The resurrection

Arguing the resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is a central fact of christian belief. Christians believe it is, in a sense, God’s stamp of approval on Jesus’ ministry. It shows that Jesus, in his death, has defeated evil. God’s new world, his kingdom, has indeed begun. Jesus, the Messiah, is alive and leading his followers to play their part in bringing that new world into being, and inviting others to join them.

But how should we justify our belief to sceptics? I suggest we should start with the conclusions of secular scholars.

What do secular historians make of this story?

Historians try to determine what historical facts can be established with reasonable confidence, then go on to draw conclusions from there. In the case of the resurrection, scholars are broadly agreed about what facts can be established. Some go on to express a view about whether they believe Jesus was really raised or not, but many say this is not a historical matter but rather a matter of personal choice.

As far as I can ascertain, the following are considered as historical facts by the majority of scholars, though certainly not all (many of these facts are found in Habermas 2005):

  1. Jesus was convicted and killed by crucifixion by the Romans. Marcus Borg: “some judgments are so probable as to be certain; for example. Jesus really existed and he really was crucified”.
  2. He was buried in a tomb near Jerusalem.
  3. The tomb was later found empty. Classical historians Michael Grant and Robin Lane Fox thought so, and a survey of scholarly publications showed that about 75% of scholars draw this conclusion.
  4. His followers had some experiences in which they saw Jesus, or a vision of Jesus, after his death. Eminent scholar EP Sanders: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” Even the sceptical Jesus Seminar concluded the same. However it is difficult to piece the accounts together into one consistent narrative.
  5. Belief that Jesus was resurrected was part of the christian belief from very early days, so couldn’t have been a legend that grew with time. Bart Ehrman: “For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.”
  6. This belief was a strong motivation for the subsequent expansion of christian faith across the Roman empire.
  7. A number of naturalistic explanations have been proposed, but the majority of scholars do not any of accept these.

Notice that these ‘facts’ do not necessarily imply belief in the resurrection, but acceptance of these facts may give support to belief in the resurrection.

Arguments supporting the truth of the resurrection

Most arguments that the resurrection occurred are based on a two step process:

Step 1. Historical facts

The seven historical facts are generally taken as the starting point. Nos 2 and 3 are the most contentious, but are argued as follows:

  • 2. The empty tomb is part of all the gospel accounts and assumed by Paul. The location of his tomb was known, and the disciples could not have preached that Jesus was risen if his tomb wasn’t empty. In fact, there is no record of any opponent of christianity arguing otherwise.
  • 3. It is inconceivable that the disciples made up the story of the appearances of Jesus, and continued to tell it without deviation even under severe persecution. The only viable alternative hypothesis is that they had some sort of hallucination, but it is hard to believe they had so many collective hallucinations, and harder to believe that they would have concluded Jesus had been resurrected rather than think it was a ghost. And hallucinations cannot explain the empty tomb.

As I said before, most historians accept the seven facts outlined.

Step 2. How to explain the facts?

If the resurrection didn’t occur, how can the seven facts be explained? All alternative hypotheses seem far-fetched:

  • As noted above, it is hard to believe the disciples made the whole thing up and consistently stuck to their story even when they were killed for it. Few scholars believe this is possible. Other hypotheses seem more likely.
  • But if the disciples genuinely believed Jesus had been raised when he wasn’t, how did they come to this belief? Some say it came from pagan religions based around dying and rising gods. However scholars are now convinced that this did not occur – most of the alleged parallels are simply not true and the Jews were not influenced by pagan religions anyway. If anything, the evidence suggests that some pagan religions took the christian story as their basis, not the other way round. TND Mettinger of Lund University in Sweden, who made a study of dying and rising gods, concluded: “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. …. There is now what amounts to a scholarly consensus against the appropriateness of the concept”.
  • Another theory suggests that the disciples were distraught after the death of their leader, and, influenced by some elements in Jewish writings (mainly in the apocrypha) that spoke of the humiliation on earth and exaltation to heaven of a mysterious figure, came to believe Jesus had been resurrected as a vindication. But these writings are obscure, and the Jews didn’t believe in resurrection except at the end of the age. And of course there still remains the empty tomb.

So, the argument goes, the historical facts and the lack of a reasonable alternative explanation, make the resurrection story plausible and convincing. Oxford historian NT Wright: “there is nothing that comes remotely near explaining these phenomena [the empty tomb and the appearances], except …. Jesus of Nazareth really was raised from the dead”.

