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Jesus’ Resurrection as an Apocalyptic Event

In my previous post I started to discuss the eschatological implications drawn by Jesus’ followers once they became convinced that he had been raised from the dead.  I pointed out that the very fact that they interpreted their visions of him as evidence of “resurrection” shows that they must have been apocalyptic Jews prior to his death (as I have argued on other grounds ad nauseum on the blog!).  And I also suggested two of the key conclusions they drew with respect to eschatology (their understanding of what would happen at the end):  they came to conclude that Jesus himself was the Son of Man that he had been proclaiming as the future judge of the earth, and they came to believe that they were living at the very end of time. In this post I am not going to talk about Jesus as the Son of Man – that will require several posts that I will take up soon.  But I do want to talk about this business of Christians thinking that they were [...]

2020-04-03T03:57:47-04:00December 30th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Resurrection of the Son of God

I’m in the midst of the most entangled thread I have yet produced in my well-over-three-years of doing the blog.   It started with orthodox scribes who were altering their texts of Scripture (specifically Luke 22; this was part of a thread I began in April!  I’ll get back to it….) and it has now managed by a number of intricate twists, turns, and interweavings to end up at the resurrection of Jesus. I have been arguing that the resurrection radically changed the disciple’ understanding of the belief that he was the messiah –  a belief that he himself had, and that they shared.  I have argued that given everything we know about Jewish beliefs at the time, almost certainly anyone hearing that a man (such as Jesus) was the messiah would have thought that this meant that he was (or would become) the king of the Jewish people.   That’s certainly how the Roman governor Pontius Pilate took it.  It was because Jesus made such a claim that Pilate ordered him crucified. The crucifixion proved beyond [...]

Did Some Disciples Not Believe in the Resurrection?

In my previous post I pointed out that we simply don’t know how many of Jesus’ disciples came to believe that he was raised from the dead.  In my view there is actually some *evidence* that some of them never did believe it.  I lay the evidence out in my book How Jesus Became God.  It has to do with the fact that there is such a strong tradition of “doubt” in the resurrection among Jesus’ followers.  Here is how I lay out the evidence there. *************************************************************** In considering the significance of the visions of Jesus, a key question immediately comes to the fore that in my judgment has not been given its full due by most scholars investigating the issue.   Why do we have such a strong and pervasive tradition that some of the disciples doubted the resurrection, even though Jesus appeared to them?  If Jesus came to them, alive, after his death, and held conversations with them  – what was there to doubt? The reason this question is so pressing is because, as [...]

How the Crucifixion Destroyed Jesus’ Vision of the Future

I have been arguing that during his lifetime Jesus had come to think that he was the messiah of God, the one who would be king when God intervened in history to overthrow the forces of evil and establish a good kingdom here on earth.   A number of readers have asked how or why he would come to that view about himself.  I’m afraid the answer is that I don’t know, and either does anyone else. There are, of course, lots of theories, some of which are no doubt held by different people on this blog, for example, Christians often say that it was because he really is the coming messiah and that God had told him this.  Others might say that he had some kind of visionary experience that led him to think this (at his baptism?  During his 40 days in the wilderness?  Some other time?).  Others might think that this is a rather exalted view to have of oneself as a lower class peasant in the remote backwaters of Galilee – that [...]

2020-04-03T13:05:45-04:00December 7th, 2015|Historical Jesus|

Jesus, the Messiah, and the Resurrection

I have been talking about the early Christian understandings of Jesus as the messiah – not just the messiah, but the “crucified messiah,” a concept that would have seemed not just unusual or bizarre to most Jewish ears in the first century, but absolutely mind-boggling and self-contradictory.  I’ve been arguing that it was precisely the contradictory nature of the claim that led almost all Jews to reject the Christian claims about Jesus. Several readers have asked me whether I think Jesus understood himself to be the messiah.  Probably those who know a *little* bit about my work and my general views of things would think that my answer would be Absolutely Not.   But those who know a *lot* about my views will know that the answer is Yes Indeed. I think Jesus did consider himself the messiah.  But not the to-be-crucified-messiah.   The key to understanding Jesus’ view of himself is to recognize what he *meant* by considering himself the messiah.  I will get to that in a later post.  For now I want to give [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:23-04:00November 11th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

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 [...]

2020-05-05T13:01:53-04:00October 3rd, 2015|Bart's Debates, Video Media|

Paul’s Gospel Message

QUESTION And what do you make of Paul’s statement that he didn’t get the good news (= the resurrection and thus the triumph over death) from other humans but from the ‘risen Christ’ himself? If he persecuted the Christians because of a resurrection belief then he would have heard about it before, from other humans, no?   RESPONSE Ah! This takes me to the issue that I was planning on posting about today anyway. Several people in their comments have pointed out that if Paul claims to have “received” the teachings about Jesus’ death and resurrection from others (1 Cor. 15:3), then it is hard to make sense of what he says in Galatians 1, that he received his “gospel” directly from Jesus himself. How could Paul have it both ways?   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!! Here’s what I think.   I think when Paul talks about receiving “his gospel” from a revelation – presumably [...]

