A Response to Brent Landau

Is there a good case for the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Brent Landau has written a response to the movie, The Case For Christ. Landau is at least someone with credentials so we’re not talking about your run of the mill person who has a web site. Still, his case against the resurrection is very much lacking.

For instance, Strobel makes much of the fact that there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in existence, far more than any other ancient writings. He does this in order to argue that we can be quite sure that the original forms of the New Testament writings have been transmitted accurately. While this number of manuscripts sounds very impressive, most of these are relatively late, in many cases from the 10th century or later.Fewer than 10 papyrus manuscripts from the second century exist, and many of these are very fragmentary.

I would certainly agree that these early manuscripts provide us with a fairly good idea of what the original form of the New Testament writings might have looked like. Yet even if these second-century copies are accurate, all we then have are first-century writings that claim Jesus was raised from the dead. That in no way proves the historicity of the resurrection.

The problem for this part is that if you want to dispute the authenticity of the NT text, and note I don’t mean the truthfulness of it yet but that it has been handed down accurately, then you have no reason to trust any other ancient text. There is nothing that comes remotely close to the New Testament. If we look at age, number of manuscripts, number of languages, time between original writing, and earliest manuscript we have, nothing comes close.

As one scholar of textual criticism has said

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.

Elsewhere, this same scholar also said

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.

Who is this scholar?

The first instance is here. The second is from the third edition of his book on the New Testament and is found on page 481. That scholar is Bart Ehrman.

We go on from there to talk about the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. Unfortunately, Landau has a bad habit of just pointing to a book and not giving any page references or anything. I have no problem with pointing to books, but I’d like to know where I’m supposed to look in these books. Still, he is right about the creed being early. As a selection of non-Christian scholars shows:

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Landau is certainly right that the disciples were sure they had seen the risen Christ, but his explanations are lacking. Grief hallucinations are certainly real, but those would lead them to conclude that Jesus was dead, not that He was alive. Grief would not explain Paul or James. We don’t even know the disciples were grieving. Maybe they were angry instead. After all, no Messiah would be crucified, so maybe they thought they’d given all those years to a huckster.

What about group appearances? Landau is quick to compare them to Marian apparitions and UFO sightings. The problem with both is first off, it’s assumed that nothing is happening. Am I open to some Marian appearances being something appearing? Sure. If the skeptic wants to say it was nothing, he does bear that burden to show why.

Still, at many of these sightings, many people walk away not seeing anything. It can often be a few people, normally children, seeing Mary and then sharing what they have seen. As for UFOs, what I did was to talk to someone in the area who understands UFOs and that was Ken Samples of Reasons To Believe.

What about the empty tomb? Landau is open to the idea that Jesus wasn’t buried, to which he points to Crossan. Of course, you won’t see any interaction with Craig Evans or Greg Monette. The burial of Jesus also was a shameful burial and one that would not be made up. The latest holder of the non-burial view is Bart Ehrman and yet he doesn’t even bother to mention Jodi Magness, a Jewish NT scholar who specializes in Jewish burial practices of the time and studies at the very university Ehrman teaches at and was hired by him. Why is that?

Landau says that even if we granted the empty tomb and appearances, there are many more other probable explanations. We are eager to hear them if he wants to give them. He does say a miracle is the least probable explanation by definition, but whose definition of miracle? Are we to say that you can look at the evidence and it can never make a miracle more likely? If so, then one is not operating a fair look but out of bias.

It’s amusing to hear Landau talk about not bringing in a diversity of scholarly views in the movie when in his very article, he does just that. He points out that Craig and Habermas teach at universities that hold to inerrancies and have a Statement of Faith. What of it? Does that change the data somehow? Does he think someone like Habermas or Craig signs up to teach at a university without knowing what they believe? Some people want to go to a Seminary in line with their tradition so they look for that. The data is still what matters.

It’s interesting that he talks about Strobel’s email where Strobel points to the minimal facts data and says that many scholars have an anti-supernaturalistic bias. Keep in mind, those are Strobel’s words. I say nothing about an anti-supernaturalistic bias since I don’t buy into the natural/supernatural dichotomy. I do believe in a bias against miracles, but how does Landau answer this claim?

He doesn’t deny it. Instead, he deflects. He says “Well Craig and Habermas are anti-supernaturalistic against miracles outside of Christianity.” Not at all. The evidence for Habermas is a look at how Jesus isn’t a copy of pagan religions. Landau managed to email Strobel. Why not email Habermas himself? That’s what I did since he’s a friend of mine and I thought he’d be amused. Habermas has told me even would predict other miracles outside of Christianity. I have no problem with them either. If you can show me a miracle that is well-evidenced, I am to believe it.

Also, Landau says nothing about Christianity being a shameful belief and surviving up to the time of Constantine. It’s all a one-sided approach. Landau gives a lot of maybes and possibilities, but no counter-explanation of any real substance. We welcome him trying, but we don’t expect much.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/17/2015: Ken Samples

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s suppose you’re giving a defense of the resurrection using a minimal facts approach and you get to the appearances of Jesus. Now let’s suppose your opponent says to you “Look. I don’t doubt that the apostles were really convinced they saw something. Okay. I just don’t accept that testimony. After all, there are plenty of people who have eyewitness testimony about being abducted by aliens. If I don’t accept that, why should I accept your claim?”

