this testimony. But that makes it almost completely certain that they really did have experiences which they took to be of the resurrected Jesus.

The Nature of the Appearances

It is important to remark on the nature of the resurrection appearances that the disciples experienced. First, they not only occurred to individuals, but also to groups of people. In fact, most of the reported experiences were to groups. There are multiple accounts of Jesus appearing to his twelve closest disciples; there is the appearance to the two disciples on the road the Emmaus, there is the reported appearance to the 500, and we have Jesus’ ascension witnessed by a group of disciples.

Second, the appearances occurred to all kinds of people. Jesus is reported to have appeared to both men and women, to his closest disciples and to those less central among his followers, and even to those skeptical or even downright hostile towards him (Thomas, his brother James, the persecutor Paul).

Third, the appearances were bodily and physical appearances. (With the one exception of the appearance to Paul, which occurred after Jesus’ ascension. Paul’s experience, however, does not undermine the bodily nature of the other appearances, for reasons explained in this link.) The Gospel accounts are unanimous on this, as are the writings of the early church fathers. Jesus demonstrated to his disciples that he was not some mere spirit, but that he had been raised with a physical body, capable of eating and drinking, capable of being touched, still bearing the wounds of the crucifixion. This point we can also reasonably take to be historical: if none of the experiences of the original disciples appeared to be physical in this way, it is inexplicable how all of the accounts of their experiences could have been corrupted by this fabrication in such a short time.

Note that the early creed cited above, along with the Jewish concept of resurrection as involving the physical body, supports the physicality of the appearances. It says that Jesus was buried and that he was raised: the reference to the burial would be irrelevant if the original disciples believed that the resurrection appearances were merely spiritual. Moreover, Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection is physical, and he links this to the resurrection of Christ (see for example Philippians 3:21).

Fourth, it is interesting to note that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus peculiarly arose among those who had no predisposition towards such a belief at all. The Jews had no conception of a messiah who would die shamefully on a cross: on the contrary, they believed such a death was a sure sign that the person had been cursed by God. They had no conception of a resurrection to eternal life in the middle of history, instead of occurring at the end of time. When other messianic claimants failed, their followers had simply dispersed. And yet, from the earliest times following his crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus came to believe that he had been raised from the dead and exalted by God.

The Conversion of Paul

The post-mortem appearances of Jesus are made particularly interesting by the fact that they were not only experienced by those who followed Jesus prior to his crucifixion – we also have at least two reports of Jesus appearing to someone who did not follow him during his earthly life. The most dramatic of these is the appearance to Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul.

Paul changed from being a devout adherent to Judaism who zealously persecuted the early Christian movement, into a fervent member of that same movement. He went from believing that Jesus of Nazareth was a blasphemer and cursed by God, to believing that Jesus really was the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah – preaching what he once condemned as heresy. This radical conversion is attributed to an experience of the resurrected Jesus.

We have Paul’s own testimony of his conversion recounted in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Galatians 1:12-16, and Philippians 3:6-7. Early church fathers such as Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius quote these letters, attribute them to Paul, and attest to his accuracy, so we have reason to take these accounts as historical. There is a hint that there was a story of Paul’s conversion circulating in the early church in Galatians 1:22-23. And the book of Acts attests to his conversion in multiple passages.

Furthermore, we have multiple early sources indicating that Paul was willing to suffer persecution and death for his testimony and for his belief in Jesus, just as the original disciples were – showing that his conversion was genuine. This is reported by Paul himself, the book of Acts, Clement, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysus of Corinth, and Origen.

Both Paul and the books of Acts attribute Paul’s conversion to a resurrection appearance, which occurred when he was still an enemy of the Christian movement. Paul’s conversion is significant: it occurred not because Paul was drawn to the message of Christianity, but because Paul experienced something that he took to an appearance of the risen Jesus. Which means that Jesus’ resurrection was testified to by both friend and foe.

