Skeptical Claims about Jesus

Posted by on Feb 8, 2014 in Historical Argument, Knowing for Sure Blog | 0 comments

Skeptical Claims about Jesus

I have been working through a book titled, ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ by Peter Boghossian. In it he wrote, “Gary Habermas, for example, exemplifies this cognitive malady. Habermas alleges to believe-and I think he actually does believe-that there’s sufficient evidence to warrant belief in an historical Jesus, and the miracles attributed to him, and that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet when confronted by basic, rudimentary objections, (people lied, someone ransacked the tomb, the witnesses were unreliable), he takes the most remote logical possibility and turns that into not just a probability but an actuality.” 1

If you have not heard of Gary Habermas, he is a Christian historian, philosopher, apologist, and author of several books about the resurrection of Jesus, including, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Boghossian mentioned three, as he called them, basic, rudimentary objections that I will briefly take a look at. If someone was to be skeptical about the resurrection of Jesus, three simple objections would include, people lied, the tomb was ransacked, and the witnesses were unreliable.

Let’s look at the people surrounding the death of Christ and what motives they might have for lying about his death. We could categorize those surrounding the resurrection in three groups. The Romans, the Jews, and the believers.

Romans
What would the Romans have to gain from lying about the death of Christ? Certainly not the Roman guards. The penalty for losing a prisoner was not write up, a dock in pay, or even the fear of being fired, but death. Besides, the guards were posted because the Jews warned the Romans that the disciples might try to steal the body and make claims of resurrection. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The Romans hated the Jews, and as for the followers of Christ, they were considered nothing more than a cult. Tactus, a Roman historian, wrote concerning the punishments of Christians by Nero, “Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again, not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city of [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from every-where come together and become popular… They were covered with the skins of wild animals and torn to death by dogs; or they were crucified and when the day ended they were burned as torches.” 2

What possible gain could the Romans find by lying about Christ and spreading the rumor he was resurrected? The Jews were a conquered people, and somehow siding or aiding this small cult would do nothing to help the Romans.

Jews
Suggesting the Jews somehow lied about or fabricated the resurrection is absurd. They were the ones who wanted Him crucified and warned the Romans about the resurrection possibility. The Jewish leaders saw Christ as a threat and the sooner he was dead, buried, and forgotten, the better. It was not the first time Jewish leaders had made attempts on his life, but this time they were successful and would not want to do anything that would undermine their authority with their own people.

At that time, the Jews did not have the right to administer the death penalty, so they had to display Jesus as a threat to the Romans. William Lane Craig wrote, “Historians are unanimous that Jesus of Nazareth, having been condemned by the Jewish authorities for blasphemy and delivered to the Roman authorities on the pretext of treason, met His death by crucifixion.” 3

Believers
Finally, we have the disciples who some suggest lied about the resurrection. To what gain? Without exception they all suffered, and most died for their proclamations that Christ was King and he was the answer to eternal life. The disciples and their followers were persecuted and often paid the price with their life as you read above.

Some may argue that countless numbers of people have died for beliefs that were not true. A common example are the Taliban terrorists who flew planes into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and targeted Congress in the hopes of taking as many American lives with them as possible. The 911 terrorists gave their lives for what they believed to be true, but that is the significant difference with all believers from all other religions, and even believers in Christianity. We may suffer persecution, spend lives in the mission field, work in third world countries to spread our beliefs, but the disciples did not die for what they believed to be true, they died for what they knew to be true.

Up until the resurrection, the disciples were hiding, and frightened about what the future held. Keep in mind they were eye witness’ to numerous miracles already. Jesus walking on water, feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fish, healing the lame and blind and lepers, raising the dead, miraculous catch of fish, and the casting out of demons. Despite seeing and hearing about these miraculous signs and wonders, once Christ was arrested, flogged, and nailed to the cross, the disciples scattered. skepticsThen they saw their resurrected Lord and it changed everything. They gave everything to bear witness to his life, message, and resurrection. Power, money, influence, women, status, land, wealth in any form, meant nothing to them.

