In Response to David on I Corinthians 15:3-8
David points out that Habermas dates Jesus' crucifixion to "30 AD." But on what basis, if not the stories found in the NT gospels, can Habermas do this? If he bases this dating on what we read in the gospels, then claiming that I Cor. 15:3-8 is too early to be legend simply begs the question against the legend theory (which is what Geisler and Turek were seeking to dismiss in the section of their book that I quoted in my blog). As I pointed out, there's nothing in I Cor. or any of Paul's other letters (that is, in letters that are authentically Pauline) which puts a time or place to Jesus' resurrection. If the stories about Jesus' resurrection that we find in the gospels are legends built on sources like Paul's "testimony," that testimony cannot be validated ("too early to be legend") by appealing to a dating scheme suggested only by the gospels and later documents influenced by them (like Acts). That would be like using a later Harry Potter book to "validate" one earlier in the series.
This is Habermas’ timeline for the events leading up to the Gospels:
In my blog I wrote:
Let’s consider some of the statements made here in regard to this highly contested passage.
It's not clear why David thinks he needed to correct me on this point, as I did not even raise the question of the authorship of I Corinthians. My points in response to Geisler and Turek are compatible with the supposition that I Corinthians was penned by Paul himself.
Right off the bat he’s out of sync with scholarship. With regards to authorship, 1 Corinthians is almost universally acknowledged to be authentic Pauline material. Even Bart Ehrman affirms it as one of the “undisputed Pauline epistles” (in addition to Romans, Galatians, Philemon, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians).
David does not quote Martin, but I suppose that he may be referring to the following passage from Martin’s The Case Against Christianity:
Michael Martin in his Case Against Christianity concludes that Paul is the only eyewitness testimony we have to Christ’s post-resurrection appearances.
According to the Gospel story, there were no eyewitnesses to Jesus’ actual resurrection. Belief in it must be inferred. What are these inferences based on? First, there are the appearances of the resurrected Jesus. Second, there is the empty tomb. Given these two alleged facts one infers that the miraculous occurred sometime before the discovery of the empty tomb and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus. According to the Gospels, there were indeed eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus. However, we have only one contemporary eyewitness account of a postresurrection appearance of Jesus, namely Paul’s. In all the other cases we have at best second- or thirdhand reports of what eyewitnesses claimed to see that were recorded several decades after the Crucifixion. (P. 81, emphasis added)
That Paul claims to have seen or experienced the resurrected Jesus is not very impressive. Christians whom I have personally known in my own lifetime have claimed this. As Wells points out, “People who claim to see a ghost do not necessarily suppose it to be the wraith of someone recently deceased.” (The Jesus Myth, p. 125.)
Nothing in the letter itself suggests that the resurrection that Paul speaks of happened any time recently (for all that Paul gives us, his Jesus could have been crucified a century or more earlier, and not necessarily in Palestine for that matter), and only by interpreting Paul’s account by reading elements from the gospel stories into it can it be made into a reference to a recent event.
That’s fine, so far as it goes (though we do not learn of a conversion for Paul on the Damascus road, as we read in the book of Acts, from Paul’s own hand).
Of course [Martin] doesn’t believe it but he and a majority of historians/philosophers can agree that Paul was sincere in his belief about the Damascus experience. Doesn’t make it true just because Paul believed he saw Jesus.
The authors tell us that the First Epistle to the Corinthian church “contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself...I can only ask at this point, “authenticated” by what? And what specifically do the authors think is “authenticated” in this passage?
Well, for one thing, it wasn't Habermas I was interacting with, it was Geisler and Turek, which my post makes clear. And the understanding I would get from Geisler and Turek – if I didn’t know any better – is that what Paul states in I Cor. 15:3-8 (the very passage they quoted) is sufficiently corroborated to secure its claims, which is simply not the case (where else, for instance, do we read of the resurrected Jesus appearing to 500 or so people at once?). Paul doesn’t even name 5% of the mass of persons he claims to have experienced an appearance of Jesus. Indeed, so far as authentication or corroboration, I Cor. 15:3-8 couldn’t be weaker.
Likely if Habermas is the one who said “authenticated” then he’s implying that this material is written by Paul, can be dated pretty accurately and a vast majority of NT scholars agree on the data.
Also, as I explain in a follow-up comment to an article by Robert Price regarding the question of whether or not I Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation, I specifically stated that I am allowing that the passage in question was written by Paul.
