Evidence Considered: Chapter 35

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.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Early Christianity

What do I think of Dag Endsjo’s book published by Palgrave Macmillan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was challenged to read this book which leads to my going to the library as soon as I can and getting a hold on such a book. The author’s name here is not entirely accurate since it has a slash through the o, but I am not sure how to do that on the computer so no disrespect is intended and keep that in mind when you do a search for it at the library or on Amazon. At any rate, what are my thoughts?

Endsjo wants to challenge the idea that the body would have been seen in a negative light by early Christians. He starts with describing the Trojan War in the works of Homer and how it was horrific to have the dead left on the battlefield. For here, Endsjo says that it is because the flesh is identical with the warriors themselves. In the same paragraph, he says the souls go off to Hades. Already, I’m puzzled. If the flesh is the warriors themselves, then what are these soul things? Also, does it really follow that the horror was because the flesh was seen as the warriors themselves? Could it not be because there was no honorable burial for them?

This is something I found confusing in the book. What is his view of how the Greeks viewed a man? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it seems like the soul is dominant. Sometimes it seems like the body is dominant.

Endsjo contends that we normally think of the flesh as something shameful to the Greeks, but he wants to say that is not the case. If the flesh is shameful to anyone, it’s Paul. He rarely has anything if ever good to say about the flesh and even in 1 Cor. 15 argues that the resurrection is spiritual. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of the book. There’s plenty of great material arguing that the body must be physical. One such piece available at the time would have been Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek.

We go into a large number of listings of Greek gods and heroes and how many of them were seen as living in immortal flesh. This could have been very appealing, but what is ignored is all the people who die and go to Hades and even still don’t want to return to the land of the living. What of people like Socrates who die and when they do want a sacrifice to be done to the god of healing to show their true healing in leaving the body?

I have often said before that it is easy to make a case when you have the sound of one hand clapping, and I was looking for the other case. To be fair, many on the other side have not sufficiently argued with the examples that Endsjo brings forward, but that does not mean that Endsjo should do the same. Both sides need to be looked at. I look forward to seeing someone like N. T. Wright respond in the future to the work.

I said earlier that the great weakness I think is 1 Cor. 15. Endsjo contends that Paul is speaking of a spiritual resurrection. While that is a common interpretation, that does not equal a true one nor does it equal one that should be assumed. Endsjo has a church that goes to Paul and gets a spiritual resurrection and then suddenly does a 180 and goes material. It’s understandable that some people would think this, but I don’t think Endsjo makes the case.

The stories are interesting and even still the view would be a problem for the Greeks. The Greeks apparently believed that the body of a person could not be recreated. That would have been essential for the Christians. Thus, the Christians would still have a hard case to make.

Endsjo also uses the argument that the Christians were persuading the people that they believed nothing different from the Romans in some aspects. Sure, but he misses why. That’s because Christianity was seen as shameful. The Christians were trying to point out similarities to show inconsistencies to the Romans in how they were treating the Christians. Many times people will look at the text and think that there was one-to-one parallels going on. Since the persecution didn’t stop, we can think it likely that the Romans did not see those parallels.

We can also say that the Greeks might have thought immortality to be desirable, but that in itself would not be enough since some figures got immortality as a punishment, say Prometheus who was forced to have his liver regrow every day for a wild bird to eat. Many Greeks in Paul’s audience would have thought that that was reserved for the gods and their children, but not for them. Jesus was the exception.

I think more work should be done on Endsjo’s book and I’d like to see a Wright take it on. Again, there was the sound of one hand clapping. Hopefully, we’ll have the other hand join in more and see what comes of the discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters