Monday, April 20, 2009

Atheist Answer to the Empty Tomb

Do you remember a while back when, I told you about an atheist who said:

“There are no extra Biblical references to Jesus from antiquity.”

So I showed her a couple dozen extra Biblical references (I didn’t even use all that are available or even necessarily the best / contemporary citations) and her response was,

"There are no extra Biblical references to Jesus from antiquity.”

I’ve found another atheist just like her. I swear it’s not the same person. However it would be hard to believe that the intellect of these two wasn’t formed in the same womb. A few of this person’s comments include,

“The empty tomb is not an historical fact. It exists in a vacuum with no physical evidence.”

“To the best of my knowledge, to date there are no known facts regarding the resurrection of Jesus.”

“Show me a "skilled historical scholar" who believes that it is a fact that "the tomb" was empty and I'll show you a fraud.”

I want to start just a bit prior to the resurrection. Jesus’ predictions about His resurrection are usually denied because His resurrection is denied. The fact is, when Jesus predicted His resurrection even His closest followers didn’t get it because, well, no one rises naturally from the dead. To them, Jesus was talking once more in a parable or an analogy or something incomprehensible. For example:

Mark 8:31-33 - Peter takes Jesus aside an tells Him to not even make such stupid statements in front of the others.

Mark 9:31-32 - Not only didn’t the disciples get what He was talking about, they were afraid to ask what He meant.

John 20:2,13-15 - Even when His empty tomb was discovered, the very first conclusion that the disciples came to, as would have been the same with us, is that someone had stolen Jesus’ body.

Luke 24: 10-12 - When the women said they had seen Jesus alive, the disciples thought they were, well, just stupid women.

John 20:9 - Even when they saw the empty tomb, and even when they saw the empty burial clothes, they, like would be the case with us, just did not get it.

John 20:24-25 - And of course, Thomas, like all rational people said that he simply wouldn’t believe it unless Jesus appeared right in front of him.

Sceptics say, without even a hint of a smile, that the disciples wrote all this embarrassing stuff about themselves in order to, um, what? I’m not sure what the sceptic is thinking. Nevertheless, the principle of embarrassment” is something that historical scholars count as highly authenticating, and so it is.

Now, my atheist friend says, that any scholar - just a minute - how does he put it? Oh yes,

“Show me a "skilled historical scholar" who believes that it is a fact that the tomb was empty and I'll show you a fraud.” A FRAUD?

I think this would come as quite a surprise to those who work in this field. This would be especially surprising to Blank, Blinzler, Bode, Benoit, Brown, Clark, Dunn, von Campenhause, Delorme, Dhanis, Ellis, Gundry, Grundmann, Hengel, , Hooke, Jerimias, Klappert, Ladd, Lane, Lehmann, Leon-Dufour, Lichtenstein, Marshall, Moule, Manek, Martini, Mussner, Nauck, Perry, Robinson, Rengstorff, Ruckstuhl, Schnackenburg, Schenke, Schmitt, Schubert, Schwant, Schweizer, Seidensticker, Stuhlmacher, Trilling, Vogtle, Wielchkens and Kremer. All of these people, secular, atheist and Christian are first rate historical scholars and all of them deem the empty tomb to be historical fact. These forty-five prominent scholars believe that there was an empty tomb and our sceptic calls them frauds for doing so.

So the question is why? Why would the above mentioned scholars plus 65 slightly lessor known scholars on this subject say the empty tomb story is true? Why do only 35 scholars in this field, a 3:1 ratio, doubt the empty tomb? There are 23 points of evidence for the empty tomb. I can’t go into all of them here, but I will touch on a few.

The historical reliability of accounts regarding Jesus’ burial:
If the story of Jesus’ burial is accurate (besides his death at crucifixion, the burial is the most accepted account as historical fact), then the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem by both Christian and Jew, friend and enemy. That means that the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach His resurrection. Why? For many reasons but one obvious reason is that They couldn't have believed in His resurrection if His tomb WASN'T empty.

The Jerusalem Factor:
Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem. His resurrection and the empty tomb were first reported by Jesus’ followers right there in Jerusalem. If the body had still been in the tomb Christianity would have not gone anywhere. All the enemies of Christianity would have had to do, is exhume the body and that would have been the end of the story. Not only are Jewish, Roman, and other writings at the time absent of such an attempted hoax, there is total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have been more than happy to spread such a story if it had been at all possible. If the body had been produced from the tomb where Jesus had been buried, rather than a developing Church, the air from such a movement would have been deflated overnight. If the tomb had been not been empty, historians Justin, Terullian, Origen and especially Celsus would have pointed that out. A body of any sort would have been the undoing of Christianity. The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection flourished in the very city where He was murdered. That is a powerful fact of history.

Enemy Attestation:
Rather than point to an occupied tomb, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body. This is historical evidence of the highest quality, since it comes not from the Christians but from the very enemies of the early Christian faith. Confirmation that Jesus' enemies confirmed the empty tomb and claimed it was because the disciples had stolen the body is found in:

. Matthew 28:12-13,

. Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; and

. Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30.

This claim that the disciples stole the body is an indirect admission that the body is missing. If the tomb had been occupied, then the disciples would have been forced to prove that this body was NOT that of Jesus. No such dispute ever seems to have taken place. Again, if Jesus’ burial is historical, then the empty tomb is historical as well. Those who deny the empty tomb, like our sceptic, are also forced to deny the burial as well. Sadly, for this sceptic, the burial is one of the best-established facts of Jesus life.