The Conversion of James

James, the brother of Jesus, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem in the first decade or so after his brother’s death. With James, as with Paul, we have a report of a resurrection appearance leading to the conversion of someone who was not a follower of Jesus during his earthly life.

The Gospels report that Jesus had a brother named James, and James is referenced by the Jewish historian Josephus in his account of James’ martyrdom. James was reportedly a pious Jew, maintaining Jewish customs and the respect of the Jewish community even after his conversion, and he became known as James the Just in Christian tradition.

We have the following evidence that James converted to Christianity on the basis of a personal appearance from Jesus:

  • The Gospels hint that Jesus’ brothers did not follow him or believe in his claims during his earthly ministry. (Matthew 13:55-57, Mark 3:21, 3:31-35, 6:3-4, John 7:3-5)
  • This makes sense: as a pious Jew, James very probably would have resented his older brother’s audacious claims of being the Son of God.
  • But Acts reports that Jesus’ brothers were with the disciples at Pentecost. (Acts 1:14)
  • Early Christian tradition reported by Paul held that Jesus appeared to James following his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)
  • James is identified as a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:12-21, Galatians 1:19)
  • That James’ belief in the resurrection was genuine is demonstrated by the fact that he became a martyr because of them. His martyrdom is attested by Josephus and in Christian tradition (reported by the fourth-century church historian Eusebius).

These references show that there are multiple early sources for James’ conversion, and given the report of the appearance to James (passed down by Paul) we can be reasonably certain that such an experience was the cause for his conversion.

Given all the above, we have good historical evidence that following Jesus’ death, a number of people, (including Jesus’ closest disciples as well as Paul and James) had experiences which they took to be appearances of Jesus raised from the dead – and that these experiences were powerful enough to convince them that the resurrection had indeed occurred.

In my next post, I will explore the evidence for one further historical fact that provides important context for the events surrounding Jesus’ death and post-mortem appearances. Then I will begin to look into how these facts might be explained.

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22 thoughts on “The Historical Argument (III)

  1. I would suggest that it is more appropriate to frame whatever level of adversity the Nazoreans faced as being tied to their group identity rather than to one particular belief. Keeping in mind that there was a distinct group identity prior to the crucifixion, and it was one among many different identities that cultivated conflict throughout the Jewish world.

    I also think that Wright’s distinction between a resurrection in history vs at the end of history seriously glosses over the fact that the early Christians believed themselves to be living at the end of history, so that Jesus’ resurrection was in fact the “first fruits” of the imminent culmination of the messianic kingdom.

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    1. Travis, for one, what is there to say that the disciples faced adversity merely because of their group identity rather than because of their proclamation of the resurrection? And two, what is there to say that their belief in the resurrection did not become a central part of their group identity after their experiences following Jesus’ death? As far as I can see, all the evidence still supports the fact that the disciples believed in the resurrection.

      I’m fine conceding that the early Christians believed that the end of history was imminent (though I would say, even though Paul is often interpreted that way, it seems to me that he could be equally well interpreted as simply believing that it was _possible_ that the end was imminent). But again, as you yourself note, that belief was tied up with their belief in Jesus’ resurrection specifically. So we still have to answer the question of where that belief came from.

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      1. Matt,
        I am not trying to suggest a dichotomy, or that the group identity did not include a belief in the resurrection. Rather, I’m suggesting that there is a substantial exaggeration in the way that the “die for lie” apologetic is typically framed. Here are some reasons to think that group identity (which includes their belief in a resurrected Yeshua) is primary to the conflicts which arose:
        1. This is just historically how it works. Tribal conflicts do not involve participants individually scrutinizing each member’s basis for their identity to determine how they will treat them.
        2. Jesus’ crucifixion is testament to the fact that this sect inspired conflict before there was any belief in his resurrection.
        3. Paul does not give ideological motivations for his pre-conversion activities, but only cites a goal of destroying the church (the group of early Christians).
        4. If we take Acts as providing some level of historicity (or at least as being reflective of an early church perspective), here’s a summary of the reasons for conflict that I found after skimming the first six chapters.
        * 4:1 confronted by Sadducees, for announcing in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees reject the resurrection, and this reads as if the disciples were speaking of an imminent general resurrection, with Jesus as first fruits.
        * 5:17 by Sadducees, for “jealousy” = religiously motivated rage
        * 5:33 continues from 5:17, for the general message that includes the resurrection among other claims, and ends at 5:42 with emphasis on their teaching that Jesus was the messiah.
        * 6:11-15 Stephen, for “blasphemous words against Moses and God”, and for “saying things against this holy place and the law”, and for saying that “Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us”. This is focused on deviation from their Judaism.
        5. A related example comes in Tacitus, who says that Roman Christians were “hated for their abominations” when they were blamed for the fire. Most understand this to likely refer to the eucharist, something supposedly promulgated by the disciples.

        On the latter point, I agree that early Christian eschatology was tied up with their belief in Jesus’ resurrection, but their eschatology precedes the resurrection belief, such that the resurrection belief is to some degree cultivated by their prior eschatology. I see something of a feedback loop there, where the eschatology supported the resurrection belief, which reinforced the eschatology, …

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      2. So, what the persistence of the disciples of Jesus in the face of opposition is being cited as evidence for (the “die for lie” apologetic, as you call it) is that the disciples genuinely believed that Jesus had appeared to them to demonstrate his resurrection.
        If I understand, what you’re saying is that it isn’t good evidence for that. Instead, it is just evidence for the fact that they had a particular group identity that caused conflict.
        But (as far as I can see) the fact that they persisted in that group identity following Jesus’ death, instead of reverting to the Judaism that they were a part of only a few years before at most, is itself best explained by their conviction in having witnessed the resurrection. It is pretty clear that this belief was a key part of their group identity after Jesus’ death (and your comment about opponents not scrutinizing individual members’ beliefs is just a red herring – all it takes is for one member to proclaim that belief, and it gets projected to the rest of the group as something that makes them different). That component of their group identity isn’t explained just by saying that they had a group identity.

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      3. The point is that we can’t boil their identity, and the corresponding conflict, down to a single belief. In the post you said

        they were willing to suffer these things not for some vague religious hope, but for maintaining their testimonies of having personally seen their risen Lord … that the disciples of Jesus were willing to suffer for their testimony is a very well-attested historical fact, and this is only reasonably explained by their genuine belief in this testimony. But that makes it almost completely certain that they really did have experiences which they took to be of the resurrected Jesus

        I’m suggesting that this is a false dichotomy, and is therefore not a good way to present the argument. There is a large middle ground where we acknowledge that there are many factors – belief in the resurrection included – which contributed to the continuance of the group identity and the conflict with other groups. The phrasing you present, which mirrors the form that is often presented in apologetics, implies that all conflict was focused on a persistent claim of having personally witnessed a resurrected Jesus. Even if we grant that this belief was central to the reformulation of the group identity after the crucifixion, this does not entail that all subsequent conflict was only in relation to that belief. Once the group identity exists, membership alone is sufficient to sustain the motivations for persistence in the face of conflict. Psychology is replete with evidence of the substantial power of social pressures to overwhelm any personal beliefs. Just look at America today.

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      4. You say,
        “Even if we grant that this belief was central to the reformulation of the group identity after the crucifixion, this does not entail that all subsequent conflict was only in relation to that belief.”
        I still not sure how this lessens the strength of the evidence for the genuineness of the disciples’ convictions. If what you are granting here is that the disciples genuinely believed that they had seen Jesus after he was raised from the dead, you are granting all that I am arguing for in this post. If you are granting something less than that, I fail to see how the mere appeal to group identity explains what we see of their behavior as recorded in the writings of the early church.

