The Resurrection Debate: The Blog and Sources

As I write about the topic of Jesus’ resurrection, I’ll be looking at the Resurrection Debate between John Twisleton and James Hollingsworth, on the one hand, and Steven Carr, on the other. Steven Carr has commented on my blog before, particularly when I write about N.T. Wright and the resurrection. He is a skeptic of religion, yet he doesn’t allow his skepticism to blind him. For example, he has expressed doubts about the new “risen Messiah” stone, which concerns some Christians because it appears to undermine Christianity’s originality. He also appears to have a solid knowledge of the Scriptures. Like the atheist writer John W. Loftus, he may have a solid Christian background (I’m not sure).

I want to comment on Resurrection Debate before I get into some details (more specifically in my next post). John Twistleton and James Hollingsworth pull some of the usual tactics that are popular with a number of evangelicals. I had to roll my eyes when Twistleton cited Harvard Law Professor Simon Greenleaf, who wrote in the nineteenth century that the resurrection of Jesus could be proven in a court of law. That reminds me of a movie I saw on TBN (which starred Mr. T), in which the Antichrist was dragging Christians before a large kangaroo court, and one of them was stumping her persecutors with the “Simon Greenleaf went to Harvard, and he believed in Jesus’ resurrection” argument. In fact, Jimmy Swaggart used that same defense in his debate with a Muslim. But name-dropping doesn’t work with everyone, especially not in a debate. (To his credit, Twistleton at least cites one of Greenleaf’s arguments: that the differences among the Gospels’ resurrection accounts show their historical reliability).

Twistleton also mentions a former “Lord Chief Justice” who accepted the arguments for the resurrection but did not become a Christian. That reminds me of this one Christian book I read, which said there was an American court of law that found the Bible to be true. Seriously, is that a good argument? In America (at least), the jurors would be pelted with tomatoes if they concluded otherwise (at least in certain parts of the country).

It’s not that I disliked everything Twistleton and Hollingsworth wrote, for they could be rather thoughtful and learned in their homiletical musings. That’s fine with me, since life should be about more than hard-core rationalism. There’s room for reflection and imagination, but it doesn’t go that far in a formal debate. Occasionally, they made pretty decent arguments, but, overall, they didn’t know how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

The two sides differed on which sources deserved the most focus. Steven Carr was looking mostly on Paul, particularly his statements in I Corinthians 15 and II Corinthians 5. Carr was trying to demonstrate that Paul believed Jesus rose with a spiritual body, which was completely discontinuous from his physical, earthly body. My impression is that Carr was taking this exegesis in a certain direction: For him, Jesus’ disciples could have proclaimed on the basis of a vision or hallucination that Christ was risen from the dead, even while Jesus’ corpse remained in the tomb. That counters the argument of N.T. Wright and other Christian apologists that the empty tomb supports the reality of Jesus’ resurrection (see The Empty Tomb’s Importance). As far as Carr is concerned, the tomb could have been full, and the early Christians would have still proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection (based on their subjective, unreliable experience).

“Why do you focus on Paul so much?,” Twistleton asked Carr (my paraphrase). Or, to actually quote him:

“[A] frustration for me is how Steven is not as keen as I am to engage with the wider aspects, scientific, philosophical, metaphysical, legal, and experiential of resurrection debating. For myself I am not so keen to split hairs over Pauline symbols of clothing in the resurrection because I am more interested in the reality Paul speaks of both in this world and the next.”

Why does Steven focus on Paul so much? The reason is that Paul is the earliest New Testament writer, with access to early New Testament traditions. As Steven writes: “John complains that I use Paul. I do because Paul’s letters are primary sources – the sort of sources that historians value most.”

Consequently, I’ll be interacting with Steven’s interpretation of Paul. But I want to comment briefly on Steven’s treatment of the Gospels. Steven makes a good point when he distinguishes the four Gospels from most histories of the ancient world. The Gospels are anonymous, and they do not explicitly document their sources, so they differ from (say) Josephus. At the same time, most New Testament scholars–liberal and conservative–are reluctant to completely dismiss the Gospels’ historical value, for even the ultra-liberal Jesus seminar has criteria to determine which of Jesus’ Gospel sayings are historical.

In addition, scholar Richard Baukham has recently argued that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony. I have not yet studied his arguments, but Chris Tilling summarizes them in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

In my next post, I’ll interact with Steven’s interpretation of Paul. I’ll admit at the outset that I’m not exactly a championship debater, and there are many things that I may overlook at any given time. But my goal is just to articulate my present reactions to Steven’s arguments.

