Monday, April 4, 2016

The Logic of Christianity 11: Are there Proofs that the Resurrection Never Happened?

The first historical attempt to deny that Jesus actually rose from the dead is described in Matthew 28:11-15. Matthew’s audience (living decades after the crucifixion) is, apparently, still well aware of an explanation offered among Jews for the disappearance of Jesus’ body: The Roman Guards who were securing the tomb holding Jesus’ body, according to the explanation, all fell asleep during their watch. Jesus’ disciples, sensing that this likelihood would “probably” occur (wink and nod), had the cunning, alertness, and presence of mind to immediately capitalize on the Guards’ temporary lapse to sneak in quietly, roll the stone away, and steal Jesus’ body, thus violating the Commandment against working on the Sabbath at the same time they were violating Roman law, since the purported theft involved the illegal breaking of the seal of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. How the Guards who were soundly asleep could possibly have known that a “theft” of the body had occurred is not explained. If the Guards were truly asleep during this purported theft, they would not know at all what had happened to the body. If one of them had awakened during the process (and, hence, noticed the theft occurring), he would have, most certainly, alerted his fellow guards and disrupted the theft. Surely, at least one of the thieves would have been captured or some physical evidence of a dead body being moved would have been discovered. Furthermore, if a theft of a dead body that had been sealed in a tomb by Pilate were actually accomplished, where would the disciples hide this dead body that, by now, had begun to stink? Why is it that, even decades after the purported theft (in Matthew’s account), no physical evidence of the stolen body of Jesus had ever been located? The only “proof” offered in this scenario is the “EYE-WITNESS TESTIMONY” of Guards WHO CLAIM TO HAVE BEEN “ASLEEP” WHEN IT HAPPENED.
Abdullah Kareem, in his web post, “The Resurrection Hoax” ( argues that the resurrection of Jesus is a hoax because Mark, the earliest gospel, “never contained the story.” Mr. Kareem’s use of the term “never” is quite clearly erroneous. (If Kareem were a biblical author, the anti-Christian forces would surely swoop down to demonstrate that he can have no claim to inerrancy!) The fact is, you see, that some early manuscripts of Mark definitely contain Mark 16:9-20, which recounts resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene, the Eleven apostles, and two men walking in the country. So, one cannot say that Mark “never” contained the story. Kareem’s claim might be better phrased: “The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark do not contain the accounts of resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene, the Eleven apostles, and two men walking in the country.” That much is true, but that does not mean that Mark did not contain the resurrection story. In a passage that is not disputed by textual critics, Mark 16:1-8 contains the early Easter morning story of Mary Magdalene and two others coming to anoint Jesus’ body. They found the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, and upon entering, they saw a person robed in white who said to them, “Be not afraid. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen; He is not here; see the place where they laid him.” Mr. Kareem’s argument, therefore, is again erroneous. Even without Mark 16:9-20, Mark still contains the resurrection story. Mr. Kareem continues with innuendo and slanted arguments, none of which are particularly compelling, and then closes with this challenge: “We challenge Christians to prove his resurrection.”
The problem with Mr. Kareem’s challenge is that it presumes that the burden of proof rests upon Christians. Who says it does? Who gets to decide what “presumptions” should take precedence? In American jurisprudence, we constitutionally grant a “presumption of innocence” to anyone who is accused of a crime. We say that s/he is presumed innocent, until proven guilty. But, who could prove that this presumption is the best presumption? Why not presume that anyone who is accused is guilty, until proven innocent? The answer is that “cultures” decide which presumptions the cultures will accept. In my book, ArguMentor (p. 69), I discuss “those ‘starting points’ of Perelman’s argumentation—those facts, truths, and presumptions—that each specific culture unconsciously admits.” Put differently, there are no “facts,” unless the culture in which one states the fact admits that it is a fact. Especially, in the postmodern era, there are no “truths,” unless the culture in which one states the truth admits that it is a truth. And, we cannot “presume” anything unless the culture in which we expect the “presumption” to hold sway admits that it is the acceptable presumption. Foss, Foss, and Trapp (p. 89) note: “[T]he audience’s adherence to presumptions falls short of being maximum; thus, presumptions, unlike facts and truths, can be reinforced by argumentation. Speakers engage in preliminary argumentation to establish certain presumptions or to reinforce the presumptions in the minds of the audience. . . . [P]resumptions can be violated, whereas facts and truths cannot.” Perelman states on pages 24-25 of the Realm of Rhetoric that presumption “imposes the burden of proof upon the person who wants to oppose its application.”
So, I disagree with Abdullah Kareem’s assessment of the presumptions when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. My position is that, given the 2000-year-long general acceptance in western culture of the resurrection, the burden of proof is on Mr. Kareem to prove that it did NOT happen. And, I challenge anyone to prove that the resurrection did not happen. How would someone even begin to go about proving such a thing? For that matter, how would someone prove that God did NOT create the universe? How would someone prove that the Bible is NOT inspired of God? These are some of my presumptions: • The resurrection did occur. • God did create the universe. • The Bible is inspired of God. Furthermore, they are presumptions held by a massive Christian Culture. My presumption is that these premises are “true, until proven false.”
I will stipulate that NOT ALL who study the Scriptures admit these presumptions. There was a major paradigm shift in biblical studies around the turn of the 20th Century—probably, the result of (a now discredited) modernist philosophy and the application of Occam’s Razor. In his book Between Faith and Criticism, Mark A. Noll writes of two biblical studies cultures operating under opposing presumptions (p.7): “The story of these clashing communities is, however, really two stories. Of most interest to outsiders is the record of traditional Bible-believers first competing in the intellectual marketplace as full partners in the academic discussion of Scripture (roughly 1880 to 1900); then retreating from that world to the fortress of faith (roughly 1900 to 1935); then slowly realizing the values of some participation in that wider world (1935 to 1950), finding the strategies to put themselves back in the professional picture once again (1940 to 1975), and finally confronting new spiritual and intellectual dilemmas because of success in those ventures (1960 to the present). This part of the story is largely an account of . . . conflicting ASSUMPTIONS about the Bible.” On page 45, Noll observes that, after 1900, “a new paradigm emerges for the practice of normal science (The Bible, however sublime, is a human book to be investigated with the standard ASSUMPTIONS that one brings to the discussion of all products of human culture).” Replace the term “assumptions” in the quotations I have cited above (and placed in all caps) with the term “presumptions” and you will have a better grasp of the “logical” situation I am describing. The big difference is that when the new paradigm emerged, the term “assumption” for the advocates of considering the Bible to be a human book became much more of a “premise” or a “creed” than an “assumption” or “presumption.” That is to say, advocates of considering the Bible to be a human book leave no room for the possibility of being proven wrong. For them, the description of the Bible is not “human until proven divine” in a way analogous to our legal formula: “innocent until proven guilty.” They simply allow no room for the possibility of their assumption being wrong. There is no way they would grant the Bible any divine nature. It is as if their “assumption” takes on the full weight of “truth.” It is, therefore, with much more humility that I advance the “presumption” formula concerning the Bible that it is “divinely inspired until proven human;” that it is “true until proven false.” This more humble “presumption” of mine is akin to the postmodern view expressed in 1974 by University of Chicago Professor Wayne C. Booth in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent: “It is reasonable to grant (one ought to grant) some degree of credence to whatever qualified men and women agree on, unless one has specific and stronger reasons to disbelieve” (101).
“Granting some degree of credence” is another formula for defining the term “faith.” In my first blog post in this series, The Logic of Christianity 1: The Shroud, the Pope, and the Faith Continuum, I remarked: “Even miniscule faith in a tiny possibility is still faith.” I offered extreme examples: “Faith is a continuum. It runs all the way from the tiniest, faintest possibility that something is true (such as the faint possibility that I was within 15 to 20 feet of the actual DNA of Jesus [at the Shroud of Turin]) to the almost certain probability that something is true (such as the almost certain fact that I was within 15 to 20 feet of Pope Francis [in St. Peter’s Square of the Vatican]).” I cited Aristotle to the following effect: “Faith . . . must admit at least two possibilities. In his book, On Rhetoric, Aristotle teaches how rhetorical logic works. In rhetoric (as opposed to dialectic), the aim is not to provide absolute truth, but only possible or probable truth. It applies only to matters of which we cannot be certain. Nevertheless, although certainty is impossible, we can logically conclude that something is ‘probably’ or ‘possibly’ true. Aristotle says that the goal of this type of logic is to achieve ‘faith.’” With this post, I am further positing that “faith” is the accepting of presumptions. I stated that some of my presumptions include the following: • The resurrection did occur. • God did create the universe. • The Bible is inspired of God. Furthermore, I pointed out, they are presumptions held by a massive Christian Culture. My presumption is that these premises are “true, until proven false.” That, for me, is the essence of effective Christian faith. Although I argued that even atheists possess a small degree of faith in God, I would not consider such miniscule faith to be “effective Christian faith.” Effective Christian faith begins at the point one chooses to join the culture that accepts presumptions such as those identified above. Accepting these presumptions does not mean that one must relegate his or her brain and cognitive powers to the closet. It means simply that Christians give God, Jesus, the Bible, the Resurrection, etc. the benefit of the doubt. We will believe that these presumptions are “true until proven false.”
Simply shifting the burden of proof from the believers to the unbelievers produces stunning results. If unbelievers must prove that the resurrection did not occur, I believe they would need some powerful evidence: the physical remains of Jesus’ body, uncontested confessions from some of his close followers that a hoax had been perpetrated, etc. If unbelievers must prove that there is no God or that He did not create the universe, they would need to produce evidence that it is impossible to produce. If unbelievers must prove that the Bible is false, they must first determine every possible meaning of every Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic word in the Scriptures. Then, they must consider every conceivable grammatical combination in which those words may be found. Next, they must consider every possible trope, every figure of speech, as a means of determining the multitudinous possible interpretations of every verse of scripture. And, they must disprove not just one or two interpretations that they might prefer to debunk, in a “straw man” logical fallacy approach. They must disprove every single interpretation that is remotely possible—that has been previously advanced or that will be advanced at any point in the future.
In my academic career, I frequently pursue the interpretive “possibilities” of biblical texts, and my pursuits are often guided by the debunking activities of some of my fellow scholars who have chosen to follow unbelieving presumptions. If unbelieving scholars attempt to debunk a “young earth” interpretation of Genesis, I pursue the possibilities in the Hebrew text to see if any evidence of an “older earth” interpretation is possible. If unbelieving scholars attempt to assert evolutionary biological theories, I investigate the language used in Genesis. My goal is not to cave on creationist theologies, but to investigate the range of possibilities. What if the interpretations accepted by generations of Christians are incorrect—as, for example, Christians still mistakenly identify “Lucifer” in Isaiah with “Satan”? I was raised in a non-denominational Christian movement that pledged no allegiance to man-made creeds. I am not committed to defending the various Christian creeds developed over the last two millennia. I do not presume them to be inspired. I do, on the other hand, presume that the Bible is inspired, and in the next few blog posts, I will offer some of the new perspectives I have pursued in investigating some of the texts unbelieving scholars have attacked. My faith remains unscathed.

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