Resolving Controversies Surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Women who Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb

Many atheists whom I have encountered on social media dispute the accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and the owner of the empty tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. One such atheist refers to himself as Kaimatai on social media. Kaimatai is a word that means “biologist” or “specialist,” which is likely Kaimatai’s occupation. The following blog is a response to Kaimatai’s blog with respect to the aforementioned topics, followed by his original blog.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Kaimatai presents four general arguments against the authenticity of various events in the New Testament. He questions (1) the timing of the writing of the New Testament, calling into question its authenticity; (2) inconsistencies in the accounts of the empty tomb and the number of women discovering same; (3) conflicts with Roman practices; and (4) whether Joseph of Arimathea was a real person. I will address each of these.

1. Timing (and authenticity of the New Testament and Empty Tomb)

Timing and Authenticity of the New Testament

The overarching premise that Kaimatai has adopted is that the New Testament was written as a propaganda tool, used to “convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.” To fully understand this premise, we must unpack some of the context of early Christian history.

To do so, we first note that until 313 A.D., Christians practiced illegally. Those who were exposed by zealots such as Saul (when he was a Christian persecutor) risked being tortured, burned, crucified, or jailed (cf. Tacitus, Paul, and Luke), so the motivation to practice in the open and intentionally create a propaganda tool was not there.

Similarly, the difficulty associated with transcriptions presented challenges because (1) transcriptions were costly, as they were written either on parchment, which is stretched and smoothed leather, or papyrus from a reed plant; (2) the risk of being identified for practicing Christianity illegally was significant; (3) most of the population (~ 97% according to some estimates) was illiterate, so the oral tradition was revered and perhaps preferred; and (4) scribes were often needed and used to record oral traditions (Bar-Ilan, 2017).

Such challenges help to explain why we do not have hundreds of extra-Biblical sources within 150 years of 33 A.D. when Jesus was crucified. However, despite significant challenges, we do have 42 extra-Biblical sources confirming biblical events within this time period (including nine non-Christian sources, along with the independent sources from within the New Testament (Habermas & Licona, 2004). As an example, we have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.

Kaimatai makes the assertion that the Gospels were written in sequence from Mark to Luke and Matthew to John over a period of thirty to forty years. This assertion is in conformity with Christian estimates. He adds that the Gospels were written after the fall of Rome in 70 A.D., which is not consistent with Christian estimates.

J. Warner Wallace offers the following evidence for earlier dating of the New Testament: (1) The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple during the fall of Rome in 70 A.D.; (2) The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem; (3) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter in 64 A.D. and 65 A.D., respectively; (4) Luke said nothing about the death of James in 62 A.D.; (5) Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts, as noted in its words to Theophilus; (6) Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) and his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25); (7) Paul echoed the claims of the Gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, Luke refers to Mark’s Gospel when he notes that “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). J. Warner Wallace suggests the following timeline for the authorship of the New Testament:

  • Mark                           45 – 55 A.D.
  • Luke                            50 – 53 A.D.
  • Paul quotes Luke      53 – 57 A.D.
  • Luke writes Acts       57 – 60 A.D.

Some claim the Gospels were anonymous, yet “no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the four traditionally accepted authors” (Wallace, p. 172). Papias, who lived in the 1st century and early 2nd century is an example of a person who attributed authorship to the four traditionally accepted authors. Furthermore, the Gospels are not the only ancient documents that do not identify the author, as evidenced in Tacitus’ Annals.

Authenticity of the Empty Tomb Account

According to Kaimatai, accounts of the empty tomb are only present in the Gospels, yet we have evidence suggesting Paul was well aware of the empty tomb and the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15 3b-5, Paul cites an old Christian formula, which originated in the Jerusalem church within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Craig, 1985):

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve.”

Kaimatai is correct in his assertion that Paul does not specifically mention the empty tomb, yet does this omission mean that the tomb was not empty? If I knew that Suzie left her house to join me for lunch, yet I only said that Suzie joined me for lunch, does it mean that she did not leave her house? If I said Justin came home from college to stay with us for the weekend and I knew that he left his single-occupancy dorm along the way, yet did not mention that he left his dorm in my account of the weekend, can I assume that Justin’s dorm would be without Justin over the weekend? Such simple logic suggests that while Paul did not mention the empty tomb specifically, he was well aware of the empty tomb.

As for the Jewish polemic, Matthew’s account about the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27: 62-66; 28: 11-15) was written to refute the widespread assertion that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.

Matthew 28:11-15 “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among Jews to this very day.”

Further information on these arguments can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus

2. Inconsistencies (in accounts of the empty tomb)

All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene as one of the persons to first discover Jesus’ empty tomb. Yet the Gospels appear to vary in accounts of those who accompanied her in this discovery. Mark (16:1) says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew (28:1) says that Mary and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Luke (24:10) says “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the others with them who told the apostles.” John (20:1) only mentions Mary Magdalene, yet includes her statement referring to “we:” (20:2) “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.”

Does failure to mention all of the women who discovered the empty tomb suggest that all of the women weren’t present? If I said, “Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass and the Colts won the football game,” does it imply that Peyton Manning was alone on the field? No, it instead suggests my emphasis on Peyton Manning and his role in the game. The same can be said of John’s reference to only Mary Magdalene and the other disciples’ references to various women.

Reconciling the Accounts

The following takes the four accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and marries them into a single account. Very minor discrepancies have been eliminated.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,* Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and Salome took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. While they were on their way to the tomb, they asked each other ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

They entered the tomb while they were wondering about this, when suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One of the men, who was dressed in a white robe and on the right side of the tomb, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where they laid Him. Then go quickly and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He has risen from the dead and He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee; ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.

Now Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, the women told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord!” But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead). Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

*A note must be made about the Gospel of John. John reports that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was still dark. Given the timing in the early hours of the morning, it seems reasonable to assume that the darkness turned to light while on her journey at some point undisclosed. The Gospel of John further offers an overall summary of the empty tomb account, which included Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb and subsequent visit to the disciples (John 20: 1-10), followed by a detailed account of what occurred at the empty tomb during Mary Magdalene’s visit (John 20: 11-18).

In summary, when taken together, the accounts offer a more vivid picture of the events surrounding the empty tomb. As pointed out by J. Warner Wallace, the gospels fit together like a puzzle.

3. Jesus’ burial conflicts with Roman practice

According to Bart Ehrman, criminals considered “enemies of the state” were not allowed decent burials. However, at least one source (a Jewish philosopher called Philo of Alexandria, Egypt) stated that Romans had a practice of allowing burials under “various circumstances.” Furthermore, such an allowance is consistent with Jewish beliefs, as per Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which was predominantly Jewish.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Josephus explains Jewish ethical obligations as follows: “We must furnish fire, water, food, to all who ask for them, point out the road, not to leave a corpse unburied…show consideration even to declared enemies (Against Apion, 2:29; 211; cf., 2:26; 205) (Evans, 2017). Given the fact that Jesus was crucified (1) in Jerusalem, a hub for the Jews; and (2) during peacetime on the eve of the Passover in which thousands of Jews would be visiting the next day, it seems unlikely that Jesus’ body would be left on the cross for all men, women, and children traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday to see.

Kaimatai states “As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs.”

Jesus was not a “normal” sort of victim, so how can one assert that He should be buried as one? Kaimatai’s assertion suggests that Jesus was not unlike the thieves who were at either side of Him on crosses. Unlike such thieves, Jesus presented such a significant threat to the Jewish high priests that they traded Him for Barabbas, who was mentioned in all four gospels and who had been imprisoned on death row for “an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19). Jesus’ significant following, likely a product of His bold and knowledgeable teachings, His miracles, and the fact that He forgave people, were likely what threatened the Jewish high priests who did not want their own power to be infringed upon. They labeled Him the “King of the Jews,” which posed a threat to Roman power, helping to justify their decision to crucify Him.

Furthermore, we have at least four independent sources attesting to Jesus’ burial: Luke in Acts (2:29; 13:36); Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4), Matthew, Mark, and John. Historians have documented much of early history with one or two sources, so having four sources enhances the validity and historicity of the burial account.

4. Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is described as a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was located in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, which consisted of seventy of the leading authorities on Judaism. Given that the Sanhedrin was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, early Christian views on the Sanhedrin were likely quite hostile. Given that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, all of whom (according to Mark) voted to condemn Jesus, Joseph was the last person Christians would “invent” if the account were merely fiction. According to the late New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” for Christians to make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman affirms that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evidence presented above serves to diffuse readers’ “problems” with (1) the timing and accuracy of the accounts of the empty tomb, (2) the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts of same, (3) the conflicts with Roman practices, and (4) the doubts about Joseph of Arimathea.

Thank you for investing the time to read this article.

REFERENCES:

Bar-Ilan, Meir (2017). Illiteracy in the land of Israel in the first centuries c.e. Accessed May 20, 2017 at https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html. References include: J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1968; J. Baines, ‘Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society’, Man (ns), 18 (1983), pp. 572-599 (includes bibliography); Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989.

Craig, W.L. (1985). The historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. New Testament Studies, 31: 39-67.

Evans, C. (2017). Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. Accessed May 20, 2017 at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

KAIMATAI:

Introduction

Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn’t magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It’s the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes). The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact.  This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn’t used as proof of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that’s supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.  The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they’re not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event… The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it’s first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can’t keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.  The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It’s consistent with a bunch of people who didn’t balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.   To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There’s nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off. Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he’s politically powerful.  He’s part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He’s also a disciple of Jesus.  He’s influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He’s also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He’s also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew! The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn’t enough time to get this all done in the time available.  Joseph’s appearance in the story is dramatic.  He’s not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He’s never mentioned again.  He’s not mentioned in Acts, he’s not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He’s a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.   Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person.  (If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus’ blog).

Conclusion

I don’t feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don’t think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.   The gospels weren’t written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual or personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It’s the last gospel, Johns, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection.  So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It’s not really difficult deciding what’s the least plausible.

10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” – Matthew 7:7

Original post: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/10-poor-reasons-to-believe-god-exists.html?m=1

The intention of this blog is to offer ten good reasons to believe God exists, which is a response to a blog entitled “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by an atheist on Twitter who calls himself “Mr. Oz Atheist.” First, I shall list my “good reasons” and next I present his “poor reasons.” The reason I am presenting my side in this way is because I agree with Mr. Oz Atheist that some of the reasons he lists are poor reasons to believe God exists.

1. The Ontological Argument

Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), was the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the originator of the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, thanking  which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this seems impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

The argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm uses the example of a painting. He asks which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

2. The Cosmological Argument

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force had all of the qualities of our Creator.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, further explains this logic.

  1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
  2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
  3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
  4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
  5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
  6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
  7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

 3. The Teleological Argument

The Teleological Argument is an argument for the fine-tuning of the universe. As noted by Robert Lanza (2009), “By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.” Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.

A constant refers to an unchanging mathematical quantity that expresses the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the subatomic weak force. Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe (Craig, 2010). The cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, if tweaked by as little as one part of 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting (Craig, 2010).

“The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!” (Craig, 2010, p. 109). Such extreme odds suggest the presence of a divine guide, or intelligent designer: God.

4.  The Moral Argument

 All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral. Many aspects of what is considered right and what is considered wrong are shared between humans across the planet. As examples, all mentally sound humans frown upon murder, rape, and a variety of related human atrocities. All mentally sound humans share the norm of reciprocity, in which one feels inclined to give back to one who gave. All mentally sound humans value gratitude, appreciation, love, kindness, and generosity. For a detailed assessment of human morality and why we do what we do, please click http://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

Why? Atheists would argue that we have evolved this way and that communities in which such values emerged were more successful than those in which opposing values emerged. Yet we have examples presently and in history in which such arguments fail. Successes in some ISIS, Boko Haram and historical Nazi communities refute their argument.

Evolutionary arguments also fail, as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do. “On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra. It does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her – for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

Where did these laws originate? The source of our moral “laws” is our lawgiver, God. Laws do not invent themselves. “There must be an infinite, eternal Mind who is the architect of nature and whose moral purpose man is gradually fulfilling” (Craig, 2010, p. 132). “He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can be higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

Craig (2010) offers the following logic:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

If God does not exist, we have no source of the objective moral values under which we all operate. Atheists argue that such values are by-products of evolution and social conditioning. Yet Charles Darwin (1871) states, “If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

“For us to think that human beings are special and our morality objectively true is to succumb to the temptation to speciesism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species” (Craig, 2010, p. 132).

5.  Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22

During the time in which I was doubting the validity of Christianity, I found myself sitting next to a pastor on an airplane, who alerted me to Isaiah 53, which was written about seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth. Isaiah 53 is often excluded from Jewish sermons, according to the Jews for Jesus website. Why? The answer becomes obvious after reading the passage.

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jews claim that the passage refers to Israel, the suffering servant. Yet why would “he,” a country be pierced for the transgressions of another country? The claim makes no sense. It equates to saying that Israel will be punished for the actions of Syria. It further refers to Israel as if masculine and personal, which calls to attention the way Israel has been referred to as the true Christ (cf., Galatians 6:16; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15; Exodus 4:22-23). In other words, an argument that the passage refers to Israel is an argument that actually supports the true Christ!

Psalm 22 also predicts Jesus’ crucifixion.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

6. Christianity has survived against substantial odds.

Of all of the great kings who ever reigned or of all of the great men and women who ever lived, only one still reigns and will live and reign forever: a Jewish carpenter, Jesus Christ, who was born, raised, and lived in humble circumstances. Yet unlike all of the kings who ever reigned, Jesus had few material resources. He made friends with people of humble means, including fishermen (Andrew, Peter, brothers James and John, and possibly Thomas and Bartholomew), a tax collector (Matthew), a religious zealot (Simon the Canaanite), and tradesmen (Philip, James the son of Alphaeus, and Judas) (AllaboutJesusChrist.org).

When Jesus called on His apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), His apostles turned the world upside down (c.f., Acts 17:6). The chances that men of such humble means could turn the world upside down, fueling the growth of the world’s most practiced religion seem extraordinarily low. Yet with God, nothing is impossible.

Projections of the number of Christians on the planet indicate growth. According to various contributors to the Lausanne Statistics Task Force, headed by David Barrett, Ph.D., the author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, the ratio of committed Christians relative to non-Christians is as follows:

  • 100 A.D. 360 to 1
  • 1000 A.D. 220 to 1
  • 1500 A.D. 69 to 1
  • 1900 A.D. 27 to 1
  • 1950 A.D. 21 to 1
  • 1980 A.D. 11 to 1
  • 1989 A.D. 7 to 1

Projections from the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Religion and Public Life Project indicate that the number of Christians will increase from around 2.2 billion adherents today to 2.9 billion in 2050. The population of Muslims is also expected to increase from 1.6 billion to 2.7 billion in 2050. Muslim birth rates are higher, which contributes to its growth rate. In 2050, projections by Pew Research indicate a global population of 9.6 billion, so that percentage of Christians (including less committed ones) will be around 30%.

In summary, roughly a third of humanity identifies with Christianity, while 1 in 7 consider themselves committed Christians. Christianity has survived the odds against it, despite its very humble roots, to become the world’s top religion. Other odds against Christianity are discussed below in the context of its illegal status until 313 A.D.

7. Embarrassing Testimony

In apologetics, evidence of the truth in a statement or source is provided by embarrassing testimony. In other words, if authors were contriving a story or inventing a myth, they would not include testimony about which they would be embarrassed. Instead they would only include information that they could “sell” to followers easily.

Numerous examples of embarrassing testimony are present in the New Testament, including Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22: 54-62; John 18: 15-27), the incident in which Jesus’ mother and brothers’ attempted to seize Jesus to take Him home for being “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21, 31), and the labels used by some to describe Jesus as a mad man (John 10:20), demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20; John 8:48), and drunkard (Matthew 11:19). A prostitute used her hair to clean Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39), which some might consider to be a sexual advance. Furthermore, given the low status of women during the time of Jesus, the mere fact that women were given the privilege of discovering the empty tomb is note-worthy.

Consider the following Jewish writings, which underscore the low status of women during Jesus’ time (Habermas & Licona, 2004)

“Sooner the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a).

“The world cannot exist without males and without females- happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females” (Talmud, Kiddushin 82b).

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope or gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities 1.8).

“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid [to offer], also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hoshannah 1.8).

Roman historian Suetonius (~ 115 A.D.): “Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock.”

Such status likely led to the disciples’ initial responses to the women who discovered the open tomb: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).

In summary, the presence of numerous instances of embarrassing testimony in the New Testament provides evidence of the validity of the Bible and the sincerity of its authors.

 8. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Atheists often request evidence that is extra-biblical, as if the evidence provided in the Bible is invalid. When considering that the New Testament has at least nine independent authors and is endorsed by numerous highly respected, scholarly archeologists and historians, the Bible is a valid historical text. Yet, we do have accounts of events and people in the New Testament from external writers.

Examples from Roman historians include the following (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

In fact, we have 33 Christian and 9 secular extra-biblical sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that provide support for the New Testament and Jesus Christ (Wallace, 2013).Historians get giddy with only two sources, while we have 42!

Within 150 years of Jesus’ life, extra-biblical testimonies from sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and others (Turek, 2015) inform us that:

  • Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar • He lived a virtuous life • He was a wonder-worker • He had a brother named James • He was acclaimed to be the Messiah • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate • An eclipse and an earthquake occurred* when He died • He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover • His disciples believed He rose from the dead • His disciples were willing to die for their belief in Jesus • Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome • His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God

9. Early Christian Bravery

Paul started out as Saul of Tarsus, who actively pursued Christians for imprisonments and deaths. He first appears in the Book of Acts as a witness of the stoning of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. Yet something happened to Paul on his way to Damascus: Jesus Christ appeared to him and he converted, to become one of Christianity’s greatest missionary apostles. Historians don’t dispute that Paul wrote at least six or as many as thirteen books of the New Testament. In these books, he shares his testimony and the way he willingly endured multiple beatings and imprisonments before being beheaded by Nero in Rome.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, also has an extraordinary story. James was initially skeptical of Jesus, as noted when he and his brothers and mother showed up to see Jesus preach (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; and Matthew 12:46). They wanted to stop him, because they felt he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Yet something happened to James after Jesus was crucified. He witnessed the risen Jesus.

Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8) “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as the one abnormally born.”

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.) documented the martyrdom of James.

Yet Paul, Peter, and James weren’t the only early Christians to be martyred. As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

Why were the early disciples so brave?

  1. Early Christian disciples saw the risen Christ.
  2. They braved gory deaths to praise and worship Him illegally
  3. Why?
  4. See item #1

10. The Purpose of Life

We were put on this planet to fulfill our spiritual purposes of becoming more Christ-like and more perfect, yet we were intentionally put here as imperfect, flawed beings. Overcoming our flaws and physical obstacles and limitations helps us to grow spiritually.

We have all had to overcome major challenges and such challenges have likely changed us as people, giving us more depth, empathy, knowledge, and understanding. Headwinds and trials and tribulations make us stronger. If we had faced no challenges, we would have no purpose here. Our purposes are to advance by capitalizing on our spiritual gifts.

“As the scriptures teach and experience proves, it’s difficult to develop courage without danger, perseverance without obstacles, patience without tribulation, compassion without suffering, character without adversity, faith (trust) without need. Soul-making is indeed painful” (Turek, 2015, p. 220) “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” Romans 5: 3.

In closing, I will add one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 50-51):

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something  worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

References

Anonymous. All about Jesus Christ. (2017) http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/occupations-of-the-12-disciples-faq.htm

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man. Reprinted in 1981 by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Limited.

Licona, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Pew Research Fact Tank (2014) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/10-projections-for-the-global-population-in-2050/

Pew Forum Religion and Public Life Project (2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious–‐projections–‐2010–‐2050/

Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God. USA: Navpress.

Wawro, J. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World.  Millennium House.

World Christian Database (2017) http://worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd/about/WCD_Methodology.pdf

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold-case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Mr. Oz Atheist offers Ten Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order.

1: Other people believe it. 

Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don’t. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can’t all be right. But you can all be wrong.

2: My parents told me to believe. 

 They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We’ve evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don’t touch the fire, watch where you’re walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable.

3: I can’t explain ‘x’ without God. 

People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don’t understand is not proof that a god exists. For ‘x’ to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can’t imagine how it isn’t.

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu’ran prove the book is from God. 

Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu’ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The ‘science’ in the Qu’ran is consistent with what was known at the time.

5: It’s called FAITH!

Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have ‘faith’ that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they’ve got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it’s *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it’ll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than ‘something else happened’. Faith may make you feel good, but it’s not a pathway to truth.

6: All cultures have developed a god – there must be something in it. 

There’s no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we’ve come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn’t around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn’t know better. We know better now. It’s funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed.

7: Without God, we wouldn’t know right from wrong. (Morality) 

Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the ‘x’ in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of ‘fairness’ and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required.

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can’t happen etc.). 

Even if this were true (and it’s not) it doesn’t matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn’t happen.

9: I feel something when I pray/worship. 

Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There’s nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it’s really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more…

Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we’re here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we’ll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that’s good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn’t make them true. ‘Must’ is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it’s true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say ‘must’ in this context, they’re really saying ‘I really hope there is’.

There’s also Look around you!

Why Were Early Christians So Brave?

The intention of the following blog is to offer support for Christians who encounter people who believe Jesus is merely a myth, perpetuated by the early Church. One such mythicist is Dr. Richard Carrier. I have had a number of delightful interactions with Carrier on Twitter, which alerted me to his thoughts on Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. He is an historian with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who has written numerous books and blog posts refuting the existence of Jesus.

Unlike Carrier, supporters of major world religions outside of Christianity do not question Jesus’ existence. For example, Jews and Muslims do not claim that Jesus didn’t exist. While Jews do not accept Jesus’ divinity, they acknowledge His existence and crucifixion. According to Muhammad, Muslims consider Jesus a prophet whom God took to heaven prior to the crucifixion (leading some to conclude that someone else took Jesus’ place on the cross). Carrier denies Jesus walked the earth, stating in his Twitter posts that Christianity was born out of a “hallucination” by Paul of a “celestial Jesus.”

According to Carrier’s webpage, his research focus is on the “origins of Christianity,” yet he has tweeted that the Bible is “propaganda” and the only historical texts one can rely upon are extra-Biblical.

Let’s consider that point. If I were going to write books on the “origins of Muslims,” wouldn’t it make sense for me to incorporate the Quran? If I were going to craft a history of any countries within the Arab region, wouldn’t I want to take the Quran into account? The Quran certainly offers historical accounts of Muhammad, Muslim beliefs, and Sharia law. Muhammad is an extremely influential prophet among Muslims, so excluding him from any discussions about Arab history seems nonsensical. Applying Carrier’s logic to this situation would require that I obtain extra-Quran accounts of Muhammad’s life before admitting he even lived.

Note that the Guinness Book of World Records has indicated: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion” (www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-book-of-non-fiction). Furthermore, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages. Such figures indicate strong support for the Bible from all over the globe.

William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”

“Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”

Extensive evidence of the Bible’s historicity exists, derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone inscriptions, and archeological findings from regions described in the Bible. For a more extensive review, visit http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries#ixzz4XfDkyKvG

In addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.

The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).

Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion.”

As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

In fact, suffering and martyrdom of the early Christian disciples has been documented by a variety of extra-Biblical sources. Eusebius, the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History in which he speaks to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. He cites Dionysius of Corinth (~ 170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 240 A.D.) to back his assertions. He also cites Josephus (~ 95 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.), and Hegesippus (~ 170 A.D.) on the martyrdom of James, the half brother of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

“Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85). In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.

Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul? Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection. It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives. Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.

Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:

  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  3. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  4. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
  5. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  6. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  8. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  9. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  10. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  11. Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).

Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist? Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven. Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.

Paul, the author of between six and thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.

In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.

As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”

I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.

Carrier states: “Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”

Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.” Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:1-2: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

  1. Isaiah 53:11 “After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied, by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”
  2. Psalm 16:9-11 “Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You will make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
  3. Psalm 118:22 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
  4. Isaiah 53: 9-10 “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”

Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”

Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.

  1. People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
  2. People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
  3. Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
  4. Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
  5. Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.

“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).

Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.

According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”

According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.

According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”

Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: (https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html unless otherwise noted).

  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword.
  • Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014).
  • Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014).
  • Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India
  • Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
  • Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
  • James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014).
  • Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014).
  • Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).

Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.

The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world. Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected. Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles. Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.

It’s humbling when one considers the way a humble carpenter, a tax collector, several fishermen, a tentmaker, and others were able to change the world. With God, nothing is impossible. Amen.

Thank you for your time.

“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis

References

Richard Carrier’s full blog is available at http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/9978

Belt, D. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

Craig, W.L. (2016) Two recent archeological discoveries. Accessed February 3, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel  Publications: Grand Rapids, MI.

Johns, C. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Millennium House: Elanora Heights, Australia