A. Religious Symbol and Historical Likelihood.
I affirm the literal resurrection of Christ, as I affirm the Nicene creed. Unfortunately, affirming it and proving it are two different things. Many apologists try to use the Resurrection as proof in itself that Jesus was the Son of God. The problem is, the event itself has to be proven, and is of equal dispute to the claims of Christ deity. Thus, I doubt that it makes a great tool for verifying the claims of the faith, since it is itself such a claim. On the other hand, let us ask ourselves, "was the true purpose of the resurrection as a proof of Jesus validity?" I think not. I think the true purpose was not offer modern scientific "courtroom evidence" of the event, but to confirm in a religious way, for insiders, by provision of an important symbol. Tillich says that a symbol participates in the thing it symbolizes. Thus a bull fighter dying young is a symbol of darning courage going awry, but a non specific figure like the American flag is not a symbol but an emblam. Thus the resurrection of Christ can be a theological symbol and stil be a real event! Thus the true importance of the event is its theological significance and not its market place value as an apologetical tool.
Be that as it may, the event of Christ's resurrection offers more to the unbeliever and the cause of Christian apologetics than one might think given what I wrote. Rather than give up on it as an argument, we need to put it into a different context: we need to abandon the "court room" model of proof in apologetics, and take up a historian's persecutive. The point is not that we can prove the resurrection "really happened." The importance of historical evidence surrounding resurrection is its possibility as a history making event. By that I mean, it's not as important to prove "conclusively" that it happened, as it is to show that the permitters shaped by the evidence still leave open the validity of the possibility that such an event occurred, once one clears away the ideological clutter of naturalism. The evidence need only point to the fact that the belief tenet is still "in the running" as a possibility, not that it actually happened, although we believe, as Christians, that it did happen. The event described cannot included as a historical event, because history as a modern social science is constructed upon naturalistic assumptions; but it can be understood as a history making event, one that shaped the nature of our society and culture.
B. Away with the Court Room Model
So much past apologetics has been based upon the model of a court room debate, then declared to "prove history." We see this most especially in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Virdict (the classic case). We also see it in the works of a vast array of apologists who say things like, "the man who invented rules for evidence in court (Greenleif?) argued for the Resurrection, and he was a smart lawyer, so he must be right." But historians do not "prove" historical 'arguments' by holding courtroom debates! If we are going to make historical claims for the resurrection, we have to think like historians, and not like lawyers. We have to hold the evidence to the permitters of historical evidence, not to those of jurisprudence.
C. The View from the History Depeartment
History is probability. It's not mathematical probably, but it is probabilistic. One cannot go back in time and verify the assumptions of historians, all we can do is argue from extrapolated data as to the most likely conclusion based upon the "facts." But how are these "facts" ascertained? They are not derived from debate, they are not derived from physical artifacts, and they are certainly not given in any kind of absolute certainty. Many skeptics place the level of confirmation they seek on a par with a TV camera recording an event it happens. History is documents! History is not a documentary featuring live footage, although such material is no doubt going to be included in future historical records. But history is the impression we find most likely as a probabilistic guess based upon the data we find averrable in written documents of the past. Historians do debate documents, but they do not say things like, "would this be accepted in a courts of law?" Historians don't a flying spit wad about what is accepted in a court of law (but one hears that phrase in apologetics quite a bit). Thus, in accessing the prospects for the validity of the resurrection, one cannot worry about courtrooms, or about exact proof as though we could take a TV camera to the tomb and watch the angel move the stone. The best we can ever do is to access the possibility and its place int he likelihood of events, given our world view assumptions vis a vie, supernatural events.
III. The History Making Concept.
Skeptics are too quick to argue that the resurrection is not historical fact. Before they jump into this fray, they should first ask themselves about the nature of historical facts. Most historical "facts" are not proven. "History" (whatever that is) says that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, yet evidence indicates he did not. History, like science is a social construct, and is determined by those with the clout to write history. In modernity we have gained an anti-supernatural bias, and so the believer is forced to ask rhetorical questions like "did Jesus raise form the dead?" and then to answer them rhetorically. The German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann changes the rules. Rather than ask if the resurrection is "historical" he merely argues that it doesn't have to be, it is history making. We change the rules of the debate because predicated upon the preaching of the resurrection is one of the most profound developments of world history; the growth of the Christian faith which has shaped the entire Western tradition. We view the Resurrection of Christ as history making because the belief in it did change history, the doctrine of it has made history, and belief today shapes the basis of all Christian doctrine. We put aside the hypocritical skepticism of naturalistic circular arguments and allow ourselves to accept the verdict of a history that has been made by faith in the event, in light of the fact that there is enough there to base faith upon. (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1968).
The doctrine furnishes the basis for hope, when grasped in faith, that offers a much more profound answer to any of questions about life and death than any form of skepticism or pride in confusion ever could. Rather than merely declare a rules change, I will argue that this rules change is warranted based upon the evidence. IN other words, not that the resurrection can be "proven" in the same sense that any other aspect of historical research can be proven, but that the resurrection evidence is credible enough that one can feel confident in asserting its truth as a tenet of faith. The actual case can never be proven, or disproven, but the evidence allows one to believe with impunity.
In keeping with my policy of enlightening the reader about my sources, I must point out that I do lean heavily upon two major evangelical sources here: F.F. Bruce, and William Lane Craig. Bruce is, however, one of the most highly respected Evangelical scholars, even among the liberal camp, and Craig is renown as a highly credible and effective apologist. The other sources such as D. E. H. Whiteley, Stephen Neil, Gaalyah Cornfeld, and Luke Timothy Johson are basically liberal or modernate.A few major liberal theologians, such as Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have defended faith in the resurrection.
A. Historical Verdict Reversed
"The real case for skepticism of the resurrection of Christ was actually developed by 19th century liberal theology, and though they don't know it, the objections of most Internet skeptics today are echoes of those arguments. But in the postwar era even major liberal theologians began to defend the resurrection. Ernst Kasemann, student of Bultmann, at Marburg in 1953 argued that Bultmann's skepticism toward the historical Jesus was biased and Kasemann re-opened a new Quest for the historical Jesus. The great modern liberal theologian Wolfheart Paennberg argued for the resurrection of Jesus. Hans Grass argued that the resurrection cannot be dismissed as mere myth, and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen defended the historical credibility of Jesus empty tomb." (in William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Chrsit," Truth, 1 (1985): 89-95.
"Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead."
"According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.:"(Ibid.)
B. Not Historical but history making
Jurgen Mosltmann, the greatest living Protestant theologian, has argued in Theology of Hope, that the rules of history exclude the miraculous. This is because historians, as heirs to the enlightenment, automatically exclude the supernatural. For this reason the resurrection cannot be seen as historical, a priori, for the rules of making history are set by an ideology of metaphysical assumptions which dogmatically exclude anything miraculous. History must be predicated upon the assumption of a coherent natural world, therefore, the supernatural cannot be part of history. (Motmann, 176)
Moltmann's solution: change the rules. The resurrection is not historical, it is history making. "The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence, and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God...does the rising of Christ become intelligible as nova create [new creation]. ...it is necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the tech scientific world." (179)
"The resurrection of Christ is without prattle in the history known to us. But it can be for that very reason regarded as a 'history making event' in the light of which all other history is illumined, called into question and transformed." (180)
The point of making this distinction between history and history making is to change the rules which ideologically limit the possibility of God's actions in the world, and limit the horizon of hope for human being which responds in faith and is transformed in light of the resurrection. To claim that the resurrection is a historical even makes no seen for the reason that no such event could be, history exclude consideration of such things. But by the same token, the skeptic's objection that it is not historical and lacks "historical proof" is also meaningless. How could it help but lack historical proof? IT cannot be a historical assertion. Only faith can tell us about the resurrection. But the resurrection has make the faith of millions of people to an extent that that faith became a history making faith and altered the course of human events profoundly. It makes no sense to assert historically ether way, but the evidence suggests that there is a rational warrant to believe. There is a nice sturdy platform from which make a leap of faith. That being the case we can declare the history making aspects of the ressurrection.
The genius of Moltmann is the rules change afforded Christian thinkers by the history making concept. Modern historiogrophy and Historacism both forced upon us naturalistic assumptions in the form of history as a social science. In the making of modern hisotry, all supernatural assumptions are forbidden. Thus, the resurrection begins with the assumption that it has to be myth, within the ideological nature of modern thought. But Moltmann gets under that ideological assumtion and unseats it by chaning the rules. We aren't speaking of "history" but of "history making." In other words, before the apologist can even posit the turth of the resurrection, his truth is refutted by the very nature of historical "facts" as modern thought constures them; supernatural events cannot be part of history. But Moltmann turns this around on the nature of modern thought by arguing that before modern thought can posit a naturlistic history, the content of history is already shaped by supernatural claims.
The standard I set my arguments:The Resurrection was a history making event. Whatever truly happened, the actual events which are make by the claims of witnesses and faith in the veracity of those witnesses, the upshot of it all is that the historical probabilities suggest the likelihood of an event, and that event shaped the nature of history itself. The faith claims cannot be historical claims, but they don't have to be. The faith itself is justified, it cannot be ruled out by history, but instead lies at the base of modern history in some form. We can suggest throughout the strength of the evidence that those actual events were the very events attested to in the Gospels. We cannot prove this claim with absolute certainty, but the warrant provided by the evidence itself is strong enough to make the historical nature of the religious hope valid. Some religious hopes are just ruled out by the facts. For example, the idea that the Native Americans are part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; this can be dispelled by genetics as well as dentistry. The Resurrection, on the other hand, can be accepted as likely Given the suspension of ideological objections of Naturalism.