Arguments against the historicity of the resurrection

The arguments against the resurrection fall into two main groups:

Doubts about the historical evidence

  • Some sceptics deny that Jesus even existed. However the almost unanimous view of secular scholars is that he was a real person (see The Jesus myth theory) and this argument is rarely used.
  • It is argued that the resurrection stories do not come from eyewitnesses, and so cannot be considered to be reliable. However the matter of eyewitnesses is not settled. It is true that most scholars believe that the gospels were written down a generation after Jesus died, but there is neverthless good evidence that they were based on eyewitness testimony, and the gap between event and writing is short by ancient history standards.
  • There are many apparent inconsistencies in the gospel accounts, and it is recognised as difficult to harmonise them. Therefore, it is argued, the stories cannot be trusted. However, historians (like reporters and police investigators today) are used to extracting what is validated by several witnesses and putting aside what isn’t – and this leaves the main historical facts (as outlined above) intact. Further, plausible harmonisations can be developed (see Reconstructions below). Nevertheless, the apparent inconsistencies could make belief more difficult for many people.
  • Historians prefer to have multiple sources to give independent confirmation of events, and there are no accounts of the resurrection outside the New Testament. However, the New Testament is made up of five separate sources which didn’t come together in one collection for several centuries.
  • Finally, it is argued that the accounts of the resurrection are biased, coming only from Jesus’ followers. But this gets back to whether they deliberately invented the stories, which few believe possible (as outlined above).

Doubts about the possibility of miracle

Perhaps the most prevalent criticism of belief in the resurrection is that miracles are simply unbelievable, especially one as amazing as this. However this depends on our assumptions – a christian will believe that Jesus was divine and God has the power to raise him from death, whereas an atheist will naturally not believe this.

Reconstructions

Because of the doubts about the consistency and reliability of the various gospel accounts, christians have attempted to reconstruct a sequence of events that is reasonable and fits the facts. These reconstructions are speculative and go beyond what most historians would consider as reliable, but are useful tests of whether a harmonisation is at least possible.

Map of Jerusalem

Map of first century Jerusalem (from J Wenham)

The most scholarly reconstruction I know is by John Wenham of Oxford University, which is based on the following:

  • The locations of the important places in the story, as shown on the map (these are not contentious).
  • The identification of various characters in the story who are not clearly named in the gospels, which allows ambiguities in one gospel to be clarified from another gospel. (This is a little speculative, but reasonable.)
  • The identification of the authors, or sources, of the four gospels with the traditional authors – Matthew (the disciple Matthew), Mark (based on Peter’s memories), Luke (based on several eye-witnesses, including Joanna) and John (the disciple John). These identifications have been much disputed, but are not unreasonable).
  • A plausible sequence of events that leaves the followers of Jesus in three separate locations over the weekend – Peter, John and several of the women at John’s house in Jerusalem; Joanna at Herod’s palace where her husband was employed, and the rest of the disciples in Bethany.
  • The writing of some parts of the gospel accounts from the viewpoint of each writer. So Matthew describes some events as he would have heard them at Bethany, Mark and John from the viewpoint of what was heard and seen in Jerusalem at John’s house, and Luke from the viewpoint of what Joanna was able to observe. This is probably the key to Wenham’s reconstruction, because it allows him to explain many of the facts which might otherwise appear to be inconsistent.

With these as his basis, Wenham shows how the different players moved around Jerusalem and fits all the events – Jesus’ capture, trial and execution, the appearances of Jesus and the reactions of his followers – into a coherent and plausible train of events. He doesn’t claim that it is true, or can be proven historically, but he does show that the gospel accounts can be plausibly harmonised, thus blunting one of the common criticisms of the gospel accounts.

Conclusion

So, what can we conclude?

  1. At the very least we may recognise that it isn’t silly to believe that Jesus was resurrected. Jeffery Lowder , founder of the Secular Web site for the Internet Infidels, examined the arguments on both sides and concluded: On the basis of the available evidence (and the arguments I’ve seen), I conclude that a rational person may accept or reject the resurrection.
  2. The greatest challenge to the New Testament accounts of the resurrection can be satisfactorily answered. Although the New Testament accounts have apparent inconsistencies, though not enough to trouble most historians, John Wenham has shown that a plausible harmonisation is possible.
  3. While anyone with a naturalistic worldview will find it difficult to believe in such a miracle, anyone who believes in Jesus and his God should have no difficulty in accepting that God miraculously raised Jesus.
  4. Thus christians have good evidence for their belief, and the evidence is challenging to non-believers.

References

  • Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present, Gary Habermas 2005.
  • Marcus Borg and E Sanders quotes taken from ‘The Jesus Debate’ by MA Powell.
  • Bart Ehrman quote from Gary Habermas, 2005.
  • TND Mettinger quote from ‘The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East’ (2001).
  • NT Wright quote from ‘Jesus, the final days’, CA Evans & NT Wright (2008). See also Wright’s ‘Simply Christian’.
  • Easter Enigma, John Wenham (1992).
  • The Contemporary Debate On The Resurrection, Jeffery Jay Lowder.
  • ‘Reasonable Faith’, William Lane Craig (2008).
  • ‘Who moved the stone?’ Frank Morison.
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20 thoughts on “The resurrection

  1. heavenly says:

    Jesus is the Way, the Truth (and only), and the Life! If you with all your heart, cry out for the Living God, (not any (false) gods or force spirituality, but deeply and honestly want to know the True God . Then He is respond you just as He did with Abraham, as Abraham had a childish and meek faith. As He did with Moses, as He did with Paul, as He did with other saints, as He also did with (even) me a simple seeker with a heart of a childlike. No one , nothing , no other power will dare to come or response, when your heart is meek and pure. For He alone is Faithfull and Truth. All other powers are from the devil forces thats denying Christ and denying the One True God of Israel, Maker of heaven and earth, the supreme Creator of all good things and Love Himself , the real Father! Amen!For the lake of fire is waiting for those who mocking Him, His Holy Word(Jesus) despite that they know better. If you do not know better, you should not be judging. For its not man you are judging but denying and judging God Himself. Please back up and repent before its too late.

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  2. Peter Russell says:

    I have just posted a blog at http://www.peteruss.co.uk which seeks to answer the question ‘Can we really believe the stories about Jesus?’ I studied Theology at Cambridge in the early 70s and have had a lifetime of being challenged by liberal and sceptical theologians. It rejoices my heart that over the last 40 years my belief in the truth of the stories of Jesus is stronger than ever. My blog seeks to explain why. Peter Russell January 2016 peter.russell@abbacts.co.uk

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  3. westofthebluemountains says:

    Isn’t it possible that Jesus was not dead when taken off the cross, but was just unconscious and after he was placed in the tomb recovered and appeared to his disciples, after which he departed for other places ?

    There have been examples in modern days of people believed to be dead, even on a table in a morgue, but were found to still be alive.

    Some people think he travelled to India among other places.

    http://www.markmason.net/ch4ex2.htm

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  4. westofthebluemountains says:

    I couldn’t see any evidence presented in your writings that proved Jesus was actually dead when he was placed in the tomb.

    There is a lot of confirmation bias in the writings of the Apostles. They wanted to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, otherwise they had wasted their time following him. Yes, a few were sceptical at first, but when they saw Jesus in person they believed, but in the absence of a definite proof that Jesus actually died on the cross, we have to consider the possibility that he did not.

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  5. unkleE says:

    “Isn’t it possible that Jesus was not dead when taken off the cross, but was just unconscious”

    I suppose almost anything’s possible, but I think few think that is a very likely scenario. The Romans were brutal executioners and Jesus would have suffered enormous physical damage. They wouldn’t have let him be taken down until they were sure he was dead. And if somehow he did survive, he would have been so wounded he would have taken a long time to recover. I don’t think he would have convinced anyone he had been resurrected, and certainly not that he was the divine conqueror of death!

    For these reasons, most historians apparently believe that his disciples truly had visions of him, but they are divided about whether they were genuine appearances of a resurrected Jesus, or hallucinations, or that the historical evidence leaves that question open.

    So I think it is a matter of probabilities, and since I believe there is good evidence that Jesus was divine, I think the resurrection is the most likely conclusion.

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  6. westofthebluemountains says:

    ” And if somehow he did survive, he would have been so wounded he would have taken a long time to recover.”

    ——————————————————————————–
    Maybe not for someone capable of raising others from the dead.

    But, it’s all a matter of belief and so it’s not really worth arguing about.

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  7. Thomas says:

    Dear Unkle

    I am trying to defend the resurrection in an apologetic way. I’m saying that there’s a scholarly consensus, that:

    1) Jesus was crusified and burried.
    2) The tomb was found empty.
    3) Jesus post-mortem appearances.
    4) The disciples were convinces that Jesus had been resurrected.

