Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Christian - Muslim Dialogue, part 9

This is part 9 of my critique of a "Christian - Muslim Dialogue" by H.M. Baagil.

On page 23 of the book, one of the arguments Baagil's imaginary “Christian” gives for Jesus’ deity is his resurrection from the dead. The Muslim’s response is to say that this idea comes from Paul “who never saw Jesus alive” and that “The gospel of the resurrection in Mark 16:9-20 has also been removed in many Bibles.” With that, the Muslim apparently thinks he has disproved the resurrection of Jesus.

First, it is true that two very ancient manuscripts—Vaticanus and Sinaiticus—which contain the Gospel of Mark, do not have Mark 16:9-20, which is why some English translations have “removed” it or place it in a footnote.

But there are thousands of New Testament Greek manuscripts and almost all of them that contain the Gospel of Mark, include Mark 16:9-20.

Second, Irenaeus and Tertullian, both of whom lived before the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were copied, quoted from Mark 16:9-20. In other words, Mark 16:9-20 was certainly part of the Gospel of Mark in some (or all) manuscripts before codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were copied.

Third, Tatian’s Diatesseron (an early harmony of the Gospels) also has Mark 16:9-20 and it was written before Vaticanus and Sinaiticus also. In other words, Mark 16:9-20 was also part of whatever manuscripts Tatian used to create his harmony of the Gospels--which was earlier than either Vaticanus or Sinaiticus.

Nevertheless, the Muslim is right that most scholars do not believe Mark 16:9-20 is genuine, but that doesn’t mean the Gospel of Mark didn’t know of Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, Jesus predicts his own resurrection both in Mark 9:9 and Mark 14:28. There is, therefore, no question that Mark knew of Jesus’ resurrection.

But even aside from Mark, the teaching that Jesus rose from the dead is also found in numerous other first century AD sources including several of Paul’s letters. For example, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (which even the critics believe in genuine), Paul tells of how he had once persecuted Christians and tried to destroy Christianity, but then he converted and began proclaiming the very religion he had tried to destroy! Paul went up to Jerusalem and met with the apostles of Jesus and they personally gave him their blessing to preach the Gospel—the Gospel which included the resurrection, which Paul mentions in the very first verse of Galatians.

Likewise, in first Corinthians (which even the critics believe is genuine), Paul is so convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead, he says that if Jesus had not risen all Paul's effort and suffering has been for nothing!

Paul also talks about the resurrection of Jesus in Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, and Second Timothy.

In addition to Paul’s letters, the resurrection is found in Matthew, Luke/Acts, John, 1 Peter, Revelation, the edited version of Josephus, and in Clement of Rome.

The resurrection is also affirmed in many second century AD sources as well, including, Ignatius (d. 98/117), Polycarp (wrote 110), Didache (2nd cent), Epistle of Barnabas, Hermas (ca 150), Papias (60-130), Epistle to Diognetus, Irenaeus (194), Justin (100-165), Tertullilan (160-220), Athenagoras (2nd cent), Theophilus (2nd cent), Minucius Felix (2-3 cent), Hipolytus (170-236), Origen (185-254), Tatian (110-172).

Even some of the so-called “lost gospels” of the second century affirmed the resurrection of Jesus: Ascension of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Peter, Acts of Thomas, Odes of Solomon, 5th Ezra, Epistula Apostolorum, Acts of Paul and Thecla, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of the Savior, Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, Acts of Thomas, Apocryphon of James, Ascension of Isaiah, Wisdom of Christ, and Treatise on the resurrection.

In fact, about 40 authors mention the resurrection of Jesus within 150 years of his death. By contrast, only 10 authors mention Tiberius Casear—the ruler of the entire Roman Empire—within 150 years of Tiberius’ death!

Besides the extensive documentary evidence, the resurrection of Jesus explains some otherwise difficult-to-explain events.

First, it explains why Paul and James—two committed anti-Christians—came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, Savior and Son of God.

Second, the resurrection explains why the earliest Christians—who were all Jews—suddenly started worshiping on the first day of the week (the day on which Jesus rose) rather than on the Sabbath (seventh day). This change is of huge significance since rest on the Sabbath was commanded by God. It would be like Muslims suddenly deciding to worship on Sunday rather than on Friday. Such a radical change would cry out for an explanation.