Moreover, the unexplained claim here that I Corinthians "can be dated pretty accurately" is something I'd like to see elaborated on. As for the claim that "a vast majority of NT scholars agree on the data," this is vague and implies probably much greater uniformity on the matter than really exists. Regardless, I have to stand with my own judgment on the matter, not with what an anonymous crowd is said to affirm. If taken broadly enough, even I could sign onto “agreement on the data.” For instance, I agree that I Corinthians is part of the orthodox NT. But I suspect David has something more specific in mind, which he will need to clarify and also back up.
In fact, if the gist of I Cor. 15:3-8 is a creedal formula passed down to him from other believers, it is at best hearsay that he inserts into his letter.
Do all scholars say this? Or, just some? The word “scholars” is sometimes thrown around with such abandon that it can be used to suggest every authority in the universe agrees with one’s particular position. I would recommend more care in its use.
The deal with these early creeds is pretty interesting. There are certain places where Paul’s syntax and word choice go completely out of character (scribe wrote his dictations down in some letters) and become pithy, rhythmic cadences. Scholars claim these to be echoes of what the earliest Christian preaching sounded like.
Also, the existence of uncharacteristically Pauline expressions can also lend itself to the view, very ably argued by Price, that the passage is a later interpolation. But as I point out in my post, if Paul is reciting a creed, then he’s essentially giving us hearsay. Apologists seem to want to have it both ways, but that only saddles them with unintended and problematic consequences. The “earliest testimony” suddenly becomes something that Paul is passing on uncritically, failing to offer any substantiation for what it states.
No, they weren’t. In fact, it was decades after the alleged event they seek to portray. Where Paul’s talk of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection supply no time or place to it, decades later we have some authors who do, plenty of time for the Jesus legend to develop and enjoy all kinds of embellishments.
The gospels weren’t written down right away.
Yes, “developed” is a key point here.
There was a period of oral proclamation during which these creedal statements developed to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. (Philippians 2 contains another one of these pertaining to the early belief in Christ’s deity by the way).
As I have indicated, my point is compatible with the supposition that portions of I Cor. 15:3-8 are either a creedal formulation that Paul is reciting (which in my view essentially relegates it to hearsay) or a post-Pauline interpolation, as Price holds. However, I could see someone taking the point that David gives here as evidence that Paul, a former Pharisee himself, fashioned his own creedal formulation after a style with which he would have been intimately familiar.
So what we have in 1 Cor 15:3 ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received :’ After the colon we get the creedal statement…. , 4 ;that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…’ The language here is the exact same as the Pharisees used when passing on their traditions to one another…so we have even more reason to think Paul’s about to tell us something from oral tradition.
This is really neither here nor there as it pertains to the point I raise in my blog article. It's granted that Paul had to convert to Christianity at some point in time; whether it was AD 32 or earlier or later, is really not relevant. The question is: Is there anything in Paul's letters which suggest that the Jesus he speaks of was recently resurrected? Recent *appearances* of a post-resurrection Jesus do not signify a recent resurrection event. Again, Christians whom I have personally known have claimed to have seen the post-resurrected Jesus.
So when did Paul hear this material? The consensus among critics is that Paul received this material around 35 AD. His conversion is dated at roughly 32 AD, with 3 years passing before he visits the apostles (Galatians 1:18), from Peter and James. Scholars on both sides have no quarrels with that.
Again, as I point out in my blog, Paul himself tells us that he did not get his gospel from human sources:
Before giving it to Paul, where did Peter and James get it from?
So to suppose that Paul got what he’s passing on in I Cor. 15:3-8 from Peter and James tends to go contrary to what Paul himself tells us.
Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)
David then pointed to Ludemann, the Jesus Seminar, and other sources for dating the creed which Paul is supposedly reciting in the passage before us. Again, this is irrelevant to my point.
Maybe, but maybe not. The Q layer (the “sayings” source) found in both Matthew and Luke, would seem to be evidence against this claim. “Q certainly does not regard [Jesus’] death as redemptive and does not explicitly mention his resurrection” (Wells, op cit., p. 103). Regardless, even if we accept the claim that “there was never a time when Jesus was preached as anything less than raised from the dead,” this would not compel an argument for the veracity of Christian claims. There was never a time when The Wizard of Oz did not include a wicked witch of the East. Does this at all mean that The Wizard of Oz is anything more than fantasy?
There was never a time when Jesus was preached as anything less than raised from the dead.
That's quite a sweeping claim. But getting down to the specifics, “later” than what?
All arguments that a resurrection legend popped up later are squashed if scholarship is correct here.
