The Resurrection Stands Firm: A Response to
After reading Till's response to my article defending Christ's
resurrection (both appeared in the July/August issue of TSR), I was
surprised to see him re-use Dan Barker's argument for the "evolution of a
myth" (Barker argued this in a debate with Michael Horner). He argued
that "the Christian belief in a bodily resurrection [of Christ] was a
result of doctrinal evolution that had begun with belief in only a
spiritual resurrection." Thus, Till argued that my data are better
explained by this myth theory, not an actual, bodily resurrection of
Christ. But before responding to the Till/Barker claim for the
"spiritual resurrection myth," I first want to address some of Till's
general comments concerning my article.
Till repeatedly claimed that I was "always argu[ing] from the
assumption that the New Testament records are historically accurate" when
presenting the evidence to back up my six historical "facts" which
critical scholars accept. (My points included the empty tomb, the
resurrection appearances, etc.) First, we must note Aristotle's dictum
that "the benefit of the doubt should be delegated to the document
itself, not arrogated by the citric to himself." What right does Till
have to operate from the extreme assumption that the NT is fundamentally
unreliable? He says that the gospels are "blatantly biased documents."
However, all historical records are "biased"-- no one wants a
disinterested historian. But this doesn't render their records
completely unreliable. A Jew who was writing about the events of the
Holocaust would not be discredited just because he was a victim of it and
passionate over the issue, would he? In fact, this would seem to
establish his credibility. There are also numerous good reasons
which do establish the general reliability of the NT (but that's another
Second, and most important, I am emphatically not arguing from
the premise that the NT documents are reliable in everything. In each
case where I assert something that the NT claims (such as that the tomb
was empty), I give specific reasons why we should accept what it
this specific point. For example, I appeal to Matt. 28:11-15 to show
that the earliest Jewish propaganda admits the empty tomb. Till says
that this is a "flagrant assumption that Matthew's record is historically
accurate." But in my article I give two specific reasons for accepting
the accuracy of this specific report from Matthew.
This leads to my next point of clarification. I specifically
wrote the article to show that one can give good evidence for the
resurrection without establishing that the NT is inerrant, or even very
trustworthy. That's why I said that I would "examine six facts which
virtually all critical scholars ... accept." Till seems to think
"critical scholars" I mean "most fundamentalists," but that is not the
case. My article clearly says that even virtually all "critical
non-Christian scholars" who address Christ's resurrection accept my six
points. I mean that these datum are accepted by serious scholars
(whether Christian or not) across a broad spectrum of beliefs who "apply
to the Bible the same investigative methods that they use in evaluating
the accuracy of secular history" (this quote is from "Did Marco Polo
Lie?" on p. 1 of the July/August issue, where it is claimed that
Christians are afraid to apply to the Bible the same historical methods
applied to secular history). This puts my case on firm basis, not an
"unwarranted assumption" that the NT is "always trustworthy" (though I
believe it is). Now I can turn to Till's attempt to explain away my six
facts with his myth theory.
I'm glad that Till is willing to admit that the creed recorded by
Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3ff. is very early. We will return to this later.
But he asks why such an early account would leave out so many of the
details that the gospels record. The reason is that the creedal formula
is simply meant to be a summary, or brief outline, of the core Christian
beliefs. There are many early, short creeds recorded in the NT (Rom.
1:3-4; 10:9; Phil 2:6ff., 1 Tim. 3:16, etc.), and none of them go into
great detail because they are only intended to be concise summaries of
beliefs, not detailed records as the gospels were.
Till points out that Paul used the word "thapto," which means
"burial" He insists that "thapto" carries with it no connotation of
sepulchre, or tomb, and that this probably meant that Paul understood the
body to have been thrown into a common grave. But let's look at Acts
2:29. It reads "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch
David died and was buried (thapto), and his tomb is here to this day
(NIV)." KJV replaces "tomb" with "sepulchre." So for Till (following
Barker) to assert that there is no connection between sepulcher, tomb,
and thapto is simply incorrect. Of course Paul does not use
(tomb) or "mnemeion" (sepulchre)! Would the following make sense:
"He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and was
sepulchered"? Till's theory also fails to account for the wealth of
evidence supporting the burial of Jesus in a tomb. (1) Archaeology
supports that the crucifixion victims were buried in tombs. Look, for
example, at the case of Yohanon, who was discovered in Tomb #1 at Giv'at
ha-Mitvar, As el-Masaref by Tzaferis. Yohanon was from the
first-century, and was found to have his heel bones transfixed by a large
iron nail and his shins broken. "Death by crucifixion" reported Dr. N.