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      5. The evidential claim is weaker because the adversity and the belief are not as strongly coupled as the original argument infers. If the resurrection belief were actually sourced in something less vivid than a first-person physical experience, even something as simple as hearsay, it is reasonable that this lesser source can still be a catalyst (and not necessarily on its own) for the reformulation of a group identity which incorporated the resurrection. In the end, the group identity as a whole can still serve as the motivating force that yields persistence in the face of adversity.

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      6. If, as in the possibility you suggest, the resurrection belief did not originate in a first-person experience, why did the disciples claim it did? I can certainly see group identity reinforcing ideological or religious beliefs that are promulgated by other members of the group. But inventing the resurrection appearances and convincing members of the group to speak and act with great conviction as if they had experienced such things? That seems to me more difficult, especially for a small and unpopular group that had just been seriously discredited by the death of its leader, when the potential members of that group had a perfectly good alternative group identity to fall back on (they could just return to Judaism), and the moral ethic taught by the group goes against that kind of deception… Group identity as a motivating force can certainly explain some of the adversity they faced and some of their persistence in the face of that adversity, but to me it seems far from sufficient. And as we have no evidence for any origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection aside from the first person experiences of the disciples, this whole possibility is highly speculative.

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      7. Notice that the point of the original argument is that there is a strong inference from “the disciples faced adversity” to “the disciples witnessed a resurrected Jesus”. I think it’s probable that some followers faced adversity. I think it’s fair to suppose that the group’s belief in the resurrection in some sense contributed to that adversity (in accordance with prior comments). But it is very different to claim that these conditions only reasonably arise (pun intended) from physical, first-person experiences.

        why did the disciples claim it [resurrection belief] did [originate in a first-person experience]?

        What is the evidence that the disciples claimed first-person physical experiences of the resurrected Jesus? We have the gospel accounts, for which the earliest known source (Mark) does not include any resurrection appearances, and I’m not sure why I should think that the reports in the other (largely derivative) gospels come from the disciples. We also have the creed that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15, a ritual proclamation from unknown sources. This dataset is not at all incompatible with accounts that arose separate from the disciples.

        inventing the resurrection appearances and convincing members of the group to speak and act with great conviction … seems to me more difficult

        OK, let’s grant for the sake of argument that the accounts of resurrection appearances originate with one or more of the disciples. You offer invention as a possibility, and I don’t think it’s as improbable as you suggest. But it also isn’t the only possibility. There could have been retrospective mistaken identity (note: no corrective lenses, and those odd “didn’t recognize him” elements of the accounts). There could have been confabulation, as the idea (or dream) of resurrection (per their eschatology, and/or an inability to locate the body) turned into memories of a resurrection appearance. And yes, there’s the ever popular hallucination theory. Or it could have been a combination of factors. And there’s also no reason to exclude that a single, simple invention, mistaken identity, confabulation, or hallucination might have been embraced by the group and eventually embellished into the accounts we have today.

        as we have no evidence for any origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection aside from the first person experiences of the disciples, this whole possibility is highly speculative

        Yes, it is speculative. But let’s take a step back again. I’ve outlined reasons to question the supposed strength of the coupling between adversity and resurrection belief, and I’ve outlined several speculative, but feasible, origins for a resurrection belief. My intent was never to suggest that the original argument carries no weight, but rather to suggest that the force of the argument is greatly exaggerated. I contend that this is still an appropriate suggestion in light of the discussion. We are dealing in probabilities, not absolutes, and the claim that early Christian adversity is best explained by physical, first-person experiences of a resurrected Jesus is not nearly as probable as the original argument aims to suggest.

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      8. So, to be more precise – and maybe I failed to make this clear in my post – the inference is from the _willingness_ of the disciples to face adversity _for proclaiming that they had witnessed the resurrection_, not just from the fact that they faced adversity for believing in the resurrection or for any reason in general. In my estimation, the sources that I mention in my post do support this, including the NT writings and some of the early church fathers. (Acts 4:1-22 and 5:17-42 are quintessential examples; verses 4:20 and 5:32 specifically indicate the role of the eyewitness experience of the disciples in their motivation.) I think our disagreement is that you don’t believe the evidence supports this specific motive. But if it does, the explanation that the disciples actually had such experiences leading to their conviction seems far more plausible to me than hearsay or cases of mistaken identity being embellished into eyewitness narratives. You say there is no reason to exclude that possibility; I am skeptical that something less than a powerful experience could have changed the disciples and caused the early Christian movement to grow the way it did.

