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Ehrman Licona Debate – Prove Jesus Rose from Dead

On February 28, 2008 I flew back to (near) my home turf, Kansas City, Missouri where I debated Christian apologist Mike R. Licona on the topic, “Can Historians Prove that Jesus Rose from the Dead?” The event took place on at 7 p.m. held at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  You can guess whose side the crowd was on!

Mike is one person I’ve debated over the years with whom I have a very good relationship.  When we’re not going at it verbally, we get along well and have a chummy relationship.  Even if each of us thinks the other is completely dead wrong about things — including the important topic of this debate. Mike Licona is author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God: 50 Arguments For Faith From The Bible, History, Philosophy, And Science, among others.

The debate is discussed in the book “Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics” edited by Paul Copan, William Lane Craig. Chapter 9 is written by Michael Licona, which reviews this debate extensively from his perspective.  I’ve never reflected on it from mine — but I do, of course, talk extensively about the issue (apart from this debate) in my book How Jesus Became God.

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I’m Openly Secular Documentary
My Debate with Kyle Butt on the Problem of Suffering



  1. gmatthews
    gmatthews  October 3, 2015

    Your coat seems to fit you better in this 2008 video. In the two you posted last weekend your sports coat is either too big or you’ve lost some weight. Sorry, I had to point it out!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2015

      Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of weight.

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        madmax2976  October 7, 2015

        Atkins? Weight Watchers? Nutrisystem? Curious minds need to know!

        • Bart
          Bart  October 8, 2015

          Ha! Mediterranean!

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            fred  October 10, 2015

            Good choice, since this diet still allows a bit of red wine. Incidentally, the best way to reduce wine consumption is to buy more expensive wine. (I’m serious). Drink it slowly, sniffing before each sip, letting it roll over your tongue, and attending to the long finish as it evolves in the mouth. The more expensive wines will exhibit the complexity that commands the required level of attention, and also is more likely to provide the long, evolving finish. In short: drink less, but enjoy it more.

            —just trying to help

          • Bart
            Bart  October 10, 2015

            Ah, I’m with you all the way. That in fact is my precise policy.

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    Lawyerskeptic  October 3, 2015

    Licona is now in my hometown of Houston. You should debate here.

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    XanderKastan  October 3, 2015

    Interesting. I’m curious if you can recall or figure out what is the point you were going to make at around 1:56:50, when you don’t finish the sentence “The thing is about the disciples, we don’t even know really if…” and instead follow with “I’m not going to go there, that would take us all night.” I assume you can’t explain it here, but maybe just state it and perhaps there’s a place you can point to where you have already explained it.

    My guess is you were going to say something along the lines of: We don’t even really know if all the disciples thought they each had a personal experience of Jesus appearing after his death .

    I wonder if I’m even close to what you had in mind. Regardless, if you can figure out the rest of your sentence, is it something you still think or that you changed your mind about since then?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2015

      I don’t remember exactly, but I *imagine* that I was going to say that we don’t know for a fact that all the remaining eleven disciples became believers in the resurrection.

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    RonaldTaska  October 4, 2015

    Debating where the entire crowd is against you must be quite a challenge. Most of the time I don’t really care what conclusions people reach about such matters as long as they do some thinking and reasoning on the way to those conclusions. However, being convinced about such matters without doing the reasoning and studying required by such important matters is troublesome and irritating.

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    Jim  October 4, 2015

    Great debate Bart – clear, concise & compelling (as usual). Mike typified his position with his final comment that he believed in Biblical inerrancy but did not have an answer for why John and Mark are discrepant on whether Jesus died on the day of Passover or the day before the Passover.

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    Wilusa  October 4, 2015

    Very enjoyable! You’re certainly a much better speaker – would have been, even if poor Mr. Licona didn’t have laryngitis. But I have quite a few comments.

    I think you were being too picky about his saying it was a relevant, important fact that Jesus was crucified. Perhaps he should have worded it differently. But if someone was going to claim Jesus had been seen alive after the date of his death, it *was* necessary to establish first that he had *died*. And the death’s having been so *public* would convince most people.

    Personally, I don’t lump Paul’s supposed “vision” with the others…because I’m not convinced he didn’t make it up, to have a “dramatic” conversion story. (When he’d really changed his mind about Christianity when he thought of a different way to interpret his belief that anyone “hanged from a tree” was “cursed.”)

    I was appalled by Mr. Licona’s equating Paul with Osama bin Laden. On the one hand, we don’t know what Paul’s “persecution of Christians” consisted of: he may just have been a vandal, who scrawled graffiti on a few people’s homes! But on the other, bin Laden himself was a significant historical figure, deserving of more respect than Mr. Licona showed him.

    Here’s the main thing I want to say. The “Resurrection of Jesus,” if it had really taken place, would have been the most startling event in the history of this planet. But why would an omnipotent Deity have performed such a miracle, without the *followup* that might have been expected?

    The disciples believed Jesus had been restored to life in a newly invulnerable body. He couldn’t have been harmed again. So he should have *proved* it…by publicly confronting the Sanhedrin, Pilate, even the Emperor! Letting their guards *try* to kill him again, and fail. That way, he could surely have converted masses to his beliefs about the coming “Kingdom” – to just about *anything* he claimed. And there would have been so much publicity that even historians would have to acknowledge that it had all, somehow, happened.

