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Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/11/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,535 times Debate No: 97949
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Did Jesus rise from the dead? If so, it provides strong evidence for Christianity, and if not, then Christianity is certainly false. From a historical perspective, the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. (This is my common argument for the resurrection)

-I shall NOT be arguing my case through subjective conversion experience, but history alone.
-I shall NOT be presupposing biblical divine inspiration, or general reliability.
-I WILL be using the Gospels/Epistles of Paul as any historian would, as a collection of historical sources concerning the life of Jesus and the early church.

One may ask why I am 'using the Bible to prove the Bible'. To answer this, I assert that every New Testament critic on the planet uses the books from the New Testament, as they are the earliest sources for Jesus, and the early Christian community. Further, another important point to consider is that I am not trying to 'prove the Bible', but the historicity of an event from antiquity.

The collection of facts I am presenting are well evidenced so much so that they are agreed upon by the great majority of New Testament critics. (I will put the fact, and then lines of evidence that supports that particular fact)

Fact 1-Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion.
1. This is multiply attested in all 4 Gospels.
2. It is very probably part of the pre-Markan passion source. Some scholars date this narrative to the late 30's! (Such as Rudolf Pesch)
3. His death is part of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 creed. This creed is almost unanimously accepted as Pre-Pauline material. This oral creed probably goes back to Paul's 'fact finding' journey in Galatians 1:18-21, where he gets material from some of the apostles directly.
4. It is reported by Jewish historian Josephus in Antiquities 18:3. Now many may object that this is a Christian forgery, and it most likely contains interpolation, but most Josephus scholars recognize most of it to be authentic, including the crucifixion portion.
5. It is recorded by Roman historian Tacitus in the Annals 15.44. It is most likely authentic as well, as there are no copies that do not contain it, it is normal Tacitean style, and is quite hostile towards Christians, so there is no reason for a Christian to interpolate this. Now one may object that he just simply borrowed this from things he had heard. This is contradicted by scholars who have shown that Tacitus was a very careful researcher. For example, Ronald Martin wrote-"It is clear, then, that Tacitus read widely and that the idea that he was an uncritical follower of a single source is quite untenable."
6. The idea that Christians would simply make up the idea of a crucified savior is simply ridiculous. For example, Martin Hengel wrote in his monograph crucifixion-"A crucified messiah...must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish." This too fits the criterion of embarrassment.
For these and other reasons, virtually all scholars grant that Jesus died by crucifixion.

Fact 2-Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.
1. It is multiply attested in all four Gospel accounts.
2. It is in the 1 Cor. 15 creed, that goes very early, most likely to within five years of the events ('and that he was buried').
3. Christians are unlikely to put this story on a famous Sanhedrin member. In the ancient world, claims were investigated. The Gospel accounts circulated widely in the area, and the entire Christian movement would have been disregarded if it was found out indeed that this famous person had not buried Jesus. Claiming to have connections where you really don't is not the way to start a religion!
4. The burial story is also most probably part of the Pre-Marcan passion story, as well as early oral traditions.
5. The story is very simple and lacks the later embellishment of legendary accretions. If you are going to create a legend, you surround the story with theological motifs, something we don't find in the burial account.
6. Jesus' burial was shameful for ancient standards. Scholar Byron Mccane has argued that Joseph had every reason to bury Jesus, as Dt. 21 says you must bury one hung on a tree by sunset, so as a Sanhedrin member, he would have carried it out. Jesus' burial by Joseph instead of a family tomb is a dishonorable and shameful. Finally, the lack of women mourners was very shameful, and wouldn't be invented by Christians.

For these reasons, and others, most scholars would grant that Jesus was buried.

Fact 3-Jesus' tomb was empty
There are MANY (I have over 2 dozen) arguments for the empty tomb, but I will just limit myself to 4.
1. The reliability of Jesus' burial scene lends credibility to the empty tomb, as then the location of the body was known.
2. Christians would never pin a false story here on women discovering the tomb, as they were not as valued. It wasn't just a peculiarity, but a stereotype that people held very strongly. David DeSilva, a cultural scholar shows that women were only to speak to their husbands, and through them. Their place in the culture was in the home, not as eyewitnesses to the greatest miracle in history! Violating this honor code was a BIG deal in an honor-shame culture.
3. It is multiply attested in the Gospel traditions.
4. This one is called the Jerusalem Factor. The principle is-how could these followers of Jesus preach his resurrection in Jerusalem if the body was still in the tomb? It would defy the sense of the time.

Fact 4-The disciples of Jesus had experience that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus.
For these and many more reasons an impressive majority of scholars would grant the empty tomb.

1. This is recorded in 3 of the four Gospels, so it is multiply and independently attested.
2. It is reported in the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed. One of the leading historical Jesus scholars on the planet James DG Dunn is so impressed with this creed that he dates it to within MONTHS of the events, and it almost certainly goes back to eyewitnesses, where Paul most plausibly got the information from. This creed almost guarantees they occurred.
3. Certain appearances have good historical probability. For example, the appearance to the women is historically probable, because of the above stereotypes, with the criterion of embarrassment.
4. The early sermon summaries in Acts probably goes back to eyewitnesses.
For these and a few other reasons virtually all scholars grant that these experiences occurred.

Fact 5-Paul, an enemy of the early church was converted because of an experience he believed was of the risen Jesus.