        I do think you’re understating the evidence for the resurrection appearance claims. Mark does not record an appearance as you say, but it does indicate that one occurred (Mark 16:7). Matthew and Luke/Acts contain plenty of material independent from Mark however you slice the synoptic problem, and John certainly does as well, so “largely derivative” is an overly simplistic dismissal. Richard Bauckham has some good reasons to believe these gospel accounts are the product of eyewitness testimony (though I admit I’ve only had the chance to read reviews and summaries of his work; not the book itself). And the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 is very plausibly attributed to the very early Jerusalem community of Jesus’ followers; I hardly know who else Paul could have meant that he recieved it from.

        I do say in my post above that I think the evidence makes it almost certain that the disciples had experiences that they took to be of the resurrected Jesus. You argue that this exaggerates the force of the evidence. I still don’t really think it does. (But eventually we reach the point where the difference is in our subjective evaluation of the evidence, and I don’t know if there is much we can say when we reach that point.)

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      9. the inference is from the _willingness_ of the disciples to face adversity _for proclaiming that they had witnessed the resurrection_, not just from the fact that they faced adversity for believing in the resurrection … I think our disagreement is that you don’t believe the evidence supports this specific motive.

        That is a good clarification, but doesn’t affect the core issue I’m raising. I agree that there is in the tradition some evidence that the disciples claimed witness to a resurrected Jesus. However, the phrasing of the argument asserts a very specific, exclusive relationship that is too narrow and overlooks all the other factors at play, so that the relationship is exaggerated.

        You say there is no reason to exclude that possibility [explanations other than an actual resurrection experience]; I am skeptical that something less than a powerful experience could have changed the disciples

        This relates to something I had meant to touch on in the previous comment, when you said the “group had a perfectly good alternative group identity to fall back on (they could just return to Judaism)”. The early church \ Nazareans \ The Way, both before and after the crucifixion, considered themselves to be proclaiming the true version of the hebrew religion (and they were not alone in distinguishing themselves this way). There was no leaving or returning to Judaism. This was Judaism. The introduction of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was more a revitalization than a change. These followers had already committed their lives to this group identity, and the drive to maintain that identity is a potent force.

        I do think you’re understating the evidence for the resurrection appearance claims … But eventually we reach the point where the difference is in our subjective evaluation of the evidence, and I don’t know if there is much we can say when we reach that point

        Yes, we could probably go on discussing the strength of the evidence for resurrection appearances with little consequence. I am curious, though, what you make of the stark difference between Luke-Acts placing everything in Jerusalem, and Matthew (and the hint in Mark) placing everything in Galilee? And what do you think is the likelihood that John 21 is an addition?

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      10. “The phrasing of the argument asserts a very specific, exclusive relationship that is too narrow and overlooks all the other factors at play.”
        I don’t think it is so narrow as you say, because to me it seems the force of the other factors would be significantly reduced in the absence of the resurrection experiences, so that the other factors are not sufficient to explain what happened.

        “There was no leaving or returning to Judaism. This was Judaism… These followers had already committed their lives to this group identity, and the drive to maintain that identity is a powerful force.”
        In the aftermath of Jesus’ death, why would the disciples continue to think that they had the true Judaism, when their Messiah had just been killed, and in a way that indicated in Jewish thinking that he was cursed by God? If their group identity was “Judaism but done right” and doubt gets cast on the “done right” part by their leader’s death, would there not be a group identity related motive to return to plain old Judaism – even aside from the prospect of opposition?