Boghossian’s second rudimentary objection was someone ransacked the tomb. For what purpose? No accounts that I have ever read suggested that Christ was buried with any riches. If someone was to ransack the tomb, could it be for the purpose of stealing the body? I have already briefly outlined how the major players had nothing to gain from stealing the body of Christ to somehow give the illusion of resurrection. The tomb was sealed and guarded.

Certainly the friends or family of Jesus had nothing to gain from stealing his body. What logic is their in stealing the body of your leader or teacher, then proclaim his resurrection, only to be persecuted to the point of death. And his enemies, the Jews and Romans, would gain nothing by faking the resurrection. Maybe they stole his body to flush out the remaining believers, but why would the remaining believers suddenly and boldly proclaim the message of Christ without having actually seen the physical body of their risen Lord? It was his physical body, his physical presence, that altered the minds of the disciples in such a way that they became fearless.

Finally, Boghossian suggested the witnesses were unreliable, but giving the historical testimony a good look, just the opposite is true. J Warner Wallace is an expert on eye witness testimony. In fact, his specialty is researching cold case homicides. In his book Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace outlines the reliability of the witnesses. He looks at if they were present and if their testimony was corroborated. There are many other factors to consider, but I will just look at those two.

Were They Present?
Life of Jesus – AD 1-33
Mark writes his gospel – AD 45-50
Luke writes his gospel – AD 50-53
Paul quotes Luke – AD 53-57
Luke writes Acts – AD 57-60
Death of James, Peter, and Paul – AD 61-65
Siege of Jerusalem – AD 67-70
Temple destroyed – AD 70 4

The gospel accounts listed above do not mention the siege of Jerusalem, or the destruction of the temple; both would have weighed heavily on the disciples and undoubtedly would have been mentioned in the gospel accounts. This tells historians that these accounts were written before the siege of Jerusalem, and of course after the resurrection. This is just over a 30 year period for the gospel writers to document their experiences and spread the good news they witnessed.

Was their testimony corroborated?
The gospel accounts have been verified and supported by numerous historical accounts outside the New Testament. Josephus, once a Jew who became a Roman historian, wrote Antiquities of the Jews, mentions John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and Jesus Himself, including that three days after his crucifixion he was reported to be seen alive. 5 Other historical accounts corroborated information within the New Testament, Thallus, Tacitus, and Mara Bar-Serapion to name a few.

One little mentioned piece of evidence used is the use of personal names in the gospel accounts. Some skeptics might claim that the accounts were legendary. For legend to take place, you need a large gap of time between the actual event and when the legends were written. There was not enough time for legendary accounts to have been written by the New Testament authors as you have seen above, but also the use of personal names is not usually found in legendary accounts of historical events.

Richard Bauckham researched this and compiled hundreds of names in three distinctly different cultures in that time period, and studied their use and frequency in each culture. The three cultures were the Palestinian Jewish community, the Diaspora, (scattered Gentile Jewish) community, and the strictly Gentile community. Bauckham found the use and frequency of the names in the New Testament correspond with the Palestinian Jewish community, which would be the community that surrounded the life and times of Jesus. 6

Boghossian suggests that people lied in the gospel accounts, that the tomb was ransacked, and that the witnesses were unreliable. Volumes have been written dismissing this claims by skeptics, and if you are interested in reading up on them yourself, I will recommend three books that would enable you to address any claims by atheists or skeptics that cast doubt on the resurrection of Jesus.

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
On Guard by William Lane Craig
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Sources:

1. Boghossian, Peter. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
3. Craig, William Lane. On Guard. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2010. Print.
4. Wallace, James Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C Cook Publishing, 2013. Print.
5. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews. Blacksburg: Unabridged Books, 2011. Print.
6. Moreland, J P. Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs: Nav Press. 2012. Print.

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