Haas after examining him. Further, (2) Jewish holy men (as was Jesus)
were buried in tombs so their grave could be preserved, (3) the burial
story lacks legendary development (as even Bultmann agrees in The History
of the Synoptic Tradition, 2 ed., trans. John Marsh, p. 274, and most
agree with him), (4) archaeology confirms the description of Christ's
tomb in the gospels and (5) the phrase "first day of the week" reveals an
early date for the story since it fell out of use by the late 30s (or so)
to be replaced with "on the third day." Lastly, (6) the inclusion of
Joseph of Arimathea strongly supports the burial record (we will see why
later). This all suggests that the burial story is very early and
accurate. Since it is so early, there is simply not enough time for
legend to replace the historical core.
Till's second point was that "anistimi" means "to be raised,"
while "egeiro" means "to awaken" and sometimes lacks physical
connotations. Paul used "egeiro," so Till reasons that Paul is
a spiritual resurrection. If Paul had intended a physical resurrection,
says Till, Paul would have used "anistimi." Now, whether or not we
with the gospels on the resurrection or not, both skeptic and Christian
can be certain that Matthew, Luke, and John record that Jesus appeared
physically and bodily. Matt. 28:9 says "they clasped his feet." Luke
24:39 says "Touch me and see, a ghost does not have flesh and bones as
you see I have them." John 20:27 says "Put your fingers here; see my
hands." Whatever may be said about his, they are reporting physicality.
However, these same gospels also describe raising as "egeiro,"
the same term Paul used. Matt. 28:6-7 says "He is not here, he has risen
(egeiro) just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. He
risen (egeiro) from the dead." Luke 24:6 says "He is not here, he
risen (egeiro)!" And John 21:14 says "...he was raised
(egeiro) from the
dead." The point is clear: the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke saw
no contradiction in affirming that Jesus was alive bodily and physically
with the word egeiro--the same word that Paul uses.
Later on Till examines Paul's use of the word "opethe." He
argued that this word is used to describe visions in the NT, and
therefore Paul was not recording physical appearances in 1 Cor 15.
However, let's go back once again to the gospel writers who did believe
that He appeared physically. "There you will see (opethe) him"
28:7); "...the Lord has risen (egeiro) and has appeared
(opethe) to Simon
(Luke 24:24). "...they will look (opethe) on the one they have
(John 19:37). Did John believe they were having a vision of Jesus on the
cross? Luke 24:24 is sufficient evidence alone to show that "egeiro"
mean raised and not just awaken, and that "opethe" can refer to a
physical appearance and not just a vision.
Till also tried to show, mainly from his exegesis of 1 Cor. 15:
40-44, that Paul believed Christians would experience only a "spiritual
resurrection", not a physical one, and therefore Christ was only raised
spiritually, not physically. But when Paul says of a believer's body in
verse 42 that "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption,"
he is not saying that our bodies will be taken from materiality, but
from mortality. Till thinks he has found further support in verse
However, this verse most forcefully teaches the traditional doctrine of
the resurrection. "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a
body." Clearly Paul teaches a continuity between the "natural body" and
the "spiritual body," for it is the same "it" in both cases. He is
referring to the same physical body in different states, not a
substance. And virtually all commentators agree that "spiritual"
not mean "made out of spirit," but "directed by and orientated to the
Spirit." It is just like when we say someone is a "spiritual" person.
Paul uses the word in this way in 1 Cor. 2:15: "The spiritual man judges
all things..." Clearly Paul does not mean "immaterial, invisible man"
here but "man oriented to the Spirit." And look at 10:4, where Paul
refers to a "spiritual rock." Does Paul mean "immaterial rock"?
In verses 35-37, where Till also finds "support," Paul says "what
you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not
sow that body that shall be, but mere grain." But he isn't even referring
to the substance of our future bodies. And Paul does teach a continuity
between our bodies now and in the future in saying that the thing that is
sown is made alive if it dies--there is continuity between the seed to
the plant (they are the same organism), yet there is also change. And
certainly the seed and the plant are both physical! Christians do
not have "the body that shall be" because we are not immortal yet. In
support of Paul's view of a physical resurrection, look at Romans
8:21-23. He teaches that the whole creation will be transformed into
freedom, but not non-materiality. He then says our bodies will likewise
be "redeemed." Since creation will be transformed, yet remain physical,
and our bodies are part of creation, they will also be transformed, yet
still be continuous with our old bodies and remain physical.
Paul's belief in the personal return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:14-17) also
implies that he believed in a physical resurrection.
It is also difficult to see, using Till/Barker's hypothesis, why
the following "legendary developments" about the burial, empty tomb, and
appearances would take place: (1) The use of women to discover the
tomb. The testimony of women was not considered credible in first
century Judaism. So if the resurrection is simply a large legendary
evolution, why didn't the early Christians have the disciples discover
the tomb instead? Also, (2) why was Joseph of Arimathea used in the
burial story? The members of the Sanheidren were too well known for
someone to place a fictional member on it or to spread a false story
about one of its members burying Jesus. And (3) why weren't the
"hopeless contradictions" in the resurrection appearances harmonized if
it was all a legend? While it does harmonize, if the whole thing was
made up, shouldn't it harmonize a little easier?
Lastly, Jewish NT scholar Pinchas Lapide has examined Jewish
thought of the first century and found that all schools of thought held
to a notion of a physical resurrection (Lapide, The Resurrection of
Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, pp. 44-65). The early Christians were
Jewish (including Paul). A resurrection without the body would have been
non-sense to them. This in itself should put an end to any notion of a
"spiritual resurrection" myth.
Clearly Till's attempt at my challenge to "explain all these
facts" with his myth theory has failed. If, as some atheists are saying,
this is the best argument against the resurrection, then Christianity
will remain intellectually strong. Now we will briefly turn to his
specific treatment of my six facts.
Till says that no non-Christians sources corroborate the NT
record of the crucifixion. Till disputed my reference to the
non-Christian Thallus on this point, but did not deal with the fact the
in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a does record the
Christ. He also thinks that my belief in the empty tomb must be based on
the assumption that the NT documents are reliable, so let me give some
more reasons to believe in this specific NT point. First, my arguments
supporting Jesus' burial also apply here, for if the burial story is
accurate, the empty tomb story likely is accurate as well, since
linguistic ties indicate that they form one continuous narrative from the
pericope. Second, in his record of the empty tomb, Mark used a source
which originated before AD 37. Scholars know this because the high
priest is referred to without using his name. Caiphas (the high priest
during Christ's death) must have therefore still been the high priest
when this story began circulating since there was no need to mention his
name in order to distinguish him from the next high priest. Caiphas'
term ended in 37, so that is the last possible date for the source's
origination. Thus, the evidence for the empty tomb is so near to the
events themselves that it is hard to argue that legend could sweep in and
replace the hard core historical facts. This also confirms early
Christian belief in a bodily resurrection, for clearly the gospel of Mark
teaches a bodily resurrection. Lest Till claim that the empty tomb is
only accepted by "fundamentalists," I have a list of 47 critical scholars
in front of me (non "fundamentalist") who accept the empty tomb (such as
Blank, Delorme, Lapide, Schwank, Strobel, etc.).
There are also sources outside the NT which support the empty
tomb. In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin Martyr states,
fear of being disputed by his Jewish opponent, that the Jewish leaders
had sent men around the Mediterranean to further the teaching that the
body had been stolen. This presupposes an empty tomb. Till of course
will say that an empty tomb proves nothing, but all natural attempts to
explain it have been rejected by critics. As Craig says, "they are
self-confessedly without any theory to explain it."