Third, the resurrection explains why the earliest Christians, who were all monotheistic Jews, began actually worshiping Jesus and referring to Jesus in ways that other Jews would only refer to God (Phil 2, Col 1, John 1, Hebrews 1, Romans 10:13 ref to Joel 2:32, Mark 1 ref to Isa 40:3, John 1). No matter how much Jews respected Moses or their other prophets, they would never worship them or attribute actions that only properly belong to God. Something must explain this radical change—and belief in the resurrection explains it.

Fourth, the resurrection explains why the Jesus movement would even continue at all after Jesus’ death. In the Jewish mind, the Messiah was a king who would save the Jews from their enemies. But Jesus wasn’t a king in any earthly sense, and not only did he not rescue the Jews from their enemies—he was executed by them!

Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem is a good illustration. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey deliberately fulfilling the prophet Zachariah’s prophecy of Israel’s king coming to them on a donkey and he was hailed by waving palm branches and shouts of “hosanna, hosanna” (save us, save us!). But only days later the people were yelling “crucify him, crucify him.”

There was a change because the Jews who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem were hoping that Jesus--the miracle working prophet from Galilee--was their long awaited Messiah-king. They were disparately hoping that he would now act to kick out the oppressive Romans. But only days later, there was Jesus—chained to Roman soldiers, mocked, beaten and bloodied.

Those who yelled “crucify him” turned on him because they assumed he must be an impostor and deceiver! In their minds it was absolutely impossible that their Messiah-King would ever be subdued by their enemies. In fact, when Jesus died, even his disciples lost hope for awhile. A Messiah just couldn’t die at the hands of their enemies.

So why didn’t the Jesus Movement die out just like every other messianic movement we know about? The answer is that Jesus’ followers became absolutely, positively convinced that they had seen Jesus alive and well physically after his death. They were so convinced that they were willing to suffer beatings, imprisonments, stoning and even death—not for some good cause (many people will suffer for good causes)—but because they knew Jesus was alive! As Paul says in First Corinthians, if Christ has not risen, everything is in vain (my paraphrase).

The resurrection—in addition to Jesus’ miracles and fulfilled prophecies—was enough evidence to convince them that Jesus really was who he had claimed to be: their Messiah and Savior!

Some people make a big deal out of the supposed discrepancies in the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.

First, in the book Easter Enigma, Oxford scholar John Wenham does a remarkable job showing that these supposed discrepancies are not really contradictions at all.

Second, even if there were minor contradictions in the Gospel’s resurrections stories, that is precisely what you would expect in any testimony by multiple people. For example, if all you knew about 9/11 was what you read in Newsweek, New York Times, the Washington Post and Time, you probably wouldn’t assume the event never happened just because you could find discrepancies and contradictions in the various stories!

Critics’ attacks on the resurrection stories due to minor disagreements are really nothing more than smoke and mirrors designed to distract from the fact that the gospels have a remarkable agreement on the main points of the resurrection story, i.e. that: 1) Mary and other women 2) found the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, 3) and found the tomb empty, 4) on the first day of the week (Sunday, not Monday, Tuesday, etc.), 5) on the third day after Jesus was crucified, and that 7) Jesus physically appeared to the women and 8) to his disciples.

It is significant that the Gospels agree that Jesus appeared first to the women because in those days women were not considered to be competent to give testimony. For example, the first century Jewish historian, Josephus writes, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities 4.219).

So if the Gospel writers were just fabricating a story about Jesus’ resurrection, the last thing they would do is make up a story about women being the primary eyewitnesses! If I lived back then and wanted to make up such a story, I’d make one up about how Pilate, or Herod or the chief priests found the empty tomb and saw Jesus alive!

All of this just scratches the surface. Those who are really interested in pursuing this topic of the resurrection of Jesus, should purchase the outstanding book, “The Resurrection of Son of God” by N.T. Wright (740 pages).

As an aside: some people play a little mental game with all of this evidence. They say to themselves, in effect, "If you Christians can't prove to me with absolute, scientific proof that Jesus rose from the dead, I am justified in not believing." This is a game because absolutely nothing can withstand that degree of skepticism. Atheism can't. Evolution can't. Certainly Islam cannot.

But Baagil doesn't just deny the resurrection. He also denies Jesus' crucifixion. More on that tomorrow or Monday.