Next time!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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9 Responses to The Resurrection Debate: The Blog and Sources

  1. Steven Carr says:

    THis new tablet seems to be to be based on too mcuh reconstruction to be reliable. Just my opinion though.

    Bauckham’s arguments are extraodinary ad hoc affairs.

    For example, Mark names Bartimaeus. Luke does not.

    Bauckham claims this is because Bartimaeus was well known to the people Mark was writing for, but had died by the time Luke was writing.

    What an amazing ad hoc explanation!

    Bauckham loves just making stuff up out of thin air, in the most extraordinary manner.

    Neil Godfrey has postings of Bauckham’s amazing work

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  2. Kyle says:

    Steven,
    I agree with you on the tablet but not on Bauckham.

    In regard to Bauckham, the majority of scholars who disagree with his outcomes still respect the quality of this work, so please don’t oversimplify. Furthermore, your argument concerning the work is an oversimplification and decontextualization of one of but many arguments Bauckham makes in the book.

    There’s no use in attempting to minimize someone’s argument through the tactic you are employing. If we were talking about some run of the mill discussion on the biblical record then that would be one thing, but instead we are discussing the work of one of England’s most well respected New Testament scholars, and he is building upon the work of many other great scholars. Therefore, it would be much more effective to encourage the person you are arguing with toward researching on their own, reading the primary source and then reading the best critiques available and only then coming to their own conclusions.

    James,
    As such, I would not suggest reading all of the response from Neil Godfrey simply because it is not a strong response. His response is very long (something like fifty posts) but neither as qualified nor as well reasoned as other critiques that are available from actual experts in these fields. I’d instead read the reviews and critiques from people who are specialists in oral history, New Testament, form criticism, etc.

    An interesting discussion and critique/response came at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting when they discussed his book. The critiques were from Kloppenberg, Yarbro Collins and James Crossley. Bauckham then responded to each. I’d link to the full audio if I could find it, but I can only find Bauckham’s response on Andy Powell’s blog. I’m sure if you search you can at least find the transcripts.

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  3. Steven Carr says:

    There is no context to many of Bauckham’s claims.

    By definition, I cannot decontextualise ad hoc claims.

    I was genuinely shocked by how bad Bauckham’s arguments were.

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  4. Ranger says:

    Sorry,
    I removed the comment above because it was off-topic and focused on asking Steven about his take on another work…as such I decided to delete it since it didn’t deal with this post.

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  5. Steven Carr says:

    KYLE
    His response is very long (something like fifty posts) but neither as qualified nor as well reasoned as other critiques that are available from actual experts in these fields.

    CARR
    IN other words, you can’t produce one actual example of a not well-reasoned critique by Neil Godfrey.

    Bauckham claims that Lazarus is not named by the author of Mark because of ‘protective anonymity’

    Who is ‘the actual expert in the field’ of which people the religious authorites were trying to find, and why they were reading Gospels to see who was named in them?

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  6. Kyle says:

    Oh Steven,
    I don’t know why I’m even taking your bait…

    Okay, let’s take Godfrey’s first post on the topic as an example. Godfrey takes aim at Bauckham seeking an answer to whether or not the divide between the historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith can be bridged.

    In the post he asks the simple question, “Why one with theological interests should bother with the historical method at all.” Of course, any Christian would gladly tell you that we believe in a faith that has origins in historical events. Bauckham says, “We need not question that historical study can be relevant to our understanding of Jesus in significant ways.”

    Simple enough, right? So how does Godfrey respond to this discussion? He says that he agrees with Bauckham but that “His faith limits him to only one avenue of enquiry and prevents him from asking questions that would open up others. He can question such pillars as form criticism but not, it seems, the foundations of traditional dating of the gospels. Nor does it seem that he can open up the doors to the possibility that the gospels are literary fictions and not historical biographies after all.”

    My first objection would be to ask why would Bauckham’s faith in anyway prevent him from inquiry into alternatives or from serious dealings with objections? To suggest that people can’t truly do historical research because of their faith shows ignorance that has been proven wrong thousands of times over. At least Bauckham is up front with his presuppositions. He makes this clear in a response to questions posed by Chris Tilling, when he says, “I would say that as a historian open to the possibility of real miracles I should do my historical work on that basis, just as unbelieving historians would do it on their basis. What matters, of course, is to be upfront with one’s presuppositions.”