Concerning the resurrection appearances, Till calls into question
the traditional authorship of the gospels, claiming that they were not
written by eyewitnesses. But even if this were true, it would not hurt
my case. First, there is still the eyewitness testimony of 1 Cor.
15:3ff. to establish the resurrection appearances (which Till admits is
very early). Second, while it is true that there is a "formidable body
of critical works" which reject the traditional authorship of the
gospels, most of these same scholars still find a large amount of
eyewitness testimony behind the gospels (Robert Grant, Cranfield, Hunter,
Brown, John A.T. Robinson. Who would call these guys
"fundamentalists"?). Even Raymond Brown, a skeptic who wrote a
significant commentary on John, held that the apostle John was a major
source behind the gospel of John.
Till calls into question the apostles' martyrdom and very
existence. He then says that the rapid spread of early Christianity is
only recorded in "biased" Christian sources, and so he seems to reject
the notion (and the sources) altogether. But on what basis can just
reject Christian sources because in his opinion they are biased? Again,
no historian is disinterested, but as I said earlier, this is no reason
to discredit the possibility of finding genuine history from them. Till
is not just accusing the early Christians of bias, he is accusing them of
blatant dishonesty (especially when he rejects the main events of the NT
record)! But on what grounds can he do this, especially since the early
Christians considered moral integrity and honesty more important than
life itself? As secular governor Pliny the Younger said around AD 112:
"They. ... bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds,
but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their
word..." (Pliny, Letters, vol. II, X:96). Now we can consider
quote from Tertullian: "But go zealously on. . . . Kill us, torture us,
condemn us, grind us to dust. . . . The oftener we are mown down by you,
the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed." And even
the secular Tacitus (AD 55-120) "speaks of an immense multitude' of
Christians, who were murdered in the city of Rome alone during the
Neronian persecution in 64. To this must be added the silent, yet most
eloquent testimony of the Roman catacombs...and are said to contain
nearly seven millions of graves..." as historian Philip Schaff reports
(History of the Christian Church, pp. 79-80). The catacombs alone
are clear, reliable evidence to the rapid spread and resulting great
persecution of the early church. As to whatever doubt some may have
about the martyrdom of the apostles, we must ask this question: if the
students were willing to die for their faith, how much more their
teachers? Further, Eusebius is considered generally accurate in what he
reports (see Schaff), and he records how each apostle died. Also, in a
passage almost universally considered authentic, Josephus records the
martyrdom of James. Critical scholars even acknowledge that the apostles
were willing to die for their faith.
Apparently Till thinks that I said that just because the apostles
were martyred, Christianity must be true. But that is not my argument.
This is my argument: 1 Cor. 15:3ff. is an early creed in which Paul
records the resurrection appearances. Even Till agreed to this. We have
also seen that these appearances were clearly physical. Paul received
this creed from Peter and James (as virtually all critical scholars
agree), who are listed in this creed as eyewitnesses to the resurrection
of Christ. So, in other words, Jesus' original disciples claimed to have
seen Him alive again after His death. Even the most skeptical NT scholars
admit that the disciples really believed they saw Jesus (see Bultmann,
Theology of the NT, 44-45; Fuller, Resurrection Narratives,
27-49; Pannenberg, Brown, etc.).
We have two options if Jesus did not rise--either the disciples
believed their claim that they saw Him and were mistaken, or they did not
believe their own claim and were therefore deliberately lying. I
clearly showed in my first article how the disciples could not have been
mistaken. But the only other option forces us to concede that the
apostles died, not just for a lie they mistakenly believed to be true,
but for a lie that they knew was a lie! While martyrs of other
have died for what they sincerely believed was true, the
that the disciples would have been dying for what they sincerely knew was
a lie! As I said in my article, "Ten people would not all give their
lives for something they know to be a lie." Therefore, we must
that the disciples believed that Jesus rose and appeared to them
Jesus really did rise and appear to them! That is the only
for their claim. Taken along with our evidence for the early belief in
Christ's physical resurrection and our evidence for the empty
can conclude that the resurrection still stands tall. The testimony of
1900 years of history bears this out, and Christ continues to say today
"whoever hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life,
and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.
Go back to Contend for the Faith.
This page hosted by
Get your own Free Home Page