“Says who?” asks my sceptic. Well >

Jesus’ burial is multiply attested in extremely early, independent sources.
. The account of Jesus’ burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea is part of Mark’s source material. This is a very early source.

. Paul in Corinthians 15:3-5 quotes and old Christian tradition that he had received from the earliest disciples. This goes back to the first year and more probably the second month after Jesus’ death. In this oral tradition, that was probably used for teaching, we find that “Christ dies for our sins, AND THAT HE WAS BURIED, and that he was raised on the third day and that He appeared . . .”

1st Cor.15:3-5; Acts 13:28-31 and Mark 15:37 - 16:7 give us amazing correspondence of independent traditions forming convincing evidence that lists the basic events of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. This is evidence from two of the earliest, independent sources in the New Testament for the burial of Jesus in the tomb, and these earliest, independent sources are confirmed by further independent testimony by Joseph found in Matthew and Luke and John. The differences in these accounts suggest that Matthew and Luke had sources other than Mark alone. In all, there are six, independent sources used by the Gospel writers in documenting evidence for the death, burial and empty tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea:
It is very unlikely that early Christians would have invented a story that includes a rich member of the Sanhedrin, the very group that condemned Jesus to death. The Sanhedrin had in fact orchestrated the murder of Jesus. There was an understandable hostility toward this council by the early church. Since Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, “All of whom voted to condemn Jesus,” it would be pretty odd to make him into some kind of a hero by burying Jesus in his tomb if it didn’t really happen.

The Testimony of Women:
If someone had invented a story, and atheists say the whole of the New Testament is a cleverly devised tale, then surely they wouldn’t have added items that actually hurt the credibility of their story. Adding women as witnesses would have done exactly that. Just as, in the minds of atheists today, Christian testimony or even scientific research is worthless, in that time and place, the testimony of women was worthless.

In this case, women aren’t just said to be witnesses. They are said to be the primary witnesses, while male witnesses appear only later. Given the low esteem of women in both Roman and Jewish culture at that time, it would have been suicidal to one’s cause to say that you’ve accepted testimony that is based on the accounts of women - unless it was the only aspect that could be documented because it was true. If this story was invented, why not make men like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus the discoverers of the tomb and just avoid the woman issue altogether.

“The first day of the week.”
According to Mark, the empty tomb was discovered by the women “on the first day of the week.” Paul, whose creed comes from very early sources says, Jesus was raised “on the third day.” If the empty tomb story was a late legend, it would have certainly been worded in the accepted and widespread third-day motif. Mark’s source, who uses “first day” shows that his source was even earlier than Paul’s and, in the minds of scholars makes it more believable, i.e., the tomb was empty.

William Lane Craig states, “Several words or expressions which are unique in all the New Testament, such as “on the next day,” “The preparation day, "deceiver," "guard," “to make secure,” “to seal,” this expression “chief priests and Pharisees,” is unusual for Matthew and never appears in Mark or Luke. The expression “on the third day” is also not from Matthew; he always uses “after three days,” in general only 35 of Matthew’s 136 words in the empty tomb story are found in Mark’s 138 words. Similarly, only 16 of Luke’s 123 words are found in Mark’s account. Moreover, Matthew and Luke have only a dozen words in common which shows the independence of their sources.

There is no embellishment:
If the empty tomb was made up, one could expect to find a detailed account of the resurrection, a description of Jesus rising out of the grave clothes or even coming out of the tomb. There is nothing of the sort. There is no reflection on Jesus’ triumph over the grave, or over sin and death, no description of fulfilling prophecy.

When Paul says that Jesus was crucified, and that He was raised, an empty tomb is obviously implied.

Oxford University historian William Wand writes, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favour of the empty tomb and those scholars who reject it ought to recognise that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”

Of course, the empty tomb by itself really proves very little.
. It wouldn’t have convinced the Christian killer Paul. Like us, he would have thought someone stole the body. Paul converted because he believed that he had seen and been taught by the risen Messiah.

. It wouldn’t have convinced the sceptic James. He, like Paul, turned his life around because he believed that Jesus appeared to him, taught him, ate with him and appointed him as a witness to the rest of the world.

. It didn’t seem to lead any of Jesus’ followers, except John to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

In fact, and again like us, Mary Magdalene’s first thought was that the gardener had stolen, or moved Jesus’ body. Peter didn’t believe because of the empty tomb. Thomas certainly didn’t believe that Jesus had risen based on the empty tomb. The empty tomb didn’t convince anyone of anything in particular. So why bring it up, I mean, besides the sceptics ignorant comment? Well -

Combine the empty tomb with post resurrection appearances to hundreds of people, the conversion of Paul, the conversion of James, the multiple group appearance to the disciples, the dramatic change in the disciple’s character and the rapid rise of the Christian Church and the empty tomb becomes part of a powerful, cohesive whole.

Gary Habermas surveyed thirty years of German, French and English critical scholarship relating to Jesus’ resurrection, 1,400 sources in all. No fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. Most of these appearances were to groups of people, which rules out hallucinations or subjective experiences.

Listen carefully:
. If the disciples believed they had seen the resurrected Jesus, regardless of whether the experience was subjective, hallucination or otherwise, that means that the resurrection story wasn’t myth making.

. If Jesus’ life story was not myth making, then the facts could and HAVE been traced to the original witnesses.

. If the disciples really believed, regardless of cause, that they really saw the risen Christ, then we can throw out that they stole the body and made up the story.

. That means that the tomb was indeed empty.

Bottom line, if the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead, then God exists and eternal life is also a fact of life.

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