What this argument doesn’t do (when presented in isolation) is show the resurrection to be historically true.Agreed. Whether or not Paul was quoting a creed, whether that creed dates to the early 30s AD, whether there was never a time when Christians preached anything less than a Jesus who was resurrected, none of this compels the conclusion that Jesus really rose from the dead, or that other religious claims of Christianity have any truth to them.
I've read my share of "Christian scholars" on a whole variety of topics, but I must admit that I do not find many to be particularly impressive. Geisler and Turek's book is admittedly aimed more at a popular audience, but it's fair game so far as I see it, and it's typical in regard to how blatantly many Christians beg the question when it comes to how they argue against the legend theory. Indeed, the citations which David has posted in his response do little if anything to speak to the issue that I have raised. Most of it consists of namedropping with no actual quotations anyway. Regardless, how many sources do I need to cite in order to qualify for whatever merit badge David thinks I should have in order to speak on these things?
Normally I chide my non-Christian friends for not reading Christian scholarship and vice versa, but in Dawson’s case I wish he would check out ANY scholars on the matter. He apparently thinks he is capable of overturning the work of men who have been developing their approaches for decades...and how many sources did he cite? I counted 1 but maybe I missed a few.
Here Paul identifies his credentials as an apostle - his claim to have "seen Jesus". There really isn't anything here that's troublesome for my position. Many Christians even today claim to have "seen Jesus," but they make this claim even though they did not see a physical person. I'm reminded of Canon Michael Cole's statement about experiencing Jesus. He recounts, "There was one particular experience when I was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me in the church I was serving, asking whether we would make him Lord of that church... I wouldn’t say anything about that for 24 hours, it was too personal, too close." (See my Carr vs. Cole.) Paul does not distinguish his experience of Jesus from this kind of experience that Cole describes and claims to have had.
1 Cor 9:1 has to be explained on other grounds than the story in Acts if one contends that the Damascus experience was not part of Paul's belief. Haven't seen any good theories as to what else he could have meant there.
Why do preachers today constantly cite details from the gospel narratives to make theological points in their sermons? Because they consider the narratives authoritative as vehicles of Jesus' character and teaching. Why, for instance, do preachers constantly incorporate in their sermons and preachings the parables that we find inserted into Jesus' mouth in the gospels? Because they consider them authoritative. As for Paul, I would expect in his letters at least some details about Jesus' life on earth if Paul knew anything about it, because he was determined to "preach Christ crucified" (I Cor. 1:23) and "not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). When was "Christ crucified"? Where was "Christ crucified"? Under what circumstances was "Christ crucified"? Paul's treatment of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection is so open-ended and unspecific that for all we know he could be referring to an event that took place five centuries earlier or in some astral plane.
We also see Paul’s letters were written for specific purposes and often were more theological than narratival. Its an interesting point, but I’m not sure why I should expect Paul to narrate the gospel.
In fact, Paul does give moral teaching that is later found in the gospels attributed to Jesus, but when Paul gives that teaching, he does not cite the gospel Jesus. Observe Wells on this point:
There are many things for apologists to wrestle with here, but using the gospels to back-date the earlier epistolary layers is simply too problematic to take seriously.
Paul gives it as his own view (Rom. 13:8-10) that the law can be summed up in the one Old Testament injunction "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." According to Lk. 10:25-8, Jesus himself taught that love of neighbor (together with love of God) ensures salvation; but one could never gather from Paul that Jesus had expressed himself on the matter. In 1 Thess. 4:9 it is not Jesus but God who is said to have taught Christians to love one another. And in the injunction not to repay evil for evil but always to do good to all is given in the same epistle (5:15) without any suggestion that Jesus had taught it (as according to the gospels he did in the Sermon on the Mount). In his letter to Christians at Rome Paul says "bless those that persecute you" (12:14 and 17) and "judge not" (14:13). Surely in such instances he might reasonably be expected to have invoked the authority of Jesus, had he known that Jesus had taught the very same doctrines. (The former doctrine is ascribed to him at Mt. 5:44 and Lk. 6:28, and the latter at Mt. 7:1 and Lk. 6:37.) In the same epistle he urges Christians to "pay taxes" (13:6), but does not suggest that Jesus had given such a ruling (Mk. 12:17). It is much more likely that certain precepts concerning forgiveness and civil obedience were originally were originally urged independently of Jesus, and only later put into his mouth and thereby stamped with supreme authority, than that he gave such rulings and was not credited with having done so by Paul and… by other early Christian writers. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 33.)
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends