We’ve covered two major elements in the discussion. First, we discussed the evidence of the gospels, then we discussed why the alternative theories brought out by the religious left and by philosophical naturalists fail to explain the theory.
In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “When you remove the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth.” In the first phase we proved that the gospels were historically reliable, and this leaves us with several core statements. Different men will summarize these elements in different ways, but my approach is to note that the following are the irreducible minimal facts that any theory of the origin of Christianity must take account of.
1. Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans by the orders of the Pontius Pilate on behalf of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
2. Jesus followers (those inclined to accept his apostleship) claimed that they saw him alive after his crucifixion, their was a marked change in their lives after these appearances and all died martyrs deaths.
3. Some became followers after the resurrection who were disinclined to accept Jesus claim to be the Messiah (Paul and James), both died martyr’s deaths.
4. Jesus tomb was empty.
No theory, other than the resurrection of Christ can adequately explain all of the minimal facts I have noted. To Sherlock Holmes quotation, these ideas have been proven impossible because they are not prima facia, and that leaves us with the conclusion that Jesus was in fact, resurrected from the dead.
The one argument that will constantly be raised is that miracles are impossible. The basis of this is a number of variations on Hume’s argument against miracles as well as some of the work of Voltaire. The problem with these arguments is the same problem with all purely rationalistic philosophies: one needs an adequate empirically derived premise from which to work; a false premise about the nature of the universe leads to a false conclusion even if the logic is impeccable.
Hume’s argument, in particular is guilty of this sin against reason, which I will get to in a moment. But first we should not that the structure of the argument itself is an exercise in begging the question. Hume’s premise in whatever version of his argument one follows begins with the unsupported contention that the evidence for the existence of natural law is contradictory to the existence of miracles, which of course it is not. Natural law is simply the standard operating system of the universe, God as the programmer has the ability to make individual changes as He deems necessary, the existence of these isolated instances does not mean the operating system does not exist. He furthermore begs the question – in Hume’s original argument, the evidence for a lack of miracles is “exceptionless” but the very fact that people argue for the existence of miracles indicates that this is not true, and this is ultimately what his argument tries to prove. One must assume, without evidence and without rational argument, that natural law is immutable.
Hume’s argument went on to prove several other issues with miraculous accounts, in all cases, these are examples of what your teacher would call “glittering generalities” including the generalization that religious people are universally uncritical (which cannot explain Paul, Lord Kelvin, or modern apologists such as Craig Lane Smith, the master of the Kalam Cosmological argument), or the idea that miracles only happen in “Barbarous cultures,” but modern archeology has proven that this is ultimately not true of the first century world.
Yet the final nail in the coffin is what I noted earlier, and elsewhere: it uses rationalism in the absence of evidence to answer the question of the resurrection of Christ. As I’ve noted on our main blog (http://truthinthetrenches.org/2014/08/18/the-atheist-popes/), Hume’s argument against miracles ultimately is similar to the opposition exercised by the Aristotelian philosophers that dominating the Church and Western thought during the debates over the Heliocentric universe. The final answer given by those opposing Galileo was that Aristotle’s philosophy was inviolable, and dismissing the evidence of observation on these rationalistic grounds. Hume’s argument does the same thing – it assumes a conclusion and dismisses the evidence before actual investigating the matter – this is ultimately a violation of the empirical methodologies Hume and many of his followers espouse.
But, taking all this into account, Hume allowed testimony of miracles only if the source was unassailable – I believe that challenge has been met, based on the inability of the theory to be assailed. Try as they might, the religious left and the Atheists have failed to provide an alternative to the central argument of Christianity. Many moderns will restate this by saying a miracle can only be admitted into evidence if the contrary position would be more miraculous – I believe this standard has been met as well.
But what does it mean
So what do we do with the resurrection? Was this some aberration of natural law that we are otherwise unaware of? The answer to what we do with the resurrection is found in the same sources of the eyewitness accounts we have discussed previously – the New Testament gospels.
Throughout the gospels, the key claim that Jesus made was that He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Accordingly, the gospels indicate that the reason the Jews sought to have Jesus executed on the grounds that he had committed blasphemy; at the time the Jewish leaders had certain rights and interplay under Roman law because of the Jewish temple. This is actually corroborated by the Talmud, which discusses Jesus execution in similar terms; rather than denying the miracles ascribed to Jesus in the Bible, the Talmud states that Jesus learned sorcery in Egypt.
So if we must either accept Jesus Messiahship, or we must accept the extremely unlikely position that the resurrection from the grave happened to occur someone who claimed to be the Messiah and was not. In short, if the resurrection is true, conservative Protestant theology is the only rational approach to life.
While it is certainly true that protestant theology is logically consistent, at some point, the Christian faith is something that must move beyond mere facts and bare discourse. Paul, one of the eyewitnesses to the resurrection, when he saw the resurrected Christ did not merely change his philosophical proclivities, he proclaimed Jesus to be God, and asked what He would have Him to do. If Jesus is Messiah, then likewise our only rational approach is to accept that He is Lord by faith, to declare Him to be our Lord and our God.
If you are a skeptic, I will acknowledge that I cannot make you change your bias, no one can simply be argued into heaven. Yet, if you are honest, you must do something with the facts I have presented – even if it is simply to dismiss them out of hand. I encourage you instead to examine if what I have said is true – because if I am right, this is the most important thing in life to make sure we get right. Yet, at some point, if you find what I say to be true, you must make that next step to accept Him. Scripture tells us if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
As we say during Easter – He is Risen, indeed. I hope you will come to know Him for who He is.