What do you do?

How about find out about those alien abductions and for that, I spoke to my friends at Reasons To Believe to see if anyone wanted to come on and talk about alien abductions and the resurrection. From Reasons To Believe then comes Kenneth Samples.

Kenneth Samples Image

According to his bio:

Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin.
As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with “unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom,” driving him to seek answers to life’s big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and “finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world.” From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith.

Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he’s learned to help others find the answers to life’s questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB’s podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry’s daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe.

An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California.

Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association.

The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

This Saturday then, we’ll be tackling the question. The show will only be an hour long so we won’t get to cover everything, but I hope what we will cover will help to add to your apologetics arsenal and improve your witness for Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Core Facts

What do I think of Braxton Hunter’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Braxton Hunter is a professor of Christian apologetics who holds a PH.D. in the same field. He’s recently written a book called “Core Facts” written to not just give a good start to apologetics, but it also is a kind of teaching guide to help others learn how to do apologetics.

The presentation that Hunter presents surrounds his “core facts.” The list is as follows:

C – Cause of the universe
O – Order of the universe
R – Rules of morality
E – Experience of God

F – Fatality of Jesus’s death on the cross
A – Appearances of Jesus to the disciples.
C – Commitment level of the disciples
T – Testimony of the disciples
S – Salvation taught through the Gospel.

Now granted there are some here that I would not use. At the start with the cause and order of the universe, the scientific arguments are cited, but this is something that gets me wondering at times. Is it because I am opposed to science? Not at all! Is it because I am opposed to scientific apologetics? Again, not at all! It is because I have this fear that too often we make the case scientific and I want to make sure that those of us who do have taken the time to learn the sciences not just for apologetics purposes but general purposes. This is the reason why I do not use scientific apologetics. I am not a scientist (And I don’t play one on TV) and I do not want to speak in a field that is not my area.

I also am cautious about the idea of the experience of God. The problem is that experience is not an on-demand kind of thing and to this day, when Bill Craig gives his fifth way in a debate of knowing that God exists, I still cringe.

For the last group, I think in this day and age I would replace fatal with something like “Fact of Jesus’s existence.” There are more people who are Christ-mythers today than there are people who hold to the swoon theory.

For C, I would have probably gone with the idea of conversion, such as that of James and Paul. Why is it that those who were skeptical of the faith were the ones who later on joined it? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. After all, C and T sounded awfully similar to me at times.

And as for S, an excellent ending would have been shamefulness of Christianity. It is too often overlooked that in the honor-shame context of the ancient Mediterranean world, Christianity was a shameful belief and that that belief not only survived in the face of persecution and shaming but also came to dominate is something that needs to be explained.

Still, the areas that Hunter does present, he does very well on. I was also pleased to hear him say that evolution is not a battle that we have to fight. Very few apologists make such a statement, but I agree entirely with Hunter. I would not argue it unless one was skilled in the sciences and making a purely scientific argument for or against. I only wish he’d gone further on this point and said that we can also go with an eternal universe or a multiverse and Christianity is still safe.

A bonus also is that Hunter does have tips at the end of each section for how to transition the material to a teaching presentation. This makes this kind of book ideal for a leader to use when teaching a class. There are several sidebars as well that provide more detailed information and Hunter has indeed read both sides of the issue.

If there’s one section though that contains poor argumentation, it’s the last one where Hunter has a debate that he did with the owner of an atheist forum who simply goes by the name “Will.” To be sure, the poor argumentation is not on the side of Hunter. It is on the side of Will. As I read this section I found myself repeatedly face-palming. It is embarrassing to see the arguments so many atheists use. Will uses everything from an insistence on YEC and Inerrancy, to a lack of understanding of biblical texts (Judges 21 has God commanding rape? Please find the command from God in there! It’s in fact showing what it was like when Israel was NOT following God.), to a Boghossian understanding of what faith is, and then going so far as to be a Christ-myther. (It should sadly be for the atheist community that they would want to get the Christ-mythers to be quiet. Instead, they champion them. Reality is there are more Ph.D. scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are Ph.D.’s in ancient and NT history that hold to the Christ myth theory. I also for clarification am not a YEC.)

Hunter answer very well, but the fact that Will is a preacher’s kid shows how bad a job is being done in educating the youth of our church. That anyone would think that these are serious arguments being put forward is a travesty. Now of course there are serious arguments atheism can put forward, but many used today are ones that should not be given the time of day. (And of course sadly, the same applies to many Christian arguments.)

In conclusion, while I don’t agree with everything Hunter says, naturally, I could recommend his book as a good resource to a starting apologetics class at a local church. It will become one that can easily be taught and easily discussed and the debate at the end should show how well the Core Facts can stand up to scrutiny. It is a work I could use myself. Braxton Hunter’s “Core Facts” has my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters