Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Paul and his list of eyewitnesses’

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Published: Thursday, Aug. 28 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

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Orem, UT

Thank you, Dr. Peterson, not only for this article, but for the many articles you've written for the DN. This is the kind of educational, insightful, and enlightening article that I really enjoy reading. I love history and religion, and when they intersect with academia, it enthralls me. Keep up the good work that you do.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

The challenge in studying early Christian texts for historical value is sorting out what came early from what came later within the same text. It’s no easy task as most scholars concede. They don’t all agree on how far back go specific doctrines of salvation and the divinity status of Jesus. These evolved over time.

What does go back to the very beginning?

I cite only two things. First was the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Second is the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead, whether the later came as a matter of days, weeks, or longer. Even so, these two core beliefs were the basis for what over time would become what we now call Christianity. But even those two were each in turn contentious issues among the Jews and among Jesus’ followers in particular.

It’s a stretch to call 1 Corinthians 15: 1-9 an early Christian creed.

andrews afb, MD

@Craig Clark

"It’s a stretch to call 1 Corinthians 15: 1-9 an early Christian creed."

If it is a stretch then it is like a finger stretch maybe.

In 1 Cor 15 Paul is stating the beliefs of the church. If it is correct that he had visited Jerusalem at that time he would have known specifically what Peter and other Church leadership believed. I think the scriptures mentioned in the article are indicative of this visit.

"3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles."

I don't see how it would not be a creed.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.
- Galatians 1: 16-19

Dr. Peterson cites Goulder dating Paul’s conversion to two years after the crucifixion of Jesus. I’d like to know on what Goulder bases that early date.

Allowing for the sake of discussion that it’s correct, Paul tells us that it was another three years before he went to Jerusalem and met Peter for the first time. Paul makes it clear that he didn’t get his conversion conferring with “flesh and blood” but from Jesus himself. He sheds no light on what his first meeting with Peter was about.

When Paul returned to Jerusalem fourteen years later, it was in part to seek reconciliation over differences.

South Jordan, UT

At BYU Education Week, Dan Peterson presented historical evidence supporting the physical resurrection of Christ. I recall no LDS scholars being cited but top historians from a mix of Christian and non-Christian backgrounds.

Something he mentioned that impressed on my mind is the double standard of skeptics who call themselves historians. Accounts of Caesar's life, much fewer in number and less contemporary, are routinely accepted as historically accurate. Yet multiple, consistent accounts (much more contemporary than those about Caesar) of Christ's resurrection are called legends.

This is not true for reputable historians. They universally acknowledge:
- Christ lived, was crucified, was subsequently buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea
- The tomb was found empty by his female disciples
- Individuals and groups later attested that they saw Christ in the flesh
- The lives of these witnesses, particularly the apostles, were dramatically altered after their experiences

Historians that claim Jesus never lived or these other things didn't really happen are viewed as crackpots among their peers. Their claims have no merit other than their own skepticism. History is firmly on the side of Jesus' resurrection.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@joe5 – “Accounts of Caesar's life, much fewer in number and less contemporary, are routinely accepted as historically accurate.”

Perhaps because no one has ever claimed that three days after being stabbed to death by Brutus, Caesar was seen wondering the streets of Rome.

Extraordinary claims (should) require extraordinary evidence.

@Craig Clark – “Paul tells us that it was another three years before he went to Jerusalem and met Peter for the first time.”

It would be far more accurate if Christians were called Paulians or in the case of Protestants, Biblians.

clearfield, UT

Well I know we might have a bit of disagreement here about the Apostle Paul and how soon and under what circumstances he found his conversion. And whether or not a Church was supposed to be formed in his name or the Lords. Having said that we do have a pretty good, and more recent, account of the resurrected Jesus, and how he wanted his Church organized. It comes from one named Smith. Joseph Smith.

The Wraith
Kaysville, UT

Actually there are mountains more evidence of any of the Caesar's life's than Jesus. Yes most historians agree on the basic facts that have been listed but that is changing. There was a time when historians agreed on the historicity of the old prophets like Moses and Abraham. This changed in the 1970's as more and better historical work was done and now it is universally accepted that these men were myths. There is new and exciting work (well exciting for historians) being done on the life of Jesus and when actually analyzed the evidence for his existence is pretty weak. Outside of the new testament there is almost nothing (and what there is, like the passage in Josephus, is likely forged). The New Testament work is problematic as well as Paul makes it very clear that the Jesus he preached was never on Earth but lived and was crucified in the firmament.

I really have no idea where the new research into the life of Jesus will go but I would not at all be surprised if in a few decades the myth theory is dominant.

layton, UT

RE: an early Christian’ confession’ “Jesus is *Lord". "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord(YHWH),' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." (Romans 10:9-10)

Paul quotes(Joel 2:32)“Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD=*(YHWH) will be saved.”

RE: Craig Clark, the very beginning? In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word(Jesus)*was God. (John 1:1)

(2 Peter 3:15-16)said“.. Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort,as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Everything the Apostles said or wrote was not scripture like,Paul’s laundry list.

RE: Tyler D.”Biblians.” Muslims call Jews and Christians the "People of the Book”=(Bible/ Biblos in Greek).

South Jordan, UT

The Wraith: We're talking about credible sources, not spurious ones. Can you cite any credible historians that doubt the existence of Christ? As I said before, real historians (those who are recognized leaders in their fields) regardless of their person religious persuasion including some who are atheists, regard these skeptics as crackpots.

I challenge you to provide the names of some of these historians and what makes their research so well grounded and while the research of the mainstream historians, to use your words, "pretty weak." This is not a new trend. There have been skeptics since the day the tomb was found empty and yet none of their arguments have stood up to real data.

It's easy for you to make those claims but I'd love to see "scripture and verse" of this new data. In Dr Peterson's presentation, many of the historians he cited were contemporaries of himself, certainly living well past the 1970's and still are recognized as the go-to experts.

Do you have anything beyond your statement to verify your claims?

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

The Wraith,

"....I really have no idea where the new research into the life of Jesus will go but I would not at all be surprised if in a few decades the myth theory is dominant...."

The historicity of Jesus’ existence is sound, even though the gospel narratives are of dubious historical reliability. Let's be fair. They are not objective studies. They are admittedly theological documents produced by believers chronicling what they understand to have happened.

The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense but they do provide the only purported information we have on the life of Jesus. To study canonical material, the historian must ask questions such as; Who wrote this? When was it written? To whom was it written? What does it seem to be saying? Does it show the influence of other documents of the time? Does it appear to be a refutation? etc.

To study any document for historical content, you must first recognize its limitations. Early Christian texts need to be approached in precisely the same way you would approach any other ancient document that might potentially yield historical information.

Roanoke, VA

@TylerD ... C'mon, man. Joe5 is spot on. The point he is making is that there is far less evidence, not that the resurrection in and of itself is the point. Everyone accepts that he crossed the Rubicon, yet the evidence for such is scanty and far less contemporary.

Re. 'extraordinary evidence'... How much more extraordinary can evidence get than the fact that, when Christ was arrested, all of his followers skedaddled and hid out for fear of their lives (a perfectly sane reaction), yet in a matter of days they regrouped and dedicated their lives to Him unto the point of persecution and death, having said they saw the risen Christ?

That is pretty extraordinary to us Virginians. :)

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Moontan – “C'mon, man.”

I like this and many of your prior comments so please don’t take this as disrespect, but…

If history has taught us anything it is we don’t need to know the true explanation in order to be completely justified in doubting supernatural explanations. Can you think of anything where once scientists & historians have been able to gather enough information, they concluded that the supernatural explanation was the correct one? I can’t…

There are scores of plausible (natural) explanations and we will probably never know for sure exactly what happened.

There may even be a different religious explanation – people have been having visions and getting lots of direction from spirit guides, gurus, dead masters, and ancestors for eons. Who’s to say this isn’t what occurred after Jesus died?

In any case, if believing someone actually rose from the dead (physically) and all the other supernatural stuff makes you a better person, more power to you. No matter what the explanation I think a lot of what Jesus said is beautiful and profound.

Peace brother…

Roanoke, VA

@TylerD ... No offense taken, friend. Re... "Can you think of anything where once scientists & historians..." For atheist scientist and historians, no I cannot. For believers, I can think of many. Now consider that: two groups of thinkers looking at the same evidence, arriving at opposite conclusions. How and why? I think the psychology of the particular thinker comes into play here. Are they open minded enough to doubt their own conclusions, etc.

Re. "Who’s to say this isn’t what occurred after Jesus died?" While that argument indeed has muscle and is a worthy challenge, I'd answer 'the apostles'. Do we have reason to doubt their testimony? Looking at their lives in context, we see that they lived what they testified to. What would happen if we didn't have 2,000 years separating their story? If it happened last month, and we saw that they were sane men not given to Jim Jones or Heaven's Gate parties, would a jury of their peers conclude that their lives as a whole, especially the ending, showed they were lying? Consenting to their own executions to perpetuate a myth?

Not possible, friend.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO


"Who’s to say this isn’t what occurred after Jesus died?" While that argument indeed has muscle and is a worthy challenge, I'd answer 'the apostles'. Do we have reason to doubt their testimony?"

Another way of putting it is why would the gospel authors lie about what happened. I see no reason to think they lied. I assume they were writing what they honestly understood to have happened. The greater question is, what did they know for sure.

The consensus among scholars is that the earliest gospel written was Mark around 70 CE. That’s forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. A lot can happen in forty years. Two full generations have preceded. Stereotypical images have had ample time to set in based on traditions that are not in complete agreement. The turbulence of the Jewish revolt against Rome likely affected how Jesus was interpreted in retrospect.

John was written towards the end of the first century. In its first chapter, it places Jesus back at the beginning of creation which the synoptic gospels offer no hint of. In John, more so than the earlier gospels, we see a distinct Christian theology taking shape.

South Jordan, UT

Craig Clark: Now you are beginning to understand why Dr Peterson put this article out about Paul. Being a Pharisee and a Roman citizen, Paul's life is pretty well known by scholars so they can nail down dates when he was in Jerusalem and Corinth with accuracy.

Paul's witness pre-dates the gospels. He knew what he had experienced but wanted to understand what others had seen as well so he investigated and interviewed them. His account to the Corinthians is much earlier date than the 40 years you cited for the gospels. His witness to the Corinthians can be traced to the year 50AD but his witness from the apostles (Peter, James, John) goes back to within a few years of the crucifixion.

Your proposition about a myth that grew over time has been evaluated and soundly rejected by Christian and secular scholars alike. It does not explain the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts by individuals and groups, or the dramatic change in the apostles from hiding in fear to openly preaching on the temple grounds in direct defiance of Jewish leaders, a change that occurred over a couple of days. How do you explain those historical facts?

Roanoke, VA

@Craig Clark ... Good argument, but Joe's response pretty much includes what I'd have replied.

I realize I'm treading on sacred ground when I disagree with renown scholars, but I'm one of those who believe the testimonies of eyewitnesses were written prior to the destruction of their beloved Temple in 70AD. Considering all the Old Testament references to the destruction of the 1st Temple, I can't see the 2nd tragedy not being mentioned by NT writers if it had already occurred.

And remember Peter's testimony that "... we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty." Returning to my earlier point, I cannot believe brother Pete would consent to his own persecution and murder just to protect that statement if indeed it were a lie.

Re. memory of the past ... I can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but can provide every detail of my 1st love 50 years ago. I was 11 and totally smitten with a 24 year old teacher. Substance protects memory, not time.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Moontan – “brother Pete would consent to his own persecution and murder just to protect that statement if indeed it were a lie.”

Please reread and consider what I said about visions and spiritual experiences. Everything you’re saying certainly lends weight to the fact that these men experienced something profound, but as I said people have been having profound religious experiences all over the world for eons and these have often been life changing and motivation for tremendous bravery (even martyrdom), sometimes for beliefs we would find questionable or abhorrent – would you use these same arguments as support for the 9-11 hijackers?

But here’s the rub – how people interpret these experiences are often totally incompatible with other people’s interpretations.

I can agree that the apostles had a religious experience, but I don’t see how that points to objective truths about gods, the universe, our place in it, the afterlife, etc… If they do then by definition (given Christian theology) all other religious experiences by non-Christians throughout history are false or “all in their heads.”

How do you objectively make that determination?

Roanoke, VA

@Tyler D ... re. "...visions and spiritual experiences." No two people can have the same vision, shrinks tell us. And the experiences were not spiritual, they were physical encounters with Christ, post-resurrection, with spiritual consequences.

I agree that people of other religions, or no religion, can and do have profound spiritual experiences and I do not dismiss them. Nor do I understand them all. Right now I 'see through a glass darkly' and I only 'know in part.' But when given the proposition "Christ rose from the dead", I focus on that only, and the evidence - testimonies of eyewitnesses, their lives, the consequences of their beliefs and experience, etc. - I find to be persuasive. This then leads me back to what He taught, where I find the 'objective truths' you refer to. It isn't a question of blind faith for me.

Re. conflicting testimonies. Eyewitness accounts rarely match, even when the event is recorded (such as the Zapuder film - ppl still wonder about the Grassy Knoll). But this is a comment about human observation, and not the reality of the event.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Moontan – “the experiences were not spiritual, they were physical encounters with Christ”

That is a matter of faith…

Be that as it may, this touches on a big issue – why should how anyone lives their life be based on believing some utterly fantastical (i.e., supernatural) claims made by people living in the incredibly superstitious iron-age?

Why is it not enough to hear the teachings of Jesus (vs. the claims made about Jesus) and say, “yeah, OK… that’s a good way to live?”

And the fact is we would avoid a lot of unnecessary misery in the world (i.e. religious conflicts, etc.) if people were less concerned with beliefs and more concerned with (ethical) behavior… don’t you think?

My personal view is Jesus was a wildly misunderstood mystic-sage the kind we find throughout history in the East, but I could care less about converting others to that view and could not imagine spending 500 years (e.g., medieval Europe) burning people at the stake for not believing this.

“By their fruits…”

Reached comment limit… peace brother.

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