    I’m trying to defend it the William Lane Craig-way. But now I’m being asked: “Where do you find the scholarly consensus?”

    And to my horror I only find this being asserted by apologetics!
    Not on wiki – neither in USA or Denmark. And not in other general encyclopedias. Do you know of any?

    Regards
    Thomas

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  8. unkleE says:

    Hi Thomas, how are you going?

    These statements are based on a study published by Gary Habermas. Habermas surveyed more than 2000 academic papers published in the period 1975-2005 that discussed the resurrection. He found that:

    “Of these scholars, approximately 75 per cent favor one or more of these arguments for the empty tomb, while approximately 25 per cent think that one or more arguments oppose it. Thus, while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.” (p141)

    “With few exceptions, the fact that after Jesus’ death his followers had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus is arguably one of the two or three most recognized events from the four Gospels, along with Jesus’ central proclamation of the Kingdom of God and his death by crucifixion. Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.” (p149)

    This seems to me to be quite strong evidence of the academic consensus – well beyond mere assertion – but I have found that sceptics tend to argue that it isn’t very reliable or conclusive. Some accuse Habermas of bias (he is a christian). But it is nevertheless the best solid evidence we have of the academic consensus.

    I hope that helps.

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  9. Thomas says:

    Dear Unkle

    I’m doing fine 🙂
    How are you?

    I have been studying debates and texts on the resurrection of Jesus for a time now. And while it is very interesting, I also think that there is a trap: Turning what should have been a devotional practice into a cognitive battle of what is to be rationally believed.

    What I do think is good about these discussions though is that they show that it is definitely not irrational to believe in the resurrection. That’s good because then you can believe without worrying about the whole faith being irrational.

    But I also see something else:
    It seems to be the case for many of these debates – on the christian side – that believing in the resurrection is more important than being unselfish and self-giving.
    My own intuition tells me that LOVE is more important than belief in resurrection. The resurrection is most important in another regard though, namely that without it God would not have inaugurated the Kingdom and Jesus would not have sent the Holy Spirit to us.
    But I think that it is unfair that the very (cognitive) *belief* in it should be more important than cultivating self-giving love.

    Unfair for two reasons:
    1) Of course it can be hard to grasp. Especially in our time.
    2) Unfortunately I think it can be cognitive grasped without doing long term inner changes and transformations for the person/christian.

    The old widow with the few coins, the children, the lepers … would one really demand of people like these that they had to come to terms with and understand the arguments of the christian side in a debate between professors?!
    – I don’t think so. But cultivating love – *yes, the love that Jesus preaches and acts upon* – should be every man’s and woman’s goal day by day. And Jesus speaks about this love with a precision and with pictures even children can understand.

    *** By the way: Isn’t the Sermon on the Mount expressing the same idea? That self-giving love really is what it is all about?***

    Jesus (Sermon on the Mount):
    Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

    AND IF love is the most important thing to cultivate – more important than cognitive beliefs – THEN I think it is possible to grasp the belief about the resurrection on a more personal basis. And what helps is this: That the apologetics defend it rationally … so you wouldn’t end up with a battle between heart and mind.

    Does this make sense?

    About Gary Habermas’ study:
    I have heard that it isn’t published – even though he has been asked to publish it. Doesn’t this reduce his trustworthyness on the subject?

    Regards
    Thomas

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  10. unkleE says:

    Hi Thomas, I think I agree with everything you say here.

    Love, which is the self giving love that God has for us and wants us to have for others, not just a self-gratification love, is indeed the most important things for us. I think your distinction between the objective importance of the resurrection to the establishment of God’s kingdom and its subjective importance to us, is very good.

    So, yes, it all makes sense. I think you understand better than many christians who have been believers all their lives.

    Re Habermas. The study is published, in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, but he hasn’t published his list of studies. Yes he does get criticised for that, and I don’t know why he hasn’t done it. But I don’t think it’s all that unusual. If someone does a study of the effectiveness of certain drugs and publishes the results, I don’t think they would usually publish the details of the laboratory tests – they would be their own data, and they wouldn’t necessarily want to share that with competitors. So I don’t find it a problem, but some do. I think they use it in an attempt to evade his findings, but the same information is available for anyone else to collect, if they have the time and patience and the access to academic journals. So that’s how it is.

    Hope that helps.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    In Matthew 27: 59-65, we are told that after Jesus’ burial, the Temple Priests came to Pilate and requested a guard be placed at the tomb. Pilate told them they had their own guards. Of significance to the story is that this request was made “the next day” after the burial. Jesus’ body lay in the tomb from its burial to “the next day” without a guard.

    If this is correct, a group of anti-Roman rebels could have taken the body and hid it. An empty tomb of Jesus would be a terrible embarrassment for Pilate and the Temple Priests.

    This provides motive, means and opportunity for a rebel group of non-disciples to steal the body to discredit the authorities.

    Comments? Is there something i’m missing?

    RAv

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  12. unkleE says:

    Hi Russell,

    Many scholars think the story of the guard is not historical, though I don’t think they can say this with any certainty. But if it was, then that would leave two nights when the tomb could have been raided.

    So yes, it is theoretically possible that someone could have stolen the body. But it isn’t a view that many historians hold to:

    1. Why would anyone bother? I don’t think it would have greatly embarrassed anyone, certainly not enough to make it worth the risk. And surely the disciples couldn’t have done it and then gone out and proclaimed jesus at risk of their own lives, and no-one ever revealing the secret!
    2. They had to take the body somewhere. Did no-one see them? Did no-one ever talk about it later?
    3. Most scholars, even those who accept the empty tomb stories as historical, say the empty tomb wasn’t a major factor in the later belief in the resurrection. The key factor was the disciples seeing appearances of Jesus.

    So even if we accept the historical doubts about the NT accounts, it doesn’t seem to be a likely hypothesis. And of course, if we accept the NT accounts as reliable, it becomes impassible, for Jesus appeared to them.

    What do you think of that?

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  13. Russell Vallimont says:

    Your return comments are appreciated. I was raised among Evangelicals/ Fundamentalists, attended an Evangelical Divinity School. Your response to my first question offer a different path of logic than that to which I’m accustomed.

    My challenge/question is that of trying to work through the resurrection puzzle. The Conservatives begin their explanation of the resurrection of Jesus with the assertion that it was ‘physical-bodily’ phenomenon. They explain that Jesus ate fish, that he had scars, that he was touched and handled …

    However, this raises questions. As I noted, the Gospels make it clear that Jesus’ body was unattended and could have been stolen. It was not likely to be the disciples. Since the Jews hated their Roman occupiers, there were plenty of anti-establishment factions willing to embarrass and discredit the Jewish/Roman authorities.

    As you well noted, the empty tomb compliments the disciples’ eye-witness accounts. However, the eye-witness testimonies have their own challenges:
    1. The earliest accounts come from St Paul’s written testimony of his vision on the road to Damascus. It is alleged to have occurred between CE 33-36. He writes that he saw a light and heard a voice. Unfortunately, his traveling companions saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary and could not corroborate his story. To them it was lightning and thunder.
    2. In a later Letter, St Paul also tells us he was caught up into heaven where he was given understanding of the gospel. It is clearly a vision. He is a man of visions.
    3. St Paul again writes that “he (Jesus) was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brothers at once; of whom the greater part remains to this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (I Cor 15:5-8)
    4. Luke’s story of Jesus visiting Peter’s home after Peter and John visited the empty tomb is also questionable. There’s no evidence that Peter was with anyone else.
    5. When Jesus meets with the disciples while they are all together in the room, asserting Peter’s presence conflicts with the testimony that he and John had gone to their homes after visiting the tomb.
    6. In addition, when Jesus show himself to the disciples, he inexplicably ‘appears,’ despite the doors being locked.
    7. The story of the 500 is questionable because there’s nothing to give us a follow up to any of these witnesses.
    8. Likewise, the story of James seeing Jesus is questionable. Like Peter and James, was alone.
    9. And as mentioned earlier, St Paul’s testimony is that he saw a light and heard a voice, while his traveling companions saw lightning and heard thunder.
    10. The story of Mary at the tomb is questionable. She was alone. No one can validate that her encounter with the Gardener/Jesus anything other than a vision.
    11. The women at the tomb said there were one to three (or more) young men or Angels in and around the tomb. Real or visionary?
    12. Luke’s two followers on the road to Amaeus did not recognize Jesus until after he’d disappeared. Until then, the man was a stranger.
    13. This is not the kind of testimony that instills confidence. It’s like witnesses of the paranormal who see, but cannot substantiate.
    14. This leaves Jesus’ appearance at Galilee with a group of disciples who’ve gone fishing. In this story Jesus tells the disciples where to fish, enabling them to pull up a large catch. Indeed, 153 fish, to be exact. The use of an exact number suggests a numerological significance. And the story is very close to the one which is found at the opening of the same Gospel of John. Could it be, perhaps, a literary device?
    15. The First Letter to Timothy states that “… without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angles, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (I Tim 3:16). This often considered an early creed. What I observe is that Jesus is ‘seen of angels;’ not of women or of men.
    16. These are not strong testimonies of a physical/bodily presence.

    The most Liberal side of this discussion suggests that the Gospels are not intended to be read as space/time history. Rather, they must allow for a much broader definition of the resurrection, and that they are an Allegorical genre (e.g., the Alexandrian School). Some even suggest the gospels are Myth. However, I’m not seeing any literary ques or indications suggesting the gospels are anything other than historical narrative (e.g., the Antiochan School).

    I cannot help but remember Peter’s testimony about the resurrection in his early sermons. He does not appeal to Biblical Inerrancy, or historical evidence. Rather, Peter says (to paraphrase) ‘Jesus proved himself to be righteous by his wonders, words and deeds; and that the prophets made clear that the righteous would not be left among the dead.’ Peter’s faith is integrated with the prophets (Acts 2:22-27).

    Thoughts?

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  14. unkleE says:

    Hi Russell, I can see you have been thinking a lot about this. My spiritual upbringing was evangelical also, and I still share a lot with that viewpoint, but I think there are some flaws in that approach too.

    My approach to this, and other philosophical and theological conundrums, is fairly pragmatic. The logic would go something like this.

    1. I think that lots of facts about human life and the universe point to naturalism not being an adequate explanation, and creation by God makes much more sense.

    2. The historians tell us that the gospels are historical biographies, which would have aimed at basic factual accuracy, but would have allowed selection of the most useful aspects of the person’s life and inclusion of some fanciful details that may not be literally factual, to paint a picture. So while there may be inaccuracies, we can be confident about the outline of Jesus’ life and teachings.

    3. I think from what we read we can form the judgment that Jesus was a good man, dynamic, tough-minded, focused, insightful, etc. So when I consider the question of whether I can trust what he says, I see no reason not to. And because I already have good reason to believe in God, I am quite ready and able to believe that he was indeed “son of God”, whatever exactly that may mean.

    4. So when I bring those three conclusions to the question of the resurrection, I am happy to accept the basic story that Jesus was resurrected and the disciples saw him. What would ordinarily be far-fetched becomes quite believable because I believe in God, I believe in the broad reliability of the gospels and the good intentions of the gospel writers, and I believe God might well resurrect his “son”.

    5. I am less worried about the details. It is possible to harmonise all the different accounts, as I have discussed in this post. But even if there ARE mistakes, the broad outline is quite clear and that is what matters.

    6. So I am likewise not worried as you are by some of the evidence being from only one source, and so unverified. Sure we cannot be sure about many of the individual stories, but granted that the resurrection actually happened, as all the sources say, then some of the stories must be correct even if they all are not, so I don’t have any problem provisionally accepting them all without being dogmatic.

    7. Likewise I am not much worried about whether the resurrection was “bodily” or not. If Jesus came back to life in any form, it would be a miracle and worth noting, so why worry about the exact nature of his form. For the record, I accept bodily resurrection as the clear teaching, but if it was different, I don’t think it would make much difference to me.

    8. I agree with you that Paul’s vision was quite different to the disciples’ experience.

    So that is how I approach things. I don’t expect or claim absolute certainty about any of it, but I think there is enough that is clear to justify accepting the rest broadly.

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  15. Russell Vallimont says:

    Hello Unklee, I appreciate you taking the time to engage my questions. There is so much we don’t know, one can easily feel as if the church is in the Emergent/ Progressive camp of theological discussions. Yet, in stepping back from using language of proclaimed truth, one feel the ground of faith they defend to be quite small. Indeed, “… without controversy, great is the mystery of godlines …”:

    RAV

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  16. unkleE says:

    I’m not sure if I understand your comment here, but if you think I do not believe in “proclaimed truth” then you would be mistaken. I hold to most the basic doctrines of historical christianity, e.g. I accept the Apostles Creed. I just accept the findings of historical scholars about the Bible, and that leads me to think that some of what some theological systems hold to isn’t as certain as they say. Does that make sense?

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