    Bauckham’s faith does not hinder the potential for quality research into the historical Jesus. Furthermore, the implied claim that for someone to have faith in Christ is dependent upon the gospels having textbook accuracy that corresponds to our modernistic methods of inquiry is extremely simplistic. I doubt Godfrey has read Barth, Brunner or any of the great theologians who would take aim at this simplistic claim.

    A second objection would be Godfrey’s “alternatives.”

    First, he claims that Bauckham cannot question the traditional dating of the gospels because of his faith. A more realistic alternative is that he didn’t question those dates because he is a scholar who agrees with the majority of scholarship on the topic (both believing and unbelieving scholarship) and saw no reason to question the dates. Bauckham seems to claim that Mark was written somewhere between 65-80, and that Matthew, Luke and John were all written in the 80s and 90s. You are well read on the subject and know that stands well within the dating given by the vast majority of scholars, ranging from “liberal” to “conservative.” Why would Bauckham question the plethora of scholarship that has dated the gospels to this period? Why is it assumed that he is afraid to question these dates because of his faith, when its much more realistic that he is simply siding with biblical scholars of all backgrounds who hold to these dates?

    Second, another “alternative” is that Bauckham could have considered the possibility that these are literary fiction and not biography at all. Maybe Godfrey doesn’t realize that suggesting that they are complete literary fiction flies in the face of everything that has been done in historical Jesus research during the past two hundred years. Does Bauckham claim that all of the gospels are literal, historic truth? Of course not. Did the early church create some of the stories in the gospels? That’s a realistic possibility worth considering, but to suggest that it is the genre of literary fiction against biography shows profound ignorance of Jesus studies in general. Bauckham didn’t suggest the possibility of these alternatives because doing so would serve no purpose to his book, and not because of his faith.

    Steven,
    I’ve read your posts all over the internet and know you are a widely read and intelligent person. As such, I know that you cannot honestly claim that the gospels are in the genre of literary fiction. We all agree that there was a historical Jesus; we may disagree on who he was or what he did, but those are the real questions…not whether or not he is the literary creation of writers in the first century.

    If there is such obviously poor scholarship in simply one paragraph from Godfrey, as well as blatant bias in his research (at least Bauckham makes his presuppositions clear and works honestly from within that context), then what can one expect from 50+ posts from him? That’s why I would suggest that James see what scholars have to say about Bauckham’s work and not Godfrey’s rant or even this little discussion between you and I.

    Have a great day Steven, but this will be my last response to your comments on this thread. It’s not because I don’t think your input is worth critiquing or that I think your arguments are too strong to dispute, I simply don’t have time and have more important things to do and its almost bedtime where I live.

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  7. James Pate says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone! It will take an act of discipline for me to read Baukham’s work, but I’ll get around to it.

    I think that what he says on Bartimeus (and I’m going on what Steven says here) is speculation, but it’s not too far out. From what Kyle wrote, it seems that Baukham buys into the usual scholarly datings of the Gospels, with Mark coming first. Why would Mark use a name that Luke does not? I mean, in the case of the later Gospels identifying the guy who cut off the servant’s ear as Peter, one can just say that the later Gospel is linking him with a prominent apostle. But what do we do when an earlier Gospel names someone whom a later Gospel does not?

    Thanks for the recommendation, Kyle.

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  8. Steven Carr says:

    How can a Tale of Two Cities be complete literary fiction, when scholars have proved that the French Revolution really happened, that London and Paris existed in 1789, and that people moved from one country to the other?

    To say that Jesus existed, therefore stories of him talking to Satan cannot be complete literary invention is a false dichotomy.

    And anybody with eyes can see for themselves just how freely the Gospel stories were composed by reading my article at Miracles and the Book of Mormon

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  9. Steven Carr says:

    And clearly the resurrection stories are complete literary invetions because early Christian converts appeared to have never heard of them.

    And Paul never uses even the words of his Lord and Saviour when trying to say what a resurrected body was like.

    Jesus may have well wasted his breath claiming a resurrected body was made of flesh and bone because the people who worshipped him never regarded him as an authority on the subject.

    Converts in Corinth scoffed at the idea of a resurrection.

    I wonder why Paul never rubbed their noses in the fact that the person they worshipped claimed he was the resurrection in Matthew 24.

    Perhaps Christian converts were not let in to the teachings of Jesus that there was a resurrection. It was kept secret from them that Jesus had proved a resurrection and so they doubted it.

    An ad hoc explanation which explains everything!

    I must be a NT scholar to rank with Bauckham.

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