The Table Podcast

Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Darrell Bock and Justin Bass discuss challenges to the historicity of the resurrection, focusing on ancient sources and the earliest data surrounding the event.

Discussing Jesus’ resurrection in a skeptical context
Ancient sources for investigating reports of Jesus’ resurrection
Ancient sources for investigating reports of Jesus’ crucifixion
Ancient sources for investigating reports of Jesus’ empty tomb
Differences in reports of Jesus’ empty tomb and the reliability of the gospels
The origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection
Did Paul see the risen Jesus or just a vision of Jesus?
Dating Paul’s experience of Jesus on the Damascus road
The relevance of 1st Century Messianic movements
Investigating the historicity of reported miracles in the ancient world
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to the Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Assistant at the Howard Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement; and the man who’s normally driving this podcast is Dr. Darrel Bock, who is one of our experts today.

Darrell is the Senior Research Professor of New Testament here at Dallas Theological Seminary and the Executive Director of the Howard Hendricks Center; and we also have in studio Justin Bass. We can call him a veteran of foreign wars now, I think? He’s been back once.

Justin Bass
That’s right. Great to be back. It’s great to be back.
Mikel Del Rosario
It’s good to have you. And our topic today is the historical resurrection of Jesus, and we wanna approach it this way today as we talk about moving into the time where we talk about the resurrection of Jesus around Easter time with our skeptical friends and relatives.

We wanna approach it from the idea that in this cultural shift that’s taken place where as Darrell often likes to say that the Bible is no longer the answer but the question in the minds of many people.

How can we talk to our skeptical friends and our skeptical neighbors, co-workers about the data surrounding the resurrection reports in such a way that they can look into it for themselves?

You know, is there a way to do that with people who don’t believe that the Bible is inspired or inerrent? So as we get started, I just wanna start, Justin, by asking you if you would tell us about the ancient sources that are the best sources for us to look into as we investigate the resurrection of Jesus.

Justin Bass
Yeah. It’s pretty incredible. I mean, we really have I would say seven different independent sources that fall within the first century of accounts of the resurrection of Jesus that we can work with, and I’ll give you, I’ll give them kind of quickly in a kind of a chronological order.

So the earliest would be these creeds that Paul quotes within his letters, so that would be primarily this particular creed in Corinthians 1:15 that he quotes that goes back to within two to five years after Jesus’ death.

We might talk about that a little later, but then after that, I would say the next source would be Paul, because Paul is actually a direct eyewitness of the resurrection. He says, “The Lord Jesus appeared to me.” So Paul’s early letters is also a source.

After that would be our earliest gospel, so that would be Mark. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t actually have a resurrection appearance depending on the longer ending of Mark, but it does have the angels and Jesus himself say, “I will rise again.”

And it has that, so that would be a testimony. And then we would have L, what scholars call L, Luke’s special material, which we have accounts of the resurrection: appearances of Jesus at the end of Luke, but also in acts, and some scholars would even separate the sermons and acts as another source.

So there in the sermons of Peter and in the sermons of Paul, you also have testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus. And then M would be like the special material of Matthew, that Matthew has some resurrection appearances that don’t occur in any of the other gospels.

And then you have John and so if John is an independent source from the other gospels, then John as well would be another source. And I think I got all seven for ya, so that’s the seven.

Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s what we call multiple attestation –
Justin Bass
There you go.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In historical Jesus studies that the wider the distribution across a series of sources and sometimes you can also discuss if it appears in different forms, different kinds of stories, the more likely this is to be historical and to go back.

And so the resurrection is widely attested as an event that took place and that’s what we’re alluding to. So, for example, the unique material in John, the unique appearance of the doubting Thomas is a resurrection appearance unique to John;; marking out whether John knows the gospel traditions of the resurrection or not or used the gospels which is something scholars debate, that particular event doesn’t appear anywhere else and is a form of independent attestation for some of the Johannine material.

Mikel Del Rosario
Now sometimes you have people saying, well, look, I don’t believe the Bible and you can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible; and yet, you find Atheists and agnostic scholars who are using the Bible in their research.

What’s a good way to help people understand the way that historians go about looking at these sources?

Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, what we’re talking about in this particular case is what evidence is there for – think of Jesus’ career as a wave that ripples, okay? Or a, you know, when you drop a rock in a lake and you have ripples, so there’s an effect.

And the effect of that is for those events to be deposited in memory in the tradition, that kind of thing. And you have these traditions coming from different locations, different places, different origin points, that kind of thing.

And so if you’ve got an event that’s attested to in these variety of locations, the argument is that there must be something substantive that triggered that memory spread across that swath of material.

So this isn’t arguing for something simply because it’s in the Bible. It’s arguing for something because it’s in the deposits of tradition coming from various locations that have coalesced in biblical text, but actually have come from disparate locations elsewhere, but all testifying to the same fundamental event.

Mikel Del Rosario
So to help our friends see rather than, hey, it’s in the Bible so it’s true, it’s showing them that what is in the Bible is actually true and that’s corroborating evidence for that.
Justin Bass
And it’s important to realize that, you know, those sources I broke up, that’s – even someone like Bart Ehrman would, when he writes his book on historical Jesus, he’s looking at those sources that same way; even though he doesn’t believe they’re even reliable.

He just is looking for certain things that he can find that are true within those, according to him, unreliable sources.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, one of the things you get into in historical discussion is that the mere fact of it being testified across all these sequences doesn’t prove the truthfulness of the material in it; but what it does show is that very early on within the tradition of the early church, this kind of thing was being passed on.

And so, you still have the judgment about the actual internal contents of what it is that you’re dealing with, but the thing that multiple attestation is saying here is that we’ve got testimony to the fact that Jesus was raised, demonstrating itself in a variety of texts, coming to us from a variety of angles that have now coalesced in the scripture.

And that, at least, puts a kind of burden of proof on the situation in that I’ve got so many people talking about this kind of an event, so what does that mean for the internet?

Justin Bass
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, you know?
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. So let’s start with the crucifixion of Jesus, ’cause in some ways, a discussion of the resurrection has to start with the crucifixion, ’cause unless Jesus actually died, we can’t talk about resurrection.

There are some people – not so much in the scholarly community – but certainly on the internet, certainly all over YouTube who argue that Jesus wasn’t even a real person, that Jesus wasn’t really crucified.

What are some of the ancient sources that we have that corroborate what we know is in the scripture about the crucifixion of Jesus?

Justin Bass
Yeah. Unlike the, you know, the resurrection where maybe some people would doubt the resurrection, the crucifixion is just not doubted by – you know, we could almost say unanimously among people who are teaching full-time, credentialed scholars in the, as historians or New Testament scholars.

We not only have the four gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, just about every book of the New Testament testifying to the crucifixion of Jesus, we also have early Christians outside the New Testament, so we have the what’s called the Apostolic Fathers.

Ignatius would be an example, dating to about the turn of the first to second century. He’s talking about the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate very specifically. We also have unbelievers, people who are not Christians.

We have Josephus, a Jewish historian who most Josephus scholars would agree even though there’s some tampering with a certain text about Jesus in this account from Antiquities in Book 18, we still have the testimony that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate; that Josephus is at least saying that. Louis Feldman – who’s considered the top Josephus scholar in the world – would agree with that.

And then we also have Tacitus who’s a Roman historian who’s also, just a little bit after Josephus, he’s telling us that Christos – who clearly is Jesus – was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

And so here we have a Roman historian, Jewish historian, and multiple attestation again from the New Testament that Jesus was crucified, and so we have one of my favorite quotes from the Bible beater, John Dominic Crossan.

Definitely not a fundamentalist, not a Bible beater, but he said that, “Jesus was crucified as sure as anything historical can ever be.” And so I think that’s the way we should say it.

It’s as sure as – if we can know history, we can know the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, Caesar crossed the Rubicon and we can know Jesus was crucified.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s a great quote and when you see people from the right and the left and straight down the center, you know, agreeing on something, you’re gonna pay attention to that, right?
Justin Bass
It’s powerful.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. Well, Darrell, my understanding is that the majority of scholars actually agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty by his woman followers, but how do we know that Jesus was first of all buried, and then secondly, what’s the data that supports the women finding his tomb empty?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, the idea that the tomb was empty, of course, you can’t get to the Kerygma that’s being preached in the early church unless there was an empty tomb and no body. If you had a body somewhere, that would be the end of the message and the ability to spread the message.

So, it really is the nature of the emergence of the early church in some ways that is the – and the emergence of the apostles as kind of the testimony to the fact that there is an empty tomb and there was a tradition that circulated around the resurrection.

The evidence involving the women being the witnesses is, again, a multi-stranded kind of evidence where we are dealing with what’s coming out of the gospels, in particular, and there are differences, of course, in how these are told.

But the idea of women being the first witnesses argues against a made up story and here’s why: in the ancient culture, women could not be witnesses for anything except a few cases like sexual abuse where you needed their testimony to establish what had taken place or try to establish that.

So there are traditions. Now these are later traditions, but they reflect the spirit of the time from the Mishnah. Mishnah Shevu’os Oath 41 says, “An oath of testimony applies to men but not to women.” Or Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 18 says, “Any evidence a women is not eligible to bring.”

And so these are statements to the fact that women weren’t witnesses. So imagine – I like to say – imagine the PR meeting of the early church.

Jesus is crucified, you’ve got a dead Messiah, you don’t know that he’s gonna be raised from the dead and you’re thinking how do you keep hope alive for this movement in which we’ve lost our leader?

And so someone in the public relations meeting gets together and says, “Oh, I know what we’ll do. We’re gonna sell an idea that a lotta people don’t believe – a bodily resurrection – and we’re gonna use witnesses to do it that the culture doesn’t buy. That’s how we’re gonna do it.”

And so this fits what’s called the criterion of embarrassment that the early church would never make up a story that had these elements in it.

So the fact that the women are in the story shows that the women were in the real story, and that’s where the substantial view that this tradition is not something that would be made up and passed on.

In fact, it’s so strong – interestingly enough, when we do get to the doctrinal summary in 1 Corinthians 15, the women actually have disappeared, okay? We may have an empty tomb with regard to Jesus –

Justin Bass
Peter saw him.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right, but we got empty witnesses with regard to the Corinthians 1:15 testimony. Yeah, we start with Peter and we go from there, because by the time they’ve cleaned it up in the creeds, if you will, it’s the men’s witnesses that count.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s interesting.
Justin Bass
I think the same argument – I don’t know if we can talk about it more – but, with Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus. I mean, the same kind of embarrassment.

If they’re gonna make up somebody, you know, they’re not gonna make up one of the people that actually, you know, may have cast the vote for Jesus to be crucified. They’re not gonna put him in such a positive light.

That’s probably the way it happened. I remember Joseph Fitzmyer and his two volume commentary on Luke. He says who would have made him up? I mean, he argues for the historicity of that because who would have make up Joseph of Arimathea?

Dr. Darrell Bock
And you go up to the trouble of naming him, okay, which really marks him out, okay, in a context in which people are still alive who are, you know, who are around him, that kind of thing; and so that’s another suggestion that tells us that this is a deeply rooted tradition.
Mikel Del Rosario
There are some people who look at the different stories of the women in the different gospels and say, hey, these kinda look different.

Like in Matthew, I’ve got a couple Mary’s; in Mark, we’ve got a couple Mary’s and Salome or Salome – I don’t know how you say that lady’s name – and then in Luke, we’ve got, you know, the two Mary’s and another lady’s name.

How do we put these things together?

Dr. Darrell Bock
Well that’s just a matter – those are the easy part in some ways. That’s just a choice of how many witnesses are you gonna name that witnessed it, so, you do get differing numbers in that regard.

The harder difference that you deal with is the exchange between Jesus and Mary and John, where Jesus identifies himself to Mary after the initial appearance, and the initial report of the women to the disciples is they’ve stolen the body and we don’t know where they’ve taken him, okay?

They don’t walk in saying Jesus is raised from the dead and we saw the angels, but it starts off with that place; and so that tension is probably the most difficult of the differences on the resurrection in the early accounts.

Now my own take on this is that what you get in John is a kind of literary chronological reshuffling, which he doesn’t identify for you. He just simply does it.

And that is first he tells the story of how he came to hear about the resurrection, and then he goes back and recollects this appearance to Mary.

So it actually chronologically is probably in a different order, but it’s not being told in the sequence it belongs in, because John told first, the story about how he came to know about the resurrection.

And the way I foresee this happening is the women come in and they start to tell the story of “they’ve taken the body and we don’t know where he is.” Well, for John and for Peter, that’s good enough.

They’re out the door headed towards tryin’ to find out what happened to the tomb. And then the synoptic gospel traditions pick up the rest of the telling of the story, if you will, what the women said to the group that was remaining there, while these two guys have run to check out what’s goin’ on.

Peter’s kind of had a lesson up to this point in learning to trust what the Lord says as a result of his three denials, and so he’s inclined, I think, to pursue this; and then John, of course, has a reputation of being the one who’s closest to the Lord.

So they get it as the more sensitive disciples and they head out. And then like I say, we recover this appearance down the road and John is actually mentioning something that sorted itself earlier in the sequence.

Justin Bass
And what I like to emphasize, you know, with our skeptical friends is they like to, you know, point out, you know, how many women were there, how many angels; but let’s talk about what do all the sources agree on?

They all agree the tomb was empty. They all agree a woman was there. They all agree an angel was there. They all agree Jesus rose from the dead.

I mean, so we have the core and we have this with many historical accounts in the ancient world. You have a lot of differences in how something is described, but you have the fire in Rome, for example.

I mean, you have the actual core fact of history that happened and then you might have some ancillary details that aren’t exactly, you know, whether they can be harmonizable or not, I think what’s most important about is what is the core fact that they all point to?

And the empty tomb and the resurrection is what they do.

Dr. Darrell Bock
And the interesting thing about the resurrection in relationship to a leader of a movement is that normally when you – in fact, I think this was from strategy – if you cut off the leader, you cut off the movement.

And so the idea was we’ll go after Jesus, we’ll execute him, that’ll be the end of the movement; and the way the early church community dealt with that wasn’t to appoint someone to take Jesus’ place, okay – that wasn’t doable anyway – but still, they didn’t do that.

But if a movement was to continue to live in most circumstances, that would be how you do it. The movement would either die or you would have someone take the former leader’s place and the movement would go on and he’d be the one to lead it.

Well, you don’t have either of those scenarios here. Here you’ve got a group that says we were disappointed, we thought it was over. When Jesus was crucified, we thought that was the end and then low and behold we became convinced that something else happened.

It’s interesting that liberal scholars the way they handle the resurrection goes something like this: the disciples believed a resurrection happened, okay? That doesn’t mean a resurrection happened.

And so, but notice how that’s kind of like almost halfway there that they suffer from some level of grief reversal or whatever that they became convinced that Jesus was alive when he really wasn’t, then that sustained them.

That’s the classic, the most classic, liberal position on the resurrection is that.

Mikel Del Rosario
But that’s an admission that they weren’t lying?
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
Nobody thinks that they’re lying.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There’s something on. There’s a – they are reporting on an authentic experience that they had. They’ve just misinterpreted what took place.
Justin Bass
I think I got a perfect quote for that. Can I read this one quote from Paula Fredriksen who’s an agnostic scholar. She says, “I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historical evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw, but I do know that as a historian, they must have seen something.”

That was beautiful. What did they see?

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s the million dollar question.
Justin Bass
What did they see?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. It’s a classic way of presenting it and the idea is that they were so overtaken by their conviction of a resurrection that, of course, they were willing to die for it and everything else that comes with it.

Because, of course, what happens in standard Christian apologetics when you talk about this, of course, is well the very fact that they were willing to die for it shows the truth, the very reversal of the behavior shows the truth, you know?

Another example, for example, the criterion of embarrassment that supports the historicity of an aspect of something leading to Jesus’ life and death is the whole story of Peter’s three denials, you know?

Would the early church make up a story in which, you know, one of the people who became viewed as almost the chief representative of the movement ends up showing intense defection during the very moment of crisis?

It’s not exactly the way to command your future leadership.

Justin Bass
Well what about Jesus calling him Satan?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right. That’s the early –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Another example of the same kind of thing, so there are little hints along the way in how the story is told that tell you that’s not something that would be made up; and not only is that part not made up, but it occurs in a context of an event that’d be unlikely to be made up as well.

So it’s – that’s how the criterion of embarrassment works when you’re trying to suggest that there is some truthfulness to the content that you’re encountering at an historical level.

Mikel Del Rosario
And even though we have different details here and there, it’s actually better that we have more than one account, right?
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
Because if we just had one account, there’d be no differences to talk about.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And if all the accounts were exactly the same, I guarantee you what people would say is ah, that was collusion; they all came together and told the same story.

So you can’t win either way in some ways, but it is the nature of the beast so to speak when we’re in a mood and a culture and a context which tends to be so skeptical; and I tell people look, these are legitimate questions people are asking.

These differences are legitimate kinds of things to raise in which people are asking often times very sincere questions. Some people may have taken a moment with a hint of skepticism, but a lot of people who ask these questions simply are repeating what they’ve heard and they can see the differences in the accounts.

So these are real questions that you’re dealing with. So I don’t think you should belittle a question even though it may come from a skeptical place, because it may actually reflect a real curiosity about an oddity that does need some attention.

Mikel Del Rosario
So there are hard questions but there are good answers to those hard questions as well
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Justin Bass
We should follow the evidence where it leads.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. So I think we’ve seen that difference doesn’t have to mean contradiction. It’s not like the women got there and Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. I mean, that would be a contradiction, right?

We’ve talked about historical evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus, historical evidence for the empty tomb, and the fact that his followers at least had experiences that they really believed were experiences of the risen Jesus.

And the million dollar question is what caused that belief?

Justin Bass
Yeah. It’s fascinating that Paul in his earliest letters, which are the earliest documents we have in the New Testament, he quotes some of these early – you could say whether they were written or they were oral – either way they go back to within that first decade or even first five years after Jesus’ death.

And one of them is probably the most important one especially in dealing with the evidence for the resurrection is the one that’s found at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, ’cause Paul introduces – let me quote how he introduces the creed – he says, talking to the Corinthians, he says, “For I deliver to you as a first importance what I also receive that…”, and then he quotes the creed.

And so this is something that he gave to the Corinthians when he planted the church sometime in the early ’50s, but this is also something he received. Well when did he receive it?

And most scholars would say we learn that from Galatians 1 where Paul kind of gives his autobiography. He tells us that after his conversion to Christ, after coming to Christ, he three years later went to Jerusalem.

And he tells us that he hung out with Peter for 15 days, he hung out with James, the brother of Jesus – wish we could have been a fly on the wall and listened to those conversations – but this is probably when he received – and most scholars would agree – this is when he would have received this creedal tradition that he’s now quoting in 1 Corinthians 15.

And if that’s true, then we’re looking at within two to five years after Jesus’ death, and that’s when he received it so it could have been even earlier because it had to have been composed sometime before that.

And so we’re looking at, we’re coming up right at about two years even within months of Jesus’ death that this creedal tradition was put together.

And just to give you some quotes from people who are not considered evangelical or fundamentalist, Gerd Ludemann is an Atheist, a New Testament scholar, he said, “We can assume that all the elements in the tradition – 1 Corinthians 15 – are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus.”

And James Dunn and Jesus remembered he even uses the word “months”. He doesn’t even use “years”. He says within months of Jesus’ death we have this, so this is an incredible thing.

I mean, this is what historians salivate over. I mean, to have this early of testimony of Jesus and the resurrection, what was going on in early Christianity.

Mikel Del Rosario
So this creed which is kind of like a memorized statement to help people pass on important information, pass on tradition, it has appearances of Jesus it lists to different people, and then Paul kind of throws himself in there, too, right, that he saw Jesus.

Now when he talks about seeing, you know, I’m thinking about, like, in 1 Corinthians 9:1 where he says, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”, and he uses this word Heoraka in the Greek, is that just a regular word?

You teach Greek here, right, at Dallas Seminary, right? Is that just a regular word for seeing things physically or does that open the door to some kind of a visionary kind of experience?

Justin Bass
Yeah, unfortunately learning the Greek doesn’t solve all the theological problems. I always like to tell students that. I wish it did.

But – and this word really just knowing the Greek word doesn’t solve the problem in doing the background, so this word is the Greek word Horao and it’s used in a lot of these contexts.

And this word can mean – if you look at it in the Septuagint and in the New Testament – you find that it can be a visionary experience, but it can also be a physical appearance. So just the word itself does not solve the problem.

I think how we know Paul saw something bodily, that he was saying that he saw the bodily resurrection of Jesus is because Paul was himself a Pharisee; and we know a lot about the backgrounds of most of the Jews, especially the Pharisee, and they believe that at the end of the world, that there would be this general resurrection and it would be bodily.

They believed in bodily resurrection. They would receive their bodies back. And so if Paul believed that this general resurrection began in the person of Jesus, then Jesus himself would have been bodily raised.

And I think what’s most definitive in Paul’s letters on this is that Paul actually parallels our future, or future believer’s resurrection that he’s talking to like in Thessalonians and Romans, he says, “Just as your mortal bodies will be raised similar to the way Jesus’ body was raised.”

So he parallels our future bodily resurrection with Jesus’ resurrection, so it’s very clear that Paul believed that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.

Markus Bockmuehl and his Cambridge companion to Jesus, he says, you know, if Paul is talking about a burial that Jesus was buried, he didn’t – when he said he was raised from the dead – he didn’t think that a body stayed in there.

I mean, a body would have left. It was a reanimation, a transformation, a glorification of that corpse. That’s what Paul would have believed.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well definitely a vision wouldn’t explain the empty tomb, right? It wouldn’t explain that he appeared to so many different people, right, and you don’t have group hallucinations at different times and different places where people are seeing things that aren’t there.
Justin Bass
And if I could just comment on the creed, that’s what’s incredible. In this little creed, this one little creed that we get that goes back, like I said, within that two years, we have appearances to individuals: Peter, James and Paul are specifically mentioned.

We have group appearances, like you said, to the 12 to over 500 at one time who Paul says hey, some of them are still alive. You can go interview them. You can go talk to them. A lot of them have died, but some of them are still alive.

He appeals to it as evidence for the resurrection, and then also to all the apostles. And so this is multiple groups, even unbelievers, ’cause Paul and James were not believers, and so an incredible list that we have that early in this creedal tradition.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s very, very early. Now you mentioned Paul. I wanna talk about Paul right now because Paul was sometimes people will say well, don’t you think it’s kinda suspicious that only Jesus’ followers saw him alive after he died, you know?

Sometimes you miss people so much when they die. Well Paul is a great example of someone who did not miss Jesus, was a persecutor, in fact, of the early followers of Jesus –

Justin Bass
He did not want Jesus to be risen from the dead.
Mikel Del Rosario
So we think about Paul. How soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, Darrell, did Paul come to believe that he had an experience with the risen Lord?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, the appearance to Paul is dated somewhere within the first 18 months of the post-resurrection period, so we’re within 18 months of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a very early period.

I wanna go back and collect something that Justin eluded to and that is the physical nature of the expectation of this resurrection. There is a wonderful Jewish text, 2 Maccabees 7, that shows what the Pharisees belief about resurrection is, actually very graphically.

The scene is a mother watching seven of her sons be executed in sequence, being murdered for their faith because they kept the law. They wouldn’t eat pork. And in the midst of this text in Second Maccabee’s 7 and 10, as son number three is being executed, it says this, “After him the third was the victim of their sport and when it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands and said nobly, “I got these from heaven and because of his laws, I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” And as a result, the King himself and those who were with him were astonished that the young man’s spirit for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.”

So here they are, they are executing him. They are actually dismembering him in the scene, and his two brothers have been dismembered in front of him and he holds out his hands and his tongue and he says, “You can cut these off. God’s gonna give ’em back to me one day.”

That shows you how physical the perception of the resurrection was that they had –

Justin Bass
I’m gettin’ those arms back.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right. So the physicality of this resurrection is important, ’cause we’re not talking about, you know, a reawakening of the soul; we’re not talking about some form of reincarnation or something like that.

We’re talking about a physical resurrection in a spiritual body that has a physical element to it. This is why in the appearances as well, Jesus takes food. It’s showing the physical nature of this resurrection.

And the reason that’s important is because sometimes when skeptics discuss the appearance to Paul, they speak about hallucination or something like this that Paul had.

Remember the non-conservative take on this is that they had an experience, they had a perception, but that perception isn’t necessarily a reflection of the reality of what really took place.

And so the idea here is that Paul in one way or another had a visionary experience of one kind or another, rather than some type of direct physical encounter with the Lord.

And Paul seems to portray this as, no, evidence of this very physical resurrection that he actually is anticipating as a Pharisee, happening, again, within 18 months of the time that we’re talking about.

Now, the important thing about that is that Paul’s got to be able to process this experience that he has. So the theology that feeds into his ability to recognize when the Lord speaks, you know, you’re persecuting me and what that means, immediately is that, ooh, that must mean he’s, I’m talking to a risen, alive Jesus.

That must mean that the preaching that I heard previously, okay, is true. He can’t process that experience without that previous experience. So the gap is not just the 18 months. It’s not the experience of Paul on the Damascus Road.

The gap actually closes down to the message that Paul heard before that. He had been persecuting the church for some time, that’s clear from the martyrdom of Stephen and other events that we see.

And so we’re literally closing that gap down on top of itself in terms of the events, in terms of the normal gap that we get between when a testimony is given and an event happens, short of autobiography, okay?

We are about as good as it ever gets in the ancient world in terms of when this event is happening in relationship to when it happened; and this is happening also in a context in which everyone knows who Paul is, everyone knows Paul used to persecute the church, everyone knows that Paul’s view has changed.

In fact, in acts, we get testimony to the fact people were afraid to see and deal with him because they had trouble believing, you mean that guy is now on our side?

And so all this is designed to show how tight up against the timeframe the testimony to the resurrection is in the gospel materials, and in the materials and acts that we have.

Justin Bass
And you could say that, you know, when Peter denied Christ three times, he’s in grief, he wants Jesus to be, you know, the Messiah. He wants him to be, you know, maybe, you know, oh, he had a hallucination so, ’cause he really wanted it to be true.

You can’t argue that with Paul. Paul did not want Jesus – I mean, he thought – he probably thought Jesus was cursed by God by being nailed to that tree, based on Deuteronomy, and so he wanted Christians killed.

He did not want Jesus risen from the dead. So he did not want this to be true.

Dr. Darrell Bock
You either have a very pathological Paul, okay, or you’ve got someone who experienced something that totally transformed the way he looked at.

You know, the other thing that happens with hallucination theory is, of course, that one of the groupings in that list is that he appeared to 500 at once, okay? Now that’s a trick. To get 500 people to hallucinate on the same thing at the same time?

And so there are little hints along the way in the various ways that the tradition’s been put together, whether we think about the women being at the opening of the empty tomb, or we think about the time between when Paul experiences his appearance and what he has to understand by the time he gets there and how early that means the theology is; or we think about appearing to the 500 at once.

In their midst of talking about the 500 at once, it says some of whom are alive even today to make the point, hey, if you wanna go check this out, you know, go talk to someone. That kind of thing.

So there’s something going on here, not to mention just the extreme transfer of conviction that the apostles have as they launch this effort of the church and what they’re willing to risk in doing it.

So this was either a very good psychological experience, okay, or it was an experience.

Justin Bass
Yeah. And of those three names that I listed that’s actually listed in the creed, pretty interesting that Peter, James, Jesus’ brother, and Paul are the three that are mentioned in the creed, and they just happened to be, when you actually look at the evidence that we have for how did the apostles die?

How did they die? How were they martyred? You know, a lotta times people say, oh, they were all martyred. Well, you know, we do have tradition that they were all martyred, but we don’t have solid evidence that they were all martyred.

We do have solid evidence that those, in particular, those three in particular, Peter, James – James even testified by Josephus not even in the New Testament – and Paul were all martyred for their faith. They died believing what they claim they saw in that early creed.

Mikel Del Rosario
So at minimum, you have a follower, you have two skeptics.
Justin Bass
Mikel Del Rosario
And in an honor/shame culture, how does that tie into Paul’s experience, do you think?
Justin Bass
Yeah, I mean, he definitely – you know, the shame would have been, you know, he definitely would not have been proclaiming that unless he really believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Mikel Del Rosario
Now were there other messianic movements in this time period?
Justin Bass
Yeah. This is a fascinating thing. I did a lecture on this and I couldn’t believe that, you know, we actually have about 14 other movements.

Now, not all claimed a Messiah, but some sort of revolutionary type movement where they had a charismatic leader, they had disciples that gathered around them, they fought, many of ’em fought against Rome, and then they got crushed.

You know, Maximus from Gladiator came out with his legion and crushed them. What happened? It was done. Everybody went out and got jobs. I mean, they didn’t continue the movement. They didn’t – none of them had hallucinations; none of them said their leader rose from the dead.

And so when you look at all these – and I have the list, but some of you might have heard of, like, Thaddeus or Judas the Galilean, or Simon bar Kokhba, that was the last one; but these guys when they died, when their leader died or their messianic figure died, it ended the whole thing. It was done.

There was no bar Kokhba entity today. There’s no – you know, we have Christianity, but there’s no followers of bar Kokhba today. Why is that?

And so it’s an historical question because the Jesus movement is in the same time period of all these other movements, and when their leader dies, many of ’em were crucified, it’s over.

So what was it about Jesus that when he is crucified, this movement explodes like we said, this conviction. What is it? People could say hallucination. Well why didn’t they have hallucinations?

Did they not want bar Kokhba to still be the leader? What was it about Jesus, right? If you don’t answer with the resurrection, I mean, you have a resurrection sized hole in history.

And so I love what Blaise Pascal said in the 1600’s, he said, “Who made them act? Who made the apostles act?” You know, if Jesus was dead, how do you get your movement going when you’re dead, you know?

How did it explode? So I think it’s a strong argument for the explosion of Christianity.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, that’s interesting. If Jesus had stayed in the tomb, we might have some maybe some Mishnah kind of teaching from Jesus. We might have some veneration of him somewhere, maybe, you know, at his tomb.

But instead, we have his earliest followers in the Lord’s Supper commemorating him. That’s fairly interesting as well to me.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, there are lots of interesting things going on here. You know, there’s another part of this that I like to talk about that a lotta times people don’t think about, and that is, you know, again, another skeptical claim is well the early church is making up these things as we go along and creating things that didn’t happen.

But if we actually look at the tradition itself, it doesn’t give evidence of that. I think I would argue that if the early church were going around making appearances and that kind of thing, that what we could well expect is a detailed experience to Peter and James, okay?

We don’t have that. We have the fact that Jesus appeared to Peter and James, but we do not have an account in the gospel materials of what Jesus said to Peter or what Jesus said to James.

If you’re gonna make up this story and try and build the credibility for something that isn’t there, why are those missing? Why aren’t they a part of the tradition stream that we have? That kind of thing.

And so there are little hints along the way in terms of how the tradition is put together that tells you the tradition was very conservative, you know?

You didn’t create a vision where you didn’t have a tradition of it, and so I think that’s an important feature in this equation as well. So we’ve got all these little pieces that are floating around the resurrection event that point to its credibility and the care with which the early church taught and discussed this.

Justin Bass
And that’s a fascinating independent account, too, the Peter appearance, because, you know, Paul, in that early creed, he appeared first to Cephas, to Peter; and then you have Luke 24, the two guys from the Emmaus Road come back and it says the Lord has appeared.

And it’s that same word ?f??, you know, the Greek, has appeared to Simon; and so you have this two independent account, but, again, you don’t have like Dr. Bock said, you don’t have this elaborate story of how that happened.

Dr. Darrell Bock
You know, what was the blow by blow, word for word, you know, red letter edition of that appearance –
Justin Bass
You do get it in the second century.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. Oh, you get people filling gaps down the road, absolutely.
Justin Bass
They fill the gaps.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But you don’t get it in the gospel materials themselves. It’s almost as if the fact of the appearance is enough, and so it’s just an interesting dimension to the way the tradition on the resurrection works.
Mikel Del Rosario
What would you say to someone who says, okay, well here’s all this historical data, but in the end really, you can’t investigate supernatural phenomenon, the miraculous, using the tools of history, that that’s just kind of the wrong tool for it.

How can we help those people to take a look at the historical data seriously?

Dr. Darrell Bock
Well I think that’s right. I mean, you can’t – there’s no way I can sit down and prove to you on the basis of historical data, the resurrection absolutely happened and here’s a slam dunk case.

What I can do is to say there’s a lot of historical phenomenon I gotta be able to explain, and it’s either this or something else, okay?

Now what is the something else that goes in that slot, and is that really any more plausible than the types of things that we see, given the fact that we’ve got this intense martyrdom and this intense loyalty and that kind of thing.

Now, the simple answer is that people have died for fanatically believing that someone was a, you know, a religious great and have been wrong in the past. That, I mean, that certainly, I mean, Jim Jones is kinda the old cult leaders, the example of that kind of a category, and that certainly does happen.

But the interesting thing – and this is related to the religious movements that you talked about and the revolutionary movements that you talked about – is that you don’t see that happening so much in the ancient world.

I mean, you see people committed to them, but once it falls apart, it falls apart.

Justin Bass
They’re much different than 20th century America.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly. You know, another interesting thing about that list that you give is that that list – because sometimes people will say is well, you know, people claiming to be Messiah were a dime a dozen. Jesus is one of many in that period.

But if you actually look at that list that Justin eluded to earlier, the bulk of those examples come from after the time of Jesus. They’re a handful in A.D. 6 when the tax is imposed on Israel and a few people react to the fact that you mean Rome’s gonna actually try and extract taxes from us? No way. We’re not paying, you know?

No taxation without representation. And so, and the bulk of that list comes from later on down the road; and so that’s actually, it’s actually an exaggeration to suggest that Messiahs were popping up kind of on every corner in Galilee during this period.

You had a couple of people revolting in the early period; you have the Jesus group; and then you do have quite a lotta people revolting leading into the war in 66 and 70 that led to the destruction of the temple; and then, of course, you get the bar Kokhba rebellion at the early part of the second century, which is kind of the culmination of it all because that time when Rome puts that rebellion down, they say enough of this and they –

Justin Bass
Yeah. We’re gonna study Torah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And they crush it completely and the opportunity to have any kind of rebellion goes away.
Justin Bass
Yeah. And one of ’em in particular, I think it’s the Simon bar Giora who’s one of the guys who leading up to about A.D. 66 or leading up to the A.D. 70, he predicts, he says the temple is gonna be destroyed.

He ends up gettin’ paraded by the Romans; he gets flogged; he gets crucified. But, again, his movement? Nothing. I mean, you have such a parallel with Jesus and so what was it about those disciples? Why didn’t they want Simon to come back, you know?

Dr. Darrell Bock
Why didn’t they learn from the Christians?
Justin Bass
Yeah. Why wouldn’t they have _____ [Inaudible comment due to laughter] said it from the Christians? Yeah, that’s right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There’s a way to do this, you know?
Justin Bass
That’s right. But they still, they were like, no, if he’s crucified that means he wasn’t the Messiah. That shows that it was a failed mission. He was wrong, right? I mean, and that’s exactly what I think the disciples of Jesus believed.

I think they believed, just like the guys on Emmaus Road; he was wrong. We had hoped he would redeem Israel, but he was not because he was crucified.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, there’s another final point that fills into all this and that is the way in which these leaders are portrayed while these events are happening is another example of the criterion of embarrassment. I mean the women show up to declare the tomb empty.

Jesus had told them that he was gonna be raised from the dead. They didn’t believe it at the time when they couldn’t process it. The women show up and say the tomb’s empty and their reaction is, oh, yeah, Jesus said this in Galilee.

That’s what happened. No. They think it’s been a few tough days, you need to get some rest ladies, you know? They reacted –

Justin Bass
They think they’re crazy.
Dr. Darrell Bock
They react as normally – I like to tell people, they may be ancients, but they’re reacting like modern people, and in the midst of doing that, they’re portrayed as completely missing it, okay? Again, would the early church represent their leaders in such a way?

These are people now that they’re supposed to trust and follow. Well, again, the reason these failures are in the story is because these failures are a part of the story, and they’re another element that shows the truthfulness of what’s being portrayed.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well we have talked about a lot of material. In this segment, we talked about the appearances to Paul and the different movements that were around; but I think what our audience can begin to see now is that even if people don’t accept the Bible as the word of God, there is historical data there that’s good enough for people to take that material seriously and really look into the chief claim of the Christian faith: that Jesus really is the Messiah who he claimed to be, that he rose from the dead, and that ultimately he offers us hope and life everlasting.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There’s a reason for the season.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. Well thank you, Darrell, so much for being with us today, and thank you, Justin; and we hope that you will tune in once again to theTable, where we discuss issues of God and culture. We’ll see you next time.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Justin Bass
Justin Bass is the lead pastor of 1042 Church and is an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and a full-time faculty member at Dallas Christian College. He graduated with his ThM and PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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