2020-04-03T17:01:19-04:00April 25th, 2014|Paul and His Letters|

Did Paul Invent the Resurrection?

QUESTION: There is no doubt that Paul had visions of Jesus. And as we all agree the gospels (and Acts for that matter) were written AFTER Paul and certainly influenced BY Paul. In one way or another they reflect his way of thinking (to a certain degree). Wouldn’t it be possible that the story of visions started with Paul only and was incorporated into the gospels because… well, how could it be that Jesus appeared to Paul and not to his disciples? I find it suspicious that there are such deep discrepancies in the different accounts of Jesus post-resurrection appearances…. In other words: Couldn’t Paul be the sole starting point of this vision thing?   RESPONSE: This question gets to the heart of a very big issue: what was Paul’s role in the development of early Christianity. Is he responsible for starting it? Was he the first to claim that Jesus had appeared after his death, as the risen Lord of life? Is Paul the real founder of Christianity? Should we call it Paulianity? Maybe [...]

2020-04-29T17:35:51-04:00April 23rd, 2014|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

The Disciples who Doubted the Resurrection

In this post I continue discussing some of the issues that I learned about for the first time, or changed my mind about, while writing How Jesus Became God. This post is about an issue that I figured out (for myself) for the first time; I don’t know that other scholars have pointed this out in quite the same way. (Or if they do, I’ve forgotten about it.) It is about the tradition scattered throughout the Gospels that the disciples “doubted” that Jesus was raised even when they had clear evidence that he had been – namely, that he was standing right in front of them. How do we explain this doubt tradition? ************************************************** In considering the significance of the visions of Jesus, a key question immediately comes to the fore that in my judgment has not been given its full due by most scholars investigating the issue. Why do we have such a strong and pervasive tradition that some of the disciples doubted the resurrection, even though Jesus appeared to them? If Jesus came [...]

2020-04-03T17:03:21-04:00April 9th, 2014|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels|

Women at the Tomb

Here I’ll continue my thread on topics that I changed my mind about or came to see in doing my research for How Jesus Became God.   One of the most important things I changed my mind about was the idea that Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty three days after his death. When I was a Christian, of course I thought that was the case.   But even when I had become an agnostic I thought it was probably a historical tradition: it’s found in all four Gospels, for example, and the fact that the stories indicate precisely it was *women* who found the tomb did not seem like something Christians would want to make up.  (And so, as an agnostic, I had to come up with alternative explanations for why the tomb was empty.  But…) I changed my mind.  Most of my change came from my investigation of Roman practices of crucifixion.   As it turns out, standard policy appears to have been to have left the bodies of corpses on the crosses to decompose, as part [...]

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Mark

Here is my final post on Mark, following a literary-historical method. After this post I’ll have a reflection or two on the method, and then talk in much briefer fashion about other methods one might use to study the Gospels. ************************************************************ Jesus' Death as the Son of God It is clear from Mark's Gospel that Jesus' disciples never do come to understand who he is. As we have seen, he is betrayed to the Jewish authorities by one of them, Judas Iscariot. On the night of his arrest, he is denied three times by another, his closest disciple, Peter. All the others scatter, unwilling to stand up for him in the hour of his distress. Perhaps Mark wants his readers to understand that the disciples were shocked when their hopes concerning Jesus as messiah were thoroughly dashed: Jesus did not bring victory over the Romans or restore the kingdom to Israel. For Mark, of course, these hopes were misplaced. Jesus was the Son of God; but he was the Son of God who had to [...]

2020-04-03T17:19:37-04:00February 24th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

2009 Debate With Mike Licona: Can Historians Prove the Resurrection of Jesus?

I've decided to take a day or so off from my discussions of Reza Aslan's Zealot, both for my sanity and yours.  Here, for a bit of variety, is a video of a debate that I had a few years ago with Mike Licona on the topic or whether historians can *prove* that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Mike thinks the answer is "yes"; I think the answer is "no way."  It's important to note: the debate was *not* about whether Jesus was raised from the dead.  The debate was about whether historians can *prove* that he did (if he did). Mike Licona has burst onto the scene as a conservative Christian apologist.   He did a master's degree at Liberty University (that's Jerry Falwell's place) and then a PhD in New Testament at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.  Someone may be able to correct me on this, but I *think* that is the kind of degree where instead of taking PhD seminars and so on, as at an American university, it [...]

2021-02-13T01:10:41-05:00December 26th, 2013|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Video Media|

A Third View of Jesus’ Body at the Resurrection

This will be my final post on the early Christian understandings of the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. I have tried to show that Paul believed that Jesus’ actual body came out of the tomb, but as a spiritual, immortal body – completely transformed; other Christians, including groups of Gnostics, maintained that Jesus’ spirit lived on even though his body decomposed and ceased to exist (like all other bodies) In this final post I deal with another extreme in the opposite direction, one found already in the New Testament, possibly in order to oppose the idea that Jesus was raised only in spirit but not in body. Again, this is an extract from my forthcoming book How Jesus Became God. ************************************************************************************ The Raising of the Mortal Body We don’t know how early such full-blown Gnostic views came to expression in the Christian movement; they were certainly in place by the middle of the second century, and possibly earlier. But there were tendencies toward such views already in the New Testament period. If my reconstruction of [...]

