Is there a case for the resurrection appearances? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on the resurrection appearances. He says that he concedes Jesus died on the cross, but he disagrees with the empty tomb. Our last look at that found his denial of the empty tomb lacking. He says this issue, however, is the one that caused him to lose his faith.
At the start, Jelbert disagrees that the resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. There are plenty of Christians apparently that deny it and maintain their Christianity. It’s hard to know what kind of Christianity they maintain. If they just like the moral teachings of Jesus, then an atheist could be a Christian by that standard. Historical Christianity has always agreed on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Habermas says that naturalistic explanations fail to account for the appearances of Jesus. Jelbert refers to this as an appeal to ignorance, but how it is is difficult to see. If naturalistic explanations fail, then one is justified in thinking that an extra-materialistic explanation works. Jelbert does say that if someone told you they saw someone risen from the dead, you would think there was a misunderstanding. No one is denying that. What is being denied is that if more evidence piles up in favor of resurrection and naturalistic explanations fail, one should seek more than those at that point. If Jelbert wants to say that evidence will not change his mind on this point, then evidence isn’t what changed his mind to begin with.
Jelbert also says that this was a time when miracles were readily accepted. He has provided no evidence for this claim. It could be true, but shouldn’t Jelbert make some sort of argument for that? He also says they are in a document written to persuade, much like any historical account was written to persuade. This is a reason to deny all of history. Does Jelbert think there would be people impartial about the resurrection? Isn’t Jelbert’s account written to persuade? If accounts written to persuade cannot ipso facto be trusted, then I cannot trust Jelbert.
He also says these stories were written down in an account that passed through communities orally. We could go on about the reliability of oral tradition, but at this point, there is no need to do so. The account that Habermas bases it on does not have this problem since it is the 1 Corinthians 15 passage.
Jelbert says he is surprised that Habermas did not use the Gospel accounts. He says they are irreconcilable and maybe Habermas is tacitly acknowledging that. Nothing of the sort. Habermas uses Paul because the critics love Paul and the testimony is accepted across the board and it is earlier than the Gospels.
Jelbert also uses 1 Cor. 15:44 to say that the body was a spiritual body and not a physical body. Unfortunately, Jelbert does not interact with any of the contrary scholarship on this point. There is no looking at a work like Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek. There is no looking at the word for raised in 1 Cor. 15 indicating rising from a position of sitting or laying down.
From here, Jelbert thinks that the argument is Paul had a vision. Yet if Jelbert’s interpretation of spiritual body is wrong, and it is, then that is not the case. After all, Paul speaks of spiritual men and rocks in the book of 1 Corinthians and none of these refer to something immaterial.
Further along on this, Jelbert says in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. It is ignored that this is not a statement of ontology, but rather a statement of the sinful nature of man. A man in his mortal and sinful state cannot inherit the kingdom. That is why a resurrection is needed to begin with.
In Philippians 2:8-9, Jelbert says Jesus is exalted with no mention of an empty tomb or a resurrection, but why should there be? We have songs about Jesus reigning today that don’t explicitly mention a resurrection. This is another modern idea that unless something is explicitly mentioned, it is not the case. Philippians 3 also has our bodies being transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.
What this means is that for Jelbert, Jesus’s appearances were direct from Heaven, but if that is the case then why do we have an idea of bodily resurrection even in the Gospels so much so that it totally supplants the original tradition? How did this belief totally replace apostolic teaching of just divine exaltation? Jelbert does not explain this at all.
Jelbert also says Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead. Jelbert sees this as adoptionist. That is not the best reading of the text. The term better means that the resurrection revealed who it was that Jesus was. Another example of this is in Acts 2:36 which Jelbert says that this Jesus, God has made Lord and Christ. Yet this is from Luke and even in Luke 2, Jesus is referred to as Christ the Lord. This is about vindication and not declaration.
Jelbert really shows his bad exegetical skills when he says that in 1 Cor. 1:18, that Paul believed the Gospel message he taught to be foolish. Paul says it is foolish to those that are perishing. Paul is making a comparative statement about the philosophy of his day and how the philosophical minds saw the Gospel as foolishness for following a crucified Messiah. He is saying this that the world sees as foolish is what God was using to confound their so-called wisdom. Jelbert reads it to say that Paul thinks the evidence is unconvincing even to him. There is something foolish here, but it is not the Gospel.
Next he goes to the creed. Jelbert says the creed does not state time or place. This is not surprising since creeds are meant to be short and abbreviated by nature. He also says that it would not refer to the twelve, but this is an acceptable practice. Sports fans can speak of the Big Ten conference knowing there are more than ten teams involved. The twelve came to be a name for the apostles, which did have a replacement at that point if the account in Acts is accurate of Matthias being elected. It’s interesting that he says the Gospels are clear that there were only 11 witnesses. This is not clear since we have the two on the road to Emmaus and many in Matthew 28. It’s also interesting that this is a time Jelbert wants us to trust the Gospels.
The women are also not mentioned and Jelbert says this is to be an exhaustive list since it says that last of all, Jesus appeared to Paul. Yet why should that imply the list is exhaustive? It is just saying that Paul received the final appearance.
Jelbert sees theological evolution taking place, but this is quite strange. The texts evolved from Paul having over 500 witnesses to Mark which has, well, none. This is hardly the case of evolution.
Jelbert also says about James that we cannot be sure this is the brother of Jesus since the term “brothers” is used as a familiar term and James is called “The Lord’s brother” and not “Jesus’s brother. Yet why would James be specified then? Would Peter and John and not be brothers of the Lord in that sense?
Jelbert also says that for Paul, the term Lord referred to the risen Lord and not the historical Jesus. He quotes Romans 10:9 which tells us that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. If you can figure out how this backs Jelbert’s argument, please let me know. I have no idea.
Jelbert then returns to 1 Cor. 1 and says that Paul tells Christians to expect to be called fools. This in conjunction with ideas like blessed are those who have not seen and believed indicate that Christians didn’t care about evidence, much like today. If they didn’t care, then why even bother writing about the creed? Why even bother having one? Jelbert does such eisegesis here that the Mormons and JWs would be amazed.
When asking about natural explanations, Jelbert also says that Christians persecuted those who disagreed. No evidence is given of this. We see nothing indicating that Strauss or Hume or others went through persecution. It also doesn’t explain why there is a lack of natural explanations today.
Jelbert also says the church has not remained the same. On the foundational issues, it has. Are there some secondary issues that have changed? Yes. The resurrection hasn’t.
In the end, it’s a shame Jelbert lost his faith over this because his explanations are just weak. He has some of the worst interpretations out there of the text and has not done proper research. We’ll see next time what he has to say about the claim that the appearances were hallucinations.