1. We have Paul's own testimony in many places in his own letters.
2. His life was completely transformed, and he was killed for this belief, so an appearance seems to be the only thing that would change him from a confident and zealous Pharisee to a member of this extremely shameful movement.
3. We have accounts of his experience in Acts, which goes back to eyewitness testimony (Luke, the author) that Paul had this life change and claimed experience.

These and a few other evidences are why virtually all scholars grant an experience to Paul.

Fact 6-The Origin of the Christian faith/Disciples' Belief in the Resurrection Despite Every Predisposition to the Contrary. This was outlined well by William Lane Craig in a debate with Bart Ehrman.

"Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus" crucifixion:

1. Their leader was dead.

And Jewish Messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel"s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone"s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. But then the obvious question arises: What in the world caused them to believe such an un-Jewish and outlandish thing? Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, muses, "Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was." And N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, "That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.""

I would take it even further, and say that using social sciences, Christianity had every reason NOT to succeed as a religion unless it had reliable evidence for its claims

Now, we have these six facts that are well evidenced and agreed upon by the vast majority of New Testament critics. We must ask what the best explanation of the facts is. I assert that the resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation of the facts, as it passes the classic criterion of historicity laid out by professional historians. Any alternative hypothesis must also pass these criterion that I shall now lay out.

Explanatory Scope-It explains all 5 facts easily. It accounts for the death of Jesus, his burial, why his tomb was empty, and why all of these people had experiences that believed were Jesus risen from the dead.

Explanatory Power-It explains all 5 facts without forcing them to fit. It directly explains why the tomb was empty, and why all these people had these detailed experiences that utterly transformed them.

Plausibility-Given the context of Jesus' predictions of his own death and resurrection, along with his divine signs and claims, it is thus plausible.

Less Ad Hoc-It does not include any non-evidenced assumptions, thus passing this category.

Hence, I have built a strong cumulative case that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in vindication of his divine claims, and shameful death.


Based on the available evidence, it is unreasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

I agree that Jesus most likely did exist and was crucified.

The resurrection story, however, is littered with contradictions:

"Nowhere are the differences among the Gospels more clear than in the accounts of Jesus' resurrection...There are scads of differences among the four accounts, and some of these differences are discrepancies that cannot be readily (or ever) reconciled."

"Here let me stress the point that I made in my book Misquoting Jesus: we don't have the originals of any of these Gospels, only copies made later, in most instances many centuries later. These copies all differ from one another, very often in the accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Scholars have to determine what the originals said on the basis of these later manuscripts. In some places the decisions are quite straightforward; in others there is a lot of debate." [1]

"...the final twelve verses of Mark's Gospel are not original to Mark's Gospel but were added by a scribe in a later generation. Mark ended his Gospel at what is now 16:8, with the women fleeing the tomb and not telling anyone what they had seen. In my discussion I accept the scholarly consensus that verses 16:9-21 were a later addition to the Gospel." [1]

"All four Gospels agree that on the third day after Jesus' crucifiction and burial, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. But on virtually every detail they disagree." [1]

1) "Who actually went to the tomb? Was it Mary alone (John 20:1)? Mary and another Mary (Matthew 28:1)? Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)? Or women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem -- possibly Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and "other women" (Luke 24:1, see 23:55)?" [1]

2) "Had the stone already been rolled away from the tomb (as in Mark 16:4) or was it rolled away by an angel while the women were there (Matthew 28:2)?" [1]

3) "Whom or what did they see there? An angel (Matthew 28:5)? A young man (Mark 16:5)? Two men (Luke 24:4)? Or nothing and no one (John)?" [1]

4) "And what were they told? To tell the disciples to “go to Galilee,” where Jesus will meet them (Mark 16:7)? Or to remember what Jesus had told them “while he was in Galilee,” that he had to die and rise again (Luke 24:7)?" [1]

5) "Then, do the women tell the disciples what they saw and heard (Matthew 28:8), or do they not tell anyone (Mark 16:8)?" [1]

6) "If they tell someone, whom do they tell? The eleven disciples (Matthew 28:8)? The eleven disciples and other people (Luke 24:8)? Simon Peter and another unnamed disciple (John 20:2)?" [1]

7) "What do the disciples do in response? Do they have no response because Jesus himself immediately appears to them (Matthew 20:9)? Do they not believe the women because it seems to be “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11)? Or do they go to the tomb to see for themselves (John 20:3)?" [1]

Furthermore, the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses.

"Students taking a college-level Bible course for the first time often find it surprising that we don’t know who wrote most of the books of the New Testament. How could that be? Don’t these books all have the authors’ names attached to them? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the letters of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter, and 1, 2 and 3 John? How could the wrong names be attached to books of Scripture? Isn’t this the Word of God? If someone wrote a book claiming to be Paul while knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul—isn’t that lying? Can Scripture contain lies?" [1]

"What came as a shock to me over time was just how little actual evidence there is for the traditional ascriptions of authorship that I had always taken for granted, and how much real evidence there was that many of these ascriptions are wrong. It turned out the liberals actually had something to say and had evidence to back it up; they weren’t simply involved in destructive wishful thinking. There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them (apostles and friends of the apostles). Other books were written by authors who flat out claimed to be someone they weren’t." [1]

"...all the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness. Names are attached to the titles of the Gospels (“the Gospel according to Matthew”), but these titles are later additions to the Gospels, provided by editors and scribes to inform readers who the editors thought were the authorities behind the different versions." [1]

