Monday, 11 February 2008

John Twisleton 08/03/2008

Have I really no idea how to produce any evidence of a resurrection as Steven claims?

I cannot accept as obvious that my 3,600 words so far on this blog are so empty!

I will summarise the evidence I have presented so far in our debate:

1The existence of a community founded on the resurrection with a dynamic inexplicable without it

2The credibility of the New Testament witness to the resurrection surviving two centuries of critical scholarship with the arguments running onwards

3There is no grave claimed for the founder of Christianity, something even Muslims concur with, so this is obvious to well over half the world today

4Throughout history men and women whose living encounter with Jesus led them to face torture and death rather than agree his corpse lies in Palestine

5In the New Testament records the change in the disciples is inexplicable without a cataclysmic external impact upon their lives

6The abandonment by devout Jews of traditions like Friday Sabbath that ran in the face of centuries of tradition within weeks of the claimed resurrection has no rival explanation

7Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus give substantial independent back up to the remarkable phenomenon of the growth of the community of the resurrection which is the church

8What usually happens doesn’t always happen.

9Even if we rightly suspect supernatural claims this one is exceptional in its moral basis in a God who accepts suffering and brings it meaning

10There is a philosophical basis for particular phenomenon having universal

Steven has made his choice to argue number 2 and a small section of it ignoring the rest of my arguments so far!

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is built on an accumulation of evidence. It is not the accumulation of people and documents saying the same thing deafening out opposition as Steven suggests and James has already countered. That would be Maria’s song from Sound of Music ‘I have confidence in confidence’ – this isn’t Christianity! Christian confidence is well based on both God and the facts.

It is ironic that Steven’s whole argument with the facts is from Paul. Steven disclaims Paul’s belief in Christ’s bodily resurrection. Since he rejects the Gospel accounts as historically based he rests his case even if billions see otherwise!

I find Steven’s case ironic because the whole thrust of St. Paul’s writings, the earliest Christian documentation, repeats the strain again and again that Jesus Christ was and is raised as first born of the dead (Romans 4:24f, 6:4, 6:9, 7:4, 8:11, 29, 34, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:4, 12-17, 20, 29, 32, 35, 42-44, 52; 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:14, 5:15; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10)

Critical biblical scholarship has established these Pauline texts as the earliest evidences of the resurrection followed by the later gospel narratives. The empty tomb narratives are a solid part of this documentation. The reason the tomb’s emptiness has come down to us is the witness from the start of Christianity to Jesus Christ being raised and appearing.
Steven is saying a contemporary perception of Jesus on a piece of toast weighs as much as what he would see as totally subjective appearances to the apostles including Paul. I am saying that the appearances related in the New Testament are linked to an astonishing event – it’s obvious as you read the book unless your philosophical bent is some how skewed against objective truth. ‘Christ was raised on the third day…and…he appeared (to several people and groups)’ (1 Corinthians 15:4f).

How is that event of Christ being raised best described? Indeed we have a choice but would it not be less credible if we did not have a choice? Textual critics have yet to undermine the potentially complementary witness of the seven passages Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28, Luke 24, John20 and Mark 16:9-13, Acts 1:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

The main inconsistencies are in geography and timing. When you are recording an event that stretches the boundaries of space and time that is unsurprising. That has not deterred the ongoing digestion of these passages over centuries and their acceptance by eminent historians and lawyers as I have said.

I am very impressed by Steven’s rhetorical play in his treatment of the alleged recycling of the Elijah/Elisha miracle stories. James has dealt with this already. It is a real problem for 21st century minds to get into typology. This is nothing that makes Mark a manufacturer of history despite his theological standpoint. How can you avoid a theological standpoint anyway if you are writing about something like this? Something shouting to the world that God is after all not above us or beyond us but with us and ahead of us making a place for us beyond the grave so that ‘man (sic) is the macrocosm and the whole created order is the microcosm’ (Nicodemus the Solitary)?

If 2 Kings 4:42-44 is to Catholic scholars ‘obviously the inspiration for the NT multiplication miracles’ it doesn’t mean it wasn’t also obvious to God as he came on earth to set the scene for the resurrection by such miracles. People do say they’d believe in God if they could see him doing miracles once again (he does!).

I deliberately put the existence and dynamic of the church as community of the resurrection first in my top 10 for the resurrection because the feeding by Jesus in the Eucharist is my own day by day encounter with the resurrection. This is nothing out of the blue for the God of the Old Testament was known to be a miraculous provider.

When it comes to the resurrection what happened to Jesus and the apostles can and must be argued about but what has happened to the world in the arrival of a new form of living in radical forgiveness (the community of the resurrection, the church) would be my first talking point!

In his book on the resurrection our Archbishop of Canterbury says he attempts to sail ‘between the Scylla of critical pedantry and the Charybdis of vaguely religious psychology’. I see something of both in this debate, Steven.

If we make the establishing of the empty tomb narratives our goal that can reduce to pedantry because it’s not the prime issue. This to me is ‘who left that tomb and where can he be found?’

If we make the resurrection a helpful symbol of love’s triumph, bringing meaning to suffering etc. we also make it less than it is as rooted in the historical order.

You are a great help in holding me down to the facts of the matter and of history.


  1. There is no grave claimed for the founder of Christianity ...

    ... except of course the EMPTY grave.

    Cfr Isaiah 11 "and his sepulchre shall be glorious".

    No grave at all could have been explained as "" or its equivalents back then just failing.

  2. You are harsh on Sound of Music.

    "I have confidence in Confidence Itself ..." might well to Maria von Trapp have spelled "in Christo Iesu" - or why would she as a devout Christian have accepted the song? Oscar Hammerstein could not have gone totally against her will, legally.

  3. Critical biblical scholarship has established these Pauline texts as the earliest evidences of the resurrection followed by the later gospel narratives.

    Herein is critical scholarship of course at variance with Christian Tradition and with Pope Leo XIII defending it against Higher Criticism in §17 of Providentissimus Deus.

  4. Also, Steven's argument about St Paul is not all that hard to follow. First he ignores the warning of Pope Leo that "internal evidence" is not a good argument about historic relations of texts, except as confirmation of tradition, then this leads to his accepting St Paul as earliest Christian witness according to that scholarship Pope leo warned against, last but not least he re-interprets St Paul as claiming a merely spiritual and therefore non-physical resurrection.

    And this leaves him free to call Gospels "anonymous evidence", to claim - as that same scholarship or perversion thereof does - they were later than St Paul, and since later, derivative, and since derivative and not agreeing on purely spiritual resurrection, misunderstanding their source.

    The weakness in this attack is not its logic, except that "somewhat later" shifts without good reason to "totally derived" and similarily "giving a different light on resurrection/glorified bodies" to "not agreeing".

    The weakness is rather in logical lacunas of explanation, as if St Paul and Gospels were merely two literary works and as if the reception were just within a limited circle of authors rather than a wide circle a k a Church.

    And, in accepting without reason the premiss given by Higher Criticism - which originated in Bauer who was making exactly the same leaps of logic.