On to part 4 of our critique of Mike Licona’s “Top 10 Myths About Jesus’ Resurrection” (part 1 here).
(Blue text is the myth, green is Licona’s rejection of the myth, and black is my response to Licona.)
Myth 7: It Was Merely Legend.
We don’t know what really happened. All we have is legends that developed long after the events. In the gospels we read these legends, not history.
Finally! Lucky number seven is the correct answer! Yes, all evidence points to the resurrection in the Jesus story as legend. C. S. Lewis’s famous “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?” argument is quite popular in Christian circles, and he misses Legend as the obvious fourth possibility (more here). I respond to twelve reasons given by apologists who argue against the legend hypothesis here.
Unfortunately, Licona handwaves a weak rebuttal and becomes an example of Winston Churchill’s dictum, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Licona says, “We have reports that go back to the original apostles.” Paul said that Jesus died, was buried, rose, and appeared to others (1 Corinthians 15). “We know Paul was teaching what the Jerusalem apostles were teaching.”
Reports that go back to the original apostles? Is he seriously going to point to the story itself to justify the validity of the story? The claim that the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John isn’t history but is itself a legend. And sometimes centuries separate our best copies from the originals (more). That doesn’t make them useless, but that’s insufficient evidence on which to base a supernatural claim.
Licona says that the disciples confirmed Paul’s approach, which is probably a reference to Galatians 2:2–6, in which Paul reports that the Jerusalem crowd had no corrections to make to his teaching. However, Paul’s conclusion shows a fair amount of friction between the two camps: “As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me.”
And how reliable is Paul anyway? The post-resurrection appearances in his famous 1 Corinthians 15 passage don’t match the gospel accounts (more here and here). Perhaps the reason Paul didn’t have more respect for those who lived with Jesus—unlike his own Jesus experience, which was only through a vision—was because he thought they’d all seen him as a vision. He uses the same verb for his personal interaction with Jesus as those of the apostles.
Paul says that the Jerusalem faction supported him . . . but then he’d be motivated to claim their support, wouldn’t he? Just because a claim is in one of Paul’s epistles, that doesn’t make it history.
“This goes back to the eyewitnesses themselves. You can accuse them of lying or hallucinating or whatever you would accuse them of, but a legend? Can’t happen because it was the original apostles of Jesus who were making the initial proclamation that Jesus had been raised and had appeared to them.”
Licona has done nothing to move any component of the New Testament from the story/legend column into the history column. The gospels don’t even claim to be written by apostles; that’s yet another part of the legend.
Myth 8: Science proves that resurrections cannot occur.
“Science does prove that the dead do not return to life by natural causes. . . . But does that prove that Jesus could not have been raised from the dead?” No, because Jesus rising from the dead wasn’t due to natural causes; rather, God raised Jesus. “If God exists and wanted to raise Jesus, well then . . . that makes things different.”
If God exists? This is the Hypothetical God Fallacy—assuming God and then proceeding from there. But showing God’s existence is exactly what we’re trying to do here. It’s a deceptive tangent to begin a sentence with “If God exists. . . .” That line of reasoning might be useful only if I claimed to be proving that God doesn’t exist, which I don’t.
“If God exists” is just pointless speculation like “If I were a billionaire.” Until I am, anything that proceeds from this is just a daydream.
There is no evidence here and no argument. Licona might as well say, “If God exists, well, then I’m right!” That’s true, but it does nothing to advance the argument.
Licona illustrates his point by imagining people trying and failing to walk across the water in a swimming pool. And now Licona shows how to do it: he walks along the side of the pool, holding a small boy by the wrists over the water as the boy walks on the water. You’ll say that this worked only because Licona was an external force. That’s right, and God was the external force that raised Jesus from the dead.
Yes, we understand that God is the not-natural, external force that you say came in to cause the resurrection. Any reason to accept your claim? Do you have evidence? You don’t seem to want to use science here, but what other tool do we use to evaluate a claim about reality like this?
“So science only proves that dead critters stay dead apart from an act of God. It doesn’t prove that God couldn’t raise Jesus from the dead.”
True and irrelevant. Proving that God couldn’t raise a dead man isn’t the goal. We start with the assumption that this is just a story, and you shoulder the burden of proof. I’m waiting.
Concluded in part 5.
“Yes gravity is real! I know gravity is real! I will have faith!
I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up
must come down, down, down. Amen!”
If they did, we would think they were
pretty insecure about the concept.
— Dan Barker
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/28/16.)
Image from Wikimedia, CC license