"Illiteracy was widespread throughout the Roman Empire. At the best of times maybe 10 percent of the population was roughly literate. And that 10 percent would be the leisured classes—upper-class people who had the time and money to get an education (and their slaves and servants taught to read for the benefit of such services to their masters). Everyone else worked from an early age and was unable to afford the time or expense of an education. Nothing in the Gospels or Acts indicates that Jesus’ followers could read, let alone write. In fact there is an account in Acts in which Peter and John are said to be “unlettered” (Acts 4:13)—the ancient word for illiterate. As Galilean Jews, Jesus’ followers, like Jesus himself, would have been speakers of Aramaic. As rural folk they probably would not have any knowledge of Greek; if they did, it would have been extremely rough, since they spent their time with other illiterate Aramaic-speaking peasants trying to eke out a hand- to-mouth existence. In short, who were Jesus’ disciples? Lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic- speaking peasants from Galilee." [1]

"...who were the authors of the Gospels? Even though they all kept their identities anonymous, we can learn a few things about them from the books they wrote. What we learn stands completely at odds with what we know about the disciples of Jesus. The authors of the Gospels were highly educated, Greek-speaking Christians who probably lived outside Palestine...These authors were not lower-class, illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants from Galilee." [1]

"Most researchers place the date of Jesus’ death at Passover time around the year 30." [Source: Boston College]

"Although some scholars disagree, the vast majority of researchers believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70." (40 years later) [Source: Boston College]

"This scholarly consensus holds that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were composed, independently of one another, sometime in the 80s or 90s." (50 to 60 years later) [Source: Boston College]

John is usually dated to AD 90–110." (60 to 90 years later) [Source: Wikipedia]

In summary, why is it unreasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?

Reason 1: The resurrection accounts are littered with contradictions and discrepancies. They're unreliable.

Reason 2: The resurrection accounts were not written by eyewitnesses.

Reason 3: The resurrection accounts were written long after Jesus' death.


[1] "Jesus, Interrupted" by Bart D. Ehrman
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting my challenge. I also thank them for sorting out their objections into these categories. I would like to point out that Con has mainly launched into an attack on the veracity of the Gospels. This would be enough if my case was only based upon the Gospel testimony...but it's not. My main source for the appearances of Jesus is the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed, a creed which as I pointed out already, most likely goes back to the Jerusalem church.[1] My second source is Paul himself, who was an eyewitness to both the disciples' preaching, and to his own experience. My third source is the Markan account of the resurrection, which is probably the earliest. If we throw out the rest of the Gospels, my facts still stand. I would like to point out that I am using the Gospels as any other historian would, using criterion such as embarrassment and multiple attestation, so even if they are generally unreliable, we can still glean certain facts from them. I can't emphasize enough that EVEN if Ehrman's arguments here are accurate, my evidence for the facts I mentioned, and thus the resurrection, still stands, and my opponent's criciticms are actually irrelevant.

But I DO think the Gospels are reliable, so I think that would provide good evidence for the 1st 4 facts.

Now let's analyze the arguments

Reason 1: The resurrection accounts are littered with contradictions and discrepancies. They're unreliable.

1. The most discrepancies would prove is that all 4 Gospel accounts are not 100% accurate. It says nothing about their general reliability.
2. Just because accounts of an event have discrepancies in them does not mean that the event didn't happen! Various accounts of the sacking/burning of Rome disagree on the same sorts of details (How big was it? How many people died? etc.), but that doesn't mean that the fire didn't occur![2]
3. In historical research, we look for basic layers of historical truth in accounts. According to renowned historian A.N. Sherwin White, we do this even with the worst of sources, and are still able to find it.[3]
4. Many of the discrepancies parallel the kind of differences we find in other ancient biographies (The Gospels are ancient bio, and this is the consensus position[4]), such as Plutarch's biographies. It shows they took the same biographical liberties in retelling their stories that were accustomed to in ancient times.[5]
5. The Gospels AGREE on the main facts I am presenting, and the differences actually give credence to the idea that they were written by eyewitnesses, which in turn is one refutation of Con's 2nd argument!
6. The differences are apparent and most dissolve under close examination. Entire books have been written on this topic[6]

Reason 2: The resurrection accounts were not written by eyewitnesses.

I want to get into Ehrman's arguments here, but 1st four preliminary points.

1. Even if true, this can be said of MOST of ancient history. Suetonius and Tacitus aren't eyewitnesses to most of what they report, and yet they are considered the most reliable of ancient historians.
2. Numerous scholarly works argue persuasively that much of the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony[7,8]
3. Historians need not know who wrote a work in order to use it as evidence, and they do this all the time! (Barrera, 2001)
4. Even if Ehrman is right about the Gospels, Paul IS an eyewitness, and probably as is the creed.

Argument 1-Anonymous?

1. If the definition of anonymous is that the writers don't tell you who wrote them, then the Gospels are still "anonymous" today!
2. The evidence is against the idea that at some point the Gospels were circulating around with names. Martin Hengel points out that almost all ancient works had titles attached to them, describing who worte them.[9]
3. Even IF anonymous, it does not mean that they are unreliable. We evaluate them as historical sources the same way.

Argument 2-Illiteracy

1. The authors could easily have used scribes! There is evidence for this and no reason to discount this. [10]
2. There is conflicting evidence for how many lower class people were actually illiterate. This assumption has been challenged by Bowman[11] and others so this should not be a main point your argument rests upon
3. Even if most people WERE illiterate, we have good evidence some of the apostles would be literate. For example, Matthew was a tax collectors, a job that required at least a fair amount of literacy.