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      11. it seems the force of the other factors would be significantly reduced in the absence of the resurrection experiences, so that the other factors are not sufficient to explain what happened

        I would agree that aspects of the group identity would be diminished without a resurrection belief, but that is different than a resurrection experience, and just takes us back to the question of how to best explain the belief. Regardless, this group was previously organized around a message that included more than Jesus’ messiahship. That aspect of their ideology survives his death and was sufficient to serve as the glue that supports the resurgence that comes with the resurrection belief. With this evolution of their group identity in place, the relationship between “willing to face adversity” and “proclaiming witness to the resurrection” is not nearly as direct as the argument infers. We can’t treat this like some rational, foundationalist epistemic scaffolding that all depends on one link. These interactions are largely irrational, dynamic and complex systems that include, but do not fully depend on, individual beliefs and the sources of those beliefs.

        If their group identity was “Judaism but done right” and doubt gets cast on the “done right” part by their leader’s death, would there not be a group identity related motive to return to plain old Judaism

        This assumes that their identity was both entirely religious and entirely wrapped up in Jesus’ messiahship, though I acknowledge that this was likely a key element. But the point is that they all didn’t simply drop their heads, turn around, and go their separate ways (and the NT accounts would agree). That said, I’m also inclined to believe that the resurrection belief was a relatively early introduction, and that if it had not been introduced, the group would have been a minor footnote to history – much like the Mandaeans. The resurrection belief, coupled with the parousia, renewed their eschatology without having to change their chosen one.

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      12. Again, I disagree that the group identity could have been as strong if the resurrection belief came from some other source than eyewitness experience (and I remain doubtful about the plausibility of that belief arising from any other source as well). It isn’t just the belief in the resurrection, but their experience of seeing Jesus risen that motivated the disciples – this is attested multiple times in the various sources that I mentioned in the post. So I still don’t think the appeal to group identity weakens the inference very much at all.

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      13. Oops. Sorry, accidentally hit send.

        The “die for a lie apologetic” is typically drawing on the improbability of persons facing severe adversity for the sake of something they knew to be false. The version of the argument summarized in the previous comment is claiming that it is improbable for persons to be in a state in which they are willing to experience adversity, unless they were brought in to that state through direct, first-hand experience. I find that history and psychology shows that this is not at all improbable.

        That said, it does seem that we have reached a point where there is little left but to agree to disagree. Thanks for the cordial discussion.

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      14. As for the difference between Luke and Matthew, it could easily be a difference in emphases. Luke seems to be particularly interested in Jerusalem, mentioning it quite often throughout both his gospel and the book of Acts. Perhaps Matthew chose to record the appearance in Galilee because of its personal impact on the disciples, occurring as it did in their home region. The accounts aren’t contradictory, in any case.
        John 21, if it is an addition, seems to have been added quite early based on the manuscript evidence that we have, and it fits well with the style of the rest of the book. Could be the author intended it as an epilogue, or that he decided to add another chapter after initially planning to end it with chapter 20.

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      15. Mark and Matthew both clearly infer an immediate return to Galilee for the appearances, and Luke-Acts explicitly constrains them to Jerusalem. They may not logically contradict each other in a strict sense, but they certainly disagree.
        On John 21, as far as I can tell there is nothing before the 4th century that includes chapter 21, and one Coptic papyrus dated to the 4th century that appears to end with chapter 20. Tertullian also states that the gospel ends with the content found in 20:31. These, combined with the language of the text itself, looks like a fairly strong case to me.
        But this is all somewhat secondary. I was just curious how you viewed some of the issues with the gospel accounts of resurrection appearances.

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  2. This is the umpteenth article about Christ, proving he existed, but nowhere giving any connection with the credibility for the existence of God. We still look forward for your way of proving that God exists.

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    1. Didn’t you just comment on my post where I summarized, like, 6 other reasons to believe God exists? As for the relevance of the resurrection to that question, just wait – I’m not even half done this series of posts yet.

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