Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rabbi Blumenthal and the Resurrection of Jesus

Yesterday I received an email pointing me to an article arguing against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, posted by an orthodox (I think) Jewish Rabbi. His article is here:

What follows is the emailed response I sent - certainly not an exhaustive or comprehensive critique, but brief and to the point. ...

I will pick out just one point in Blumenthal's article to critique:

"Another interesting factor that comes to light when examining the various sightings of Jesus, is the point that the only ones who testified that they saw him were people who were already totally devoted to him. Even among the devotees, the Christian scriptures report that there was an element of doubt concerning the truth of the resurrection story."

On this point he is just plain wrong. The Apostle Paul was certainly not someone who was "already totally devoted to him." And yet we have Paul testify in 1 Corinthians 15, that he is included in the list of those who saw the risen Christ (along with, I should mention, James, the brother of Jesus, who was also NOT a follower of Jesus during his lifetime). To push further along those lines, 1 Corinthians dates from the early 50s, and the tradition which it cites is generally understood (by skeptics as well as evangelicals) to date back to the early to mid-30s - that is, within 5 years of Jesus' death. If one only considers the testimony of the Gospels, then the Rabbi would be correct; but one has to take Paul's epistles into account, too. And Paul is clearly both: (a) a professing eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus; and (b) a virulent opponent of the early Church. For more on this type of argument, see Gary Habermas & Mike Licona's "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus" (2004); or Gary Habermas' chapters in "God is Great, God is Good" (edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, 2009) and "Contending With Christianity's Critics" (edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, 2009).

OK, one more point to pick on -

"The problem with this argument is that the devotion of the disciples preceded the resurrection story. It seems that the devotion to their leader produced the resurrection story and not the other way around. The way the Christian Scriptures describe the devotion of Jesus’ disciples it would almost be surprising if there were no resurrection story. Does this mean that the disciples were preaching a deliberate lie? Not necessarily. There is no way of knowing today at what point in time was it that the resurrection story came to be accepted by the followers of Jesus. It is possible that it took years for the story to develop until it was actually believed in a literal sense. It may have started with reports of visions, which over the course of time came to be spoken of as actual sightings."

Yes, the devotion of the disciples precedes the resurrection. However, faith in Jesus as Messiah was demonstrably incapable of producing faith in Jesus' bodily resurrection. N. T. Wright's massive study ("The Resurrection of the Son of God", 2003) spends several hundred pages demonstrating that first-century Judaism had no conception of a dying and rising Messiah. Resurrection had always been understood to refer to a general resurrection of all the righteous at the end of time (the Day of the Lord); there was no place within the various Jewish worldviews for a one-of-a-kind resurrection such as came to be proclaimed of Jesus. Furthermore, we have the creedal statements in 1 Cor. 15, as well as the record of early Christian proclamation in the Book of Acts, which makes it abundantly clear that belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was not only a component, but a central feature of the young church's preaching.