Positive Evidence For Eyewitness Testimony in Mark and Matthew(I wrote this section to fill in the rest of my available space, so it is obviously incomplete)

This section is not necessary, as I don't need Gospel eyewitness testimony for my case, but it gives more supporting evidence for my case.

Mark has always been seen as the testimony of Peter. This is not only backed by external attestation by Papias and Irenaeus (Both of whom were in a position to probably know), but also by typological themes in Mark. Some of these evidences are:

-Very limited vocabulary is consistent with someone with a low level education
-Peter is the "star" of Mark
-His character is most mentioned in Mark
-Many "third person" verses are shifted into 1st person verses onto Peter's mouth.
Thus, we have convincing evidence that Peter is behind much of Mark's Gospel (Covered more extensively by Bauckham), giving credence to the burial and empty tomb.

Matthean Authorship is the final question to which I turn. If Matthew wrote his Gospel, then we do in fact have eyewitness reports of his crucifixion, burial, and appearances, and origin of the disciple's belief in the resurrection.

Now, did Matthew the disciple write the Gospel attributed to him?

The external attestation is very strong. It is attested to by Papias, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Origen, and many others. The internal evidence is strong, and is very consistent with a tax collector who is Jewish, and knows his Old Testament well. (This is exactly who Matthew is!)

Some indicators:

-Matthew uses a lot of advanced monetary references not found in Syntopic parallels, evidence of Matthew the tax collector being the author.
-Matthew's name is Levi, indicating he came from the priestly tribe of Levi, which would indicate he would have extensive knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, and this is what we find in Matthew: the most Messianic, Jewish Gospel.
-Matthew, as a tax collector was a hellenized Jew, meaning he was influenced by Greek style in society, fitting perfectly in with his Gospel on a cultural level.
Thus, I think we have pretty strong evidence Matthew, the disciple wrote Matthew. More arguments can be found in works by Holding[12], Engwer[13], and Keener[14].

Reason 3: The resurrection accounts were written long after Jesus' death.

This can be said of most of ancient history. So what? In comparison with most of ancient history, +40 years is extremely EARLY. Further, we CAN be confident that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and probably the Pre-Markan passion source are from the 30s. I can go into a chronology on the creed if needed.

Textual Concerns

1. We don't have the originals of the New Testament.... Or any other work of antiquity. It's a non-issue.
2. Mark 16:9-20 is an interpolation, and I haven't based any part of my case upon it.
3. "Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant; in fact most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple— slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their motives were as pure as the driven snow. And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the “original” text. This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching."-Bart Ehrman
4. The New Testament is the best and earliest attested book in antiquity. Ehrman would agree.

Thus, we have seen that my case for the resurrection based on the facts I presented still stands. We have not seen any evidence to refute the evidences for my facts, nor have we seen how the resurrection isn't the best explanation. My opponent's arguments were peripheral, and focused much on the Gospels, which I used very little of, and even those criticisms were found wanting.

[1] Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. (pg 223-235)
[2] Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991 (pg 180)
[3] Sherwin-White, A. N. Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963. pg 186
[4] Burridge, Richard A. What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004
[5] Licona, Mike. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 2016
[6] Wenham, John. Easter Enigma. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1984
[7] See Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
[8] Boyd and Eddy's The Jesus Legend also deals with this in depth
[9] The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, pg 44
[10] See Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection by E.R. Richards
[11] Bowman, Literacy in the Roman Empire
[12] Holding, James Patrick. Trusting the New Testament: Is the Bible Reliable? Longwood, FL: Xulon, 2009
[14] Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009


I have no issue with your "Fact 1" or or "Fact 2." Jesus almost certainly was cruicifed and buried. "Fact 3", however, is questionable. And "Fact 3" relies on the Gospels. The details of the “empty tomb” story are not found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The details of the “empty tomb” story come from the Gospels. These details are 1) contradictory, 2) not from eyewitnesses, and 3) recorded decades (or even centuries) after Jesus’ death.

We know it to be impossible for a man to come back to life, after having been dead for three days. Should we accept such an outlandish claim, based on the histoical evidence found in the Bible? If so, we should certainly accept the outlandish claims of Mormonism based on the historical evidence. After all, the historical evidence for Mormonism is far stronger than that of Christianity:

Number of documents.
The Christian apologist may say that the New Testament story is supported by the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and other outsiders. But Mormons point to newspaper articles, diaries, letters, and even court records documenting the early fathers of the church, a far broader record than that of the New Testament. Some of these accounts of the events in the early Mormon church were written days or even hours after the events. [1]

Quality of copies.
The apologist will talk about the tens of thousands of New Testament manuscript copies and the antiquity of some of the oldest manuscripts, the most voluminous record of any book, but the Mormon record beats this again. The books of Mormonism were written after the modern printing press, and we have many early, identical copies. There is no centuries-long dark period separating originals from our earliest copies and no worry that scribes “improved” manuscripts as they copied them.

Cultural gap. The Jesus story is from a culture long ago and far away, and the gospels document the Christian tradition within Greek culture, already one culture removed from the Aramaic Jewish culture of Jesus. In Mormonism, we can read the accounts of the participants in our own language. [1]

. The New Testament books were written by ordinary people, not by God himself or even angels. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was told by an angel about the golden plates, from which the Book of Mormon was written. Yes, Smith’s translation process was fallible, but he wasn’t writing from memory. That his source document was vetted by an angel says a lot about the quality of what he started with.