    It can’t plausibly be argued that God didn’t *want* many people to know about the Resurrection, because the early Christians were trying to convince as many converts as they could. Even, perhaps especially, Gentiles.

    As I see it, if unlikely event A should logically have been followed by B…and B never happened…then A never happened, either.

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    ColinX  October 4, 2015

    There is no Proof that Jesus rose from the dead in a historical sense that is the point you see beacuse as St. John Chrysostom says, the Church would die if it were founded only on knowledge (i.e., direct experience); there must be those who take it on faith.

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    Judith  October 4, 2015

    If it is Monday when you read this, Happy Happy Birthday!

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    wje  October 5, 2015

    Was this video on youtube from the beginning? A quick question on Aramaic. What are the earliest written accounts of Jesus in Aramaic? What are the first accounts of life in first century Palestine in written Aramaic?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2015

      I don’t know. We don’t have any accounts of Jesus in Aramaic, though we have some translations of the NT into Syriac, a related dialect. And we don’t have any extensive accounts of descriptions of first century Palestine in Aramaic.

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    godspell  October 5, 2015

    I can’t believe we’re still at the point where this can be debated.

    Anyway, a miracle that can be proven isn’t a miracle. Not that I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but I’m just saying. Anything you can prove no longer falls under the heading of faith.

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    Wilusa  October 5, 2015

    I’ve been struck by the fact that you didn’t mention something you have discussed in the blog: that (a) people in that era didn’t seem to differentiate between dreams and waking “visions”; and (b) it’s known that after someone has died, survivors often have very real-seeming dreams of contact with them. Especially if those survivors have guilt feelings – which Jesus’s disciples may very well have had, if they’d fled to Galilee. (A modern person, at least, would be more likely to be convinced of something by a dream than by a “vision” – because dreams themselves,”meaningful” or not, are normal, and “visions” not induced by hallucinogens could make a person fear for his or her sanity.)

    I’m guessing you didn’t learn all that, from your reading, until after the date of this debate. Right?

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 8, 2015

      After my Uncle Frank, who had been a priest, passed away, an acquaintance of his told my father he’d had a waking vision of Frank in the arms of the Virgin Mary–and my father, a religious Catholic but not one who normally believes in such visions, was eager to believe it–he was grieving for his older brother, and the story comforted him on a number of levels.

      So it’s still a thing, but you’re right to say it was more of one back then. Everybody believed in visions. Hell, Constantine changed the course of the entire Roman Empire over a vision (and some pragmatic calculations as well, to be sure).

      Are we wrong to believe in visions? And would they disappear if we stopped believing in the supernatural? The answer to the first question is “Depends on how we react to them, which will depend on the personality of the visionary.” The answer to the second, I suspect, is “No.” Religion is merely shaping something that is inherent to the human animal.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 9, 2015

        Come to think of it, I also remember knowing two women who claimed to have had “visions” when they were sure they’d been awake – though they had, admittedly, been in bed at the time.

        One woman had what I’ve heard is an unfortunately common type of experience. She saw “Jesus” in a bedroom mirror, and was presumably too stunned to even think of trying to wake her sleeping husband. The reason this was “unfortunate” was that it was connected with a tragedy: she gave birth to twin sons, and they both died. I heard about that when I was a child, and I’ve forgotten (if I ever knew) whether she had the “vision” before or after the loss of the twins – whether she took it to be a “warning,” or “consolation.”

        The other woman recalled a “vision” she’d had when *she* was a child, sharing a bedroom with at least two sisters. As she remembered it, she woke up, and saw something like a strange mist hovering over one of her sisters. She reacted loudly enough that the other girls woke up; but they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and they told her to pipe down and go back to sleep. I forget whether she said they themselves did go back to sleep, or whether she was still seeing the mist while they were awake. But she then saw something else: a *baby* crawling on the floor, where no baby could have been! The “vision” ended in an undramatic way, with the baby simply crawling out the bedroom door. The woman was sure it was the ghost of a brother who’d died in infancy, before she was born.

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    Jayredinger  October 6, 2015

    Bart, I thought you were brilliant in this debate.

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    Lawyerskeptic  October 6, 2015

    I watched the debate and found it amusing that he began with an anecdote about a trial. Licona’s arguments would not stand up in court. I am working on a book of legal apologetics, responding to the arguments of John Warwick Montgomery and other such legal apologists. You might find some parts of it useful for future debates. I will let you know when I have it in decent shape.

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    fred  October 7, 2015

    “The debate is discussed in the book “Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics” edited by Paul Copan, William Lane Craig. Chapter 9 is written by Michael Licona, which reviews this debate extensively from his perspective. I’ve never reflected on it from mine…”

    Surely you must have read that article of Licona’s. I hope you will respond to his analysis in a future blog entry.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2015

      Nope, haven’t read it. You’d be amazed what I haven’t read. (But if you saw my weekly/daily/hourly schedule, you’d see why!)

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    kazawolf  October 7, 2015

    Happy Birthday, Bart! You’ve beat me by six days. The ’55 Libras were a good vintage…

    Keep up the great work.

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    dhjones1  October 7, 2015

    Which gospels present Jesus’s resurrection as great miracle? All of them? And why does Paul as well? Since people are resurrected from the dead in stories all over the gospels and the Old Testament, why is it such a great miracle for Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2015

      Yes, they all do. The difference is that Jesus rose, never to die again.

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