A Gnostic View of Jesus’ Resurrection

The Gnostic view of Jesus' resurrection. Yesterday, in response to a question, I discussed Paul’s view of the resurrection of Jesus. In response to several questions I was asked, let me say emphatically that YES, in my view Paul believed that Jesus' corpse itself was transformed into a spiritual body. If asked, he would have said that the grave was empty. That’s how I read 1 Corinthians 15. The body that comes out of the tomb is the same body that went into the tomb, but it is a transformed (not a different) body, made immortal. (And let me stress – again in response to a couple of questions I’ve asked: this is not *my* view of what happened to Jesus’ body. I’m just explaining what *Paul’s* view was). Paul’s view was not the only one found among the early Christians. I explain that view further in this excerpt from my forthcoming book How Jesus Became God: The Raising of the Spirit - the Gnostic View of Jesus' Resurrection Some ancient Christians – taking a [...]

Paul and the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body

QUESTION: You may have gone over this before, but do you think the earliest Christians, Peter, Paul, and Mary etc. believed in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, or do you think they believed his “spirit” was raised from the dead? From Paul’s writing it’s hard for me to judge. I ask this because it seems easier for me to attribute the resurrection belief to “hallucinations” if they were only experiencing visions of Jesus’ spirit. Even group “hallucinations” of Jesus’ spirit seems plausible, maybe during a group’s ecstatic experience or something. On the other hand I think there’s difficulty with the idea that several people hallucinated an experiences with a seemingly physical Jesus. RESPONSE: This is a great question. My view is that different early Christians had different views. Paul’s view for me is the most interesting. In a forthcoming book I’ve mapped out my understanding of that. Here’s what I say there: ****************************************************************************** It is striking, and frequently overlooked by casual observers of the early Christian tradition, that even though it was a universal [...]

Why Historians Can Talk “About” the Resurrection

In this final post (for now) on the historian and miracles, I want to emphasize one point that I raise of my own volition, and answer one question that has been asked by a reader. First, a point to emphasize (I borrow this from my forthcoming book on How Jesus Became God), on whether my stand on miracles just means that I’m a crazy secularist…. The reason that historians cannot prove or disprove whether God has performed a miracle in the past – such as by raising Jesus from the dead – is not because historians are required to be secular humanists with an anti-supernaturalist bias.   I want to stress this point because conservative Christian apologists, in order to score debating points, often claim that this is the case.  In their view, if historians did not have anti-supernaturalist biases or assumptions, they would be able to affirm the historical “evidence” that Jesus was raised from the dead.   I should point out that these Christian apologists almost never consider the “evidence” for other miracles from the [...]

2020-04-03T17:43:52-04:00November 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Mark and the Resurrection

QUESTION: I heard a scholar (I think it was JD Crossan) saying that the absence of a resurrected Jesus in Mark's original gospel reflects the confusion and anxiety that forlorn Jews would have felt after the destruction of the Temple? Do you think this is the case? If so, how does it fit in with the belief (widespread among scholars, I believe)  that the accounts of a visibly resurrected Jesus were in circulation long before 70 AD and probably came from Peter, Paul , and Mary M? RESPONSE: I don’t recall ever hearing this view before – so I’m not sure where you may have read it.   I would have to read a fuller exposition of the view to make better sense of it, but off hand, I don’t think it’s plausible, for several reasons. First, a lot hinges on what is meant by “the absence of the resurrected Jesus” in Mark.   People often get Mark’s account wrong by saying that there is no resurrection in Mark.  That’s absolutely not true.  In Mark, Jesus is [...]

2020-04-03T18:28:48-04:00June 4th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Early Judaism, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus’ Appearance to the 500

QUESTION on 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: "3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. " Where do you think he got his information from especially on the 500?  Many say it could only have come from Peter or James or else he made it up, which would be odd. RESPONSE: It’s a great question, and as with many great questions, I don’t think there’s a great answer.   There are several things we can say.   Paul [...]

2020-04-03T18:30:47-04:00May 21st, 2013|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Women Who Did Not Doubt the Resurrection

In my post yesterday I noted something unusual about the doubting tradition in the resurrection narratives (i.e., the tradition that some of the disciples simply didn’t believe that Jesus was raised) – in addition, of course, to the fact that there is such a dominant doubting tradition! (itself a fascinating phenomenon) – which is that there is no word anywhere of the women who discover the tomb doubting, but clear indications (either by implication or by explicit statement) that some or all of the male disciples doubted. This is true of three of our four Gospels. Mark 16:8. (This one is by implication only) We are told that the women never tell anyone that they have found the tomb to be empty. So, the disciples are not said to believe and, in fact, so far as we know from this Gospel, no one does come to believe. (Obviously someone did, otherwise we wouldn’t have the Gospel!) Luke 24:10-11. The disciples think the tale of women told that Jesus has been raised as he predicted is [...]

Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing the Resurrection?

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection? RESPONSE: Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection. The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:50-04:00October 12th, 2012|Reader’s Questions|
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