Eyewitness accounts. The four gospels don’t claim to be eyewitness accounts. We don't even know who wrote them. Within Mormonism, 12 men saw the golden plates. Testimony from those men is at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. [1]

Who would die for a lie? Christian apologists ask this question and then point to the martyred disciples of Jesus. In the first place, this argument crumbles on investigation. In the second, Mormonism matches it. The Mormon inner circle put themselves through much hardship, including death in at least the case of founder Joseph Smith. If Christian apologists claim that this is strong evidence for Christianity, must it be for Mormonism as well? [1]

Naysayer hypothesis. Christian apologists say that if the Jesus story were false, naysayers of the time would’ve snuffed it out. A false story wouldn’t have survived to be popular today. In the first place, this argument is ridiculous. In the second, Mormonism matches it. If the story were false, those in the inner circle would’ve shut it down, right? [1]
How, then, do you reject Mormonism?

Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for this debate, and for his reply. My 2 main contentions are that there are a number of facts needing an explanation, and that the resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation of the facts.

In his rebuttal, my opponent disputed only fact 3, which was the empty tomb, and to my shock, did not address my numerous arguments for the empty tomb, but merely repeated the claims I spent much time and documentation refuting in my 1st rebuttal. He accepts the burial, but does NOT accept the empty tomb. However, as you may recall one of my evidences in favor of the empty tomb was the accuracy of the burial story. Let me expand on this:

If the burial story is accurate, at least in its concept, then the tomb of Jesus was KNOWN, and his disciples couldn't go out and preach the resurrection IN Jerusalem in the face of a tomb with the corpse inside. If there was indeed a body in the tomb, then it would have been dragged across the streets, squashing the budding Christian movement. This is just one of the many evidences for the empty tomb, such as the discovery of the empty tomb by women. Women's testimony was not valued in the ancient world, as documented in numerous places.[1] This fits the criterion of embarrassment, and would not have been made up by the Gospel authors. For more evidences, see my opening statement.

His other objection is based on the deficiencies of the sources, in which he didn't even acknowledge my thorough rebuttal to them. Nothing is mentioned on the appearances, so I must assume he grants them, with the near unanimous consensus of scholars.

Next, he turns to the fact that it is "impossible" for dead men to come back to life. This is only true if naturalism is indeed true. This is an argument AGAINST naturalism.
I would ask how he came to the conclusion that a resurrection is "impossible". Inevitably, he will rely on the arguments of David Hume, probably from the principle of anology[2]. Hume's arguments have not only come under serious critiques in recent times from Christians[3], and non-Christians[4] alike. Before I turn to the principle of analogy, I would also argue that we have a number of modern day miracle claims that have been well documented, some involving revivifications from death.[5]

Now I turn to the principle of analogy, the main argument against miracles.

1. This would be a lovely counterexample that shows resurrections do INDEED happen! While using an open-historical-critical method, Boyd and Eddy have persuasively argued that while we cannot easily accept claims of a miracle, we cannot exclude them without looking at the evidence for the claim, not assuming naturalism or the existence of God.[6] While as historians, we cannot include God, we cannot exclude him either.
2. If applied rigorously, the principle of analogy would stop us from concluding ANY unique events happen. The question here is whether or not something happened in THIS situation. We must look at the evidence, and use the tools historians use to find the best explanation[7]

In this case, I would argue that the prior probability of Jesus' resurrection is much higher than it would be, given a number of factors.

1. Jesus claimed to be divine-Using purely historical evidence, we can say with relative certainly that Jesus claimed to be divine. The best evidence for this is the Son of Man sayings, in which Jesus compares himself to Daniel's Son of Man, a clearly divine figure. For more on this, see Raymond Brown's book "The Death of the Messiah".
2. Jesus was known as a miracle worker and an exorcist. This is agreed upon by a consensus of all scholars today[8]
3. Jesus predicted his death and vindication. Using these same "Son of Man" sayings, which pass the criterion of dissimilarity, many historians agree that Jesus actually predicted his death and resurrection.[9]

Given these facts, I think that it is probable that Jesus is a very good candidate as someone for God (if he exists) to raise from the dead! Given the evidence for it, and the prior probability factors, the Bayesian probability of the resurrection is quite high![10] I see no reason to reject miracle claims a priori.

Now turning to Mormonism. Much of these things aren't evidence for Christianity OR Mormonism, such as the number of manuscripts. There goes one of the arguments right there.

Turning now to the external corroboration, I would argue that we would naturally expect Mormonism to be mentioned by more references, as it is closer in time than Christianity. Further, in Mormonism, those references aren't used as evidence FOR Mormonism. Neither is it in Christianity. It is evidence for one of the facts, which we both agree on.

Turning to the cultural gap, to say that the New Testament isn't written in a Jewish context is ludicrous, and agreed upon by NO scholars to my knowledge. Paul was a Pharasaic Jew talking from a Jewish context. The Gospel of Matthew (probably first written in Aramaic) was thoroughly Jewish, as was John. The entire New Testament is about Jesus being the Jewish messiah! In relation to the resurrection, the very idea of a resurrection is not from a Greek context, but from a Jewish one!

Turning to the authorship, there is just no evidence that Joseph Smith was divinely inspired. I find it not even to be relevant to this debate to discuss how we know Joseph Smith was clearly a fraud.

Then we come to the "eyewitnesses". For the resurrection, we not only have the 12 disciples (excluding Judas, including Matthias), who saw Jesus, despite every predisposition to the contrary of believeing Jesus rose from the dead, but Jesus' skeptical brother James, Paul, who was a violent church persecutor, become Christian, and also a testable (At the time) report that Jesus appeared to 500. SO that is about 513 eyewitnesses from the creed alone. Further, in the case of Mormonism, we have eyewitnesses that actually DECONVERTED[11], something never found in the case of the witnesses to the resurrection. Golden plates are nowhere NEAR as impressive as a resurrected man!

