The Resurrection and Missing the Point

I know that September seems to be an odd time of year to be talking about the resurrection, but Bob Seidensticker does not, especially since a recent post that he wrote he attacks the historicity of it. Titled, “The Bible Defeats its Own Resurrection Story,” Bob takes the attack straight to it, saying,

Let’s step through the gospel’s crucifixion and resurrection story. With careful attention to the details, we’ll see that some of the popular arguments made by Christian apologists fall apart.

That’s a mighty strong assertion there, Bob. Let’s see if his arguments meet up to the challenge.

Bob writes,

Many Christian apologists insist that the resurrection was documented by eyewitnesses. Their motivation makes sense—the resurrection is the punch line of the story, and the authors can’t simply be passing along a popular yarn. Only eyewitness authors would be credible.

It’s an entirely true statement that apologists assert that the New Testament contains eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Christ. Of course that has to be qualified since we are referring to the events following the resurrection, and not the resurrection act itself. The assertion is the effect, not the cause. However, the assertion that, “Only eyewitness authors would be credible,” is fallacious since we know that two of the authors were, themselves, not witnesses, but were recording the testimony of witnesses: Eusebius, the church historian, reports that Mark recorded Apostle Peter’s testimony and Luke, an associate of Apostle Paul, makes it clear in the dedication of his gospel that he is reporting the testimony of eyewitness, but is not a witness himself.

He continues, giving the following criteria,

We must start by setting a baseline: to witness a man’s resurrection from the dead, you must (1) see him alive, then (2) see him dead, then (3) see him alive again. Obvious, I realize, but you’ll see why this is important.

It does not follow that one would have to personally “see1 and 2 to validate 3. One could “see1, hear about 2, and see 3, just like one could “see2 and 3 without 1. He’s simply setting up an arbitrary standard for the purposes of his argument. If the evidence doesn’t meet his standards, then it can simply be dismissed.

Bob then sets out to give us a summary of the gospel accounts, beginning with Matthew, of which he says,

We’ll start with the crucifixion story in Matthew. If this was an eyewitness account, then one of the disciples has to author Matthew. This requires that the author personally experience the three elements of any resurrection above.

Um, why? Why does the author have to experience any of those things in order for them to be a) an eyewitness statement or b) true? But I digress…

Let’s pick up the story when Jesus is arrested. What happens next is, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56b). The next day when Jesus was crucified, “Many women were there, watching from a distance” (Matt. 27:55) including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. There were men present—passersby who insulted Jesus and Roman guards—but no disciples.

Just as a point of reference please, go read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest and the account of his trial, and his crucifixion, but let’s just say that his summary is accurate. Here’s his conclusion:

With no male disciples to observe the crucifixion, this eyewitness claim fails in point 2 above: you must see him dead if you want to later claim a resurrection. Matthew doesn’t even claim any disciples at the empty tomb. Note that Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness; that addition is made by Christian apologists.

Let me work this backwards: yes, Matthew never claims to be a witness to the crucifixion, but he also never claims that there were “no male disciples” present, Matthew only foreshadows the resurrection by pointing to the women. But let’s let him continue.

Under the heading, The women’s tale, Bob writes,

But what about the women? They were there. The two Marys saw the crucifixion, they saw Jesus die, they saw the burial in the stone tomb, they saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. They were part of the inner circle, and surely their word was good enough.

Yeah, right.

The first problem is that the author of Matthew is still not an eyewitness. At best, he simply reported a story he’d been told.

Not an eyewitness to what? The arrest? Yes. The resurrected Christ? Again, yes. But he was dependent upon the witness of the women to fill out the in-between details. At best he reports what the other eyewitness did see and hear.

Bob continues,

And as for the women’s story being a reliable report, a popular Christian apologist argument won’t allow that.

Bob links to this article from Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl, but he simply misunderstands the argument, and here’s the proof,

Koukl is using the Criterion of Embarrassment: why say something embarrassing about yourself unless it’s true? If women witnessing the empty tomb is embarrassing but that story element is still in each gospel, doesn’t that point to it being true?

He continues,

It turns out that women being the sole witnesses at the tomb is not at all embarrassing. In fact, it’s the only way an empty tomb works in a culture where caring for the dead was women’s work (more here), but let’s ignore that as well and watch the apologists dig their hole deeper. (Link removed)

The “embarrassment” of the gospel writers, specifically Matthew here, is that he was a witness to many things, but at this point, he is dependent upon those whose legal testimony was considered to be unworthy. (See this article here for the historical context.) And the fact that Matthew is dependent upon those who were considered, “not competent to attest or testify (link)” is, for all intents and purposes, embarrassing.

Bob’s ignorance of this point is clear in this statement,

These apologists insist that women were seen as unreliable witnesses. This means that they can’t argue that while the author of Matthew wasn’t technically an eyewitness, that’s unimportant because he trusted the women’s report. They’ve left Matthew with no authority from which to document the most important (and least believable) part of the gospel.

Thanks for arguing the point of the Jewish authorities, Bob, but this is where Bob also misses the point: Matthew’s gospel doesn’t end with the women at the tomb, it ends with Jesus appearing to his disciples and commissioning them

Bob also takes shots at Mark, Luke, and John, but his arguments fall along the same lines. His closing remarks are what really seals the deal,

Staying within the Bible, the claim that Matthew and Mark are eyewitness accounts fails, and apologists’ own “women were unreliable” argument makes their situation even more desperate.

Why does it “fail”? Does it “fail” because Matthew and Mark are honest about events, or because of Bob’s arbitrary standards, or because of the standards of ancient historians? I can’t tell.

Bob acts as if the “embarassment” of the women being the key witnesses to the resurrection is the only evidence, rather than the fact that Matthew, writing in his time and culture, would defer and refer to them as witnesses. He makes the same assumptions that many New Testament scholars make about the order and dating of the gospels, rather than deferring to the ancient church, maybe it has something to do with those pesky naturalistic presuppositions, rather than proving it.

What we see in the gospels, if one takes the time to carefully read them, is the different perspectives the different witnesses coming together as a coherent whole, a tapestry marked with events and words that give us a capable picture of Christ as he lived, died, rose, and now sits at the right hand of Power on high.

Here’s a previous response to Bob, showing that he doesn’t stray far from his misunderstandings.

Also see this debate between Dr. James White and Dan Barker on whether or not Jesus was a myth:

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s