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

 

 

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