In regards to dying for a lie, it isn't an argument that Christianity is TRUE, but one that the disciples weren't lying. In his comparison of the evidence of Christianity to Mormonism, JP Holding thoroughly goes through this matter [12]

"Yes, martyrs do matter here. Joseph Smith was Mormonism's martyr par excellence, but far from the only one, and persecution was inflicted upon the Saints in every place they ventured. Mormons were shot at, killed, beaten, and hounded from place to place. Officials called for their removal or extermination....But the Mormons had some advantages that the early Christians did not. Others were sympathetic and offered the Mormons temporary shelter and respite, which would not have been the case for the early Christians. Mormonism grew in a frontier society where there was ample land for expansion, and places to remove entire communities and heed the advice, "when they persecute you in one town, flee to another."

There is another matter, more poignant. Skeptics have said that "in every religion people die for their beliefs." They do, but in most cases the beliefs in question are not grounded in historical data. One who would readily die for the belief that there were three or five gods, or that the dead received salvation, or that one will receive a certain eternal reward, may not be so ready to die for a belief that Washington did (or did not) cross the Delaware.

With all of Mormonism's historical claims either inaccessible (Book of Mormon events) or rooted in private events (revelations to Smith and others), Mormonism was more like the former on this account than the latter."

The last objection represents a gross misrepresentation of the social culture of Christianity in its 1st century setting. We know from cultural studies that if able, naysayers WOULD have proven it false. [13]. This one ALSO has been compared by Holding

"Mormonism is founded upon private revelations and what were at the time inaccessible historical claims. Critics of Smith of course slandered and persecuted him and the Mormons as a whole, but as noted above, this would not produce the same reaction in modern America as it did in the ancient Mediterranean."

"Mormonism maintains a belief in an immense course of history in the Western Hemisphere. One is hard-pressed to find definitive statements, and much has been made of the lack of evidence for this alternate history.

But this controversy has taken place primarily in our century. At the time of Joseph Smith, the testing of such claims was almost completely inaccessible, and the events were separated by time and distance. There is not a match here for Christian claims to have encountered persons just around the corner or across the strait, in major positions of power or influence."

We have seen, despite numerous red herring attacks on the Gospels, and the comparison to Mormonism that my original case for the resurrection stands. We have seen that the Gospels are reliable, though not necessary for a case for the resurrection Through the historical criterion outlined in my opening, we can say that the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. We certainly have not seen one here. Virtually nothing has been responded to in my opening, and thus I think I am perfectly rational in believing on the basis of the evidence, Jesus rose from the dead. Thank you

[1] See Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul pg.72
[2] David Hume, "Of Miracles"
[3] See, Licona, 2010, and Geivett & Habermas, 1997
[4] Earman, John "Hume's Abject Failure", 1999
[5] Craig Keener's massive 2 volume work entitled Miracles
[6] Boyd & Eddy, The Jesus Legend, 2007
[7] For more on the POA, see Licona, 2010
[8] Twelftree, 2004
[9] Licona, 2010
[10] Swinburne, Richard. The Resurrection of God Incarnate, 2003
[13] Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul documents this thoroughly



Scientific analysis of miracles, at least those that happened in the distant past, suffers from two problems: determining whether they occurred at all, and determining whether they violated the laws of nature. If those miracles are supposed to be purposefully caused by a deity, that adds a third problems — or even a fourth if we want evidence that the miracles vindicate a specific faith like Christianity. Because miracles by definition can’t be replicated, it’s no coincidence that the pivotal doctrines of many religions now rest on ancient, one-off events like the dictation of the Quran by Allah and the Resurrection of Jesus. Must we then suspend judgment on such things? I think not. Let’s take the Resurrection as an example.

The physicist Ian Hutchinson argues that the uniqueness of miracles makes them immune to science. If human levitation occurred repeatedly, he argues, science could test it, but “a religious faith that depended upon a belief that levitation was demonstrated on one particular occasion, or by one particular historic character, does not lend itself to such a scientific test. Science is powerless to bring unique events to the empirical bar.”

But this can’t be true, for historians have ways of confirming whether unique events are likely to have occurred. Those methods depend on multiple and independent corroboration of those events using details that coincide among different reporters, reliable documents that attest to those events, and accounts that are contemporaneous with the event. In this way we know, for example, that Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of conspirators in the Roman Senate in 44 BCE, though we’re not sure of his last words. As has been pointed out many times, the biblical account of the Crucifixion and Resurrection fails these elementary tests because the sources are not independent, none are by eyewitnesses, all contemporary writers outside of scripture fail to mention the event, and the details of the Resurrection and empty tomb — event among the Gospels and the letters of Paul — show serious discrepancies. Nor, despite ardent searching, have biblical archeologists found such a tomb.

Theologians, of course, have their own arguments for why the Resurrection is true: Paul had a vision of the resurrected Christ; the empty tomb was found by women (bizarrely, some see this as “evidence” because a fictional Resurrection concocted in those sexist times would not involve the testimony of women); and although the scriptures and Paul’s vision were not written down within Jesus’s lifetime, they were described only a few decades later. But if you see that as convincing evidence, consider the “testimonies” that begin the Book of Mormon. Opening the book, you’ll find two separate statements, signed by eleven named witnesses, all swearing they actually saw the golden plates given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. Three of the witnesses — Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris — add that an angel personally laid the plates before them. Unlike the story of Jesus, this is actual eyewitness testimony! Christians of other sects reject this testimony, but why then do they accept the tales about Jesus in the New Testament that are not only secondhand but produced by unknown writers? That’s not a consistent way to deal with evidence.

The classic test for the truth of miracles is that of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Foreshadowing Sagan’s principle of “extraordinary evidence,” Hume claimed that miracles were so extraordinary that to accept them, you would have to regard the suspension of nature’s laws as more likely than any other explanation — including fraud or mistakes. When weighing the evidence for non miraculous explanations, you should also consider if the witnesses stand to benefit from describing the miracle. Because we know that mistakes, fraud, and confirmation bias aren’t that rare, to Hume they became the default explanation. Using this principle, if you reject the eyewitness testimony of eleven Mormons as fraud, error, or delusion, then you must also reject the Resurrection.

Hume’s principle also promotes scientific reasoning in another way: look for alternative explanations. If you can think of a naturalistic, non divine explanation for a “miracle,” you should become agnostic about that miracle, and if you can’t test it, then refuse to accept it. If there are such alternatives, the last thing you should do is make that miracle the pivot on which your whole faith turns.

There are, for instance, many alternative and non miraculous explanations for the story of Jesus’s Resurrection. One was suggested by the philosopher Herman Philipse. It seems likely — for Jesus explicitly states this in three of the four Gospels — that his followers believed he would restore God’s kingdom in their lifetime. Further, the apostles were told they’d receive ample rewards in their lifetime, including sitting on twelve thrones from which they’d judge the tribes of Israel. But, unexpectedly, Jesus was crucified, ending everyone’s hope for glory. Phillips suggests that this produced painful cognitive dissonance, which in this case was resolved by “collaborative storytelling”— the same thing modern millennialists do when the world fails to end on schedule. The ever-disappointed millennialists usually agree on a story that somehow preserves their belief in the face of disconfirmation (for example, “We got the date wrong”). Phillips then suggests that in the case of the Jesus tale, the imminent arrival of God simply morphed into a promise of eternal life, a promise supported by pretending that their leader himself had been resurrected.

If you accept that an apocalyptical preacher named Jesus existed, who told his followers that God’s kingdom was nigh, this story at least seems reasonable. After all, it’s based on well-known features of human psychology: the behaviour of disappointed cults and our well-known attempts to resolve cognitive dissonance. Like disillusioned millennialists, the early Christians could simply have revised their story. Is this really less credible than the idea that Jesus arose from the dead? Only if you have an a priori commitment to the myth.

It’s no surprise then that the Jesus seminar, a group of more than two hundred religious scholars charged with evaluating the historical truth of the words and deeds of Jesus, concluded that there was no credible evidence for either the Resurrection, the empty tomb, or Jesus’s postmortem reappearance. They commented dryly, “The body of Jesus probably decayed as do all corpses."

-- Jerry A. Coyne, in Faith vs. Fact
Debate Round No. 3
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
I can't help but laugh at the recent votes! EVERY scholar on the planet will use the New Testament as a source for early Christianity. Such amateurish comments
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
"You seem like a sharp cookie."

"Don't waste your intelligence, thinking within the confines of Christian dogma."

It's funny, I would tell you the same thing, except swap out the word Christian and replace it with atheist :). I consider myself quite a freethinker, not "confined" to Christian dogma. I think I truly have followed the evidence where it leads.

"I understand that, as a Christian, you've probably had it hammered into your head"

Nope, not raised as a Christian, I have not had it "hammered into my head"

" that Jesus needed to die on the cross for our sins to be forgiven. But think about it. Is there any logical connection between Jesus' death and our sins? If an omnipotent God wants to forgive our sins, He could do so unconditionally."

Wow! This is very timely to WLC's question of the week. He has turned his recent studies into the philosophy of the atonement and he answers this very question here-

I would say that justice is a great making property, and that God has it, and justice cannot be done without atonement of some kind.

"What I'm saying is, the whole Christian philosophy is ridiculous. Think critically and you'll see."

I think I, and MANY of the great minds of our history have indeed thought critically about the matter. I don't think I'm in any danger of accepting things uncritically.
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
"So you think "Jesus miraculously rose from the dead" is the most likely explanation?"

I think it clearly is. It passes all 4 criteria I laid out in my opening with flying colors. It has great explanatory scope, as it explains all the facts that I think (along with the majority of critics) are very well established. It has great explanatory power, as it explains the facts without forcing them to fit. It has strong plausibility. Now one may object that because it is a miracle, it has low plausibility. Because it's a case of an agent acting freely (If the hypothesis is true), we cannot say a specific case is implausible a priori. We can actually go further though, and say it has some degree of plausibility, enhanced by things like fulfilled prophecy, Jesus' predictions of his death and vindication, and modern day miracle claims. Fourth, it has less ad hocs than competing hypotheses, as it doesn't contain any non-evidenced assumptions.

"Based on contradictory, non-eyewitness, non-contemporaneous testimony?"

I think I dealt with this during my first rebuttal. I encourage you to read the experts on these matters. Contradictions really don't matter, there is much evidence for eyewitnesses, and we certainly have the 1 Cor. 15 creed which is contemporaneous. And in comparison to most of ancient history, the Gospels are VERY early! (Part 1)

"Does it surprise you that this evidence fails to convince skeptics, and only seems to impress Christians?"

The evidence has convinced many skeptics, including me personally. I wasn't raised as a Christian, and I spent plenty of time in the secular camp. Other notable skeptics (some of whom I know personally) who came to believe in the resurrection based upon the evidence alone are Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, J. Warner Wallace, and countless others. (Part 1 Done)
Posted by squonk 3 years ago
@ BTP47

So you think "Jesus miraculously rose from the dead" is the most likely explanation? Based on contradictory, non-eyewitness, non-contemporaneous testimony? Does it surprise you that this evidence fails to convince skeptics, and only seems to impress Christians?

You seem like a sharp cookie. Don't waste your intelligence, thinking within the confines of Christian dogma.

I understand that, as a Christian, you've probably had it hammered into your head that Jesus needed to die on the cross for our sins to be forgiven. But think about it. Is there any logical connection between Jesus' death and our sins? If an omnipotent God wants to forgive our sins, He could do so unconditionally.

What I'm saying is, the whole Christian philosophy is ridiculous. Think critically and you'll see.
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
@squonk That is a good question! There are some direct and some indirect things that would cause me to disbelieve in the resurrection. Some of the indirect things would be to undermine my confidence in the existence of God, as if God's existence is very improbable, then the resurrection becomes nearly impossible. Another thing that I guess could be considered indirect would be a "defeater" for my subjective personal experience, because while I don't think that this can be objective evidence for Christianity, I think I am perfectly rational in accepting my personal experience outside of any defeater (i.e. that I am not rational, or disconfirmations of theism), and then the final indirect thing would be convincing case for mythicism (The ridiculous view that Jesus never existed), because if Jesus did not exist, then he could not rise from the dead. Then in terms of direct reasons, I would say something like a text we could verify goes back to those who first preached the resurrection that said something like "we fooled you all", or the discovery of Jesus' corpse, or something like that. I guess the most simple would be a better explanation of the data than the resurrection. Any of these things would be enough for me as an academic to seriously reconsider my beliefs.
Posted by squonk 3 years ago
@ BTP47

What kind of evidence would cause you to renounce your belief in the Resurrection?
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
Boozeandbabble-I don't play the bias card often, I really don't but a priori one has to look at Knohl, a scholar who wanted to "overturn long held beliefs" and "shake the world of Christology", so it's no surprise that of course this could be turned into a "prequel" to Jesus' resurrection. I encourage you to actually read the tablet, not just Knohl's "interpolations". The very important "line 80" reads as follows (From the actual text, not Knohl's additions.

"(of course, ellipses, brackets, and question marks indicate missing and unreadable text):
80. In three days li[ve], I, Gabri"el "[?],
81. the Prince of Princes, ", narrow holes(?) "["]"18

Israel Knohl rendered the same two lines this way:
80. In three days, live, I Gabriel com[mand] yo[u]
81. prince of the princes, the dung of the rocky crevices []" ..[]"

There is no causal connection to this, and early Christianity, and the vast majority of scholars agree. This doesn't call into question any of my 7 facts, so unfortunately, the "Gabriel Revelation" hasn't phased me, or many other scholars. This is not better than the "Talpiot Tomb" theory. It's just more sensationalist "pop" scholarly discoveries, devoid of serious support in the academic community

Here are a few resources
Posted by boozeandbabble 3 years ago
The Gabriel revelation mentions a Jew who rose from the dead on the third day.
Problem: it predates Jesus by 50 years.
Bing it. Google it. The Christians stole that shitt.
Posted by BTP47 3 years ago
Thanks squonk! While my criticisms within the context of the debate may be a bit hot-headed, I assure you I appreciate your willingness to bring important issues to bear. If I may, I highly recommend Resurrecting Jesus by Dale Allison, for a very good non-biased look at the evidence, if you are ever interested
Posted by squonk 3 years ago
Good job debating. Obviously you're very well-read in this subject. I agree that you should win this debate.

I disagree that "Jesus literally rose from the dead" is the most likely explanation for your "Facts." A violation of the laws of nature is less probable than even a gigantic conspiracy.
6 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Vote Placed by CivilianName295 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: (Pro) had better sources than (Con) since he just made quick points that (Pro) already addressed so i think (Pro) won this debate.
Vote Placed by paintballvet18 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Sources: Won by Pro at the end of Round 2 Arguments: Won by Con. We as judges must toss out the Bible as a source from this debate for its general inconsistencies as pointed out by Con. Therefore Pro has no grounds for offense in debate and loses.
Vote Placed by AmericanDeist 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro stated that he would not use "general reliability" with regard to the Bible, but then in round 2 he states that he views the Gospels as reliable. Bad conduct there. Both had good grammar. If you toss out the Bible as a source of reliability, Con has the upper hand. Con is also correct in that the Gospels contradict each other over many details.
Vote Placed by Mharman 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro was the only one to have sources.
Vote Placed by ptosis 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: -Not a fact? Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion. 1) Bled from spearpoint 2) not long enough time to die (takes longer than a day) 3) Jews do not touch a dead body right before Passover or unable to do the rite since unpure Not a Fact 2-Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus was buried in burial chamber meant for Joseph of Arimathea who donated his cave. Joseph of Arimathea did not bury with his own hands Fact 3-Jesus' tomb was empty- will not go into any arguments there. We agree but for different reasons. Pro's rebuttal is a retort to Con demanding to prove a negative. Pro's rebuttal UNTRUE = 1. We don't have the originals of antiquity. Pro is proving Con's point with " accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another when scribes made intentional changes,"
Vote Placed by TheLight954 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro cited sources - otherwise, both had a good debate.

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